Dubai is at the cutting edge of urban development – a trip to this man-made oasis in the Arabian Desert feels like a voyage into the future. Perhaps by 2050 buildings like the Burj Khalifa (the world's tallest structure at 828 m) will be commonplace, and giant shopping malls and lush golf courses in the desert nothing to be amazed about. But that will be then and this is now. So prepare to be amazed!
Dubai is the largest city in the emirate of the same name, one of seven that make up the United Arab Emirates. For centuries an important trading hub, Dubai has emerged as a global city since oil was discovered in 1971. You can get an insight into the city's history at Dubai Museum inside the Al Fahidi Fort. The region has a hot desert climate, with warm winters and stiflingly humid summers. Visitors must respect Islamic customs – which in practice means dressing discreetly and behaving with decorum in public.
A trip up Burj Khalifa (www.burjkhalifa.ae) is a must. Back on land, stay for lunch or dinner by the Burj Khalifa Lake and watch the dancing fountain spray gallons of water 500 feet into the air in time to music and lights. Shows take place at 1pm, 1.30pm and 6pm. Then pop into Dubai Mall (www.thedubaimall.com), the world's largest shopping and entertainment centre. Along with over 1,000 shops, Dubai Aquarium (www.thedubaiaquarium.com), an Olympic-size ice rink, SEGA Republic theme park and a 22-screen cinema complex, Dubai Mall is home to the Dubai Shopping Festival (www.dubaievents.ae/en/festival/festivals/dubai-shopping-festival) from mid-January through February.
For a more traditional shopping experience in Dubai, explore Deira's souks. If the smell of cinnamon in the spice souk doesn’t make you giddy, the sight of the gold souk probably will. To shop for jewellery in a less frenetic atmosphere, visit the Gold & Diamond Park (www.goldanddiamondpark.com); for local souvenirs, head to Al Jaber Gallery (www.aljabergallery.ae).
One pleasing side effect of Dubai’s large number of ex-pats and visitors is that chic restaurants are plentiful. La Petite Maison (www.lpmdubai.ae) is seducing Dubai's foodies with its fresh, authentic French cuisine from Nice, including sharing plates and irresistible cheesecake. For an innovative twist on a dinner cruise, hire a doughnut-shaped barbecue boat at The Boardwalk in Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club (www.dubaigolf.com/dubai-creek-golf-yacht-club/indulge/the-boardwalk.aspx) and cruise while you grill. A tip for those who want to eat at highly-regarded Japanese restaurant Zuma (www.zumarestaurant.com): go for the buffet.
Tourists looking for nightlife and entertainment gravitate towards the plusher resorts. Wild Wadi Water Park (www.jumeirah.com/Hotels-and-Resorts/wild-wadi/) is as much fun as the name suggests, while the fire-eaters and contortionists of the Cirque Du Soir (www.cirquedusoirdubai.com) will keep the whole family entertained. Check out special events in Dubai on the useful Dubai Calendar (www.dubaicalendar.ae).
If you’re here during March and fancy a flutter, don’t miss the Dubai World Cup (www.dubairacingclub.com), the world’s richest horse racing event. Past winners of January’s Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament (www.dubaidesertclassic.com) include Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. December’s Dubai Film Festival (www.dubaifilmfest.com) describes its mission as: ‘Bridging cultures. Meeting minds.’ It’s a tagline that could easily serve for the whole of Dubai.