In terms of activities, there is much more than meets the eye and plenty of it won’t kill your wallet. Jumeirah beach is a must, especially on Fridays as you will see Dubai’s cosmopolitain population bronzing their toned bodies. There is also an emerging urbane crowd who enjoy arts and performances, as well as a local magazine Brownbook to keep you in the loop on the local developments in arts (
and is also nicely decorative to make you seem more cultured then you really are)
Although dining and drinking options are a-plenty, I would warn against going to mid-range joints pedalling middling western food: you will leave disappointed and deprived of much of your money. You would be far better off trying great variety of Indian, Pakistani, Afghan and course, of Arabic food, actually eaten by the expat communities in Satwa, Karama, and other less touristy parts of the city. As a plus you will also escape the resort-y feel many of Dubai’s restaurants.
Al Serkal Avenue: See exciting art (and local hipsters) in this new-ish row of galleries and cafes in a reclaimed industrial estate
Jumeirah Beach run: Ideally done in sunset or sunrise, it is lovely to see beach goings-on and dip in the water when things get too hot. There are plenty of cafés to keep you well fed and coffee’d up
Flying over Sheikh Zayed Road: Hover over traffic to see the soaring skyscrapers of Sheikh Zayed road from Dubai’s lovely metro, going from Al Jafaliyah to Business Bay, for only AED 5,-
Beach volleyball on Kite Beach: Make new friends jumping up and down in the sand
Dubai Opera: Enjoy a night in Dubai’s stunning new opera and see the emerging art crowd in its fantastic Art-Deco-ish wood-and-metal hall
Desert bike ride: Great exercise and a fun way of seeing the desert without kitsch. You can even do a punishing 50km circuit in the morning, just bring a lot of water
Walk around Mina al-Salam/Al-Qasr complex: A walk around Aladdin-esque deluxe hotel complex complete with an artificial lake and a stunning view of Burj Al Arab shows the essence of Dubai: very over-the-top, a bit kitschy, totally amazing
Dubai Fountain: Of course, cheesy as hell but it’s fun to see huge water jets sway to Enrique Iglesias’s Hero
Calicut Paragon (Karama Park): Amazing Keralan food, recommended to me by an award-winning Keralan chef. Affordable thalis and great chilly Beef.
Al Mallah (2nd December Street): Lively Arabic food place with mouth-watering chicken shawarma and super-sweet juice cocktails
Mayrig (Boulevard): A Dubai outpost of an amazing Beirut Armenian joint. Mante are a must and so is the raw meat kibbeh
Bu Qtair (Umm Suqeim): Beach shack serving delicious grilled prawns for a pittance
The Hamptons (Jumeriah Beach road): Delicious, if pricey, breakfasts, with East Coast vibes. Best enjoyed early in the morning sitting on top floor.
Park café (Kite Beach): Lovely Aussie beach shack with wicked avo-on-toast to power you up for a day at Jumeriah
Sum of us (Sheikh Zayed rd): Fantastic brunch food, lovely coffee in a wanna-be industrial, relaxed setting
At.mosphere (Burj Khalifa): High tea, really really high up will set you back a lot but will be unforgettable. Food is on par with the experience – very well thought out menu and, of course, amazing scones
Magazine café (DIFC): Great choice of magazines and an awesome coffee in a kiosk close to a number of art galleries.
Creekside café (Bur Dubai): bright creek-side nook to escape the hustle and bustle of the near-by bazaar and watch commuter boats ferrying back and forth
Grind (Dubai mall): a faux-truck doing amazing coffee with a great view of the Fountain
CioccolatItaliani (Al Wasl Road): amazing desert place serving heavenly waffles covered in ice-cream and melted chocolate
%Arabica (Dubai mall): Good artisan coffee by the Aquarium to escape the heat and crowds