Few places on earth are as compactly cosmopolitan as Dubai, and that translates into an astonishingly varied food scene for diners. Visitors can find everything from shawarma joints serving delicious kebabs for under US$1, to seven-course tasting menus prepared by Michelin-starred chefs. Seafood is typically good value and the sushi frequently excellent.
Those keen for an aperitif or wine with their meal will need to eat at one the big hotels as no independent restaurants can serve alcohol. Friday brunch has become something of a ritual for both expats and locals, so booking ahead is essential. During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan only the big hotels will serve food between sunrise and sunset. However once the cannon fires to signal the official sundown people flood into the cafés and restaurants to break their fast. A festive and convivial atmosphere prevails making this a great time to meet the locals.
Dubai's shopping malls have become iconic destinations. Visitors are greeted by hundreds of designer fashion brands, as well as everything from ski slopes to aquariums. Dubai Mall, the largest shopping mall in the world, houses over 1,200 shops selling luxury items and high-end fashion. The Mall of the Emirates is a shopping resort, offering visitors a mix of international brands and independent designers alongside a ski slope and a collection of top restaurants. New additions to the shopping circuit such as the Italian-themed Outlet Village are also starting to make their mark.
For a more alternative shopping experience, tourists can visit the vibrant, colourful Boxpark, an outdoor shopping area constructed out of disused shipping containers. Stores such as Urbanista Boutique sell contemporary brands such as Comme Des Garcons and Kenzo, as well as championing local designers. The Beach at JBR offers a maze of chic boutiques for beach goers, selling brands such as River Island and Victoria's Secret.
Shoppers will find an entirely different world in Dubai's traditional souks (markets). The Deira district plays host to the intricate jewellery of the Gold Souk, the fragrances of the Perfume Souk, and the aromas of the Spice Souk. Tourists can also lose themselves in the colourful stores of Satwa, where an explosion of fabrics and textures will greet them. Karama Road is the destination for those looking to purchase souvenirs.
Dubai has zero sales tax and low import duties so certain items, such as electronic goods and gold jewellery, are priced very competitively. Shops tend to open from 8am to 1pm, reopening after the heat of the day at around 4.30pm until 8pm or even later. Malls will remain open from 10am until 10pm. Shops, malls and souks usually close on Friday mornings.
Thanks to its large and international population of expats, Dubai has an incredibly vibrant nightlife, but finding the best parties entails tapping local knowledge and planning the evening with care.
Dubai's clubs and bars are found mostly in the large 4- and 5-star hotels because of the emirate's strict liquor laws. The legal drinking age is 21, although patrons must be 25 to enter a nightclub. For this reason it is wise to carry some form of identification when heading out at night. Some good options for a night out include the Parisian-style Boudoir, and Buddha Bar in the Grosvenor House Hotel complex at Dubai Marina, which has great open-air views of the Arabian Gulf and two levels, a restaurant, a bar and a lounge. Of the few areas outside of hotels that sell alcohol, the Irish Village next to the Aviation Club of Dubai is a favourite watering hole with tourists and non-Muslim residents. For an alcohol-free option, Dubai Creek Park is a popular place to spend an evening. The atmosphere at night is wonderful and very festive and the park is never crowded due its sheer size. It is worth noting that in Dubai homosexuality, public displays of sexuality, and drugs are strictly forbidden and penalties are enforced against those transgressing. It is also illegal to be publicly intoxicated so those who have over-indulged are strongly advised to catch a taxi home.