What’s On goes behind the scenes in Dubai to find 35 things to do in Dubai consider hidden gems, away from Burj Khalifa, The Palm, Ski Dubai and others.

PICS: Dubai in 2017
PICS: Dubai from above
Best parks
Best restaurants

Last month, American website BuzzFeed published a tongue-in-cheek look at Dubai, claiming that the likes of camels parked in supermarkets, and men riding lions in their garden were commonplace in our wonderful home.

Well, we’ve got news for BuzzFeed. Sure, Dubai and the wider UAE is home to some of most spectacular and extravagant views and creations, from the world’s tallest building, to the Palm island, Ski Dubai and restaurants run by the planet’s best chefs. Then there’s the F1 Grand Prix, the superstars of stage and screen at DIFF, the megastars of the music world, sporting greats; the list of ‘extraordinary’ is endless.

But we also have so much more.

Here at What’s On, we are lucky to be able to explore every nook and cranny of the place. Needless to say, we’ve discovered a few favourites along the way that all serve as a reminder to the outside world that anything ‘normal’ you can do, Dubai, #MyDubai, can do it better.

A stroll by the lake at Media City
When I’m in need of a screen break at work, I wander over to the lake behind Dubai Media City Amphitheatre to sit on a bench and watch the world go by. Not only is it conveniently located next to some of our favourite spots for a caffeine fix, there’s a plethora of wildlife roaming around, from terrapins to herons.

Dubai Media City, Dubai. Metro: Nakheel. dubaimediacity.com

Dubai Media City lake

The Surf House
After its recent opening, The Surf House has quickly become a hub for surfers, stand-up paddle boarders and curious newcomers. Offering everything from equipment rental to lessons to a great cup of coffee and a spot of surf chat, The Surf House is open to the whole family and offers a great way to get into life on the water. We also rather like the in-house yoga studio – perfect for practising to the sound of waves.

Villa 12a, Street 3A, off Jumeirah Beach Road, daily 7am to 6pm. Tel: (050) 5043020. Taxi: Beside Umm Suqeim Park. surfingdubai.com

Surf Shop, Dubai

Cheap and tasty Indian food at Evergreen
It’s pretty hard to find, but Evergreen Vegetarian Restaurant, hidden around the back of the Eldorado Cinema, sells some of the finest Indian food in the city, at ridiculously cheap prices. Three people can eat a feast for less than Dhs40. The décor is a bit shabby (don’t go here on a date) but they deliver. The massive masala dosa is worth the trip.

Electra Street, Al Markaziyah, Abu Dhabi, Sun to Sat, 7am to 11.30am, noon to 3pm, 4.30pm to 11pm. Tel: (02) 6767361. Taxi: Eldorado Cinema.

Cheap and tasty Indian food at Evergreen

Safa Park
This vast park is the perfect place to get lost at the weekend – literally if you come across the mini maze. I love browsing the Ripe farmers’ market on Fridays during the coolers months, and stepping into the Archive for a coffee or a bite to eat. It’s the perfect spot for a bit of quiet time with a book under a tree.

Safa Park, Dubai

Art attacks in Alserkal Avenue
Anyone who has done a sun-parched circuit of Al Quoz galleries will know the art scene in Dubai is alive and well. Further proof of this is the expansion of Alserkal Avenue, a Dhs50 million project that will see this cluster of galleries double in size this year. Housing almost 40 creative organisations, the new development will broaden the current focus on contemporary art to design, architecture, fashion and media.

Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz, exit 43 off Sheikh Zayed Road. Galleries open Saturday to Thursday. alserkalavenue.ae

Alserkal Avenue, Dubai

Drop-in classes at KO Boxing Gym
This family-run gym behind the Yacht Club is the perfect place to sweat out a sinful weekend. It holds two punishing 90-minute sessions every weekday evening. I always leave exhausted, but exhilarated – and at Dhs60 a pop for non-members, it’s excellent value compared to some of Dubai’s trendier workouts.

Dubai Marina, next to Al Maya supermarket, Dubai. Tel: (050) 2861673. Metro: Dubai Marina. facebook.com/pages/KO-Gym

Boxing classes at KO Gym

Full moon yoga at Madinat Jumeirah
Listen to the lapping waves, gaze at the pearly moon and contort yourself into a human pretzel.

Talise Spa Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai, full moon, Dhs119. Tel: (04) 3666818. Taxi: Madinat Jumeirah. jumeirah.com

Full moon yoga at Madinat Jumeirah

Twinkly palm trees in Downtown Dubai
Home to bustling shops, restaurants, hotels and a seemingly unending flow of supercars, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard has plenty to catch the eye at any time of day. But after dark, when the palm trees lining the street are illuminated by thousands of fairy lights, I feel like it becomes something special.

