On the Radar: Downtown, Dubai

It encapsulates Dubai’s tourism ethos: build it, and they will come.

Not many cities have grabbed headlines in quite the same way as Dubai has of late. The city is littered with amazing feats of engineering, including the man-made archipelago of the Palm Jumeirah, the sail-shaped façade of the Burj Al Arab hotel and, not to forget, the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world. The GFC may have slowed down the growth a bit, but it seems nothing can stop the steady expansion.

Although much of the city is under construction, Downtown Dubai, a two-square-kilometre area, is almost complete and ready to be explored. It encapsulates Dubai’s tourism ethos: build it, and they will come. Travelling down Sheikh Zayed Road feels like driving through a life-sized architectural museum. Buildings with twisted faces and gleaming towers stand at impossible angles, demonstrating the skills of some of the world’s top architects. Far from a field of dreams, this is a neighbourhood of wild imagination, with the crazed skyline creating a surrealist landscape where all desires can be sated.

Stay

In the city’s downtown area, two key establishments, Armani Hotel and The Address Downtown Dubai, vie for attention. Checking into the Armani Hotel in the Burj Khalifa is tempting, as it means sleeping in a suite designed by Mr Armani himself, but you’d be denying yourself a heck of a view. We suggest checking into The Address hotel, just across the square. It boasts soaring views of the Burj Khalifa as well as of the spectacular Dubai Fountain. While the driveway to the hotel is often lined with Lamborghinis and Porsches, the room prices are friendlier than their presence suggests. Inside, the marble floor reflects giant chandeliers and the blue-lit desks evoke a sense of after-dark euphoria, minus the cocktails. In the hotel’s deluxe room, rust-red and chocolate accents speak of an Arabian adventure, given a high-camp makeover.

Eat

Breakfast: Grab an espresso and a dose of culture at The Pavilion Downtown, a not-for-profit contemporary art gallery. It brings together the creative community in a sleek space that features ever-changing exhibitions by emerging artists across multiple disciplines.

Lunch: Up above the world on level 122 (that’s 442 metres high) of the Burj Khalifa, Atmosphere restaurant gives you the opportunity to dine while gazing on a city being born. The view sweeps across the squirming roadways lined with skyscrapers which are still being stitched together.

The menu reflects the city’s location, with European classics mixed with modern Asian masterpieces; think veal sweetbreads or tuna belly, black angus porterhouse steaks or Moroccan-spiced lamb chops. Have lunch here to enjoy the views minus the crowds at the Observation Deck on the 124th floor.

Dinner: Pull up a bean bag at the relaxed Zeta bar at The Address hotel. Enjoy sushi and a cold beer while you take in the spectacle of Dubai Fountain’s light and music show. Crowds quickly gather around the boardwalks to watch the half-hourly show, but up here you’re guaranteed a perfect vantage point.

Shop

The Dubai Mall: With 1200 retail stores, an aquarium, ice-skating rink, more than 150 food and beverage outlets, and a hotel, it’s hard to find a reason to ever leave The Dubai Mall. It’s a gleaming temple to the one thing that makes this part of the world tick: money.

Boutique: If you’re looking for shopping experience on a smaller scale, try the Souk Al Bahar, a modern version of traditional souk-style shopping. It’s smaller (a little more than 100 shops) and the sandstone corridors, tiled floors and high arches give it a distinct Arabian atmosphere. The shops offer traditional handiwork such as Persian rugs, hookahs and keffiyehs.

Experience

Enjoy a taste of Dubai’s expat scene with a Friday brunch. Instead of eggs benedict and a soy latte, the brunch here is a much grander (and boozier) affair, with multiple buffets and an endless supply of alcohol; not bad value when you take into account the price (about AED590 or $130). Try The Westin Hotel’s Bubbalicious brunch, complete with entertainment such as Chinese acrobats and live bands. Afterwards, the bar hopping begins in the Jumeirah Beach precinct. Make your way to the 360° bar for stunning views of the city and the Burj Al Arab, or visit Barasti bar for a beer-garden setting on the beach overlooking the Arabian Gulf.

Take a Souvenir

Recently, Rado launched the ‘Hyperchrome’ watch on the beachfront. With its high-tech ceramic case, it speaks of man’s ability to build out of sand and provides a fitting reminder of modern marvels, much like the city of Dubai itself. 

Words by Kirsten Rowlingson - Published in Voyeur June 2012
Quick Facts 
Population Approx 2,262,000
Time Zone GMT+ 4
Languages Arabic (official), English
Currency United Arab Emirates Dirham (AED)
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