Top right, the glittering skyscrapers of Dubai. From top left, clockwise: coffee at The Courtyard, historic Al Fahidi district and traditional Emirati boats crossing Dubai Creek (Picture: Getty/Deborah Arthurs)
Flying into Dubai for the launch of the new W Hotel, I was convinced I knew what to expect: high rises and hotel bars. Jet skis and warm seas. A glitzy crowd motivated by suntans and social media. Shopping malls and motorways. Streets too hot to walk. Biggest, tallest, most expensive, shiniest. After all, isn’t Dubai the land of hyperbole and excess?
While I’m not averse to any of those things – I’ve long claimed the gilded lily as my favourite flower – I do prefer my trips to offer a balance of cocktails and culture. Most of all, I like to explore cities on foot.
Just as I’d settled into the idea that this would therefore be a four-day session around an infinity pool, I met a British ex-pat with four years under her belt living in Dubai.
Her perfect day in this, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates, included none of the above. What’s more, apart from a few connecting taxis, it can largely be done on foot. Dubai, it turns out, has more walkable elements than you might expect from a city that looks from above to be 100% highway.
Armed with her itinerary, I set out to explore Dubai like a local – picking up tips from as many more locals – ex-pats and Emeratis – as I could find along the way.
Shimmering skyscrapers: The side of Dubai we all know (Picture: Deborah Arthurs)
Dubai is a temple to modernity which is thrilling in itself, but it has a peaceful old quarter that provides welcome contrast (Picture: Deborah Arthurs)
1 Coffee in The Courtyard
The Courtyard in the Al Quoz district is a chilled spot replete with stylish shops and cafes, a shady, calm contrast to the heat-hazy motorways and shiny sky scrapers (Picture: Deborah Arthurs)
Head to the Al Quoz district for breakfast in one of Dubai’s most vibrant cultural hubs. A metaphorical million miles from the glossy malls of downtown, this cobbled alley with its stone balconies, olive trees and low-rise, colourful, stucco buildings, is a peaceful oasis in the heart of Al Quoz, lined with boutiques bursting (I do not say this lightly) with perfectly curated products.
Australian-run Boston Lane cafe serves delicious coffee and crisp cheese toasties (Picture: Deborah Arthurs)
Start your day with coffee at Boston Lane, a pretty Australian-owned cafe with excellent coffee and perfectly crisp cheese toasties, alongside the usual selection of pastries and juices, before hitting the shops.
Boston Lane, The Courtyard, Sheikh Zayed Road Al Quoz Industrial 1 Street 4b/Street 6
2 Shop The Collective
The Courtyard, a collection of shops, antiques and cafes where you can while away the day far from the high octane energy of Downtown (Picture: Deborah Arthurs)
Stay in The Courtyard after coffee and leave yourself a few hours to explore the phenomenal …read more