Friends on the TV at The Cure
How to improve on an afternoon of pampering at a nail bar? Simple, throw in TV screens showing old episodes of Friends. This little touch makes the Media City hideaway stand out in a sea of salons across Dubai – that and its mean mani/pedis.

BBC building, Media City, Dubai, Sat to Thur 9am to 8pm, Fri 10am to 8pm. Tel: (04) 3916485. Taxi: Behind Du Tower. thecure.ae

Friends on the TV at The Cure

Whistle & Flute
Unless you know where you’re going, finding this tailor’s shop is all but impossible. Hidden in a covered thoroughfare, up a back lane off Plant Street, you’ll spend some time searching before you find it. But the fact that the little Pakistani tailors is always busy, despite the almost Indiana Jones-like trek to get there, speaks volumes. I often visit to have shirts made and these guys are methodical – especially at copying. A shirt costs around Dhs300, including material, or you can buy your own fabric at Deepak’s, along from Whistle & Flute, which sells every type of cloth you could imagine.

Off Plant Street, next to the Iranian Hospital, Dubai, Sat to Thur 9pm to 1pm, 4pm to 8pm. Tel: (04) 3429229. Taxi: Iranian Hospital

Whistle and Flute tailors

Zucchini and ricotta fritters at Tom & Serg
The last time I visited this hipster café in Al Quoz the fritters – served topped with poached eggs and a side of smoked salmon and roasted cherry tomatoes – had temporarily vanished from the menu. If Tom or Serg could ensure the dish’s speedy return, it would be much appreciated. Cheers, guys.

Al Quoz, near Ace Hardware, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai, Sun to Thur 8am to 4pm, Fri and Sat 8am to 5pm. Tel: (056) 4746812. tomandserg.com

Tom & Serg

The Saadiyat Story
It feels like the city’s skyline changes every week, with so many new hotels and skyscrapers opening on such a regular basis. But all that progress pales in comparison when you visit Manarat Al Saadiyat and see the plans for Saadiyat Island. It’ll be a city in its own right once the vision is complete, and you can easily spend a day poring over the plans and models for the island, which make up the nine chapters of The Saadiyat Story.

Manarat Al Saadiyat, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, Sun to Sat 10am to 8pm, free. Tel: (02) 6575800. Taxi: Manarat Al Saadiyat. saadiyat.ae

Amara Spa at Park Hyatt, Dubai Creek
Not only is this spa nestled in one of Dubai’s most beautiful resorts, it has quirky touches like a menu of music to accompany your massage – haunting Celtic sounds, anybody? Booking a treatment also gets you all-day access to the pool area. A day spent here feels like a mini vacation, and is best concluded with a golf buggy ride to the Dubai Creek Golf Club for dinner by the water.

Dubai Creek, Dubai. Tel: (04) 6021234. Taxi: Park Hyatt, Dubai Creek. dubai.park.hyatt.com 

Park Hyatt Amara Spa

The beehives
A tough choice given the number of weird and wonderful buildings in Abu Dhabi, but my favourites are the Al Bahr Towers on Salam Street, aka the beehives. Home to the Abu Dhabi Investment Council, they’re encased in more than 2,000 glass elements, which open and close depending on the intensity of the sun. Another reason I like them? They’re good for the environment, thanks to the solar panels on the roof that heat the buildings’ water supply.

Al Bahr Towers, corner of Salam Street and Al Saada Street, Abu Dhabi. aedas.com

Riding up front on the Metro
Next time you’re travelling from Dubai Marina to Downtown, don’t get in the car. Treat yourself to a Gold Class ticket on the Metro. Take a position at the front of the train and watch the world whizz by through the panoramic windows. Arriving and leaving stations is the best part – you’ll feel like you’re in a science-fiction film. Just be careful that you don’t get so distracted that you miss your stop.


Dubai Metro

Riding an abra for a dirham
Those who live in the south of the city often don’t go further north than the creek. Well, they’re missing out. The chance to see the other side of our city should never be shunned, especially when you can zip between the banks of the waterway on an abra for just one dirham. Sit back, hold on – tightly – and feel the wave of activity all around you.

Abra at Dubai Creek

Guacamole at Maria Bonita’s Taco Shop
When I fancy a change of scene from the sleek and shiny restaurants that litter Dubai, this unashamedly kitsch Mexican place on Umm Al Sheif Road is my first port of call. I heartily recommend you order the guacamole. A waiter wheels over a wooden trolley laden with large, plump, fresh avocados and an assortment of other ingredients (choose your spice level), ready to whip up a huge bowl of chunky green goodness at your table. Watching them make it is almost as much fun as eating it.

