Burj Al Arab Jumeirah is built to resemble a dhow sail. // © 2016 Burj Al Arab Jumeirah
Feature image (above): Dubai is a bustling metropolis. // © 2016 iStock
For travelers seeking a taste of the Middle East, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is a pleasant surprise and a perfect destination for a first-time visit to the region. English is prolific, and because the city as we know it is little more than 30 years old, everything — from hotel amenities to the metro system — is remarkably modern.
There are a few quintessential experiences that shouldn’t be missed on a trip to the city, which has no shortage of luxurious hotels and delightful attractions.
Dubai’s fine-dining restaurants are masters of carefully curated ambience, but nothing beats the majesty of the desert at sunset. Arabian Adventures offers a Sundowner Dune Dinner Safari — an afternoon 4x4 drive into the dunes, followed by an exquisite traditional meal and live music at a Bedouin-style camp. Clients can enjoy aromatic curries, spit-roasted lamb, piping-hot mint tea and even tobacco from a hookah pipe while digging their feet in the sand while the sky lights up with stars. It’s hard to believe that such a production could exist deep in the middle of the desert, but Dubai has no shortage of delightful surprises up its sleeve.
For true over-the-top luxury, there is nothing like Burj Al Arab Jumeirah. Its structure, which emulates a traditional dhow sail, is a Dubai landmark — you’ve probably seen it in photos — but the building, with its 591-foot open atrium (the tallest atrium in the world) has to be seen in person to be believed. A rainbow of colors dazzles in the ground-level cascading waterfall, and a gradient of blue and teal highlights the 28 levels of balconies rising upward.
The suites are equally extraordinary, done in totally over-the-top style, with rich navies, reds and purples and copious amounts of 24-karat gold leaf. The units span two levels and are connected by a curved staircase, with plush velvet appointments throughout. The grand, mosaic-laden baths come with Hermes toiletries. If overnighting here is out of the question, make a reservation at one of the on-site restaurants to get a glimpse of the sheikh life.
Dubai is synonymous with opulence, and this collides with traditional Middle Eastern market culture at the gold souk. Chaotic and not for the weak of heart, this market has some real treasures: The jewelers’ stalls are practically dripping with gold.
Women traveling alone might want to bring a male friend along to act as a buffer, but bargain hard for pieces that catch your eye. Close by, the spice souk is the perfect place to explore the flavors of the Middle East. In addition to the array of spices and teas piled high at every turn, you can also find incense and flowers. It’s a dynamic and sensory experience.
This gleaming, modern city is remarkable, thought-provoking and full of wonders to explore. Travelers who might be apprehensive about venturing into the Middle East for the first time will no doubt be put at ease by Dubai’s sensational style, excellent upkeep and relentless pursuit of innovation.