There’s so much more to the UAE than glorious beaches, stunning skyscrapers and Michelin-starred restaurants, you just need to delve a little deeper.
Whether you’re just visiting or if you’re a resident, either way adventure awaits with our alternative guide to the UAE.
But first, coffee…
People who say life starts after coffee are lying; life goes on with or without it. Adventure, however, starts the minute you decide – and coffee definitely helps! Now, there are a million coffee shops to try in Dubai, but if you are looking for one with that little extra something then look no further than Friends Avenue.
All of the coffee is locally sourced using RAW coffee beans to produce refreshing results and the resident barista adds his own unique twist to each cup. For tea lovers, expect a range of classics from Moroccan mint green tea to traditional Earl Grey, alongside a selection of mouth-watering cakes.
This café is a little off the beaten path and based very much on the quirky-vibe coffee shops of New York’s backstreets; after a long flight, this place provides just the kick you need.
Friends Avenue, Fortune Tower, Cluster T, JLT. Tel: (04) 5545813. friendsavenue.ae.
The Dubai of the magazines is, in fact, very different from the Dubai of real life. Yes, here you can find glitz and glamour but after a while isn’t it all a little ‘been there done that’?
Why not try something completely new; venture into the unknown – and 24 hours is more than enough time. Instead of grabbing a quick airport meal, why not grab a spear and go crab hunting in Umm Al Quwain? You’ll get a sense for traditional Dubai, enjoy a delicious barbecue on the beach and then mingle with Bedouins.
Tel: (04) 2712225. adventures-land.com.
No place like Old Town
If you would rather sample some authentic Middle Eastern or South Asian cuisine without having to catch it first, then why not head down to Old Town? All too often this place is overlooked for the more glitzy new parts of the city, but there is a cultural pulse here that you will find nowhere else.
As you walk through the ancient city streets you will enter what feels like another world; mounds of sweet smelling spices, vibrant coloured clothing and prized gold for sale.
The food in this part of town is as authentic (and cheap!) as it gets. There is also a heritage neighbourhood which lets you discover the Dubai of a bygone era, complete with ancient wind towers, diving villages and Sheik Saeed Al Maktoum’s historic house. My advice is to take the abra, one of the oldest forms of water transport in the city, between Deira and Bur Dubai to seal your trip with authentic approval.
Al Bastakiya Café and Restaurant, Arabian Courtyard, Al Fahidi Street, Bur Dubai. Tel: (04) 3519111.
Stay in a 5 billion star hotel
So, you’re in Dubai for just one night? Considering a five-star airport hotel? Come on now – you can do better than that. How about a 5 billion star hotel? Out in the desert with no distractions or expectations – where it’s just you, an open sky, rolling dunes and local culture.
Instead of settling for the easy choice and booking an over-priced hotel room why not take a moment to refresh your soul and make the most of your time by booking an overnight safari.
Make the night count by riding camels into the sunset, watching a falcon show at sundown, followed by an authentic Bedouin dinner at fireside. I mean, if this isn’t breaking the chain of routine and discovering an alternative Dubai then I don’t know what is. Try it. You will not be disappointed.
Desert Safari Dubai. Tel: (04) 4586664. desertsafaridubai.com.
Row, row, row your boat
Did you know that you can be picked up directly from the airport and get whisked away to the ‘Norway of Arabia’? Cruise along Musandam’s crystal blue waters in a traditional dhow; snorkel and sail past hidden fishing villages and white tipped mountains. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a cluster of wild dolphins that inhabit this region’s waters.
Tomorrow you can go back to the Dubai Fountain, but for today, you are living life in the now and discovering Dubai’s alternative vibe.
Tel: (050) 2124100. almarsamusandam.com.
Words: Sam Belkacemi