In 2000, the Burj al Arab—a sail-shaped, all-suite skyscraper hotel built on an artificial island—put Dubai on the map as an over-the-top travel destination and became a landmark. Even today, the Burj al Arab sets the bar for outsized luxury with Rolls Royce airport pickups, gold-plated iPads, and butler-serviced duplex suites equipped with beds with mirrored ceilings, double Jacuzzi bathtubs, and full-size Hermès toiletries. The cool architectural exterior conceals a vivid interior with acres of gold leaf, dancing fountains, and room decor so distractingly jazzy that it may make guests feel as though they’ve drunk the world’s largest cup of Arabic coffee. (This is not the place for admirers of subtlety or minimalism.) The 27th-floor Skyview bar is a must for cocktails at sunset; if it’s already packed, try heading over to the spa’s two gloriously tiled infinity pools (which are sex-segregated as in a sheikh’s harem), from which some of the best views can be enjoyed.
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The hotel sits atop a small man-made island whose privacy is enhanced by a rule that allows non-guests to enter only if they are holding a reservation at one of the Burj al Arab bars or restaurants. Just across a small bridge lies the massive Madinat Jumeirah hotel and shopping mall complex, with which the Burj shares a beach, and the Wild Wadi water theme park. From the hotel you can walk down Jumeirah Beach to Pierchic, a romantic jetty restaurant with fresh seafood and Burj al Arab views.
Need to Know
Rooms: 202 rooms; from $1,441 (5,290 AED). Check-in: 3 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: An elevator designed like a Jules Verne submarine takes guests to the Mediterranean seafood restaurant, one of eight themed restaurants and bars. At lobby level Junsui serves pan-Asian cuisine. Up 656 feet on the 27th floor, Al Muntaha offers modern European dishes; ask for a window table. Gym and spa details: The two-story Talise Spa is awash in natural light, with water views from its treatment room. Talise Fitness has floor-to-ceiling windows in its sex-segregated gyms, changing rooms, and swimming pools.
Who’s it for: Dubai first-timers and couples who wish to splurge on a modern landmark stay. Our favorite rooms: Club Suites have private billiard tables on the second floor. For all room categories, request a high floor with sunset views both of the sea and Burj al Khalifa (the world’s tallest building). Bird's-eye view: For those who can spring for it, arrive by helicopter, landing on the hotel’s Starship Enterprise–styled cantilevered penthouse pad.