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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
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Global Village is a multicultural festival park that’s part shopping, part dining and part theme park. At night, the fairground lights up.
Global Village is a multicultural festival park that’s part shopping, part dining and part theme park. At night, the fairground lights up.
CITY GUIDE

A local’s guide to Dubai

Global Village is a multicultural festival park that’s part shopping, part dining and part theme park. At night, the fairground lights up.
Global Village is a multicultural festival park that’s part shopping, part dining and part theme park. At night, the fairground lights up.
  • By Rachel McArthur
  • Photos by Katarina Premfors
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Dubai, like the Middle East writ large, is a stretch of Earth that’s often misunderstood.

Lots of people tend to think that the largest city in the United Arab Emirates is either an ultraconservative place where women must cover up from head to toe, or that it’s all shiny skyscrapers and no personality.

The truth? Peel back the big-money newsmakers — yes, we have the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, along with the “seven-star” Burj Al Arab hotel — and you’ll find a diverse, inclusive city that’s home to people of over 200 nationalities. You’ll find, as a result, possibly the only place on the planet where you can sample authentic Aussie barbecue, sushi made by Japanese chefs, Bosnian kebabs and Lebanese mezze all within a 10-minute drive of each other. And you’ll find, if you dismiss the misconceptions, a singularly friendly home away from home.

Meet Rachel McArthur

After living around the world as a child, British-born Rachel has lived in Dubai for over a decade. A journalist who has covered beats including travel and business, she launched her own media company in 2015. To her, the ultimate appeal of her city — home to over 200 nationalities — is its people. You learn something about a new culture every day.

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IN THE ACTION
Downtown Dubai
Downtown Dubai is the city’s tourism hub, home to the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Opera and the enormous Dubai Mall, where you can watch its famous musically choreographed water-fountain show. The downtown Dubai life doesn’t come cheap, but there are new accommodation options popping up nearly every month. Splurge on a five-star hotel room or snag a reasonable Airbnb. Find this neighborhood.
LOW-KEY
Al Jaddaf
This up-and-coming neighborhood is a 10- to 15-minute drive to areas in the city center, and there’s lots of construction still happening in and around it. As a result, the excellent hotels that have already opened in Al Jaddaf are a bargain. Find this neighborhood.
Neighborhoods

