Dubai is the big, glitzy stopover when flying with Emirates to Europe — and, come to that, just about everywhere else in the world.

It’s manufactured; the result of vision, steel and glass. And it’s not cheap.

So I set out to find four “see, shop, sup, stay” ingredients that give flavour without emptying the bank account.


It’s air-conditioned inside but I climb the stairs to sit up on the top deck on the Big Bus Tour. I want to be up here in the dry heat, in blasting sunlight made hazy by sand and dust. Under a muted, yellow sky. I want to experience this city in the desert, not just see it through a window.

This is a good way to do it, with just one ticket.

For a ticket on this hop-on, hop-off bus is all you need to see all the major sights of Dubai, and some further afield. There are three routes around with 80 stops and a commentary in 12 languages, including English. Major sights include Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab, Palm Jumeirah Beach and Dubai Marina.

But the price of a ticket also includes a desert sunset tour, two dhow tours and entry to 10 museums. Plan the desert sunset and a dhow ride into a 24-hour ticket day and you are really getting value, particularly as you are getting city transport with a commentary, too.

You can also ride out to Flamingo Discovery Lagoon, Palm Island and the neighbouring and historic emirate of Sharjah — good if you buy a 48-hour ticket.

I board the Big Bus Tour outside the pyramid of Raffles Dubai Hotel (a good place to start, as the several routes converge) and just sit there, doing one lap ... lapping it up.

A 24-hour ticket is AED240 for adults ($84), AED100 for children aged 5-15 and AED580 for a family of two adults and two children.

A 48-hour ticket is AED295 for adults, AED130 for children aged 5-15 and AED720 for a family (two adults, two children).

The night tour is AED145, AED75 and AED 365.

Wafi Mall has international shops and good local ones nearby.


Shopping in Dubai isn’t like poking round the markets of Asia, doesn’t have the elegance of shopping in Paris or the variety and individuality of shopping in New York. It is mall shopping, mostly with familiar international retail chains and brands, and often no cheaper than you’d find at home. But it is its own scene and the experience is still really rather intriguing.

Most visitors will head to the Dubai Mall with its 1200 shops — but I am not proposing that.

Here’s a suggestion for a nice mix of a “modern and traditional” shopping experience that isn’t overpowering, in two adjoining and easily walkable malls.

Start by taking a taxi to Wafi Mall, by Raffles Hotel in Al Razi Street (the taxi drivers know this one). Wafi Mall is a manageable size for most of us, and you might find yourself in Marks & Spencer, Jaeger, Chanel, Robert Cavalli or Boots the chemist.

But the reason I’m suggesting coming here is that, mainstream browsing done, we can walk through to the Khan Murjan Souk. It might be new (almost everything in Dubai is) but it has an Arabian feel and the emphasis is on goods made in the region. (Its brief is “Islamic authenticity, unparalleled in the region”.)

There are little shops with perfume and incense, pashminas and kaftans, painted silk and dates. It has Egyptian, Moroccan, Turkish and Syrian quarters. And in the open marble courtyard of Khan Murjan Restaurant, there are Emirati eating local dishes and beautiful young women in long black abaya puffing out big, fruit clouds of smoke from shisha. Open to the sky, with regional Islamic architecture, Khan Murjan Restaurant is the social heart of the souk.


For an authentic dining experience, try Khan Murian Souk.


Dubai has food courts in its many shopping malls, hundreds of touristy restaurants and plenty of fancy and expensive ones, too. But people from all over the world live and work here, and they go out to eat, too. So, away from the glitzy, and on the other end of the social spectrum, sits Al Dhiyafah Road, which runs parallel to 2nd of December Street. This is Dubai’s cheap, local dining street, where locals with shallower pockets come. Restaurants and cafes spill on to the pavement, serving up fare from India, Lebanon, Iran, even Thailand. They also serve up plenty of people-watching. For Arabian flavours, locals head to Al Mallah; for Lebanese to Sidra and Beirut Restaurant. At any of the restaurants, you’ll probably pay less than $30 for two people to eat. As an example, a mixed Arabian grill at Al Mallah is about $14.


I take a rather different approach on accommodation. Le Meridien Dubai Hotel is just a few minutes from Dubai Airport and perhaps thought of more as somewhere to break a journey. But rather than heading in to Jumeirah Beach or Downtown (my usual haunt), I base myself very comfortably at Le Meridien for this short stay.

After all, taxi rides to the main spots I want to go are only $7-$12. The hotel has three swimming pools — the biggest with a swim-up bar and good food service, and the smallest is a fitness lap pool. There’s a well-fitted gym, Natural Elements Spa and nine restaurants (cuisines include Thai, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, seafood and international) and an extensive in-room dining menu. There are also a number of cooking classes.

There are 579 rooms but you wouldn’t know it — it’s all very quiet and peaceful. My deluxe (the standard room) is spacious, with a corner desk, sofa, coffee machine, satellite TV, comfortable bed and mountains of pillows. It has a bath and sizeable shower room. On their booking site, I find many nights from between AED400 and AED550 for this.

It works really well as a base for a very short stay — I quite like retreating from the city back to this oasis. And when it’s over, its just a few minutes’ taxi ride over to the departure terminal. Now that’s low hassle, isn’t it.

Stephen Scourfield flew to Dubai as a guest of Emirates.


For information on visiting Dubai, see


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