Contrary to popular belief, there’s so much more to the city of Dubai than the biggest malls and the tallest buildings in the world. Full of surprises, Dubai shows its adventurous, creative, and even humorous side through its many festivals throughout the calendar year.
Here’s a guide to take you through the city’s vibrant celebrations that hail music, sports, adventure, art, film, and much more, that’ll take you well beyond the confines of the city’s glitzy malls.
Emirates Airline Dubai Jazz Festival
As far as music concerts go, the Emirates Airline Dubai Jazz Festival is the oldest and most high-profile in the country, due to celebrate its 15th edition in 2017. Music lovers expect more popular acts headlining the event as opposed to traditional jazz musicians. Not that anyone complained about having legends such as Carlos Santana and Sting perform LIVE in the last few editions.
Tickets tend to sell out months in advance so be sure to book online ahead of time.
Virgin Radio Redfest DXB
This two-day outdoor music festival held at the Dubai Media Amphitheatre may appeal more to the millennial generation, as the first three editions of the festival included hugely popular performers such as Iggy Azalea, Bastille, DJ Mark Ronson, and Trevor Nelson.
As winner of the Time Out Music and Nightlife Award for 2015, the Virgin Radio Redfest DXB does have strong credentials that promise an unforgettable time in Dubai. Bonus: The Amphitheatre is just blocks from the Nakheel Station metro stop, making public transport your best bet.
Hankook 24H Dubai (Endurance Motor Racing)
Hankook 24H Dubai is the first international endurance race of the year for GTs, touring cars, and 24H specials, held in cooperation with the Dutch National Racing Team (DNRT). For motorsport fanatics, this is a one-of-a-kind event, which sees participation from amateurs, pro drivers, and semi-pro drivers alike. Register before July 2016 for next year’s race for a reduction in the 5,600 Euros fee and a split fee arrangement.
Al Marmoon Heritage Festival
This is a relatively non-commercialized 13-day festival where you’ll enjoy the humble origins of camel racing in the Arab world and get a rare glimpse into an intrinsic part of Emirati culture. See more than 11,000 camels and their robot jockeys (yes, robot!) sprint around a traditional dirt track in 300-plus races for prizes such as luxury vehicles and cash. There are no reserved seats and entry into the festival is free but the sheer thrill and theatrics of the sport offer a unique experience.
Races begin at 6:30 a.m., so it’s an early start to your day. Al Marmoon is roughly 45 minutes away from Dubai city, so arrange for an SUV to take you there in the wee hours of the morning and enjoy the desert landscape on your way.
Sports and recreation
Omega Dubai Desert Classic – Golf Tournament
Held under the patronage of the Crown Prince of Dubai, HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammad Al Maktoum, Dubai Desert Classic is fondly known as The Major of the Middle East, thanks to its 27-year-old history in Dubai and the large number of golfing’s world champions who’ve played in the tournament, including Tiger Woods (2006, 08) and Rory McIlroy (2009, 15).
Since 1989 the tournament has seen 22 different winners from 12 different nations.
In the 2016 edition, daily tickets for the four-day main competition, were priced at Dh 200 per person. A season pass, which offered access all week, including the Challenge Match and Pro Am day, was available for Dh 800 (prices are subject to change each year).
Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
For more than 20 years, the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships tournament has seen the likes of Goran Ivanisevic, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Martina Hingis, Amelie Mauresmo, and Justine Henin play on the outdoor hardcourts.
The world-class Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium hosts the annual tournament under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai. Some of topline players are expected to show at the 2017 edition for a total prize money of US $4.5 million.
Places to eat
Taste of Dubai
If the fastest way to get to know a city better is through your taste buds, then the three-day Taste of Dubai festival makes it that much easier to sample a slice of the city’s culinary culture. The festival offers an opportunity to sample delicacies prepared by some of Dubai’s best restaurants as well as famous chefs from across the world.
You may find yourself sampling a section of local grilled fish such as the hamour or Red Snapper, or a delectable platter of Arab dessert such as the Kunafeh, a popular delicacy found across the Middle East and turkey, and the Baklava, which has common roots in Albania, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, and even Greece. While you’re at it, do try the Lumqemat Al Qadi– fried doughballs dipped in honey or sweet syrup, which are hugely popular in the UAE.
Be sure to participate in some of the many contests held at the festival–you might just go home with a ticket to a culinary trip around the world.
Dubai Food Festival
The 17-day, citywide celebration of regional and international cuisines sees thousands of foodies attend the festival. With 750 participating restaurants, including Restaurant Week, a popular global concept, Dubai Food Festival has made itself indispensable in city’s social calendar.
The most popular event in the 2016 edition of the festival was the master class series by celebrity chefs, where foodies and amateur chefs can learn and share their culinary skills.
Be sure to bring your appetite.
Arts and culture
As the most well-established art fair in the Middle East, Art Dubai makes for a compelling reason to visit the country in March. Described as an international art fair with roots in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia, the fair has broken new ground for artists in the region and offered unprecedented exposure.
For visitors, it is a rare opportunity to understand and appreciate the work of more than 500 artists from across the world. In its 2016 edition, the fair saw 94 participating regional and international galleries from 40 countries. More than 90 museums and institutions were in attendance along with over 27,500 UAE-based, regional and international guests.
As an Art Dubai first-timer, consider the size of the fair and set aside a minimum of two days to take it all in.
Dubai International Film Festival
The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF)is the city’s most high-profile and glamourous event of the year. Since its inception in 2004, the festival has succeeded in creating an international platform for Arab cinema and thrown a spotlight on the burgeoning regional film market.
Hollywood stars such as Tom Cruise, Colin Firth, and Jake Gyllenhaal have graced the red carpet at DIFF alongside Arab celebrities, making it count as one of the top film festivals in the world, by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine for the second time in a row, in 2016.
Wear your finest- you never know who you’ll bump into.
Design and fashion
Dubai Design Week
Dubai Design Week brings some of the most creative minds from across the globe under one roof, to explore ideas and artistic expression through design. Supported by Art Dubai, the two-year-old Dubai Design Week is taking shape as a global meeting point for artistic talent.
As visitors, expect to discover cutting-edge product design, innovative use of design in everyday-use items, and avant-garde projects, seen here exclusively.
Some of the projects showcased at Dubai Design Week include, Downtown Design –a platform for the region’s trade professionals to discover product design across the world, ABWAB–an initiative to showcase the works of six designers from across the Middle East and Africa region, Global Grad Show–an exhibition of innovative projects from the top ten design schools in the world and design installations placed in strategic locations across the city throughout Design Week.
Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience
Dubai’s fashion cognoscenti comes together every October, for a shopping experience curated by Vogue Italia. More than 140 participating stores and boutiques run special events, runway shows, and offer limited edition items for Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience.
As visitors you also have the opportunity to attend lectures by prominent personalities in the world of fashion and luxury such as Christian Louboutin, Mirloslava Duma and Silvia Fendi.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself shopping at The Dubai Mall, alongside Donatella Versace–true story!
Ladies, leave your high heels at home–there’s a lot of ground to cover on foot.
With the exhaustive list of events and festivals in Dubai it seems there’s something for virtually everyone here. While you’re there, you just might bump into a few kite flying enthusiasts–oh and there’s a festival for that too. Didn’t we say Dubai is a city of surprises?