Six in-the-know locals reveal the authentic side of Dubai, the Middle East’s most cosmopolitan city.

By Vinita Bharadwaj
Updated: February 02, 2017
Martin Sasse/laif/Redux

Shopping Secrets

Simone Heng, creator of Dubai-based style blog, shares her go-to fashion resource:

“When Dubai’s World Cup horse race nears, the well-heeled crowd rushes to Satwa, an area famous for its textile and tailoring shops. They’re among the oldest businesses in Dubai. My picks: Nippur Trading (971-4/349-2446), a beautifully organized clothier with impeccable service, and Fida General Trading (971-4/344-4008), a trimmings store that stocks everything from glue guns to underwear. Always haggle; prices can come down quite a bit.”

Global Tastes

Dubai is home to hundreds of international communities, which means you can taste nearly every cuisine, from French to Filipino. Sally Prosser, who writes the popular food blog, reveals her top dishes:

Shakshuka: “The original Dubai version of this specialty (eggs baked in spicy tomato sauce) is at Baker & Spice Dubai ($$$). It comes with a stack of toasted French farmhouse bread.”

Chicken achari: “You’ll find this slightly sharp, stewlike curry from Pakistan at Ravi’s (971-4/331-5353; $), in Satwa.”

Pani puri: “A riot of flavors: a crisp shell filled with sour tamarind water, potatoes, and date sauce. Get it at Rangoli (Bur Dubai; $).”

Shawarma: “The Arabic lamb sandwich—with tahini, hot sauce, and sometimes fries inside—is the ultimate snack. The best is at Anwar Cafeteria (Umm Suqeim; $).”

Crispy Hen’s Egg: “My favorite item on the tapas-style menu at Table 9 ( $$$). It’s poached, breaded, and served with house-cured pancetta and shimeji mushrooms, then drizzled with maple syrup.”

Meet the Locals

Mohamed Parham Al Awadhi, producer and cohost of travel TV show Peeta Planet, recommends heading to the energetic Karama souk, where there are dozens of tiny, immigrant-run mom-and-pop restaurants packed tight with tables. “Chat up the owners,” he says. “They’ve been in Dubai a long time and have wonderful anecdotes.”

Modern Moments

Emirati retail executive and social media star Muna Al Gurg knows Dubai inside and out. Her tips:

Switch Restaurant ($$) has futuristic, glowing interiors by Karim Rashid. The camel burger is the best in town.”

“Before a beach day, check out Emirati designer Suhail Matar’s line of funky men’s shorts, Velorum, at O-Concept Store (Saladicious, Jumeirah).”

“Sure, the observatory at the top of Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, is packed. Go, but make it a more edifying experience by visiting the nearby Ara Gallery to see the latest in Middle Eastern contemporary art, including the work of such rising talents as photographer Abdulla Bin Touq.”

A Walk Through History

Visit the old quarters to find the trade outposts that made Dubai Dubai. Samantha Wood, blogger at, suggests: “Start off with a stroll through Al Fahidi’s narrow streets and past wind towers (a centuries-old form of air-conditioning). And don’t miss a ride along Dubai Creek in an abra, a traditional wooden boat.”

Across the creek in Deira, Al Gurg recommends a visit to the glimmering stalls of the Gold Souk, where “the sheer volume of what’s on display is amazing.”

Also in Deira: the age-old Spice Souk. “It’s touristy, but I love inhaling exotic scents from around the world,” Al Awadhi says.

Quick Getaways

Explore beyond the city limits, Al Awadhi says. “Just outside Dubai, the landscape changes to sand, mountains, and sea.”

Digital consultant Abha Malpani likes Bab al Shams Resort ($$), in the desert 40 minutes from town. “You can take a camel tour of the adjacent bedouin village.”

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Bab Al Shams

Meaning gateway to the sun, Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa is located in the desert outside of the city. The low-rise hotel is only two stories high and resembles a fortress with imposing walls and large doors. The property’s 113 rooms and suites have desert or garden views and chic Arabian décor. The Bab Al Shams offers a plethora of luxury activities and amenities, including the Satori Spa, sunset yoga, camel riding, and falconry. The primary draw here is the secluded location, which has earned the hotel a following among harried locals.