No matter how long I’ve lived in the UAE, I never fail to be amazed by Downtown Dubai. With its mesmerising skyline, cosmopolitan dining scene and world-class shopping destinations, it’s easy to see why it’s one of the emirate’s most popular spots with residents and visitors alike. There’s so much to see and do, you could easily spend days exploring the area and never get bored.
The Dubai Mall is a great place to start your tour of Downtown Dubai. It’s a huge space, home to around 1,200 local and international stores plus a host of entertainment destinations too, like the Dubai Ice Rink, an Olympic sized ice skating rink, and Kidzania, a high-tech play centre. A big highlight is the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, whose enormous viewing panel in the centre of the mall is one of Downtown Dubai’s most photogenic spots. More than 32 metres wide and 8 metres high, shoppers can pause in their browsing to watch the mesmerising sight of the aquarium’s population of tropical fish, sharks, rays and turtles swim by. Another iconic sight is the Human Waterfall, a striking water feature in the heart of the mall surrounded by statues of silver diving figures.
Be sure to check out the most recent addition to The Dubai Mall’s entertainment offerings, the brand new VR Park. The new attraction uses state-of-the-art augmented reality and virtual reality technology to create an incredible immersive experience through interactive games, rides and experiences – there’s even a rollercoaster. Best of all, loads of the VR Park experiences are designed to be shared with friends, so you can get lost in virtual reality together.
Once you’re done browsing, The Dubai Mall is a gateway to one of the best sights in Downtown Dubai: The Dubai Fountain. This spectacle of water, music and light which takes place in Burj Lake is best enjoyed in the evenings – although there are afternoon showings – and you can catch it every half an hour daily, from 6pm to 11pm. You could join the crowds that watch it from outside the mall, against the backdrop of Burj Khalifa, or you could book an abra ride on the lake for a close-up look. Visitors can also step out onto a specially designed viewing platform on the lake for an unforgettable experience.
The sight of Burj Khalifa is an unforgettable experience too, and the distinctive silhouette of the record-breaking skyscraper will stay with you long after you’ve left Dubai. Towering above the city at a stunning 828 metres tall, Burj Khalifa is a symbol of the city’s phenomenal transformation into the modern metropolis that it is today. It’s also where you’ll find some of the best views in town. I recommend that you book tickets for At The Top, Burj Khalifa, the viewing platforms available on the 124th and 148th floors of Burj Khalifa, or book a table to dine at At.mosphere, Burj Khalifa on the 122nd floor, and enjoy the views over a gourmet meal. Make sure to buy your tickets online ahead of time, to enjoy discounted prices and make sure you get the time slot that you want.
One of the best things about Downtown Dubai is its wealth of incredible hotels and resorts, which are home to world-class destinations and luxury spas. If you’re in the mood to be pampered, I would recommend heading for The Spa at Palace Downtown. In a city that boasts a lot of spas, this one stands out for the quality of its treatments and the beauty of its setting – a serene, yet sophisticated space where you can truly relax, despite being in the heart of one of Dubai’s busiest districts. There’s even an option to book a spa cabana with Burj Khalifa and Burj Lake views. Afterwards, treat yourself to dinner at Thai eatery Thiptara or Argentinian steakhouse Asado. Both offer excellent cuisine alongside their own unique views of The Dubai Fountain and Burj Khalifa.
You don’t need to travel far to experience the height of Dubai’s cultural scene, as the Dubai Opera is one of the highlights of Downtown Dubai, as well as one of its newest additions. The distinctive dhow-inspired shape is a glossy addition to the skyline, and it’s the go-to destination for performing arts in the city, having hosted the likes of Les Miserables, West Side Story and Evita. I’m excited about the line-up planned for the rest of the year.
While visiting Dubai Opera, dining at Sean Connolly’s restaurant is a must. The British-born celebrity chef brings more than two decades of culinary experience to the city with his eponymous restaurant. The contemporary New York style brasserie is as elegant as you’d expect from Dubai Opera, but the food is down to earth, yet impeccably cooked. Steak and seafood are the stars of the show here – highlights are the freshly shucked oysters and the Rangers Valley sirloin. I also recommend trying out the special pre-theatre menu. To make the most of your night at the opera, grab a sundowner at the Pearl Bar cocktail lounge, and take in the views of Downtown Dubai and Burj Khalifa from Sean Connolly’s rooftop terrace.
Emma S. is an Dubai resident and an avid traveller and culture lover