Where to stay
Our hotel for this trip was Grosvenor House in Dubai’s Marina area. It’s one of the older hotels in Dubai and a much-loved favourite which attracts a huge number of returning guests. The hotel is sat across two towers; one is for hotel rooms and the other houses private apartments. Some of Dubai’s most well-known clubs and restaurants are here, too, which include the Buddha Bar and Toro Toro.
Rooms have been recently refurbished and are nicely sized with good bathrooms, plenty of storage, extremely comfy beds and are really quiet and private. I strongly recommend getting a marina-facing balcony as the views towards the Palm and down Dubai past the Burj al Arab are really great. Staff are very helpful, and multilingual, as Grosvenor House attracts visitors from a wide range of nationalities.
The food at Grosvenor House is very good. Breakfast in Sloanes is a highlight. It is expensive but delicious with a huge range of hot and cold dishes from all over the world. Staff are very helpful, too. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from for dinner on site, too.
One of the great benefits of staying at Grosvenor House is the location. Grosvenor House’s sister restaurant, Le Royal Meridien is just a few minutes away, and you’ll have free access to the beach there, which is really worth doing. It’s a very pleasant sandy beach (see the sunset photo above) with a lovely stretch of sea to swim in.
The marina is around 45-60 minutes drive from the airport (traffic can be very variable), and around 30-45 minutes in a taxi from the Dubai Mall. The marina area is really worth seeing – probably best at night. It’s lovely for a stroll or a bike ride, or even a boat trip, and you can head straight out on to the marina path from the hotel. The Marina Mall is not far away and is useful for shopping, and there are more restaurants there, too.
Where to eat
One the real highlights of this trip was a food tour with Frying Pan Adventures.
Frying Pan Adventures are run by a delightful team of young women who are real food enthusiasts and are tapped in to what’s going on in the food scene in Dubai, with a particular focus on small independents in the older parts of town selling authentic food from the region and further afield.
Dubai is such a melting pot of many cultures, and as such, you will find so many nationalities living and working in Dubai, forging their own neighborhoods where you will find wonderfully talented cooks preparing and selling authentic food. The tour we took was the Middle Eastern Food Pilgrimage.
We met just after sunset in Bur Dubai, the old part of Dubai on the other side of the creek to downtown Dubai. Here, the buildings are much older and comparatively low rise for Dubai. We spent the next four and a half hours trying a really interesting range of foods from across the Middle East, from the Levant, popping briefly to Egypt, to the Gulf and Iran.
It was a really special experience to visit some truly charming people cooking delicious foods from their country of origin with passion and skill.
What I particularly enjoyed was trying so many authentic foods and seeing them made in places I would never have ventured to independently. Although Middle Eastern food is an area of specialism of mine, I learnt a huge amount and tried so many new things on this trip. It really was a hugely fun and informative experience, plus you get several meals rolled into one from your evening.
Lebanese food has been adopted almost as the national cuisine of the UAE. One of my favourite Lebanese restaurants in Dubai is Karam Beirut. They have a couple of branches across the city and they are consistently good and very good value, too. The vegetables are fresh, the pitta is hot from the oven and the grilled meats are excellent, too. It’s a favourite I return to time and time again.
For something really local and relaxed, we had a lovely simple meal of falafel wraps at Qwaider al Nabulsi, which we visited on the Frying Pan tour. We returned and sat outside on the street, watching the world go by and enjoying a falafel pitta for supper for just a couple of pounds. A really memorable experience.
What to do
Dubai is expanding so rapidly at present, it is possible to find new things to see and do even for the most frequent visitors.
We really enjoyed a trip to the new Dubai Opera. During our trip, they hosted the Chamber Orchestra of Europe who played a selection of pieces of music from Mozart and Beethoven. We went along for the evening on the Mozart night, which as a lovely experience. The Dubai Opera is, surprisingly, much simpler and less ornate than opera houses in London and Paris, for example, but the building is nevertheless beautiful and has some great views across to the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall. I’d really recommend a visit to anyone who enjoys classical music, as productions showcase some of the best performers in the world. Unusually for Dubai, there is a bar serving alcohol, so do head up to the roof terrace for a glass of fizz during the interval.
There are several new attractions focusing on nature, which include Green Planet, an interesting interactive rainforest exhibition and the Butterfly Garden, which opens in quite late in the season, but it is reputed to be good.
Better known attractions continue to be popular, including the Atlantis water park, but during our trip, they were completely full.
A trip to the souk is always worthwhile on a visit to Dubai. Be prepared to bargain hard. My favourite way to visit it to take an abra across the creek from Al Ghouloubi station, and then walk into the spice and gold souk from there.
How to get there
We flew from Heathow with Royal Brunei airlines. They run this service from London to Dubai, en route to Brunei. Their fleet consists of Boeing Dreamliners, which are very comfortable, and with a very new fleet, the aircraft are very smart and clean. Staff are genuinely charming and extremely helpful. One the way out, we flew Business class, which was ran excellent experience. The flat beds are really good and offer enough space to get really comfortable.
The food is good and plentiful as you can order whatever you fancy when you fancy. There is a fair bit to choose from, from a simple snack to a three course meal. We enjoyed some nice salads, a beef rendang, fresh fruit and cheese. Royal Brunei do not serve alcohol, but the choice of drinks in Business Class is excellent, which includes a wonderful range of great quality tea served in china cups, and plenty of juices and soft drinks.
The service is just right – crew were very thoughtful and generous, without intruding. And of course, if you just want to sleep, you’ll be left in peace with a thick duvet and comfy pillows to get comfy.
On the way home, we flew back in economy, which was also very good. The seats are comfortable and we had extra leg room seats which made a real difference. We had plenty of leg room and space to get comfortable. Staff were again delightful and food was plentiful and acceptable. We were given a pizza on take off, around 3am, followed by a breakfast before landing at around 6am in London. Dietary requirements were well catered for – the gluten free catering was actually very impressive. As with any airline, it’s always best to pre-book in good time.
The real bonus of flying economy with Royal Brunei is that it is just such good value – their return fares are astonishingly good value and offer a very affordable way of visiting Dubai.
We travelled to Dubai as guests of Royal Brunei airline. We received complimentary tickets from the Dubai Opera, and were offered a discount at Grosvenor House and Flying Pan Adventures. We paid for everything else ourselves.