Dubai, one of those destinations you need to see to believe, often boasts of having the tallest, largest, longest (fill in the blank). This global metropolis with “a skyline on crack” is also the undisputed Silicon Valley of the Middle East with Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Dell, Yahoo, AT&T, Intel, IBM, Canon, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard and Cisco among the key players with offices in this city that can be described as part-Las Vegas, part-Orange County—with no offense to either. Flaunting architectural masterpieces, five-star hotels—or seven-star if you believe the hype—a dramatic shoreline, some of the best shopping on the planet, a bevy of restaurants helmed by culinary rock stars, a pulsating nightlife scene and an array of activities that ensures you’ll never ever get bored, this diverse mecca attracts tourists from all over the globe. And they come, not so much for the gold vending machines, but to gawk at the world’s tallest building, the 2,716.5-foot Burj Khalifa, to ski inside Mall of the Emirates (naturally one of the largest shopping centers in the universe) and marvel at Palm Jumeirah, the celebrated manmade island in the shape of a palm tree with stunning views of the Arabian Gulf. Whether you’re stopping for 24 hours—Dubai is, after all, the ideal gateway to India and Africa when traveling from San Francisco—or 24 days, you’ll want to use our haute travel guide to ensure you make the rounds to all of the must-see-and-be-seen spots.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
We’re heading into the most ideal time to visit this Arabian Desert that sizzles in the summer. October to April are the mildest months, with average temperatures ranging from around the 70s to low 90s. Although nearly all of the residents of Dubai are foreigners, keep in mind that the United Arab Emirates is a Muslim country, so plan on being respectful of the culture. Out of courtesy, wear modest clothing in public places, such as malls, and steer clear of public displays of affection. Non-teetotalers will be happy to know that venues attached to a hotel or private club can sell alcohol. However, there is no public drinking allowed, and you’ll need a permit to purchase alcohol for private use. Gentlemen, if you’re doing business with a Muslim woman, please don’t reach out to shake her hand until she offers it to you, as you don’t want to embarrass her if she’s uncomfortable touching your hand. Also, the Muslim belief system requires prayer five times a day; therefore be conscious of this as you schedule your meetings with your Muslim business associates.
HOW TO ARRIVE
There is no better commercial way to arrive to Dubai than onboard an Emirates A380, the largest passenger aircraft in the world. Introduced to the Bay Area last December, this wide-bodied, double-decker aircraft seats 489 passengers and flies nonstop daily from San Francisco International Airport to Dubai International Airport in a mere 16 hours. High rollers can splurge on one of the 14 first class private suites, which offer unparalleled service and endless frills, such as a sliding door to ensure solitude, a fully flat bed with mattress, a personal mini-bar and your own vanity table, mirror and wardrobe, delicious meals served on demand throughout the flight—on Royal Doulton fine bone china with exclusive Robert Welch cutlery—and high tea. Emirates also offers what no other airline does: two onboard shower spas—we’re told that the two-person capacity in each relates to a parent and child—exclusive to first class. There’s also a fabulous onboard lounge, reserved for those flying first and business, where hors d’oeuvres and mixed drinks are served and champagne flows freely. Trust us when we say this salon is like a cocktail party with movers and shakers from the tech industry mingling and networking while cruising 43,100 feet in the air. When you land, take advantage of Emirates’ complimentary chauffeur-drive service—available to first and business class passengers to and from the airport in your arrival and departure cities—to whisk you to your hotel.
WHERE TO STAY
There is no shortage of lavish accommodations. Still standing proud after opening nearly 16 years ago is the Burj Al Arab, long considered the symbol of Dubai—and with its own helipad. Designed in the shape of a billowing Arabian dhow sail as a tribute to the nation’s seafaring heritage, the hotel stretches 1,053 feet above sea level, making it the tallest single structure on a manmade island. The atrium itself is simply amazing, soaring 590 feet high and highlighted by a beautiful central fountain where water arches dance in sudden bursts over 138 feet in the air. Take time to enjoy the two aquariums which flank the main hotel lobby; there’s also a circular tank in Al Mahara restaurant that will make you feel like you’re dining inside a humongous fish tank. You’ll also have a royal stay at Jumeirah Al Qasr within Madinat Jumeirah, the Arabian Resort of Dubai, which means “the palace” and is designed in the style of a sheikh’s residence. The 3-year-old JW Marriott Marquis, in the business district, impresses—just as one would expect from the world’s tallest hotel (1,165 feet)—with two towers and 72 spectacular floors. In 2016, look for the Four Seasons to open a second Dubai property, this one in the financial center.
