Whilst I love to be organised and favour routine where possible, I’m definitely not a creature of habit – and if you follow me on Instagram you’ll know I am often checking out brand new restaurants, alternative recipes or trying the latest workout class. I love experiencing new things, and yet when it comes to my holidays, time and time again I find myself returning to the same destination – Dubai. Those who know me well will know I almost moved to this Arabian city to live and work almost 10 years ago, but even though I didn’t go through with the move I’ve found myself returning not just once but sometimes twice a year to the United Arab Emirates. So when I’m all about the buzz of new experiences, what is it about Dubai that keeps drawing me back?
Photograph by @lorami_photography
I’ve just returned from my first trip to Dubai this year, and as always, left Dubai International Airport with a heavy heart, wondering when I’ll next be back. Of course this sounds like any case of post-holiday blues, but despite having a fantastic time exploring Singapore and Krabi, Thailand last year I can honestly say I was itching to get back home. Any time off from my hectic schedule, giving my body a break, enjoying lie ins and actual quality time with my husband is always going to be a very good thing, but what does a break in Dubai offer me that no other destination can?
For starters, it genuinely is a city that is constantly changing and evolving. In the 10 years I’ve been visiting Dubai they’ve built the Burj Khalifa, Dubai Metro system, JBR Tram network, Dubai Mall, Safa and Zabeel Park, the Dubai Water Canal, the Dubai Eye, the Dubai Frame…. and there is plenty more to come – two buildings I can’t wait to see completed are the Museum of the Future and the Creek Tower. Very few cities can boast such a huge amount of change in such a short space of time, and to me it always feels like something exciting is going on, or about to happen. Dubai is constantly evolving, and it isn’t just about building more hotels or high rise towers – they are creating green spaces, investing in solar power and salination plants to help combat water wastage. Granted it may have made a ridiculously large carbon footprint on the planet thus far (indoor ski resort in the desert anyone?) but at least they are recognising the need to change, and investing in doing just that.
In the past, my trips to Dubai were solely about sunbathing, beach time, shopping and glamming up for Ladies Night (where girls drink for free all night….) and Brunch (lavish all day affairs where it’s not so much All You Can Eat but genuinely Eat As Much As You Can…. and that’s before the free flowing champagne) – whereas highlights of this last trip include visiting two of the newest Dubai fitness studios – Barrys Bootcamp and Fly Wheel and taking classes just as awesome as the ones I do in London, heading to Sunset Beach for the Dubai International Kite Festival and seeing families and children enjoying colourful kites of all shapes and sizes from across the world, ate vegan street food at the Etisalat Beach Canteen (part of the annual Dubai Food Festival), strolled through old Dubai and bought fresh spices and Arabic tea in bulk before strolling to the Creek and taking an abra (traditional water taxi), and went up to the top of the Dubai Frame – their newest landmark (which opened in January 2018) which offers a journey through Dubai’s past, a 200m high view over Dubai’s present (including a glass floor for those with a true head for heights!) and an amazing virtual presentation of Sheikh Zayed’s plans for Dubai’s future. Let’s just say we really haven’t seen anything yet! Had we been sticking around another couple of weeks we’d have been able to attend XYogaDubai – a two day yoga festival with dozens of free classes from international instructors and Art Dubai – the UAE’s leading art fair showcasing work from over 500 artists. My point being that Dubai may have a reputation for sun, sand, glitz and little else – but it offers fitness, family activities, art, history and culture too – you just have to look for it. Don’t get me wrong – if you want to stay at opulent hotels (room with it’s own shark tank? Atlantis has that!), eat at Michelin starred restaurants, wear head to toe designer gear and party at lavish nightclubs then you absolutely can (and I absolutely have!) but if you want to work out at fantastic studios, eat traditional Emirati food, see the work of local artists and fashion designers or even see wild oryx roaming in the desert then that’s all there too.
Above: The Dubai Frame
Once upon a time (not that long ago) you genuinely couldn’t walk anywhere in Dubai and had to get a taxi to the gym, the supermarket and even to and from work, whereas now you can easily rack up your daily steps and discover parts of the city you never knew existed on foot. The marina, Kite and Sunset Beach and Zabeel and Safa Parks even have their own running tracks – and the Dubai Water Canal has a path over 8k long running alongside it – perfect for walking, running or cycling. This trip on several occasions I grabbed an iced coffee with almond milk (Dubai has an incredible amount of vegan options now widely available!) and just set off walking – it’s also incredibly safe to do so as a woman alone, at any time of day or night, which is something I can’t say about London. I still can’t get used to leaving my handbag or phone unattended in cafes, shops or on the beach – but you absolutely can in Dubai. Over the past year in London I’ve had my bag snatched (on a bus in broad daylight) and been harassed by men in the street on countless occasions, not to mention having to quicken my step on my way home at night or never ever getting my iPhone out at bus stops for fear of having it snatched out of my hand. Trust me on this – it wouldn’t ever happen in Dubai, and that sense of safety and freedom to me is worth so much.
