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Ultimate hotel guide: where to stay in Dubai

Sprouting from the desert like a mirage, ultramodern Dubai is a city like no other — young, creative and dotted with some of the world’s most luxurious hotels.

By Zane Henry
Published 1 Nov 2019, 14:00 GMT, Updated 26 Jul 2021, 11:59 BST
The Dubai skyline rising from the marina at the edge of the desert.
The Dubai skyline rising from the marina at the edge of the desert.
Photograph by Getty Images

On first glance, Dubai may seem too OTT to be real — a billionaires’ playground erupting from the desert, funded by oil money that first began to pour into the city in the late 1960s. It’s a test bed for the imaginations of the world’s leading architects — skyscrapers trouble the clouds, audacious landmarks such as the Dubai Frame create surreal outlines and it often feels people are outnumbered by uber-luxe hotels, with many of them destinations in their own right. But beyond the unreality of it all, Dubai is a growing city with a young, largely expat community contributing to its ebullient energy. And with Expo 2020 Dubai around the corner, its stellar hotels will have their time to shine in the global spotlight.

Shangri-La suite with a sea view.
Photograph by VRX Studios

For city sleek: Shangri-La Hotel (£)

Located 10 minutes from the Dubai World Trade Centre, the Shangri-La is the epitome of a sophisticated city hotel, with a dark palate enlivened by splashes of gold and colour. The wall behind the front desk features a display of hundreds of opened books in different languages. Rooms are comfy and decorated in soothing grey and white, with large picture windows overlooking the city. The balcony outside the fourth-floor pool area — with one of the best views of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa
— is a selfie hotspot at sunset. Of the hotel’s seven restaurants and bars, Hoi An’s twist on Vietnamese cuisine gets our pick.

Rooms: From £122, B&B.

For a great escape: One & Only Royal Mirage (££)

At the risk of sounding trite, it’s tempting to call the Royal Mirage an oasis. With over half a mile of private coast overlooking artificial island Palm Jumeirah and 65 acres of grounds, the shimmering Royal Mirage lives up to its name. Minutes from the city, it feels like a retreat — with eight restaurants, the Health & Beauty Institute, four pools, three tennis courts and the beach, there are few reasons to leave. The aesthetic is opulent arabesque, elevated by forensic attention to luxurious detail. Rooms overlook either the ocean or gardens and are decorated in muted tones and embellished with subtle patterns and textures.

Rooms: From £187, B&B. 

The spectacular view from Taj Dubai's Treetop bar.
Photograph by BegelARTUR

For the best views: Taj Dubai (£)

Five minutes from the megalithic Dubai Mall, the Taj occupies a plum spot near Downtown Dubai. While it offers spectacular views of the neighbouring Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, it has enough of its own star power to avoid the gloom of its shadow. Colour riots through the hotel, courtesy of a deft blend of Arabian and Indian artwork, while the Jiva Spa offers a compelling list of ayurvedic treatments. After gorging on thali and tandoori at the Bombay Brasserie, take a stroll over to the magnificent fountains at The Dubai Mall. For spectacular sunset views, head to Treehouse, the hotel’s leafy rooftop bar.

Rooms: From £139, B&B.

For foodies: Fairmont The Palm (££)

Located on the ‘trunk’ of Palm Jumeirah, this family-friendly beach resort is a one-stop destination, with four pools, a fitness centre and beaches. Nods to traditional Arabic motifs abound, while guest rooms feature modern — if slightly anodyne
— design touches. But it’s the food offerings that are the real draw here. There are over a dozen dining and drink options, including Frevo’s Brazilian churrascaria-style cuisine, Little Miss India’s contemporary Indian offerings and Ba Restaurant & Lounge’s modern take on pan-Asian food. There’s also Flow Kitchen — a top brunch spot with a daily-changing buffet.

Rooms: From £151, B&B.

Aerial view of the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah.

For the bucket list: Burj al Arab Jumeirah (£££)

Twenty years after it first opened, the Burj Al Arab is still a showstopper — as much for its iconic ‘billowing sail’ design as the staggering opulence on display. Set on its own island, it has a helipad, a restaurant within an aquarium and a bar decorated in 24-carat gold leaf. Guests can expect Hermes amenities in mosaiced bathrooms, floor-to-ceiling windows with knockout views of the Gulf, and a pool terrace with butler-serviced cabanas and swim-up bars.

Rooms: From £933, B&B.

For arty types: Zabeel House by Jumeirah, The Greens (££)

It’s easy to see why Dubai’s arty crowd likes to hang out at Zabeel House — Chapters bar is decorated with repurposed hi-fi speakers, stylish Nyon cafe whisks diners to the ski slopes with a host of Alpine breakfast classics, while chic rooftop Sol Sky Bar is perfect for sundowners. Rooms boast retro touches like rotary phones and Smeg fridges, alongside tablets and Nespresso machines. 

Rooms: From £149, room only.

For unabashed glamour: Palazzo Versace Dubai (££)

There are few names that conjure expectations as swiftly as Versace. And yes, it’s as OTT as you’d imagine. The lobby features fluted columns, a three-tonne hand-blown chandelier and a 1.5-million-piece mosaic by Fantini Mosaici. The onslaught of glamour continues in the guest rooms: an opulent blitz of high ceilings, plush furnishings, parquet floors and bathrooms carved almost entirely out of marble. 

Rooms: From £153, B&B.

For history buffs: Queen Elizabeth 2 (£)

It’s not every day you get to sleep in a time machine. The QE2, once one of the most famous ships in the world, has been turned into a 13-deck floating hotel docked at Port Rashid. It’s a short drive from old Dubai’s Etihad Museum, the Gold Souk and Dubai Creek. Visitors can enjoy heritage tours of the vessel, have sundowners on the deck at the Yacht Club or catch a cabaret at the Grand Lounge.

Rooms: From £75, B&B.

For the cool kids: W Dubai — The Palm (££)

The enfant terrible of Dubai’s hotel scene, W Dubai launched with a punk-rock splash earlier this year. Adapting W’s informal, accessible style of hospitality to the Middle East, the friendly staff are as happy to recommend local nightlife as bring another mojito to your pool lounger. It’s design-forward, with virtually every corner punched up with quirks and objets d’art, including a 640-piece light installation in the lobby. A multi-tier pool deck looks like something straight out of Ibiza, while the brightest star in their constellation of culinary offerings is Akira Back. It’s the esteemed namesake chef’s first Middle Eastern outpost.

Rooms: From £154, B&B.

The front drive of W Dubai — The Palm.
Photograph by Ralf Tooten

For the full package: Jumeirah Al Naseem (£££)

In a city famed for its conspicuous displays of excess, the Jumeirah Al Naseem offers soothing, understated elegance. The lobby is airy and bright, with billowing cream drapes and wooden ceiling fans, while guest rooms are all neutral tones and wood and leather details. The look is clean and refined, with subtle nods to Arabian heritage and there are pillow treats from local artisanal chocolate maker Mirzam. Five pools sprawl across the property, restaurants are dotted throughout, and there’s a mile of sandy beach. As its part of the Madinat Jumeirah complex, guests also have access to a spa, fitness centre, tennis courts and the Wild Wadi Waterpark.

Rooms: From £333, room only.

Published in the November 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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