April 12, 2017

What to do in Dubai: A Contrarian’s Guide

Words + Photos : Erica Hawkins

This travel season, one of our favorite destinations is the United Arab Emirates. With its extravagant capital and jaw-droppingly beautiful deserts, it’s an easy decision.

But have you ever typed the words “City Travel Guide” into a search engine? Do you get the feeling that maybe you should go everywhere except those places? Us too. Blame it on a well-ingrained spirit of dissent, but our first inclination is to search out the less traveled paths.

So here, in all its glory, is our list of To-Dos for an off-the-beaten-path trip to Dubai. We can’t promise you’ll find them on any other listicle, but we promise you’ll love these spots.





Diverge onto The Last Exit

Your first stop, straight off your billion-hour plane ride, should be The Last Exit, a service station style food truck park located between Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE. It’s open 24hrs a day, which is perfect regardless of what time your flight lands or hunger calls. 

In a city known for 5 star VIP dining experiences, The Last Exit is a bizarrely smooth food transition if you’re coming from the US — especially since it’s covered in license plates from the US, vintage vehicles, and mimics a 1950’s American pit stop. The exit houses more than 10 food trucks to choose from with everything from Mexican grills, burgers, seafood, and a Starbucks built in a vintage airstream. Very odd sight to see in the UAE desert.






Dune Bashing in Dubai’s Desert

Dubai’s desert safaris have most likely shown up in multiple guides, and understandably so. But we aren’t telling you to venture off on a desert safari for camel rides, hookah pipes, and Arabic barbecues. 

The real reason you should venture out about an hour away from the city of Dubai into the desert is for the dune bashing that takes place on the way to the safari camp. If you’re not familiar with dune bashing, it’s when you get into a jeep driven by someone who will play obnoxiously loud dance music unironically as you drive over hills of sand and your life flashes before your eyes.

Picture this: the song “Gangnam Style” plays so loud your fellow travelers can’t tell if you’re laughing or crying (spoiler alert: you’ll be doing both) as you drive haphazardly through desert dunes, eventually coming to a stop, thankful for your experience and that you’ve made it out alive. …It’s the best.







Haggle at The Textile Souk

Dubai is known for its traditional marketplaces, or Souks, where buying and selling are done and haggling is not only accepted, but it’s expected. Old Dubai is literally a gold mine of jewelry bargains, with the Deira Gold Souk standing out as a traveler’s favorite.

But if your taste errs on the less shiny side, you’ll want to check out the Textile Souk. Located on the side of Dubai Creek, the souk is full of a wide array of shops selling intricately designed pillowcases, hipster-friendly poufs, pashminas, bags, and traditional fabrics you can’t find anywhere else – all at prices you name yourself.






View the Burj Khalifa from a Different Perspective

You may have heard of the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest structure at a staggering 2,722 ft), but what you may not know is that you don’t have to venture to the top for an unrivaled view. 

Next to Burj Khalifa and right beside the world’s largest choreographed fountain is Souk Al-Bahar (which translates to ‘market of the sailor’). It boasts two stories of restaurants with fresco seating where you can enjoy extravagant views without dealing with extravagant prices.







Stroll and Save on JBR Beach

Your mission in Dubai is enjoying a sunny stroll on one of the world’s swankiest beaches, the Jumeirah Beach Residence, fondly called the JBR. This beachside residential community is defined by white sand beaches, lined with expensive hotels, and comes equipped with extravagant shops, restaurants, and excursions.

All the cabanas and private beaches can be pretty touristy though, so in staying true to our theme of dissension, make a visit to the public access area of the beach. There you can continue watching the water of the Persian Gulf break on the shore while people watching, shopping open air markets, and tasting fresh coconut water from the concession stands. This is also where you want to load up on local trinkets and treasures if you’re a souvenir lover.





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