WHERE TO SHOP
What luxury brand doesn’t have a boutique in the Dubai Mall, the world’s largest shopping and entertainment destination that bulges with 1,200 retail outlets? This is where you’ll find Oscar de la Renta, Valentino, Hermès, Dior, Stella McCartney, Herve Leger, Alexander McQueen, Carolina Herrera, Tom Ford, Brioni, Ermenegildo Zegna, Christian Louboutin, Giuseppe Zanotti and Manolo Blahnik on Fashion Avenue, which has an exclusive V.I.P. entrance. Watch collectors will go gaga over the offerings: Audemars Piguet, Panerai, Patek Philippe, Richard Mille and Rolex, to name a few. Kissing may not be allowed, although we think if you kiss your money away, no one will have a problem with that. Mall of Emirates, on the other hand, hosts approximately 40 luxury stores, which don’t come close to the more than 70 at Dubai Mall, but is far from a shabby second. If you happen to be in Bur Dubai, the residential area, be sure to visit BurJuman, one of the oldest shopping malls in the City of Gold.
WHERE TO DINE
For an intimate, classic French fine dining experience, reserve one of 15 tables at the beautiful Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire at InterContinental Dubai Festival City. As much thought was put into the dazzling décor—mauve carpet, plush pink damask chairs, artistic Murano glass chandeliers and mother of pearl adorned walls—as the menu, created by the world-renowned three-Michelin starred chef Gagnaire, whose creations tease your senses. You’ll think you dined and went to heaven when you taste la canette des dombes, a roasted whole duck for two, and the blue lobster. The service is simply impeccable at this romantic waterfront dining spot that has quite the wine cellar. Take in unparalleled views of the Arabian Gulf at At.mosphere, on the 122nd floor of the Burj Khalifa and where a certification from Guinness World Records states that, you guessed it, this is the highest restaurant from ground level at 1,447 feet, 10 inches. (You’ll want to skip to the glass-enclosed loo, too.) Also worth a visit: La Petite Maison, where you’ll think you’re on the Cote d’Azur, and Zuma, a Japanese restaurant known as much for its sushi as the American celebrities it attracts.
WHERE TO UNWIND
When you need to get away from it all, escape to Talise Ottoman Spa, one of the largest and grandest spas in the Middle East, inside the Zabeel Saray, on the western crescent of The Palm Jumeirah. With 42 treatment rooms, eight hydrotherapy rooms, steam rooms, saunas, snow rooms (that’s right, snow rooms!), floating baths and two thalassotherapy pools, the pampering options are endless. A spectacular Turkish Hamman, built from marble and exquisitely decorated with dark woods, mosaics and murals, shouldn’t be missed. For V.I.P.s and couples, there’s an entire floor dedicated to you. We also love Talise Spa at Madinat Jumeirah and Amara Spa at the Park Hyatt. When you’re ready to turn it up a few notches, head to Vault, on the 71st and 72nd floors of the JW Marriott Marquis. Here, you’ll soak up panoramic views at sunset or after hours when the scene heats up Tuesdays through Saturdays with Australian- born DJ Nicole. You’ll find a fine selection of renowned cigar brands and an expertly edited array of premium beverages at this haute spot that is open from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. In At.mosphere Lounge, across from the restaurant on the 122nd floor of Burj Khalifa, you’ll gaze at downtown Dubai and the world’s tallest performing fountains. After work, you can hang with the city’s business bigwigs in Zuma’s lounge, which remains busy throughout the night as well.
WHERE TO PLAY
You didn’t come all of this way not to visit the top of the world’s tallest building. Your jaw will drop At the Top, the observation deck on the 124th floor of the Burj Khalifa where unobstructed, 360-degree views of the city, desert and ocean await. For a premium experience, book At the Top, Burj Khalifa SKY, which was added a year ago and provides a more private observation deck experience on the exclusive 148th floor, 1,821 feet from the ground. When you descend, head to the Dubai Mall, which isn’t designed just for retail therapy. There’s also an Olympic-size ice rink, the planet’s most spectacular fountain and one of the world’s largest aquariums, featuring sharks and stingrays. Thrill seekers: Skydive Dubai was created just for you. Your adrenaline will race when you step out of the plane at an altitude of around 13,000 feet and free fall for a surreal moment before beginning a leisurely, five-minute descent. Book a Desert Safari, where dune driving, falconry and camel rides are just a few of the activities that make for a delightful few hours. Aquaventure Waterpark at Atlantis, The Palm has awe-inspiring, record-breaking rides and attractions, including the world’s largest waterslide and the longest zip line circuit in the Middle East. The hotel also has Nasimi Beach Club, on one of the private beaches we recommend, along with the hip and chic La Baie Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton Dubai, Anantara Dubai The Palm Resort & Spa, Jumeirah Beach Hotel and Jumeirah Zabeel Saray. For a fee, you’ll gain access to these clubs that are all the rage, and run the gamut from small ones with secluded cabanas to a superb stretch of sand at luxury resorts.