Rising out of the desert expanse like a modernist mirage, Dubai is the city of glitzy skyscrapers known for its malls. Shoppers will delight in the storefront bargain bonanza on offer, but scrape below the jazzed-up, shiny surface and you'll discover there's more to Dubai than the sale rack price tags. The vibrant, cosmopolitan air of this Emirati metropolis will please city-break seekers, while there's a good dollop of historic sites which allow a peek into the world of a lost, sleepier Dubai. Families are kept busy with a host of kid-friendly activities, and those after an experience guaranteed to get their heart rate pounding will have no problems finding thrills and spills galore.
The Dubai Summer Surprises festival hits the city during June and July, when shops slash their prices and a programme of music concerts and carnival-style entertainment takes over all of the main shopping malls. For would-be bargain hunters, there is a feast of discounts to be explored. With scorching temperatures outside, there's also no better time to partake in the surreal experience of skiing in Dubai. Escape the heat and toboggan, ski, or snowboard within the blissful, constantly chilly 3°C environment of Ski Dubai's indoor ski slope (Mall of the Emirates, Sheikh Zayed Road).
Taxis are plentiful, metered and can be hailed off the street, but the metro system is also perfect for zipping around the majority of Dubai’s attractions; it's fast, efficient and links to the airport. Rechargeable Nol Red Tickets (Dubai's version of the Oyster Card) can be purchased at vendors and stations all over town. Nol can be used on both the metro and bus networks, and one-day unlimited journey passes are also available. Don't miss getting out onto Dubai Creek itself. Hop on a water taxi between Deira and Bur Dubai or, better still, board a traditional abra (wooden Emirati boat) to scoot across the creek and lap up the shoreside views.
Top cultural sites
Discover what life was like for the pearl divers and date farmers of 19th-century Dubai inside Dubai Museum (Al-Fahidi Street), then wander through the Al-Fahidi neighbourhood, with its graceful, finely-restored coral-block architecture to discover the gentle pace of old Dubai. The grand former residence of Sheikh Saeed Al-Maktoum (Al-Fahidi Street), who ruled Dubai until 1958, is now an atmospheric museum crammed full of old photographs and documents which evoke life beside the creek before the oil boom began. The elegant Jumeirah Mosque (Jumeirah Road) with its majestic Fatimid-inspired architecture is another cultural highlight not to be missed.
Best for families
Kids won't be the only ones dazzled by the bird’s-eye views at the Burj Khalifa (1 Emaar Boulevard). The observation deck of the world's tallest building hosts city panoramas which will wow both young and old. The best time to come is after dusk when the skyscraper skyline is a riot of twinkling lights. Book your tickets in advance to get the cheapest deal. Spend the daytime dishing up a host of other exciting activities. Get up-close-and-personal with the creatures of the sea at the Dubai Aquarium (Dubai Mall, Doha Street) or let the kids loose to sample the local market action at the colourful Deira souks.
Best for couples
Start the day with a serious gesture by swooping across the skyline on a helicopter tour of the city. In the afternoon, tone down the action and head to Jumeirah Beach (Jumeirah Beach Road) for some lazy sun and sand bliss. When you're looking to really impress, you can't go wrong by booking afternoon tea at the landmark Burj Al Arab hotel (Jumeirah Beach Road). The 27th-floor Skyview Bar, with its dizzying Dubai views, is the ultimate venue to woo your partner.
If you love a thrill
Hemmed in by the gloriously vast sweep of the Arabian Desert, adventure seekers should have no problem finding some action to get their heartbeat pounding. Sandboarding upon the steep dunes is a fun-filled way to spend the afternoon, while those who want to explore further should book a 4-wheel-drive dune-driving tour. If you prefer a more traditional mode of transport, camel-trekking and horse-riding tours are the ultimate activity to experience the barren beauty of this land. For those who want to take the adventure onto the water, Dubai doesn't disappoint. Scuba-diving, snorkelling and jet-skiing opportunities abound just offshore.
Best hidden gems
For some quiet time in the city, visit the old Burj Nahar watchtower (Al-Rashid Road, Deira) set amid a lush palm-tree garden. It's a little slice of tranquil greenery in Dubai. Traditional local architecture fans shouldn't miss wandering around the gorgeous Majlis Ghorfat Um-al Sheif building (Jumeirah Beach Road), once a summer retreat for the Dubai sheikhs. If you've got time, take a day trip 150km out of the city to Hatta Heritage Village, set amid stark Hajjar Mountain scenery. Here, the graceful mud-brick and stone architecture allows you to sense the Emirates of the past.