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Discovering Dubai

From history and heritage to food and fashion, how to take in the best of this larger-than-life city in just one day

With its dizzying array of things to do, see and experience, Dubai can be overwhelming at first glance. The abundance of choices makes it an excellent location for a quick visit. Here is our guide to spending a day in one of the world’s most popular urban holiday destinations. 

8 a.m. Dubai has numerous lodging options, spanning every price range. While many tourists flock to hotels near the city’s most popular attractions, for visitors on a short stay, checking in to a hotel near the airport can save priceless minutes when trying to catch an early morning flight. The Egyptian-themed Raffles Dubai is not only a top hotel in the Bur Dubai area, close to Dubai International Airport, it is also the number one rated hotel in the entire city, according to TripAdvisor. com. The hotel is also close to the historic Dubai Creek area, which is often overlooked by visitors seeking out the area’s many larger-than-life attractions. 

9 a.m. While Raffles Dubai offers several excellent options for breakfast, it’s worth taking a short cab ride to the XVA Cafe in Bur Dubai, reportedly celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s favorite café in the city. Known for its regionally-inspired vegetarian menu and “legendary” mint lemonade, XVA Cafe offers everything from hearty Arabian breakfast dishes to fruit-filled crepes and Turkish coffee. Conveniently, the cafe is located inside the XVA Gallery, one of the leading contemporary art galleries in the Middle East, housed in the former home of a prominent local trading family. Take a stroll through the latest exhibitions before heading out, on foot, to your next destination. 

10 a.m. Stroll down Al Fahidi Street to the Dubai Museum, located in the 200-year old Al Fahidi Fort, believed to be the oldest building in the Emirate. With most of its galleries located underground, the museum offers a detailed overview of the history of Dubai, its people and Emirati culture. 

11 a.m. Take a short walk to the Dubai Old Souk Marine Transport Station, where for just 1 dirham (27 U.S. cents) you can take a ferry across the Dubai Creek, where traders from across the region have been trading goods for 

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centuries, to the bustling commercial district of Deira. Just a few blocks inland is the famous Gold Souk, where hundreds of shops lining a maze of narrow streets sell a seemingly endless selection of gold jewelry and precious stones. With enough searching and haggling, bargains can be found here, but even if you’re not interested in buying anything, it’s worth visiting.

12 p.m. After experiencing all that old Dubai has to offer, it’s time to take in the ultra-modern side that the city is world-famous for. Take a taxi to the Dubai Mall, the biggest of the city’s many mega-malls, and the largest shopping mall in the world. This massive shopping emporium is a city unto itself, with over 1,200 stores selling virtually every kind of product. Before delving into more shopping, take a break for lunch at Tribes, a popular restaurant and steakhouse featuring an eclectic, Pan-African menu, including peri-peri prawns, oxtail, and Madagascar chicken. 

1:30 p.m. After lunch take in some shopping, or visit the Dubai Mall’s numerous world-class entertainment facilities: get up close with marine life at the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, go ice skating at the Olympic-sized Dubai Ice Rink, or visit the Kidzania children’s theme park. 

3:30 p.m. Located adjacent to the Dubai Mall is the world’s tallest building, the iconic Burj Khalifa. Take time to admire the 828 meter-tall structure from the ground, or take a rapid elevator ride up to one of the two observation decks on the 125th or 148th floor and snap a once-in-a-lifetime selfie. 

4:30 p.m. From the bustle of downtown Dubai, head to the beach for a change of pace and scenery. The Walk at JBR, located in the Jumeirah Beach Residence area, is a long beachfront boardwalk lined with shops and restaurants. Relax by the ocean, or take advantage of the running track and various fitness stations located along the beach to get in a workout before dinner.

6 p.m. Wander down the boardwalk to the opulent beach-front Ritz-Carlton, Dubai to dine at Amaseena. Featuring authentic Arabic cuisine served under Bedouin-style tents with live Arab music performances, this outdoor restaurant offers a feast, not just of the palate, but for all of the senses. From over a dozen mezze plates to fresh grilled kebabs to a wide range of seafood offerings, the Amaseena menu promises a dining experience to remember.

8:30 p.m. After dinner, head back down the boardwalk and over the walking bridge to the one of Dubai’s newest attractions, Bluewaters Island. Take in a late-night movie at Roxy Cinemas, which features retro decor and plush leather seats, or get your adrenaline pumping with immersive virtual-reality gaming at the high-tech recreation center, Hub Zero. End the night in memorable fashion by taking in spectacular views while riding on the Ain Dubai observation wheel, which is, in typical Dubai fashion, the largest and tallest in the world.