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Eat

BREAKFAST
Home Bakery Kitchen
Hind Al Mulla began creating her signature desserts in her home kitchen in her mid-20s; just a few years later, she’s one of the best-known Emirati food-preneurs in the city. Every single thing on her Home Bakery menu is worth trying, from breakfast staples such as chicken-and-waffles to Al Mulla’s more daring creations, such as a scrambled-egg doughnut sandwich and a saffron karak (chai) French brioche toast.
BTW: If you’re looking for food souvenirs to bring back, grab some boxes of Home Bakery’s Chewy Melt Cookies. They’re the best chocolate cookies in the country.
Home Bakery Kitchen, D3 Design District, Building 7, Dubai, UAE
BREAKFAST
The Farm
Enter Al Barari, the area where the Farm is located, and you’ll find yourself transported to a mini oasis within the city. The outdoor terrace is surrounded by waterways and botanical gardens, giving it a relaxed and tranquil morning setting. Perhaps unsurprisingly given its name, the restaurant focuses on fresh and healthy fare, including organic eggs, keto-friendly bread, oats and quinoa porridge, vegan tofu scramble and exotic-fruit salads.
BTW: The Farm gets busy, particularly on weekends, so it’s best to book a table in advance.
The Farm Restaurant, Al Barari, Dubai, UAE
LUNCH
Al Fanar
Al Fanar is a staple for Emirati locals across the city, thanks to its tasty traditional, homestyle fare. At this location inside a shopping mall, start off by sampling breads such as chebab, khameer or raqqaq, which are typically served with cream cheese and date syrup. Lamb, fish and rice are the essentials of Emirati cuisine, so go for a main course like machboos robyan (shrimp cooked with yellow rice) or margougat laham (flatbread simmered in lamb, potatoes and vegetables).
BTW: On the drinks list here, you’ll find Namlait, our name for Japan’s Ramune soda. Emiratis have fond childhood memories of the drink, which famously comes with a marble in the top of the bottle.
Al Fanar Restaurant & Cafe, Dubai Festival City Mall, Festival Bay, Dubai Festival City
LUNCH
Maria Bonita
This taco shop established by Mexican expats in 2002 is a go-to for locals who have a friend visiting from out of town. Start off with the Maria Guacamole, made from scratch at your table, before an entree of the excellent beef fajitas. A slice of tres leches cake is the perfect way to end.
BTW: Tipping is different here than in the States. Some restaurants (primarily upscale ones) will add a 10 percent service charge, but when they don’t, diners normally leave the same amount themselves.
Al Khaja Building Shop 4, Umm Al Sheif Street, Dubai, UAE
DINNER
Tent Jumeirah Restaurant
If you have a big group, come to this beachside restaurant and eat like the Bedouins did. For about $270, you can order a goat platter (a whole slow-roasted goat, laid on a bed of biryani-style rice), or versions with mixed seafood or chicken. All of the special platters must be reserved 48 hours in advance.
BTW: For a beverage that’s Insta-worthy, the Cappuccino by Gold comes sprinkled in gold leaf. And at the equivalent of $10, it won’t break the bank.
Tent Jumeirah Restaurant, Jumeirah Beach, Dubai, UAE
DINNER
World Cut Steakhouse
The meme-ified Turkish restaurateur “Salt Bae” has a steakhouse in Dubai, but there are way better options to choose from, including the luxe but underrated World Cut Steakhouse, in the Habtoor Palace Dubai hotel. The staff’s knowledge is unparalleled; you’ll be given the lowdown on steaks from different countries of origin, in addition to which cuts are best for your preferred doneness. The sides are big enough to share between two, and the complimentary, fresh-baked bread is divine with a dollop of salted butter.
BTW: You’ll be offered your pick of a range of steak knives, including some very fancy Japanese imports. It’s one of the coolest parts of the dining experience.
Habtoor Palace Dubai, UAE
LATE-NIGHT
The Irish Village
Built in 1995, this traditional Irish pub has endured as a favorite of residents craving indulgent comfort food. End a busy day of travel with some Mallon’s Irish sausages, beer-battered cod and chips, or traditional Irish stew, served with homemade soda bread and Irish butter.
BTW: The Irish Village hosts regular events, such as concerts, pub quizzes and sports game viewings. Check the website to see what’s going on before you visit.
Irish Village, 31 A Street, Al Garhoud, Dubai, UAE
LATE-NIGHT
Al Reef Lebanese Bakery
Open 24 hours, legendary Al Reef is where everyone gathers for a quick bite after big football (soccer) games, or after clubbing, or even as a study break. What better way to relax or end the night than with some fresh-baked cheesy bread? Go for a manakeesh, a popular Levantine flatbread topped with za’atar, cheese or mincemeat.
BTW: You’ll probably see za’atar on a lot of Dubai menus. It’s a spice mix made of thyme, oregano, marjoram and toasted sesame seeds.
Al Reef, Al Wasl Road, Jumeirah, Dubai, UAE
(Zane Ruyssenaers for The Washington Post)
LOCALS THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW
  1. We don’t tend to find places by street names, since a lot of areas in Dubai don’t have them. With taxis, the best way to navigate is to give your driver a district and a specific building — or even the establishment itself. If you don’t have data roaming, download an offline Google Map in advance.
  2. The weekend here is different than in the States: Most residents are off Friday and Saturday, while Sunday is a school/workday.
  3. No cash? No problem. Dubai is quite advanced in terms of digital services. Most places accept credit/debit cards and/or contactless payment.
(Zane Ruyssenaers for The Washington Post)