The weather too needs to be mentioned because it is of course a big draw. Over the 8 days we were there this time from 4th March we genuinely didn’t see a single cloud. A little haze on one day – but a sandstorm is par for the course in the desert! Drawing back the curtains in March (and having left behind snow in London) and being greeted by a pure blue sky every single morning is one of life’s simplest pleasures to me. Great weather makes me feel great, and a mid-Winter trip to Dubai for some sunshine genuinely gets me through some of our darkest days here in the UK. The quality of the light there is also not something to be underestimated, as these beautiful photos by Lorami Photography (follow her on Instagram: @lorami_photography) show – I was lucky enough to shoot with her during our most recent trip, and even without a filter these shots and clear and bright.
Taken at The Palace Downtown by @lorami_photography
December, January and sometimes even February can be a little changeable in Dubai – it isn’t 28 degrees 365 days a year (and although rain is rare, when it rains, it really rains!) but even on trips where we’ve had a couple of overcast days we’ve always had sunshine on our breaks too, and even a cloudy Dubai Winter day is better than some of our London Summer days! Does it get crazy hot in July and August? Absolutely – 50 degrees anyone?! But the UAE is set up to cope with extreme temperatures – not like the UK which quite literally goes into meltdown once the mercury passes 25 degrees!
As you can probably tell, there really are so, so many reasons why I love Dubai, and why I’ll continue to visit and quite literally see what’s new. The feeling of excitement, being in a developing City, seeing their investment in the future and the environment, the beautiful beaches and parks, the sunshine and the safety will keep me coming back to Dubai and I genuinely feel like a little part of me will always belong to this jewel in the desert.
If you’re planning a trip yourself and would like hotel, restaurant, gym, shopping or area advice please don’t hesitate to leave me a comment or drop me an email and I’d be happy to advise! But there are definitely a few places I would recommend to anyone.
Firstly, having stayed all over Dubai – Jumeirah Beach, Deira, Dubai Marina, Business Bay, Ibn Battuta…. my favourite hotel bar none in Dubai is Jumeirah Emirates Towers. We have stayed twice now – and paid in full on both occasions – this is in no way paid or sponsored. Whilst I know a lot of people like to be near the beach when visiting Dubai (and staying here does entitle you to use the facilities of their sister hotel on Jumeirah Beach and will transport you by shuttle bus) personally I love this city location as it is close to the airport, Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa, souks and parks – but also has a lot going on around it, most of which you can walk to. There is also a metro station right next door which connects you easily to the rest of Dubai. Check out the vlog I made of our trip last year – the views from the rooms, fantastic food, swimming pool with sunshine all day long, huge gym and fitness facility and above all staff that cannot do enough for you make this my favourite place to stay in Dubai. And much like the City itself I’ll be back again before long!
The view from our room at Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel
If you haven’t seen it in real life, the Burj Khalifa is a must visit – the tallest building in the world will literally take your breath away. I’ve seen it dozens of times and it still makes my skin tingle – it’s just so special. Buy tickets online to go to the top – it is much cheaper than buying in person on the day. I’d recommend seeing the sun glinting off it in the day, but also seeing it all lit up at night – and then you can also take in one of the very impressive nightly free shows at the Dubai Fountain, right at the foot of the Burj.
Whilst you’re in the area the Dubai Mall is definitely worth a visit – the sheer scale alone is phenomenal. There’s a waterfall, ice rink and aquarium inside (you can see some of the aquarium for free just by walking past – one minute watching sharks and rays swim by, the next checking out this seasons latest collections!). There are so many great restaurants and cafes – many with outdoor seating, including the Souk Al Bahar section, built in traditional Arabic style and even boasting some local restaurants.
If you want to feel the sand between your toes, there are free public beaches at Jumeirah (JBR has a large beach and lots of cafes and shops along the seafront), as well as Sunset and Kite Beach. The latter are great for families and fitness enthusiasts with running tracks, playgrounds and outdoor gym equipment. There are plenty of pop up events at both including markets, food trucks and fitness classes so Google before you go to see what’s happening.
The colourful kites at the Dubai International Kite Festival on Sunset Beach
I was genuinely worried about trying to follow a vegan diet in Dubai (even though I can and will be vegetarian where necessary, I wanted to try to be as plant based as possible and practical) – but these eateries all had fantastic vegan food that I enjoyed during my latest trip:
So for now it may be Dubai-bye, but I know it won’t be long until I am living my desert dream again!