After the hot summer months, winter brings an energetic vibe to Dubai, with rooftop restaurants and bars reopening, and beach life back in full swing. The six-month Expo 2020 Dubai (through March 31, 2022) has brought a new excitement to the destination this year, making now the perfect time to plan a trip to the most exciting city in the Gulf.
Discover a world of top dining
Michelin may still not have recognized Dubai with a guide, but there’s a constellation of chefs who have brought their Michelin-star power to the city. The opening of Atlantis the Royal next year will see the arrival of a staggering 18 new concepts from the U.K.’s Heston Blumenthal, Peru’s Gastón Acurio, and Iranian American Ariana Bundy.
New on the scene is Orfali Bros Bistro, where the three Orfali brothers from Aleppo, Syria, are producing some of the city’s most creative meals. Each dish surprises, from the deceptively simple corn bomb full of complexity and texture, to a pomelo salad with a splash of orange blossom water, and a bulgur tabbouleh with punchy Aleppo chile paste and fragrant shiso leaves.
Dubai loves a burger, and local favorite Inkognito, which started out as a pop-up along artsy Alserkal Avenue, now has a permanent home. Carnivores and herbivores both have menu options, with a smoked brisket burger sitting alongside a vegan slow-cooked pulled jackfruit option.
Another dining experience guaranteed to dazzle right now is chef Himanshu Saini’s Trèsind Studio. While the 20-seat restaurant dedicated to modern Indian flavors isn’t new, every time the menu changes, it feels like a completely different experience. Regularly changing tasting menus are available in both meaty and plant-based versions, and—refreshingly—you can mix and match between the two. Flavors on the current Spice Odyssey menu include preserved lemon, pink peppercorns, and raw mango chutney; delicate broths are cooked table-top, ghee-roasted crab is served inside a curl of cinnamon bark, and a buttermilk curry ice cream accompanies a chile pepper adorned with microgreens, edible flowers, and butterfly-shaped crisps.
Make time for beach life
Dubai is known for its vast swaths of desert, but beach life is big here. The emirate is blessed with a long coastline, golden beaches, and waters warm enough to swim in year round. The well-maintained public beaches are ideal for swimming or playing paddle tennis and beach volleyball, both becoming increasing popular across the city. Those who want to chill seaside with a cocktail will need to head to a hotel or one of the many beach clubs. Some of the latter can get a bit raucous on weekends—such as love-it-or-loathe-it Barasti—so go on a weekday and take advantage of the many specials on offer.
Adults-only Drift is one of the most photogenic beach clubs in town, but newcomer Twiggy has been turning heads over at the Park Hyatt. Located alongside the waters of Dubai Creek and surrounded by the greens of the adjacent golf course, Twiggy’s lagoon-side sunbeds and cabanas are in high demand. While it may not strictly be a beach, it’s a serene way to spend a day, and the 330-foot infinity lagoon pool is perfect for cooling off while watching sensational sunsets.
Don’t forget brunch on Fridays
With the weekend falling on Friday and Saturday, the city’s (in)famous Friday brunches can become bacchanalian feasts of over-indulgence, free-flowing drinks, and daytime dancing. The OG spot is the adults-only Saffron brunch at Atlantis the Palm, with its 20 live cooking stations, samba dancers, and magicians.
There are plenty of more sedate options: Recently opened Clap is already a favorite for its quirky design, including a hanging mobile made up of hundreds of manga and anime characters. The restaurant’s Japanese-inspired brunch, served tableside, includes squid karaage, oysters with ponzu sauce, and ceviches and sushi.
For a taste of the Mediterranean, head to Myrra, a recent arrival on the trunk of the Palm Jumeirah. The beachside location suits the Greek and Spanish flavors perfectly, and it has a well-priced brunch on Saturdays. Come for carpaccios and kataifi-wrapped feta with lemon jelly, thyme, and Cretan honey, and stay for the breezy bougainvillea-filled terrace and holiday vibes.
Check into these new hotels
Book now: from $310 per night, expedia.com
With some of the best views in town, the new SLS is a symphony of dusky pinks and rose gold, complemented by clear desert light that floods in through enormous floor-to-ceiling windows. The two infinity pools on the 75th floor rooftop are among the highest in the city, and offer suitably stratospheric vistas of the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building), while the terrace at women-led Italian restaurant Fi’lia, which offers burrata with heirloom tomatoes and wild mushroom risotto, is one of the hottest seats in town.
St. Regis Dubai, The Palm
Book now: from $470 per night, expedia.com
Over on the Palm Jumeirah, the new art deco–influenced St. Regis shares its home in the Palm Tower with the recently debuted Aura Skypool, a wraparound pool and lounge on the 50th floor of the building that takes the crown as the world’s highest 360-degree pool. Unsurprisingly, the views are extraordinary. St. Regis’s own beach club will announce its debut date soon.
Book to read before you go
Dubai’s image is largely synonymous with the architecture that’s put it on the map. The opening of the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab in 1999 showed that the city had both imagination and audacity, and when the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, followed in 2010, Dubai’s bold architectural credentials were set in steel and concrete. But it wasn’t always that way. Only 50 years ago, the city was largely made up of desert, palm trees, and a smattering of low-rise houses. Architect and author Todd Reisz’s fascinating new book, Showpiece City—How Architecture Made Dubai, explains how the foundations for the contemporary city were laid, a tale that takes the reader from an early trading port to the superlative skyline of today.