Vicky Smith travels to Dubai and discovers there’s more to the city than five-star hotels and luxe living

Dubai strives to offer the best. And not just the best, but the biggest too – the world’s largest shopping mall. The world’s tallest building. The world’s largest aquarium. The list goes on, and is set to increase with the seemingly never-ending development of this emirate on the south-eastern coast of the Persian Gulf.

These are all impressive feats of engineering, but if you’re not seeking record-breaking buildings, what does this relatively new holiday destination have to offer the average British holidaymaker? Quite a lot, as 
I discovered on a recent trip.

Why go on holiday to Dubai

Anantara Dubai The Palm Resort and Spa

One of the major factors to bear in mind is that the flight time is only around six hours. And at the end of that six hours, there’s pretty much guaranteed sunshine, sandy beaches, world-class restaurants and high-end hotels from every major player in the industry waiting for you. Long-haul luxury, but without the air miles.

One of the newest places to stay is Anantara Dubai The Palm Resort and Spa which, as the name suggests, is located on The Palm, a remarkable man-made island in the shape of a – no prizes for guessing – palm tree. Set away from the main ‘hub’ of Dubai, the Palm district has an exclusive feel, comprising high-end residential properties and resorts, and offers a calm, quiet feel in contrast to the buzzing city centre.

Anantara Dubai The Palm Resort and Spa

From your room straight into the pool at the Anantara

The Thai-themed Anantara makes the most of its waterfront location, with an idyllic beach, waterside restaurants and Dubai’s fist over-water villas, complete with glass floors. There are also a series of lagoon pools, surrounded by ‘swim-up’ villas – literally no effort is required to take a dip in the water, as it’s just a step down from your terrace. Families are well catered for, with kids’ clubs, watersports and varied dining options, whilst there are lots of activities for adults too – the stand-out spa offers dreamy Thai-inspired treatments, and there’s also a brilliant cookery school, where you can learn how to make Thai classics such as green curry and papaya salad. Spend an afternoon by the pool or on the glorious sandy beach before enjoying a cocktail at the Lotus Lounge bar amongst fellow holidaymakers, ex-pats and locals. It’s pretty thrilling watching the long queue of flashy super-cars driving up to the hotel in the evening – a (not-so-subtle) reminder of where you are.

In contrast to the Anantara’s beach holiday feel, there’s opportunity to seek out a boutique-style break in Dubai at the Desert Palm, one of the city’s only boutique hotels, located on the outskirts of town in the midst of some of the finest polo pitches in the world. It’s a unique experience staying in a room overlooking the pitches and seeing the sleek polo ponies trotting past. You can go and visit them in their (air conditioned) stables, and have afternoon tea whilst watching a match – a chic way to while-away a couple of hours. It’s remarkable how idyllic and relaxed the feel here is in contrast to the city centre down the road, however, in the evening, the hotel’s terrace has a real buzz, with locals enjoying shisha or tucking into Wagyu steaks and cocktails at the hotel’s grill restaurant, Rare.

Anantara Dubai The Palm Resort and Spa

See down the sun on the hotel’s terrace

Trip notes:

D ITC Luxury Travel (01244 355 527; has six nights from £1,399 per person based on two adults sharing, with three nights at Anantara in a Premier Lagoon View Room, and three nights at Desert Palm in a Palm Deluxe Room, including daily breakfast return economy flights with Emirates from London Heathrow and private transfers

To-do list 

Dubai has tons of attractions, but make sure you don’t miss these:

1 Burj Khalifa

The tallest man-made structure in the world, a trip to the top is highly recommended – you can gaze down at the city and compare it to photos of how it looked 10 or 20 years ago, an astonishing reminder of how far Dubai has come in a short space of time.

2 Dubai Mall

Even if shopping isn’t number one on your holiday to-do-list, it’s worth seeing this giant mall that covers a mind-boggling 502,000 square metres (the equivalent of about 50 football pitches). It’s also home to the Dubai Aquarium.

3 The Old Town

In contrast to the sleek skyscrapers in the city centre, the Old Town is home to some of Dubai’s older buildings and museum, which offers an insight into what the area used to be like. There’s also the gold souk where you can try out your best bartering skills.