An insider’s guide to Dubai’s hidden gems

Dubai is fast becoming one of the most glamorous cities in existence. It’s home to the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper, as well as opulent hotels, ritzy beach clubs and dozens of shopping malls. All of this has fueled a booming tourist industry, and plenty of incredible accommodations in Dubai. Here are a few hidden gems in Dubai, if you’re looking for smaller crowds or lesser-known attractions.

Chilling out at Book World

The Book World by Kinokuniya café, on the second floor of the Dubai Mall, has killer views of the Dubai Fountain. You can sip on exotic teas, nibble on some sushi and tuck into some mochi ice cream in the calm of this quiet, Japanese-style eatery as you watch the world’s largest dancing fountain spray jets of water 450 feet into the air.

The fountain is synched with classical, world and Arabic hits, and although you might not be able to hear the music as clearly as if you were standing outside, it’s worth the trade-off to avoid the crowds and beat the heat in summer. After the show, you can browse the shelves of the largest bookstore in Dubai. The fountain shows run daily at 1 and 1.30 p.m. (1.30 and 2 p.m. on Fridays), then every half hour from 6 to 11 p.m. Weekend evening shows draw the biggest crowds.

Eating with Emiratis

Named after the kerosene lamps that lit Emirati homes before electricity came to the UAE, Al-Fanar is a true gem in Dubai’s crown. It is, in fact, the UAE’s only authentic Emirati restaurant, and was originally intended to provide tourists with an insight into the country’s rich culture and heritage.

When it opened, however, Emirati nationals flocked to the restaurant for the chance to eat home-cooked meals in a traditional setting. The decor evokes the Emirate as it was during the 1960s, when oil was first discovered and the business boom started. There’s an original Land Rover Series II in the courtyard, period photos on the walls, and statues replicating typical scenes of daily life at that time.

It’s a great place to eat with the locals in a convenient location (the original branch is within the Dubai Festival City mall complex). Who knows — maybe you’ll spot the Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum or the Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan. Both have eaten at Al-Fanar.

Spotting Dubai’s supercars

Dubai is so in love with the supercar that even the city’s police force has their own fleet of sports cars, including a Lamborghini Aventador and a Bugatti Veyron amongst others (no joke!). You’re likely to spot these flash cars on the Emirate’s arterial motorways, or parked in pride of place in the city mall’s VIP valet parking areas.

However, when night falls, supercar owners like to cruise ‘The Walk’, the one-way, part-pedestrianised promenade stretching out in front of the Jumeirah Beach Residence. Take a seat at one of The Walk’s pavement cafes, and you’ll be treated to a virtual supercar fashion show.

The area is worth a visit even if you’re not a car buff. On a hot summer day, you can let the kids cool off at the Splash Pad water park; in the cooler months, you can browse open-air craft and gift markets. Evening shopping is great in this area, particularly at appropriately named The Beach mall.

Joyriding through Downtown Dubai

The best views of the city are undoubtedly from the top of the world’s tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa. However, if you’re stuck for time or can’t get tickets (which get booked up very quickly), consider taking a joyride on the Dubai Metro. (#49 on the Top 50 Ultimate Kid Travel Experiences) The city’s newest public transport system officially opened in 2009, providing cheap, air-conditioned travel for commuters and tourists alike. The train’s elevated platforms run along the length of Dubai, stopping at many shopping hotspots and places of interest.

Snapping a selfie

The over-the-top Burj Al Arab luxury hotel is housed in a sleek, sail-shape building on an islet jutting out from the shoreline. It’s become an iconic part of the Dubai skyline, and definitely a must-see. The entrance to the hotel is closely guarded, and the area in front of the gates can get crowded with visitors to the adjacent Wild Wadi water park.

The best place for a Burj Al Arab selfie is from the nearby public Jumeirah Beach. You can take as many pictures as you like, then take a dip in the warm Arabian Gulf.