A city full of surprises

Stephen Bellingham on 04 April 2016
With an 8am landing, we went straight to a Heritage Walking Tour and lunch within the Bastakiya quarter - a 19th-Century neighbourhood established by Iranian textile and pearl traders. It was a rare opportunity to meet Emiratis, ask plenty of questions and learn about their local heritage and traditions.

On to the JA Ocean View just a few minutes’ walk from the Marina and JBR Walk. How fortunate to be there for the 3-D Art Festival. I took some persuading to sit on the pavement for photos, however it was well worth it. The Marina was one of our favourite places to stroll at dusk, watching the dinner cruises, and general activity.

Our hotel visits revealed the diversity of accommodation from the luxurious Zabeel Saray for adults wanting pampering and ultimate cuisine to the family orientated Atlantis The Palm. There is literally something for everyone, so it is important to choose your location and hotel carefully. The outside of a property gives nothing away. Once entered the uniqueness, atmosphere and appeal to specific clientele unfolds.

Dubai's top sights gave us plenty to choose from:

* The Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building with the world's highest viewing deck or perhaps a cocktail two floors below at At.Mosphere

* An evening visit to the nearby, choreographed dancing Dubai Fountains

* Enjoy an Abra crossing to the atmospheric Souks

* Pick up a souvenir from the Antique Museum with a collection of Arabic lamps, fabrics and handicrafts spread amongst four warehouses

* Afternoon tea at one of the world's most luxurious hotels, the Burj Al Arab with its distinctive sail-shape

* Dubai Museum housed in the city's oldest surviving structure Al Fahidi Fort shows the amazing transformation from Bedouin Village to today's global centre of trade and tourism

* Jumeirah Mosque - the only one in Dubai open to non-Muslims

* Dubai Mall with 1200 stores and packed with fun diversions such as giant aquarium and under-water zoo, an indoor theme park, Olympic-sized ice rink and a genuine dinosaur skeleton

* Keep cool at the Wild Wadi Water Park

* Ski Dubai at Mall of the Emirates. Five ski runs, ice sculptures and live penguins give the family a break from the sun! There's also plenty of choice of reasonably priced restaurants

* The Miracle Garden which is just that, with its thousands of flowers on display in the middle of the desert

* Desert experience with camel riding, dune bashing, and sand boarding followed by a culinary evening under the stars.

The Dubai infrastructure continually improves; currently with a very efficient metro service, trams, buses and the Dubai City Bus Tour. Even the taxis were a pleasant experience and reasonably priced. Dressed appropriately, we felt safe to travel around and found everyone most helpful. Many hotels also provide complementary transfers to sister hotels for their restaurants and beaches, and to the major Malls.

Numerous nationalities live here side by side. This diversity provides for a multi-cultural culinary experience. If you a foodie, we recommend taking to the streets to sample the rich ethnic dishes and to observe the artisans at work. Purchase high quality herbs and spices (yes - we bought saffron and know how to tell whether it's the best). Lebanese and Arabic cakes and pastries including baklava particularly appealed to April, as they are made with less honey, and thus not quite as sweet as their Greek cousins.

The buzzing evening social life of Dubai for tourists and ex-pats means the hot spots are popular and need booking well in advance. Alcohol consumption is permitted in the hotels and their related restaurants. They attract guests with Ladies Nights, complementary drinks, cocktails, and of course the local favourite of Friday brunch, which can be a long affair.

Finally, a few days at the JA Palm Tree Court located south of Dubai. Just steps from a long sandy beach, and several swimming pools our large, luxurious room and balcony overlooked lush gardens with strolling peacocks. There were plenty of restaurants to choose from with very good and friendly service, horse riding and shooting range. We really didn't want to leave this peaceful haven to come back to reality!

Dubai not only appeals to travellers seeking guaranteed sunshine, beaches, luxury hotels and world-class shopping. With its traditional souks, art galleries, and superb restaurants it has something for all. Dubai also makes for a worthwhile stopover destination en route to South Africa, the Far East and Australasia.