Plenty of people dismiss it as a transient travel hub, but this blooming emirate, with its skyscrapers and multicultural mix of people, offers intriguing sights, cutting-edge restaurants, and historical neighborhoods—all reachable in a short layover.
Most visitors form their first impression of Dubai when they glimpse the colossal and impressive Dubai International Airport as they land. It's the world's busiest international passenger hub, and as such, landing here with time before your next connection is par for the course. If you've got extra time, get ready to see the many faces of the bustling emirate, which is bursting with culinary and cultural influences from around the world. Our itinerary bypasses the usual tourist traps and heads straight for the city's hidden gems.
Ease into the morning with breakfast at the charming restaurant bungalow-meets-organic-café, Comptoir 102. The space, which has been designed as a home, complete with a lounge, garden, and laid-back terrace, is the ideal spot to grab a macrobiotic meal of buckwheat pancakes while reclaiming your sense of zen post-flight. What's more, the stylish French owners have imported a covetable mix of lifestyle items from around the globe to peruse at your leisure—all for sale if you find yourself lingering over your coffee, as most visitors do.
Get your swimsuit out and enjoy some stand-up paddle boarding, surfing, or kayaking at Kite Beach. Head to Surf House Dubai, the epicenter of surf culture here, to arrange for equipment rental (paddle boarding is $20 for 1 hour).
While at Kite Beach, set your sights on the Salt food truck. The concept, which started as a social media game (the truck would travel around the emirates and post its whereabouts on its Instagram handle @findsalt), has become a casual culinary sensation in the city. It serves up simple but delicious wagyu sliders and chicken Cheeto burgers that continue to create a constant queue outside of its eye-catching vintage truck.
After lunch, head nearby to the unassuming Al Reef Lebanese Bakery for an Arabic sweet—the baklava is a crowd favorite—or fresh Lebanese bread with a gooey sprinkling of fresh mozzarella.
After dessert, set your sights on the historical district of Dubai, Bastakiya. The leafy XVA Hotel's courtyard in the Al Fahidi neighborhood is the perfect place to soak in works by acclaimed Middle Eastern artists and enjoy a coffee with a side of cultural cultivation. Miles away from the high-rises of the city, this fascinating neighborhood features quintessential bedouin architecture and quaint streets sure to impress even the most jaded tourist.
Watch the sun go down with a glass of Sancerre in hand at the One&Only Mirage's Jetty Lounge. With dramatic views of the Dubai Palm and the opulent Atlantis Hotel, this stunning and stylish bar, located on a stretch of beachfront promenade, is the perfect place for toasting to a full day. Enjoy a mezze platter and some shisha as you watch a breathtakingly beautiful blaze of orange and pearly pinks paint the sky before the sun sets.
If you only have one dinner in Dubai, make it at Zuma, the Japanese fine-dining eatery in the city's financial district. Despite being around since 2009, it continues to be an advanced-reservations-required institution. The ambiance is sultry and stylish, and the menu is refreshingly consistent, with the miso marinated black cod wrapped in a hobo leaf at the top of the must-try list.
End your whirlwind day in Dubai on the 122nd floor of the iconic Burj Khalifa at At.mosphere. A minimum spend of $50 per person is required to reserve a window seat at this upscale cocktail lounge, but the views of the city will undeniably leave you wide-eyed with wonder.