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Explore Dubai | Best Hotels and Things to Do

Dubai Museum of future hero

Courtesy of Museum of the Future

The ultimate travel guide for exploring the ICONIC city of Dubai, discover the best hotels and things to do.

Dubai, where the turquoise sea laps beautiful golden sands. A few decades ago, the ICONIC city was unrecognizable and practically non-existent, but the discovery of oil in the 1960s triggered a boom. With bold, visionary planning, the UAE—most notably Dubai and Abu Dhabi—transformed into a destination unlike anywhere else on earth with the most luxurious hotels, shopping, dining and recreation.

Although endless beaches are the main draw for sun-starved tourists, arts and culture are making rapid inroads. Cutting-edge architecture in Dubai is leaps and bounds over what once was deemed impossible.

Courtesy of Rixos Premium Saadiyat Island Resort

First impressions will forever be imprinted on the mind, and the lobby’s grandeur at the Hotel Rixos Premium Saadiyat Island Resort in Abu Dhabi will not be forgotten soon. White marble walls and floors, baronial Venetian chandeliers, oriental carpets and sapphire tones of floor-to-ceiling glass set the sumptuous ambiance of the resort, all unfolding around an impressive courtyard.

The Hotel Rixos Premium Saadiyat Island Resort offers a range of accommodations to cater to every guest’s needs. From spacious rooms to luxurious suites and even three- and four-room villas with private pools for extended families, the resort ensures a comfortable stay for all. For those seeking a truly indulgent experience, the Club Villa and Villa Prive provide elegant living spaces with private pools, offering a breathtaking view of the dunes where endangered hawksbill turtles nest.

Superior Villa Balcony in Dubai

Courtesy of Rixos Premium Saadiyat Island Resort

Our spacious, one-bedroom suite opened onto a balcony with a sweeping view across the lawn fountain. The décor featured an opulent ottoman highlighted with Aegean aqua blues and greens, mosaic tiles, colored glass and plush fabrics. The immense bathroom with L’Occitane amenities showcased a grand soak tub.

While some are content to spend a holiday lollygagging poolside, I’m inclined to partake in activities, so I sought out the well-equipped gym and signed up for a yoga class (one of the many fitness classes they offer on the premises). Before dinner, I lazed in the spa and indulged in the relaxing steam room, sauna, hammam and jacuzzi, finishing with a lap in the serene courtyard swimming pool.

Rixos hotel pool in Dubai

Courtesy of Rixos Premium Saadiyat Island Resort

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With five bars and six restaurants to choose from, we reserved supper at the Orient Restaurant, which features Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisine. We eased into dinner with a delicious chestnut soup, which I’d never had before, and beetroot salad with Tulum cheese and pomegranate dressing. This was followed by grilled beef tongue with fig chutney, purslane, and stuffed grapevine leaves.

Louvre Dubai

Photo by: Yiorgis Yerolymbos

One ICONIC stop while vacationing in Dubai is the Louvre Abu Dhabi—the UAE’s ground zero centerpiece. Designed by Jean Nouvel, it’s a feat of genius. The colossal dome filters light through layers of geometric patterns into sun-dappled galleries. With views of incandescent turquoise water underpinning the complex, you can rent kayaks to paddle around the museum and appreciate the architectural masterpiece. 

Dubai Louvre exterior

Photo by: Yiorgis Yerolymbos

The collections of paintings, sculptures, and artifacts are arranged thematically rather than chronologically, encouraging the discovery of cultural similarities and reinforcing our shared humanity. The dazzling temporary exhibit “Cartier, Islamic Inspiration and Modern Design”  is not to be missed. It features 400 works of jewelry and precious objects showcasing the influences of the Islamic arts on Cartier’s 20th—and 21st-century designs.

AFH Dubai

Courtesy of Abrahamic Family House

Nearby is the newly opened Abrahamic Family House, an interfaith complex entered through an underground passage emphasizing the shared roots of the three Abrahamic faiths. The brilliance and economy of design are only fully revealed upon emerging into the sun-drenched gardens connecting the three places of worship. 

The church is dedicated to the peace-aspiring St. Francis of Assisi; the Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue honors the 12th-century Jewish philosopher; and the Imam Al-Tayeb Mosque is encased in a delicate latticework called mashrabiya, which diffuses the desert light. The multi-sensory experience of the Abrahamic Family House achieves an astonishing level of sophistication, nourishing the body, mind and soul.

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Courtesy of Platinum Heritage

In the late afternoon, we drove east to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, a lovely remote oasis lake for a falconry evening with Platinum Heritage. The cherished tradition of hunting with falcons was more than mere sport, it was essential for Bedouin survival, and now the national icon appears on UAE currency. 

