Opulent, bustling and bold — Dubai, the jewel of the United Arab Emirates, is not to be outshined. By Rina Chandarana.

Dubai rises above the golden desert and the hazy waters of the Persian Gulf. Beyond its shiny façade, the decidedly global city is an inviting combination of both eastern traditions and western modernity worthy of exploration.

Dubai Luxury Travel - Ker Downey

Aim for the Sky

The Dubai skyline tells the story of brisk development with each new height representing another decade. Zip up to the top of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, to get a wider scope of the city’s upwards and outwards expansion. The desert backdrop against soaring glass and steel skyscrapers makes for a dramatic contrast.

At night, head to one of the city’s top-floor bars or lounges to sip on a creative cocktail or a classic martini. Iris at the top of The Oberoi is one of the hot spots to see and be seen.

Shop in Style

The sidewalks of Dubai resemble a daily runway show and the obsession with fashion is on full display. Women in flowing abayas flaunt the latest designer bags, while men in suits or long, white thawbs sport high-end watches. Boutiques along Jumeirah Beach Road sell a wild array of everything from silver teapots to haute couture. Sprawling malls offer an air-conditioned shopping alternative alongside ample entertainment. Ski indoors down a giant slope in the largest snow park in the world at the Mall of the Emirates. Push pause on shopping and go underwater in Dubai Mall’s walk-through aquarium tunnel.

In Dubai’s old town, browse souks for just about anything, escorted through the thrum by a local guide. Dhows from China, India, and all over the east once brought their treasures to these lively markets. These lateened ships still bob in the canals, brought to life from the Arabian Nights tales. Bargain for brilliant gold jewelry and oud fragrances in these old souks and recall a time when Dubai was just a small town.

Experience the Culture

Rich Bedouin traditions run deep in Dubai’s poetry, songs, dances, and storytelling rituals. Take a traditional dhow boat ride to admire the city from a different perspective while smoking a sheesha pipe. Watch falcons swoop and soar at a falconry demonstration in the desert or see a camel race, a thrilling and deeply-ingrained part of the Emirati culture.

Wander through one or more of the over 20 galleries located in warehouses in the arts district. The Salsali Private Museum features contemporary art, while the Dubai Museum takes travelers back to a time when life was simpler. This once desert outpost has now transformed into a shimmering pearl on the Persian Gulf and modern travelers benefit from the best of both worlds.

Dubai Luxury Travel - Ker Downey

Explore the Sand and Sea

The glimmering lights of the metropolis are no match for the twinkling stars the desert sky. After a bouncing four-wheel-drive ride along the dunes, settle in for a luxurious meal as the sun sets over the sand. Off the coast, beaches offer a somewhat cooling respite from the city. Water sports enthusiasts take their pick between scuba diving, flyboarding, jet skiing, and sailing. Kick back poolside at one of the swanky hotels or go for an exhilarating slide in the waterpark at the Burj Al Arab.

Savor the World

Dubai’s international appeal has elevated its cuisine. An important business hub, go-getters and lovers of luxury flock here from all over the globe, making it a top spot for mouth-watering, ethnically-diverse dishes. There is an endless supply of delectable plates from Indonesian and Indian curries to fine dining outposts helmed by celebrity chefs including Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, and Nobu Matsuhisa. Catch a break in the heat of the day the day with a local favorite: rosewater ice cream. Wine and dine at Pierchic at the Jumeirah Al Qasr and indulge at one of the stylish cafes in the City Walk, a buzzing area of shops, restaurants, and entertainment.

Dubai Luxury Travel - Ker Downey

Find Arabian Luxury

Feel like royalty at Jumeirah Dar Al Masyaf, exclusive summerhouses set amongst waterways, lush gardens, palatial rooms, and a private beach. The unique artificial palm-shaped island right off the coast houses the 90-room One&Only the Palm where visitors feel a little more secluded from the city.

Pro Tip! The UAE is more liberal than other Middle Eastern countries, but to be prepared for cold air conditioning or an impromptu visit inside places of worship, women should still keep a large scarf handy. -Katy Heerssen, Luxury Travel Expert

Contact a Ker & Downey travel designer to start planning your journey to Dubai, and read more about the best things to see on a Dubai layover.