While I’m not averse to any of those things – I’ve long claimed the gilded lily as my favourite flower – I do prefer my trips to offer a balance of cocktails and culture. Most of all, I like to explore cities on foot.
Just as I’d settled into the idea that this would therefore be a four-day session around an infinity pool, I met a British ex-pat with four years under her belt living in Dubai.
Her perfect day in this, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates, included none of the above. What’s more, apart from a few connecting taxis, it can largely be done on foot. Dubai, it turns out, has more walkable elements than you might expect from a city that looks from above to be 100% highway.
Armed with her itinerary, I set out to explore Dubai like a local – picking up tips from as many more locals – ex-pats and Emeratis – as I could find along the way.
Head to the Al Quoz district for breakfast in one of Dubai’s most vibrant cultural hubs. A metaphorical million miles from the glossy malls of downtown, this cobbled alley with its stone balconies, olive trees and low-rise, colourful, stucco buildings, is a peaceful oasis in the heart of Al Quoz, lined with boutiques bursting (I do not say this lightly) with perfectly curated products.
Start your day with coffee at Boston Lane, a pretty Australian-owned cafe with excellent coffee and perfectly crisp cheese toasties, alongside the usual selection of pastries and juices, before hitting the shops.
Boston Lane, The Courtyard, Sheikh Zayed Road Al Quoz Industrial 1 Street 4b/Street 6
Stay in The Courtyard after coffee and leave yourself a few hours to explore the phenomenal collections in the eclectic shops that form The Collective. I hadn’t expected to come home from Dubai with a flame orange Brazilian swimsuit, Parisian phone case and a Hayley Menzies cardigan – but that just sums up the global nature of Dubai and the allure of these shops.
Maison Clad has all you’ll need to dress for Dubai life, with colourful dresses, kaftans and jewellery it is impossible to leave on the shelves. In Tribe you will find ultra-stylish, ethically sourced, handmade, one-of-a-kind homeware. In Caravana, the most beautifully vibrant fashion and home accessories, sourced from around the globe – I am still getting stopped in the street for the phone chain I bought there. There’s far too much to list, but the rest of the roll call includes a chic children’s boutique, antiques, plants and that Brazilian swimwear store, Beldi Bazaar, which also sells sensational candles and ceramics. Prepare to spend.
After you’ve filled your stomach and emptied your wallet, pass down to the antiques end of The Courtyard and cross the highway over to Alserkal Avenue. You really shouldn’t miss the vast, warehouse-style buildings – but in case you do, the prominent sign asking ‘When did you arrive?’ should help. Known to be Dubai’s coolest and most creative hot spot, this industrial space, which has the distinct vibe of a film set, is home to art galleries and installations, boutiques, vintage car showrooms, artisan workshops, fitness studios – including yoga and Peloton – and more.
When we were there, the Tatintsian Gallery had Mat Collishaw’s The Machine Zone, an unforgettable installation from one of Britain’s most talented contemporary artists. Wander the complex – all free to enter – for the rest of the morning, drinking in beauty, creativity and craft set against a backdrop of minimalux microcement.