Seven hours from the UK, Dubai continues to turn heads with its ambitious building projects, opulent hotels and shopping malls.
With Emirates starting services between Newcastle and Dubai in September, the UK is now well and truly covered – the airline already operates daily flights from Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow.
Add in British Airways’ extensive schedule and the many Asian carriers who call en route to and from Europe, and Dubai has never been more accessible.
While the bulk of visitors still fly in between the October and March peak season, more are being lured with cheap deals in the hot summers.
Dubai built its name on trade before the advent of oil, but today tourism is a priority as the government aims to attract 15 million visitors a year by 2010.
The desert safari is Dubai’s excursion par excellence. You rattle around the backseat of a Land Cruiser, and then unwind with a barbecue, camel ride and spot of belly dancing under the stars.
Dubai is going increasingly sport crazy, and golf is particularly popular. Tiger Woods’s first golf course design will be in Dubai, and big names such as Greg Norman, Vijay Singh and Sergio Garcia are designing new courses.
Horse racing is big business too. The Dubai World Cup includes the world’s richest race with a $6 million purse. The government has announced a new Meydan ‘horse city’ to replace the popular Nad Al Sheba in time for the 2010 event.
Green Dubai: The Ras Al Khor sanctuary in the centre of the city has hides that look out onto stunning flamingos and other mangrove-nesting birds.
Best for kids: The closely supervised Wild Wadi, an aquatic roller coaster with 24 interconnecting rides.
Dubai serves up every international flavour under the sun. Arabian and Indian restaurants are abundant, and there’s no shortage of more conservative options.
Intense competition means high standards, with many mall venues and streetside cafes on a par with European restaurants. Staff are univerally friendly.
There are also numerous al fresco restaurants, particularly along the Jumeirah strip, perfect during the sunny October-March peak season.
The only downside for Western visitors is the exorbitant charges slapped on alcohol, with a standard bottle of wine costing up to five times the off licence price.
Dubai Duty Free arrivals has a selection of drinks should you want to take a drink to your room – although, understandably, hoteliers won’t advertise the fact. Just make sure you don’t drink in public.
Rise and dine: Take a lift up to Al Muntaha restaurant for an eating experience with a difference, although the prices match the 650ft-high restaurant.
Affordable quality:Japengo Cafe, in the city centre and other locations, has a menu to suit every palate.
Although more budget operators are looking to muscle in on the market, Dubai is still dominated by luxury properties.
This year the emirate state expects to have 11,000 new rooms, most of them in the high-end category. Around 40% of Dubai’s hotel capacity was rated as five-star in 2006, but this could increase to as much as 70%.
The first flagship Armani Hotel is opening up at Burj Dubai next year, offering 172 rooms and suites, restaurants and a spa covering more than 40,000sq metres.
There is an accommodation shortage, though, with 35,000 additional rooms needed to meet future demand. The city hopes to draw 6.8 million tourists this year.
Dubai hotels achieved a record 85% room occupancy in January, which it claimed was higher than that of Hong Kong, Sydney, Tokyo and London.
Abracadabra: Guests booking into a sea-facing suite in the stand-alone villas at Madinat Jumeirah glide to their destination on an old-fashioned ‘abra’ boat.
Desert storming: Rural bliss and chic Arabian style come together at the Bab Al Shams Desert Resort and Spa, half an hour south of Burj Al Arab.
Arab visitors and Westerners keep pouring into the United Arab Emirates to shop for discounted, tax-free luxury goods in Dubai’s huge shopping malls and the labyrinthine Gold Souk.
Dubai’s gold industry sales rose 40% in January, fuelled by growing tourism and the Dubai shopping festival.
Dubai Duty Free, whose sales shot up 20% last year to $724 million, is gearing up for a major expansion. Concourse Two will open at Dubai International Airport later this year, giving the company an additional 10,000sq metres of retail space.
Two years later, Concourse Three will come on stream, providing another 7,000sq metres of shops.
“By the time that comes, the new Dubai World Central airport will also have started,” said managing director Colm McLoughlin. “What is 8,000sq metres today will quickly become 25,000sq metres.”
Visit:Mall of the Emirates, not so much a shopping mall as a retail-meets-lifestyle destination with its indoor ski slope, 350 shops and countless restaurants.
Buy: Gold from the Gold Souk, Persian and Oriental carpets, electronics and home appliances, which have low import duties.
Charles and Camilla made a beeline for Bastakiya on a recent visit, and the central old district, which contains the traditionally designed Majlis Gallery, remains a cultural oasis in a city swarming with concrete, glass and tarmac.
Dubai’s cultural scene is growing rapidly. The Third Line Gallery exhibits a steady stream of Middle Eastern artists, the Dubai Philharmonic Orchestra is increasingly popular and Madinat Jumeirah’s theatre posts a programme of plays, comedy and ballet.
The 550-seat Dubai Community Theatre which opened at Mall of the Emirates last November is another welcome addition.
The new Festival Centre at Dubai Festival City attempts to marry retail and culture by offering an ongoing programme of concerts and exhibitions for passing shoppers.
Dubai’s boldest cultural statement is coming up in the £7.14 billion Culture Village by the Creek, a the vast 40 million sq ft site due to host year-round cultural events.
It will also contain residential and commercial districts, as well as galleries, a traditional souk, luxury hotels and shops.
Cool culture: The old Bastakiya district provides some refuge from the sun and shows a different side to glitzy Dubai.
Perfect harmony: There aren’t many melodious malls in the world but the new Festival Centre at Dubai Festival City is one of them.
Harlequin offers eight nights for the price of six at the One & Only Royal Mirage in Dubai as well as complimentary dinner and breakfast between June 2 and July 15. Prices lead in at £983 per person including return British Airways flights.
Gold Medal Travel offers three nights’ bed and breakfast at the five-star Habtoor Grand Resort and Spa for £439 for departures between June 1 and July 15. Price includes return British Airways flights.
Emirates Tours offers five nights in The Palace at the One & Only Royal Mirage Dubai, including return business-class flights with Emirates for £1,799 per person. Price is valid between May 1 and July 15 or August 1 and September 30.