Just back from: Dubai

Kat stood on a sand dune with an impressive desert view stretching into the distance

Kat exploring the breathtaking desert landscapes of Dubai © Kat Nelson

Katharine Nelson, Regional Head of Marketing at Lonely Planet, recently returned from a trip to Dubai.

Tell us more… I decided that I wanted a slightly different Christmas in 2017 and a friend who grew up in Dubai invited me to stay with her and her parents for a week. The thought of sunshine in December swung it for me. Dubai had never been high on my list of cities to visit, but I’d never been to the Middle East and knew it would be great to see it with someone who grew up there as my guide.

Defining moment? I was told we were going out for a relaxed, low-key evening to smoke some shisha and have a drink. But when I got out of the lift at the hotel I discovered this ‘casual’ rooftop bar had an incredible infinity pool stretching to the edge of the building, overlooking the Dubai Marina. We sat there with our shisha looking out over the city skyscrapers. Surprisingly, it wasn’t even that expensive – but it felt very ‘Dubai’.

The domes and minarets of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi

The domes and minarets of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi © Kat Nelson

You’d be a muppet to miss… a desert safari. Dune bashing, desert views with sand stretching as far as the eye can see, a camel ride, shisha under the stars and a belly dancing show – it may have felt touristy but was an unforgettable experience.

We also drove to Abu Dhabi for a day – it’s about an hour and a half’s drive from Dubai – and visited the new Louvre, located on Saadiyat Island. It’s a beautiful building surrounded by turquoise water, with the domed and latticed roof letting in dazzling speckles of sunlight. We then went on to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the UAE – definitely worth a visit if you can fit it in. By sunset it was busy with hordes of worshippers, as well as photographers hustling around to get the best shots of the spectacular domes and the surrounding reflective pools.

The dancing fountains entertain onlookers outside the Dubai Mall

The dancing fountains entertain onlookers outside the Dubai Mall © Kat Nelson

Fave activity? You have to watch the fountains outside Dubai Mall dance. It’s amazingly choreographed: when we arrived, Michael Jackson’s Thriller started to play and I was transfixed. And the malls themselves are a huge part of the Dubai experience. You can’t help but be awed by their size – Ski Dubai (an indoor ski park) in Mall of the Emirates has to be seen to be believed!

Quintessential experience? We got an abra (wooden boat) across the creek to Deira, the old part of town, to visit the gold and spice souks. It costs one dirham per person (20 pence in GBP) and was a really nice experience to be out on the water, travelling the way that many of the locals do. And it made a nice change from travelling by car!

Looking down across Dubai from the top of the Burj Khalifa

The view from the top of the Burj Khalifa © Kat Nelson

If you do one thing go… up the Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world. The lifts go up at a rate of 10m per second and at the top, you can see the huge shadow of the building stretched out across the landscape, making even the other tower blocks look minuscule – it’s an amazing amazing perspective on the city. You have to book in advance because the best times sell out quickly, and make sure you allow some queue time when you go to collect your tickets.

Want more behind-the-scenes adventures? Find out what Destination Editor Megan Eaves got up to on her recent trip to Peru’s Northern Highlands.