Shoulder season; that awkward time between the Winter and Summer when you’re more desperate than ever for a bit of sun, but even the further corners of Europe don’t quite hit high enough on the thermometer to allow for lazy days by the pool. You may be tempted at this time of year to bag yourself a low-cost package deal to a European city, or beach resort (and just put up with temperatures in the mid-teens), but with just a few extra hours in the air, and for a reasonable budget, you could be discovering the melting pot of high-end luxury and Arabian culture which is Dubai.
And that’s exactly what the Footprint Travel team decided to do. As the rain drizzled down on a gloomy Thursday in the UK, our Kent office team were waiting to board their overnight Emirates flight, direct to Dubai from Heathrow. With a flight time of just 7 hours, a late-night flight is the perfect way to make the most of any annual-leave, flying overnight and arriving fresh on early-morning Dubai time so you can start exploring straight away. We returned on Tuesday (taking 3 days out of the office) but you could certainly make Dubai work with just a 4-day weekend.
Many think of Dubai as gargantuan modern city, which only offers luxury hotels, man-made beaches and super-malls. Well this is partly true, the extravagance here is on another level, and you could spend hours marvelling at floor-to-ceiling foyer aquariums (you could even choose to stay in one of the underwater suites in Atlantis, The Palm) and gawping at the sheer scale of the sky scrapers, such as the famous Burj Khalifa, which creates the city’s iconic horizon. However, there is also the opportunity to explore the historic old town, wander around the gold and spice souks in Deira, or experience the enchanting Jumeriah Madinat indoor souks which are nestled around the waterways. This really is a city of two halves.
So, the first thing to decide when visiting such a diverse city such as Dubai…where to stay? The choice of hotels are truly endless, from the high-end luxury of the incredible hotels on The Palm, such as the stunningly decadent One&Only, or the famous Atlantis, to the many premium hotels which line Jumeirah beach, and not forgetting the numerous high-rise hotel options in Downtown Dubai. We decided to stay near the popular and budget-friendly Dubai Marina area. Just a short taxi ride from the sandy stretch of Jumeirah Beach (or a short walk if you want to treat yourself to the private beach facilities at the 5* One&Only Resort), the marina gives you the best of both worlds with hundreds of restaurants on your doorstep, and although it offers great value-for-money, the hotels do not disappoint. We stayed at the Radisson Blu Media City – a 10 minute walk from the Marina and conveniently just 5 minutes from the Nakheel Metro station, making it easy to get around and explore the city.
Navigating your way around Dubai couldn’t be easier. Taxis are inexpensive and easy to flag down in most locations. Or, if you’re happy to take public transport a Metro Ticket (Nol red gold class) which allows a full day of unlimited travel in all zones, costs just 42 Emirati Dirham (approx. £8.00). Even in March, temperatures were hitting around 30 degrees Celsius, so although you can take a pleasant stroll around the Marina, or The Walk alongside Jumeriah Beach, travelling any significant distance by foot is not going to be feasible or comfortable, especially in hotter summer months.
So what did we get up to on our long weekend? Dubai has something for everyone, and if you’re coming here for sunshine and relaxation by the pool or beach, you can happily do just that and enjoy any number of world-class hotel facilities, perhaps with a visit to one of the super-size water parks to keep both children and adults suitably entertained. However, if you’re anything like us and struggle to sit still for longer than 5 minutes (and just love exploring!), there’s more than enough to keep you occupied.
The light show at the Burj Khalifa (Dubai Mall) is particularly spectacular, and certainly worth a visit. Time your visit well and you could watch this stunning show whilst you enjoy dinner at one of the many restaurants around the Burj Khalifa area. We also paid a worthwhile visit to The Miracle and Butterfly Gardens, which offers a beautiful array of flower sculptures, using over 45 million flowers and 60 species (including a full-size Emirates A380, naturally!). We spent pleasant afternoons pottering around the old town, taking in the sights and smells of the gold and spice souks which overwhelm the senses and turned us into magpies, wanting to fill our suitcases with treasure and trinkets.
As we were lucky to have longer than just the weekend at our disposal, we decided to take the quick 1h 45min drive from Dubai to the equally decadent city of Abu Dhabi, to see what the capital of the UAE had to offer. Home of the breath-taking Grand Mosque, we spent some time exploring the immaculately presented and structurally stunning place of worship. Admission is free, just be sure to dress respectfully (and you’ll need sunglasses to cope with the glare of the sun from the brilliant white surroundings!). We also visited another architectural wonder in the Presidential Palace, which is another decadent example of Abu Dhabi’s immense wealth and cultural heritage.
And naturally, a visit to Abu Dhabi wouldn’t be complete without a stop-off at Ferrari world, located on Yas island. Opened in 2010, taking an incredible 3 years and 12,370 tons of steel to build, the world’s first Ferrari-themed attraction park pays homage to all things motorsport (and is home to the world’s fastest rollercoaster…of course!).
As our extended weekend came to an end, we boarded our return flight at midday on Tuesday feeling less like we’d had a whistle-stop mini-break and more like we’d spent a week living as VIPs, immersed in an extravagant city rich in both culture and wealth. Sun-kissed and with suitcases and cameras full of Arabian mementos, we happily relaxed into our Emirates flight, enjoying a couple of gin and tonics to ease us back to our far less extravagant reality.
If a weekend (or longer!) in Dubai sounds like the perfect way to get you through to summer, get in touch with the Footprint Travel team, and let us plan your luxurious getaway. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 0161 772 0149.