On the surface, the blingiest city in the Middle East seems to be all about size, scale and showing off. But care to look deeper, and there are nuggets of romantic history and culture to be found, particularly in the older Bur Dubai, and the atmospheric Gold Souk. But first, you’ll need to decide which palatial resort to hole up in. Here are our top picks.
Backed by a vivid green golf course emerging unexpectedly from the yellow desert, and fronted by a marina and a sweep of golden sand, JA Beach Hotel is the very vision of Dubai. Plenty of resorts in Dubai do luxury, but not many do the beach resort experience in such an approachable way. Families love the kids club, riding centre, seven pools and wandering peacocks; grown-ups love the impressive collection of restaurants, the sleek modern rooms and the nine-hole golf course.
A prime location near Dubai Marina isn’t the only thing that makes the Habtoor Grand Resort stand out amongst the luxury resorts in Dubai. Art objects in alcoves, curved window frames, mosaic-tiled bathrooms and luxurious finishes add character to rooms and suites that bring in warm desert colours from outside. Bars, restaurants and lounges offer up flavours from as far afield as South Africa, Italy and India, and the views over Dubai’s soaring skyline are superb.
Smack-bang in the centre of Dubai’s futuristic-feeling marina, where little electric trams move noiselessly between buildings and over the water, this boomerang-shaped hotel is as cutting-edge cool as they come. The lobby, all spaceship-like recessed LED lighting, textural wall art and organic-feeling furniture, comes on like a wood-panelled Millennium Falcon: it makes a stunning first impression. Rooms don’t disappoint, either, with big pendant lights, informally arranged abstract art prints and swathes of dark-wood veneer cocooning you in retro-modern, space-age cool.
If you’re imagining the Las Vegas-style, Greco-Roman version of Caesar’s Palace, you’d be wrong. This incarnation is much more in keeping with Dubai’s slick, modern skyline. Still, you can’t miss it. On the outside, the hotel doesn’t have a lot in common with its Sin City-based cousin, but there are plenty of not-so-subtle reminders of the brand’s roots in the rooms, from the oversized Roman coin artwork to Roman motifs in the rugs and the little alabaster Caesar-head statues.
Nestled among the rambling, citadel-like Madinat Jumeirah Beach Resort complex, this 1,001 Arabian Nights-inspired hotel is the epitome of Dubai’s OTT personality. Take the grandiose, drawbridge-like driveway that culminates in a parking area populated with supercars, and a huge horse-themed centrepiece fountain. Inside, rooms are full-on riad-trad, with decorative porticoes, Arabic-style tiled coffee tables and gloriously clashing patterned rugs, cushions and sofas. It’s a heady, romantic, extravagant experience that feels a world away from the glass-and-steel modernity just a couple of blocks beyond.
The thing about staying in the world-famous Burj Khalifa is that you can’t see the world-famous Burj Khalifa. Besides, you won’t get better views of the record-breaking building than from this neighbouring ‘scraper. If you’re easily affected by vertigo, you might want to keep your eyes averted when hitting one of the three outdoor pools – as they all look directly up at the cloud-piercing monolith. Feeling a little dizzy? Retreat to the igloo-like calmness of your room, with its Carrara marble-covered bathroom, ice-white bed covers and high, chicly corniced ceilings – also in white.
Looking like a giant brandy-snap stacked mille-feuille with its lacy roof layers, this hyper-luxe designer resort is a feast for the eyes. Everything here – including the rooms, which are a stylish symphony of dark and light wood, floor-length windows and plush rugs over floorboards – seems to have been created with the lightness of touch of a pâttisiere. And if that wasn’t enough, you can literally feast in your choice of the hotel’s five cafes and restaurants. For an overdose of minimal-chic, pick Japanese Hōseki.
Joe Bindloss contributed additional reporting to this article.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
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