The locals' guide to...Dubai

Dubai isn't just a millionaires' playground where footballers buy islands as part of their weekly shop. It's also a thriving city, with plenty to offer those looking for more than sunburn and cocktails.

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How do I get away from large tour groups wearing matching caps?

There are two ways to see Dubai. Either follow the herd down the Sheikh Zayed highway, which rumbles from the airport to the apartment blocks and five star hotels, jostling for sunlight and beach space in New Dubai. Or give the crowd the slip and head towards Bur Dubai and Deira, where the wind towers of the old Iranian quarter and the spice and gold souks prove the city isn't all sand and skyscrapers.

Where do the locals party?

Alcohol-based partying is confined to Dubai hotel bars and clubs, but fear not, since the accent here is on luxury most aren't based on your average departure lounge - although money hasn't succeeded in buying taste in all of them. Buddha Bar is the place to be seen but the many terrace bars such as Bahri Bar and the Roof Top at the One and Only Royal Mirage are better options. Alternatively spend less money and avoid a hangover by joining the locals for a spot of sheesha - tobacco smoked through a water pipe - at the Cosmo Café.

Restaurants without an 'all-you-can-eat tourist buffet'?

For those with a credit limit higher than the Burj Dubai (the tallest building in the world) you can guzzle Dubai's finest cuisine every night. Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White and other notable chefs have restaurants in the city. However why not save the money and buy a car instead? Pick up a shwarma - a delicious Middle Eastern wrap - at Saj Express or head to Ravi's and eat like a tee-total king for under a fiver. The surroundings may be basic but the Pakistani food is authentic and a local favourite.

The locals' absolutely secret number one tip : The best way to get from Bur Dubai to Deira is by abra (a small boat) across Dubai Creek. But don't be fooled into paying 20 dirhams for one. Make your way to a public abra station and take a trip with the locals for a fraction of the price.

A quick guide to where the locals hang out


The beach: The city is one long beach. If you're staying in a 5 star hotel in Dubai, you'll probably have a private one to lounge on, but Jumeirah Beach Park is where the locals hang out.

The shops : Shopping is a national pastime. Upmarket stores abound in Mall of the Emirates and Ibn Battuta Mall. For those who prefer to barter, head to the spice and gold souks in Deira.

The trip: Either hire a car or take an organised trip out to the desert. Ride a dune buggy, or a camel, before watching the sun dip below the horizon.

The museum: The cultural pickings are thin on the ground but Dubai Museum is worth a visit. Its interactive exhibits will bring you up to date on the history and customs of the area.

The coffee: Explore the Al Bastakiya Quarter, built by wealthy Iranian merchants in the late 19th century, before refuelling with a coffee in the leafy courtyard of the Basta Art Café.

The view: Taste may have vacated the premises but the Burj Al Arab's Skyview Bar, 200m above sea level, is worth going to for the view. You'll need to book.

The spa: It's not cheap at Bab Al Shams Desert Resort and Spa, but it's not often you can get a manicure in the desert.

The place for people watching: Take a seat in one of the padded booths at opulent restaurant/bar Boudoir and spend your evening gazing at the beautiful people.

Can I drink the water?

The eight essential questions you'll need answering

Which local animal is likely to hospitalise me?

There are lots of camels in these parts and they sometimes stray on to the roads. Hit one and it probably won't just be your hire car that's a write-off.

Which native liquor will make me think I am attractive?

If you're not in a Dubai hotel bar then none, because nowhere else serves alcohol. If you are, several tall cocktails of your choice should do the trick.

How can I avoid a beating by the local hard nuts?

The law is the hardest nut in town. Don't break it otherwise your Dubai city break could become a long one - and it won't be luxurious.

Will I get lost?

There's so much building work going on maps and signs aren't always that helpful. If you're heading out to the desert take plenty of water and make sure you've got enough petrol.

Will I find myself?

Dinner in the desert with a few camels for company, as the sun sinks below the sand dunes, can get you in a contemplative mood on your Dubai holiday.

Should I take an umbrella?

Only to shield your delicate skin from the sun. June to September are the hottest months when the temperature can soar above 40c.

What should I order in a restaurant to impress the locals?

When in New Dubai order the most expensive dish on the menu and wash it down with champagne. Money talks here.

Can I drink the water?

There isn't much fresh water around but that means all tap water is desalinated and therefore safe to drink.

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