An Abra (water taxi) in Dubai Creek
Credit: Xu Jian/Getty Images

Dubai is a post-modern mecca, a sci-fi metropolis with an excess of nearly everything. Think Las Vegas by the sea, sans gambling, heavy drinking and prostitution.

The United Arab Emirates has over 200 nationalities from around the world that call the desert oasis home. According to those who live in Dubai, this is how you tour the city like a local.

Explore Old Dubai

Courtyard of XVA Hotel & Art Gallery in traditional Dubai building, Bastakia quarter
Credit: Richard Nebesky/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

New Dubai is flashy and modern, but Old Dubai is where the culture lives. The Al Fahidi Historical District, or the Al Bastakiya as it’s commonly known, was built in the late 19th century by Persian merchants. It’s brimming with charm, especially the original wind tower-style buildings and narrow alleyways. Visit XVA Gallery, one of the Middle East’s leading contemporary art galleries and the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding for a glimpse into local customs.

Cruise the Creek

Abra in Dubai Creek
Credit: Getty Images

Jump on an abra, a traditional wooden boat, for just one dirham (.30 cents) to cross the Dubai Creek from Deira, the city center, to Bur Dubai. The trip will take about five minutes, or you can hire a private abra to give you a more in-depth tour. Depart on an early morning boat ride or a sunset cruise to beat the desert heat. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a unique photo opp of abras loaded with everything from car tires to refrigerators. End the boat tour with a drink and a bite at the award-winning Boardwalk at the Dubai Golf and Yacht Club with the best view of the Creek and the skyline.

Shop Like an Emirati

Mall of the Emirates, Dubai
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The out-of-this-world Dubai Mall is 100 percent worth gawking at, especially its aquarium, ice skating rink and fountain show. But if you want to avoid the crowds, do like the locals do and visit the Mall of the Emirates. Every bit as fabulous, with designer shops and high-end restaurants, but much smaller and with fewer tourists. Once you’ve window-shopped the latest fashions, take a break at Après, a chic alpine ski-lodge. Sip on a vin chaud (mulled wine) and watch the skiers at the legendary Ski Dubai in front of a faux fireplace.

Eat Like A Local

United Arab Emirates, Dubai, Dubai Marina, Reem Al Bawadi restaurant, lebanese specialties
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Much like the people, the food in Dubai is a melting pot of cultures. There are dining experiences from all over the world to suit every type of bank account. Emiratis suggest Woodlands Restaurant for the most delicious dosa. Other must-tries are Ravi Restaurant and Reem al Bawadi, serving up authentic Arabic food and shisha that doesn’t cost a fortune. If you want to rub elbows with Dubai’s elite — without going broke — there are some great lunchtime deals at restaurants like Zuma Restaurant, a Japanese fusion hotspot, and COYA, a trendy Peruvian restaurant.

Book A Friday Brunch

Brunch overlooking the polo grounds at Al Habtoor Polo Club
Credit: Courtesy of Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club

Brunch in Dubai is a whole other category of dining. As one local says, “If you haven’t brunched in Dubai, you haven’t brunched.” Nearly every high-end hotel in Dubai has one, and they are ultra-extravagant. Treat yourself to an equestrian-inspired Polo Brunch at the Al Habtoor Polo Resort overlooking the playing fields. For a more relaxed dining experience, try the Barbary Deli + Cocktail Club. Located in the ever-growing Barsha neighborhood, indulge in stacked Bloody Mary’s in an intimate setting with funky music and a cool crowd.

Drive the Dunes

Sand Dunes in Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve
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For some, the city can get overwhelming, so a romantic retreat to the dunes comes highly recommended. Embark on an Arabian experience into the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve with Arabian Adventures. Here you can watch a falcon display, try belly dancing, get a henna tattoo, ride a camel, enjoy a buffet meal and watch the sun dip below the dunes as the stars come out.