Do

See a movie in style
A collaboration between one of the UAE’s best-known cinema brands and the late British chef Gary Rhodes, the Theatre by Rhodes at Vox Cinemas offers a VIP experience, complete with fully reclining leather seats and waiter service. Rhodes himself crafted the menu of appetizers, entrees and desserts. You’ll never view your neighborhood movie theater the same way again.
BTW: Go hungry and buy the “package” ticket ($75), which includes entry to the movie along with one appetizer, main course, dessert and mocktail, plus tea or coffee. It works out to be much cheaper than buying the ticket and ordering separate items off the menu.
VOX Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates, Dubai, UAE
Ailuromania Cat Cafe
Ailuromania (an English term used to describe “an abnormal love of cats”) is the Middle East’s first kitten cafe, serving as home to 25 rescued felines. Have a drink while you relax in the lounge or simply have fun with new furry friends. Ailuromania sometimes hosts cat yoga and other events.
BTW: The cafe is run by two Saudi-born sisters who help find homes for abandoned or rescued cats.
Ailuromania Cat Cafe, 844 Jumeirah Street, Dubai, UAE
Quranic Park
Well worth the extra drive, this 148-acre park encompasses gardens, a lake, a fountain and the Glass House — a space that features (and explains the significance of) 43 fruits, vegetables and plants mentioned in the Koran, Islam’s sacred book. There’s also an interactive exhibition called the Cave of Miracles, which illustrates notable events in Islamic history. It’s a unique, engaging way for people of all backgrounds to learn about the world’s second-largest religion.
BTW: Try to visit on a day when the skies are clear; it’ll make the park look even more picturesque.
Quranic Park, Al Warqa, Dubai, UAE
Waterfront Market
The loud and busy Waterfront Market, which opened in 2017, took the place of the city’s old Deira Fish Market and sells everything from fresh fish to crab and shrimp. For visitors whose lodging has a kitchen: Order what you want in weight before having it cleaned by the vendors and taken to an on-site kitchen that will grill or fry it to perfection. The only drawback is that you’ll need to find somewhere else to sit and eat it; residents usually take the food home for family meals.
BTW: Don’t be afraid to haggle: The first price you’re given is never the final one. And try not to look like a tourist, or else vendors will be more likely to overcharge you. Bring cash.
Waterfront Market, Deira Enrichment Project, Al Khaleej Road, Dubai, UAE
Global Village
Skip the expensive mall shops, and come here for your souvenirs instead. Global Village can best be described as part shopping experience, part dining experience and part global carnival: You can buy jewelry and shawls from the India section, matcha green tea Kit-Kats from the Japan pavilion, well-priced Persian carpets from the Iran area and fine cotton products from Egypt. Global Village is also home to a huge variety of restaurants and street-food stalls. Try the grilled corn from Morocco or the falafel from Lebanon.
BTW: Because of the summer heat, Global Village is only open from October through April. It’s best in the evening, when all the pavilions and fairground rides are lit up.
Global Village, Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Road and Emirates Road, E311, Dubai, UAE
Jetty Lounge
Skip the top tourist bars and make your way to this beachfront gem for a gorgeous view of the sunset. Jetty Lounge serves up food, drinks and shisha in a laid-back atmosphere, with beanbags right on the sand. There are high-table areas for bigger groups, but it’s recommended to book in advance.
BTW: Jetty Lounge has a really good “dry” selection on its menu, including mocktails, milkshakes and iced teas.
Jetty Lounge, One&Only Royal Mirage, Jumeirah Beach Al Sufouh Road, Dubai, UAE
Rachel McArthur
After living around the world as a child, British-born Rachel has lived in Dubai for over a decade. A journalist who has covered beats including travel and business, she launched her own media company in 2015. To her, the ultimate appeal of her city — home to over 200 nationalities — is its people. You learn something about a new culture every day.
Katarina Premfors
Katarina is a contributing photographer to The Washington Post based in Dubai.

CITY GUIDES