Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Blvd., Downtown
As a young city, Dubai is still building its cultural scene. Toward that goal, and the delight of many locals, the Dubai Opera house, which was under construction for a few years, opened at the end of 2016, a 5,800-square-foot marine-style, dhow-shaped building in the heart of downtown. The venue is the performance arts hub of the city, putting on a wide array of ballets, operas, plays, musicals, comedy shows, and concerts.
Abd El Wahab
Souq Al Bahar, Downtown
Although Abd El Wahab is technically located inside shopping mall Souk Al Bahar, don’t expect it to be a typical mall-dining experience—with a large terrace and views of the surrounding city and man-made lake, having a meal there is actually quite relaxed. They serve excellent iterations of the classics in a wide-ranging menu: think perfect tabbouleh, hummus, grilled meats, and vegetables served in myriad ways with ample fresh, warm bread.
Burj Khalifa St., Downtown
This sleek rooftop lounge is decorated with tons of foliage and string lights, the only nod to the kitschy name in the form of several sculptures of monkeys holding telephones. The bar has incredible views of the city and directly faces the world’s tallest tower, Burj Khalifa. Food-wise, there's a nice selection of Mediterranean share plates, a surprisingly good burger, and an array of trendy cocktails involving vapor and smoke.
Dubai Mall, Downtown
Founded by the same owners of the successful café Salt on Kite Beach, Parker's began as a social media-fueled pop-up concept that quickly gained traction around town. Here's the quirk: to eat at Parker's you need a special key, which are hidden across Dubai (by "Mr. Parker"). Fans who buy into the hype follow clues posted on Parker's Instagram/Snapchat handles to track one down. Once you're in, the menu really caters to a sweet tooth; particular attention is paid to inventive desserts while other menu specials include things like a crispy chicken potato sandwich with fries inside.
Baker & Spice
Souk Al Bahar, Downtown
Baker & Spice's casual menu is a balance of Western and Middle Eastern dishes, and changes based on what's in season (they source most of their produce from UAE farmers). The breakfast menu is full of healthy-ish classics like Turkish eggs, avocado toast with dukkah, and a famously good shakshouka, and lunch is a mix of fresh salads and hearty comfort food, like burrata salad with beetroot carpaccio, pumpkin and goat cheese tortellini, and roast chicken and potatoes. If you don't have time to order off the menu, you can also pick up fresh-baked bread, tarts, pastries, and pies to go. Now in its seventh season, their Friday farmer’s market at Business Bay is an amazing resource for locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables. There are locations in Al Barsha, Jumeirah, Souk Al Manzil, and the marina (oh, and they cater).
Baker & Spice
Souk Al Manzil, Downtown
Baker & Spice's casual menu is a balance of Western and Middle Eastern dishes, and changes based on what's in season (they source most of their produce from UAE farmers). The breakfast menu is full of healthy-ish classics like Turkish eggs, avocado toast with dukkah, and a famously good shakshouka, and lunch is a mix of fresh salads and hearty comfort food, like burrata salad with beetroot carpaccio, pumpkin and goat cheese tortellini, and roast chicken and potatoes. If you don't have time to order off the menu, you can also pick up fresh-baked bread, tarts, pastries, and pies to go. Now in its seventh season, their Friday farmer’s market at Business Bay is an amazing resource for locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables. There are locations in Al Barsha, Jumeirah, Souk Al Bahar, and the marina (oh, and they cater).
Burj Khalifa, Downtown
As strong as Dubai's mocktail game is, the city also has a vibrant club scene. Since liquor licenses mostly reside with the hotels in Dubai, so do the clubs (as well as many restaurants/bars). For a dressed-up night out, there's Giorgio Armani's club, located on the lobby level of the brand's hotel, within the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world). Inside Armani/Privé, it's sleek, modern decor set to a mix of local and international DJ's, from 10pm to 3am.
Burj Khalifa, Downtown
A trip to the Dubai Mall is on every tourist's list, but the role of malls in local Dubai culture can't be overstated: This is a shopping center city—malls house so much of Dubai's food and family entertainment, particularly in the summer months when the temperature outside can be unbearable. The Dubai Mall is the crowning glory of them all, at 5.9 million square feet—grab a map on your way in, seriously. Geared toward kids, there's an aquarium, indoor theme park, Olympic-sized ice rink, and twenty-two screen movie theater. There are hundreds of places to eat, including the dessert-focused Parker's. As for retail, you can find it all here. The ground/first floor area of the mall called Fashion Avenue has all the big designer and luxury brands you could think of. Also worth seeing: the department store Level Shoes, which is 96,000 square feet itself (i.e. SO many shoes). On the second floor, there's an enormous, impeccable Kinokuniya, which is absolute heaven for bookophiles—there are more than half a million books here, plus thousands of magazines in multiple languages, and all the stationery and accompanying paper goods the heart…
1, Mohammed Bin Rashid Blvd., Downtown
Sure, there's a lot of hype around going to the top of the world's tallest building—but when in Dubai...provided you aren't deathly afraid of heights, just do it. The view is knock-the-breath-out-of-you crazy. Built by Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, excavation began in 2004, and the building, a series of rising, helix-shaped spires, officially debuted six years later, in 2010. It's 160 stories, or 2,716.5 feet (828 meters) tall. To put that into perspective: Shanghai Tower is 2,073 feet; One World Trade Center is 1,776 feet; and the Eiffel Tower is 984 feet. (Because it's Dubai, where more is frequently seen as more, an ever taller structure is in the works.) There are a few observation decks—stop at level 124, 125, 148—where you can look down at what appears to be an imaginative, sprawling paper city from that high up. At level 122, you can do high tea at At.Mosphere (it's about the view and the experience, not the food). Book in advance—even just to get up to the observation decks. While you're here: You can easily couple your tour of the Burj Khalifa with the adjacent Dubai…
Burj Khalifa, Downtown
Part of the world’s tallest building, the unapologetically luxe Armani hotel is the first hospitality project by fashion designer Giorgio Armani. The vibe is masculine and minimal, but somehow warm at the same time, with custom-made furnishings done in neutral browns and sleek grays. Taking the concept of Italian hospitality and running with it, management hooks up each guest with a lifestyle manager to book treatments at the on-site spa, arrange dinners at any of the hotel's seven restaurants (don't leave without sampling the menu at Armani/Ristorante), and organizing Bentleys for airport pickups and drop-offs. Ask for a room overlooking the fountains, you won’t be disappointed.