Dubai: Special Report - Glitz and glamour

On-tap entertainment and non-stop sunshine make Dubai a Disneyland for grown-ups - who needs culture?

by Colette Doyle
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

What do you think of when people mention Dubai - oil and desert, perhaps? If so, you'd be way off the mark: the sands of the desert have been ousted to the fringes of the city to make way for glittering five-star hotels and oil has been displaced by tourism as the city's number one revenue-earner. Dubai is pretty much the Gulf's answer to Las Vegas (minus the gambling, which jars with Islamic sensibilities). It also bears comparison to a Disneyland for grown-ups, with its on-tap entertainment, Never-Neverland salaries and eternal sunshine.

That glitz and glamour can start to grate after a while, but what I like most about Dubai is the lifestyle. Having grown up in gritty Glasgow, I never really understood the concept of 'lifestyle', but as I catch some rays beside the pool, arrange for a driver to take me to the office and pay the houseboy to clean my apartment, I think I'm finally getting the hang of it.

Visitors to Dubai can soak up the sumptuous ambience at the One & Only Royal Mirage hotel's rooftop bar - a much better bet for a sundowner cocktail than other arguably more famous, but over-hyped, beachfront properties.

There's not much culture in this city, it's true, but who needs culture when you have Madinat Jumeirah - a restaurant and shopping complex designed to resemble an Arabian village, complete with old-fashioned wind-towers (those precursors to modern day A/C) and waterways plied by abras (think gondola minus the Cornetto man). This is history Dubai style - beautifully airbrushed and sanitised, without any of the brutish realism of the genuine article.

If you still hanker after a more authentic experience, then you should take a stroll (weather permitting, temperatures can reach a sweltering 50deg C in July and August) around the Bastakiya area, where the last vestiges of the original fishing settlement can be seen. Here, you might like to stop off at the nearby XVA Gallery or the Basta Art Cafe, where you can admire the work of local artists as you cool down with a refreshing juice.

Most four and five-star hotels have pools, but if you're staying in town and still want to be beside the sea, head for Jumeirah Beach Club (below), where a bargain Dhs5 ($1.36) gets you into an attractively landscaped section of the beach. For the ultimate in beachfront luxury, my vote goes to the Ritz-Carlton or the Royal Mirage. In town, the Fairmont has a great multicuisine restaurant (Spectrum on One), while Emirates Towers is where serious business meets cutting-edge architecture.

What I don't like about Dubai is the same thing that regularly fills the letters pages of the local paper: the traffic. It's official - according to a recent UN report, Dubai now has the dubious distinction of being the third most dangerous country in the world when it comes to traffic accidents. That's the bad news; the good news is that taxis are plentiful and cheap - you can get virtually anywhere in the city for about Dhs25 ($6.80).

In contrast, Dubai International Airport is a gleaming bastion of efficiency and innovation. Make your arrival go like Swiss clockwork by splashing out on the friendly meet-and-greet service, Marhaba - probably the best Dhs75 (about $20 each way) you'll ever spend. And for those business meetings, I would suggest either Lotus One at the World Trade Centre or The Agency at Emirates Towers Mall. Verre, Gordon Ramsay's restaurant at the Hilton Creek, is also suitable.

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