A relaxing day out in Dubai is worth a little planning and prioritising in advance. Let’s assume you have just arrived in Dubai and that this is your first day out on the streets in this wonderland Metropolis. Is it Friday? Or one of the other six days of the week? And why is this a consideration, you may ask?
Friday is the Middle Eastern holy day – the equivalent of Sunday in the west – and many people attend the midday service at the mosques of the UAE.
If you want to see what the main tourist malls of the UAE have to offer, Friday morning between 10.00am and 2.00pm is the time to be there, because the usual crowds won’t be there. The same applies the other 6 days of the week; that is, before 2.00pm is always better than 2.00 – 10.00pm as far as crowd density in malls is concerned.
What if I stay in the mall after 2.00pm?
Well, of course, you’re free to do so. My take? Remember Dante’s 10 Circles of Hell in the Divine Comedy? The 11th Circle would be an eternity in Deira City Centre (or Mall of the Emirates) at 5.00pm on a Friday afternoon. All those people who so obligingly stay away from the malls on Friday mornings arrive en masse after 2.00pm and it peaks somewhere between 5.00 and 8.00.
So there; you’ve been warned. You might actually love the buzz, but relaxing? I don’t think so.
Lunching in Dubai
In Dubai, you’re spoiled for choice and it would be impossible in just a short article to list more than just a few that I personally like.
As I’ve said in other articles, the weather may well be as big a deciding factor as any. In mid-December, at the time of writing this, outside dining is highly popular and outside tables always at a premium, but in the hotter months, all this changes as just about everyone heads indoors for the comfort of air-conditioning.
A few of my personal favourites are Almaz in the Mall of the Emirates, located on Level 3 of Harvey Nicols Store, at the back of the shop. This wonderful restaurant specialises in Moroccan/Algerian/Tunisian cuisine – collectively referred to as Maghreb cuisine.
Arabesque, an Arabic/Lebanese/Mediterranean style restaurant in the lovely Park Hyatt, with tables overlooking Dubai’s Creek never fails to please and if Southern Hemisphere fusion cuisine lights your fuse, you really should try The Lime Tree Café on Jumeirah Beach road.
It’s a bit of a Dubai institution is Friday Brunch. I thought long and hard before choosing to include it in this article on finding relaxing things to do on a day out in Dubai. Friday Brunches almost always involve about 3½ hours of buffet eating and drinking.
There are cheap Friday Brunches – around the AED125-150 mark – medium priced brunches and also quite a lot of fairly pricey ones; like AED550 – 700 per person. Now typically, these top end brunches involve a fairly decent range and quality of cuisine. People can get a bit excited and things get a touch rushed especially at “last orders” time.
Also, remember, this is Dubai, an Islamic emirate and a very tolerant one at that, but overt public displays of alcohol-fuelled exuberance will attract the attention of the law, and you might just find yourself spending Friday night, not in your 4 or 5 Star hotel room, but somewhere considerably rougher. And don’t expect to be let out Saturday with a wag of the finger and a “naughty boy/naughty girl – on your way!”
So Friday Brunches are a great way to spend a relaxing Friday afternoon, especially with a group, but behave and be sensible. Here are a few recommendations in each bracket that I have always enjoyed.
At the lower end, you could do much worse than the Wafi Pyramids restaurants’ Friday Brunch. There are food stations in three restaurants, Carters, Medzo and Thai-Chi. For a single price, you can range freely through what all three have to offer. Price is a very reasonable AED145.
A great mid-range buffet is the Thai Kitchen at the Park Hyatt. The food is bought to your table and the standard and style is right on the edge of fine dining. I’ve Friday Brunched here more than any other location in Dubai since the hotel opened in 2005 and never been disappointed.
There are plenty of high end Friday brunches to go with all the high end hotels and I certainly haven’t been to all of them, but there’s one stand-out I’ve been to more than once. The Park Hyatt’s Traiteur French fine-dining restaurant does an excellent brunch.
It specialises in seafood now, so think all the oysters and lobster you can eat. It’s also quite a bit more expensive now than the last time I was there – the Veuve Cliquot package is now AED690, but if you’re prepared to settle for still very good, but lesser bubbles, it’s AED570.
I mention these 3 because in addition to the excellent quality of dining on offer at each price level. So enjoy, but leave the car in the car park until Saturday and do take a taxi home.
Relaxing at Little Expense
The parks in Dubai are very popular. There are two that open on to the seaside – Al Mamzar and the Jumeirah Beach Park. As most of the seafront is the preserve of 5-star hotels, these parks are the best way to access the beaches at a reasonable price.
For as little as AED5.00 you can enter these delightfully maintained parks. There is grass, trees, beach front, toilets and someone to rent you a deck chair and sun-umbrella. The water is usually warm, although in January it is cool enough to keep many Dubai residents on shore. Visitors will probably love it.
The Dubai Cable Car Park, right in the heart of the city, is a great place for a picnic. The gardens are beautiful to walk through and are filled with birds and unusual plants. The park will be filled with happy family groups especially at the end of the year when the weather is cooler, but it is big enough for everyone to find a space to spread out and relax.
The only thing to be wary of is that parking can be an issue especially in the evenings. Because it is so hot in the UAE most of the year, people prefer to picnic in the early evening or at night.
If you have been successful getting a car park, you may return to your car to find that someone has parked over the back of it. Before you fly into a rage, check the dashboard of the offending car. The driver will have left a note with his phone number. A quick call and he will arrive to shift his car apologizing for the inconvenience. Resist the urge to lambast them and chalk it up to experience.
Up in the Air
There are also helicopter options. Of course, if you do not want to fly, a trip to the top of the Burj Khalifa affords you great views on a clear day.
What you can do in the evenings is very season dependent. In the cooler months, you could walk off the effects of a late lunch, or a Friday Brunch with a stroll along either bank of Dubai’s Creek.
A great and amazingly cheap authentic experience is a cross-Creek abra ride. An abra is a cross-Creek water taxi, capable of holding about 20 people, and a trip from, say, the Deira Spice Souk side to the Bur Dubai Old Souk side of the Creek costs AED 1.00. That’s about $US 27cents.
If the walking gets tiring, or the heat and humidity are starting to wear you out in the warmer months, you could continue your night exploration of Dubai with a Metro ride. Most of Dubai’s Metro is above ground at somewhere between first and second floor levels, so a night ride from say, Dubai City Centre down Sheikh Zayed Road where all the lights in the tall buildings will be on is guaranteed to be pretty spectacular.
If relaxation is the goal, I’d advise staying out of the malls at night – they can be very crowded and some of them seriously noisy. Weather permitting, the streets of Deira and Bur Dubai are colourful and not at all intimidating and might be just the perfect nightcap to your day in Dubai, before hailing a cab and heading back to the sanctuary of the hotel.