Dubai: the insider’s guide

Dubai may be in debt to the tune of $84 billion and not be opening a hotel a minute any more, but there’s still plenty of life left in the Emirate.

Say what you like about Dubai, reinvention isn’t one of its weaknesses.

Metro

This winter marks the full first season for Dubai Metro. Half of the Red Line station stops opened in November and the rest will be ready in February – meaning you won’t have to spend hours on the road any more.

That said, one flip-side to the recession is that you can drive from the airport to the Jumeirah strip hotels and “new Dubai” in just half an hour, even in rush hour.

Featuring chic driverless trains, smart cards, leather seats in gold class, and wi-fi on board, the Metro knocks spots off most urban train experiences. You can travel the length of the Red Line for Dhs11.80 (about £2 one-way). For added leather seat comfort, a Gold class ticket costs Dhs20, which includes Dhs14 credit

– but all in it will still be cheaper than a taxi, and a good deal more enjoyable.

New hotels

The five-star Address brand (part of Emaar Hospitality, the company building Burj Dubai) now has three hotels, the second is linked to the 1,200-outlet Dubai Mall in the shadow of Burj Dubai, not far from the first, and the third has opened its doors at Dubai Marina.

Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest tower, will open on January 4 (although the Armani hotel inside the tower won’t be ready until early 2010).

Attractions

Dubai Mall, home to a floor-to-ceiling aquarium complete with sharks and sting rays, underwater zoo and ice rink, is about to open the Sega Republic – which features 150 amusement games spread over 76,000sq ft – and Kidzania, an “edu-tainment” centre for children spanning 80,000sq ft. It even has a Waitrose, if you want to stock up on those UK home comforts.

This “Downtown” district has certainly changed dramatically in the last year, with new attractions including The Dubai Fountain, Emaar Boulevard and Souk Al Bahar, an Arabesque-styled shopping mall.

Brits keep coming

Visitor numbers totalled 1,857,724 between April and June, a 4 per cent increase year-on-year, and even as the mercury rose above 40 degrees in the first week of August, five-star beach hotels along the Jumeirah strip recorded a remarkable average occupancy of 90 per cent.

The UK and Ireland together remains the largest source market, with 196,554 visitors during the second quarter, representing 10.6 per cent of the emirate’s total visitor market.

Family fun

Let the kids indulge their Willy Wonka fantasies at Candylicious – effectively a sweets and chocolate supermarket on the ground floor of Dubai Mall – it’s not far from the sharks and sting rays swimming about the vast Dubai Aquarium, and you can hop on the escalator upstairs for more marine life (seals and penguins). Also new this year is a technology-themed ‘edu-tainment’ attraction at Zabeel Park, where children can learn all about the planets in a fun environment.

For a splashing time, Dubai has a second water park – Aquaventure at Atlantis The Palm – a little further along the coast from the long-standing Wild Wadi near Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

Insider’s view: what to see and do in Dubai

One of the unbridled joys of any wintersun trip is eating outside, knowing that friends and family are turning up the heater back home, and Dubai is spoilt for choice when it comes to al fresco venues.



Dubai: the insider’s guide