Platinum Heritage Falcon, Dubai

Courtesy of Platinum Heritage

Perched on the gloved fist of our guide Tariq, was a hooded Saker Falcon; a large species with a snowy white head. Afterward we each enjoyed handling a smaller Sooty Falcon and as the sun set over the dunes, we were served a six-course dinner.

Rixos Palm Hotel dubai drone shot

Courtesy of Rixos The Palm Hotel & Suites

The following morning we taxied to Rixos The Palm Hotel & Suites at the tip of the ICONIC palm-shaped island. The airy, modern lobby is decorated in shades of cream, green and gold, accented with dark wooden furniture and parquet flooring. With more than 300 accommodations is the elite 400-sq-meter pool suites boasting five ensuite bedrooms, two living rooms, and huge 370 sqm terrace with a private pool and BBQ. 

For that exclusive, personal touch, a private butler is at your service. Our wellness room located near the spa was on the modest side, but we loved our private terraces’ burbling dip bath cascading over the ledge into a lap pool; the best morning wake-up ever!

Rixos Palm Pool shot dubai

Courtesy of Rixos The Palm Hotel & Suites

Similar to the previous Rixos property, al-a-carte restaurants are included options, but it is easy to be content to dine morning, noon and night at the sumptuous Turquoise Restaurant. Before filling our breakfast plates, we scoped out the extensive offerings: fruit platters, fresh-baked loaves, muffins and pastries; endless prepared salads, sushi, baked Indian dishes and parathas; Turkish hummus and simit; salmon and cheeses and a made-to-order egg station.  

A fine hotel can offer all the amenities in the world, but without exceptional service, the experience is not the same, and at both the Rixos hotels the well-trained and attentive staff hailing the world over from Uzbekistan, Germany, Nigeria, India, Sri Lanka, Holland, etc. is what makes guests return.

When it comes to shopping, you’d be remiss not to gawk about in Dubai’s two enormous shopping centers. The Mall of the Emirates houses five hotels, 650 shops, more than 100 restaurants and cafés and the implausible Ski Dubai, the world’s largest indoor snow park with an 85-meter-high hill where hordes of local kids were suiting up for ski and snowboard lessons. 

Ski Dubai

Bill Strubbe

Despite a recent knee replacement, my avid skier friend Rob purchased a two-hour pass, repeatedly swooshing down the runs ranging from bunny slopes to black diamonds. 

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Courtesy of Dubai Mall

The Dubai Mall, a true marvel, is not just a shopping destination with 1,200 shops and a haven for international brands. It’s a world of entertainment with an Olympic-sized skating rink, a 22-screen theater, and the fascinating Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo.  

Our Dubai journey wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the ICONIC  Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest structure at 2,722 ft. We indulged in the premium experience, bypassing the queues. After a delightful tea and dates session in the VIP waiting room, we were whisked away to level 154. Here, in a serene lounge with panoramic views of the city’s dazzling lights, we were treated to a selection of beverages and delectable dishes. The visibility was exceptional, allowing us to spot lights on the distant shores of Iran, 90 miles away.

The Link Dubai

Courtesy of The Link at the One&Only One Za'abeel

Dubai has turned opening world record-holding destinations into something of a sport, with another to add: The Link at the One&Only One Za’abeel is the world’s longest cantilever building and has the longest suspended infinity pool connecting the dual towers on the 25th floor. Splurge for a day pass – partially redeemable for cocktails and dining – to hang poolside with sunken seating, a swim-up bar and ultra-luxe private cabanas. One Za’abeel promises to become the city’s culinary epicenter; its eleven restaurants will boast 29 Michelin stars.

 

The link sunken lounge area

Courtesy of The Link at the One&Only One Za'abeel

With about 18,000 international dining options to choose from, here are several Michelin-star suggestions: Avatara, a two-Michelin-star restaurant with Executive Chef Rahul Rana, hails from Rishikesh. It serves an exquisite 16-course degustation menu, a reincarnation of soulful Indian food with a modern twist, each constructed with supreme care.

Located on Palm Island, STAY serves traditional French dishes flawlessly prepared with a contemporary flare under the supervision of the acclaimed Chef Yannick Alleno. The atmospheric Hakkasan at the Atlantic Hotel reimagines Chinese dishes– several exclusive to Dubai–such as the lychee lobster with yuzu pearl.

Courtesy of Museum of the Future

When Dubai’s Museum of the Future opened two years ago, it instantly became another ICONIC landmark. In the cavernous lobby, a futuristic elevator whisks visitors up to a collection of interactive experiences imagining the near-future of health care, housing, agriculture, the arts and humanity itself. 

Courtesy of Museum of the Future

Both inside and out, giant Arabic calligraphy covers the walls. The script is based on a quote from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum: “The future belongs to those who can imagine it, design it, and execute it. It isn’t something you await, but rather create.” This perfectly summarizes the essence of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Once a barren land where the sea lapped the sand, they are now the astonishing cultural, tourism and financial center of the Middle East.

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