Panorama of Dubai Marina at sunset

My Secret City: Dubai

While travel in 2020 is restricted, we hope you enjoy this virtual tour of Dubai.

The most populous of the Emirates is a unique blend of tradition and playground living, set against a backdrop of futuristic architecture and atmospheric desert. Resident Anushree Prashant (MLitt 2018) transports us to her Dubai.

"Dubai is a city built on sheer grit, giving rise to man-made miracles in the sand."

The historical district Al Shindagha is my favourite neighbourhood. Located on the shores of Dubai Creek, I love its coral-clad houses, traditional wind towers and sailing boats (dhows and abras). It’s where life in Dubai began before the skyscrapers and technology made their presence felt. With its labyrinthine alleys and the resplendent Gold Souq market, that this place exists alongside modern Dubai is in itself a phenomenon.

Al Qudra is a man-made desert oasis with artificial lakes, surrounded by sand dunes and bike tracks. The twin Love Lakes, populated with black swans and a host of migratory birds, are visible from space. It’s a great place to visit for an iconic selfie. My favourite time to go is early in the morning when the desert is silent, and the sunlight has yet to spread over the cool sand underfoot. 

The Dubai Mall is the most-visited retail and entertainment destination. With over 1,300 retail outlets, 200 food and drink outlets, the Souk, the world-class Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo and the VR Park, a unique virtual reality attraction, it has just about everything you could wish for, a seamless creation for the inveterate shopaholic.

"Visit in winter for the best weather or during Ramadan for almost silent roads, lavish Iftars and the sight of date palms heavy with fruit."

My favourite time of year in Dubai is wintertime. The months from October through April are when I enjoy its outdoor facilities, from camping and stargazing, to getting caught in once-a-year rainfalls and watching migratory birds swooping in to build their nests. The temperature falls enough in the night to require a blanket for just these few months each year.

The Miracle Garden is one of my favourite places to visit. With 150 million flowers spread over 72,000sqmfinding these spectacular, fragrant blooms growing in the desert is an overwhelming sight. It’s a place full of laughter, and I love the feeling of peace and calm that nature brings with it. There are tiny Arabic bees flitting about and, if you’re lucky, you might even see monarch and yellow butterflies too. 

If I want to take a trip out of the city, I go to the historic Liwa Oasis which is 350km from Dubai. It lies at the edge of the Rub Al Khali (Empty Quarter), the world's largest uninterrupted sand mass. Tel Moreeb, one of the largest sand dunes, is over 300 metres high, a perfect venue if you're a motorsport enthusiast. But for me, if I want to hear the hush of sand against wind, the clamour of birds as they fly overhead, and indulge in sheer me-time, this is the place for it.

My food and drink hit list

"For a truly out-of-this-world chocolate experience, visit the Armani Lounge at the Burj Khalifa."

Sweet treats
Loqaimat (pastry balls) are made the traditional way at the Global Village, in an open-air makeshift kitchen with huge oil-filled woks. Hot, crisp and doused liberally with fresh date syrup, be warned, they are seriously addictive!

Local cuisine
Al Fanar Restaurant & Cafe offers by far the most authentic Emirati fare, with locally sourced produce and food spiced to the tastes of Emirati clientele. The lamb machboos (mixed rice dish) are cooked to perfection with flaky meat dropping off the bone.

A meal with a view
Atmosphere, on the 122nd floor of the Burj Khalifa tower, is the highest restaurant in the world, with a bird’s-eye view of Dubai. Visit for a champagne breakfast - nothing much can beat this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Street food
The fatayer (stuffed pastry pockets) and the manaeesh (topped dough) served at Palestinian restaurant Mama’esh are a reminder of the heritage of the Gulf region. Using an array of home grown produce, the piquancy of their spices add charm to each dish on offer.

A special occasion
Pier Chic is touted as the most romantic restaurant in Dubai and offers magnificent views across the Arabian Gulf. Creative mixologists with a flair for the dramatic present each drink as an art form and the seafood is fresh and delicious. 

Expo 2020, a six-month long celebration of culture, collaboration and innovation was due to launch in Dubai in late-2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Expo has been postponed until October 2021.

This article was first published June 2020. All opinions expressed are the views of the author and are not endorsed by the University of Glasgow.

Burj al Arab seen from Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai

Burj al Arab seen from Madinat Jumeirah. Burj al Arab is Dubai's most iconic hotel and the 7th tallest in the world (photo: Shutterstock).

The Love Lakes, Dubai

The Love Lakes are so large they can apparently be viewed from space. They are part of the Al Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve (photo: Shutterstock).

Dubai marina and skyline

Dubai Marina is one of the city's busiest neighbourhoods and the place to be to spot luxury yachts awaiting their next outing (photo: Shutterstock).

An old building in the Bastakia Quarter of Dubai

The Bastakia Quarter in Bur Dubai is one of the city's most picturesque heritage sites, built in the late 19th century by Persian merchants (photo: Shutterstock).

Dancing fountain show in Dubai

The Dubai Fountain is the tallest performing fountain in the world. Located in Burj Lake, at the foot of The Dubai Mall, there are daily shows set to light and music (photo: Shutterstock).

Sand dunes in Liwa, Dubai

The sand dunes in the Empty Quarter are said to sing. The phenomenon is thought to be caused by the vibrations of the grains of sand as they fall on top of each other but this explanation has been disputed (photo: Shutterstock).

Traditional boats on Bay Creek, Dubai

Traditional boats can be seen on Bay Creek Dubai. Abras are short, wooden dhows with open sides and simple roofs and are used as water taxis (photo: Shutterstock).

Exterior photo of Burj Khalifa tower, Dubai

With a total height of 829.8m and a roof height of 828m, the Burj Khalifa is the tallest structure and building in the world (photo: Shutterstock).

Baked fatayer and manakeesh pastry

Fatayer is a Middle Eastern pie stuffed with meat, spinach or cheese. Manaeesh is a popular food consumed in Dubai, consisting of dough topped with thyme, cheese or ground meat (photo: Shutterstock).