Umm Al Sheif Road, Jumeirah, Dubai, daily noon to midnight. Tel: (04) 3955576. Taxi: Maria Bonita Taco Shop And Mexican Grill. mariabonitadubai.com

Maria Bonita's Dubai

Mornings at Sheraton Jumeirah Beach
If I’m up early at the weekend, taking a wander to the very end of JBR, to the rocks beside the Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Hotel, is a good way to get the blood flowing at the weekend. Not only is it a great fishing spot, you’ll also be treated to the sight of the resident cat community (more than 50) emerging from the rocks in the hope of snagging a spare fish.

Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Hotel, The Walk, JBR, Dubai. Tel: (04) 3995533. Taxi: Sheraton JBR. sheratonjumeirahbeach.com 

Treasure hunting at Bambah
The shopping savvy will have had Bambah on their radar for some time now, but if you aren’t familiar with the Jumeirah boutique, be prepared to discover a retail experience that can only be described as a blast from the past. Owner Maha Abdul Rasheed travels the world to pick up pieces from eras gone by, creating a store full of quirky buys and vintage treasures. My favourite bit is the section dedicated to the little black dress.

142 Jumeirah Beach Road, Dubai, daily 10am to 10pm. Tel: (04) 3495585. Taxi: Opposite Dubai Zoo. bambah.com

Bambah, Dubai

Exploring the Gold Souk
It’s not only tourists who can nab a bargain in the Gold Souk. I’ve found that the more frequently I visit, the more confident I get at haggling. I suspect that your first experience of snagging a deal will be so exhilarating that you’ll never consider purchasing bling in the future in any other way.

Sikkat Al Khail Street, Deira, Dubai. Sat to Thur 10am to 1pm and 4pm to 10pm, Fri 4pm to 10pm. Metro: Al Ras

Gold souk

The Trio Band
Abu Dhabi attracts big hitters such as Rihanna, Justin Timberlake and Metallica, but there’s also the likes of Sweet Chilli Jam and The Trucial Coast Band keeping our thriving local band scene alive. But for something truly unique, head for brunch at Porto Bello in the Grand Millennium to see The Trio Band. Two guitarists and a bass player deliver Latin American tunes with their tongues firmly in their cheeks – they even do versions of nursery rhymes to keep little brunchers entertained.

Grand Millennium Al Wahda, Al Wahda, Abu Dhabi, Fri noon to 4pm. Tel: (02) 4953905. Taxi: Grand Millennium Al Wahda. millenniumhotels.ae

The Trio Band

Moules marinière at St Tropez Bistro
A bowl of mussels in this quiet corner of the mall is just the ticket to escape the shopping hordes. Start with frogs’ legs or snails and scoop up the garlic butter with oven fresh bread. Bring mints for after.

Mall Of The Emirates, West End, Kempinski side, daily 10.30am to midnight. Tel: (04) 3413415. Metro: Mall Of The Emirates. sttropez.ae

St Tropez, Mall Of The Emirates

Carrot cake at The Lime Tree Café
There are many Dubai institutions – brunch, shopping malls and afternoon tea to name three – but few are as mighty as the carrot cake at The Lime Tree Café. I’d say it’s almost a crime if you haven’t sampled their most famous dessert.

Jumeirah Beach Road, Jumeirah 1, Dubai, daily 7.30am to 6pm. Tel: (04) 3498498. Taxi: Next to Spinney’s. thelimetreecafe.com

The Scene Club
There’s a world of cinema beyond Hollywood and you can get monthly nuggets of it at this non-profit film club. Watch an uncensored independent film from a new country each month, followed by an open Q&A with a member of the cast or crew.

Knowledge Village Conference Centre, Dubai, free. Tel: (04) 43910051. Taxi: Knowledge Village. thesceneclub.com

The Scene Club, Dubai

The zip wire at My First Gym
There are several play centres for children in the capital, but the vibe at My First Gym makes it a great place to take your little terrors, as does the variety of soft play activities on offer. The zip line for babies and toddlers is particularly fun. Granted, it might not be as adrenaline-fuelled as the one at Ski Dubai, but we bet those daredevils don’t grin and squeal as much as the kids of Abu Dhabi do here.

Delma Street, opposite Zayed Educational Camp, Al Mamoura, Sun to Thur 9am to noon, 2.30pm to 7pm. Tel: (02) 4443560. Taxi: Zayed University, Delma Street. myfirstgymuae.com

I feel like I’m ten years old again at this monumental waterpark. Jump in a six-man dinghy and gush down Zoomerango, a waterslide that twists, turns and shoots you up a big ramp and down again. The brave or brainless should try Poseidon’s Revenge, a vertical drainpipe for humans.

Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai, open daily 10am to sunset, Dhs165. Tel: (04) 4260000. Taxi: Atlantis, The Palm. atlantisthepalm.com

Aquaventure Waterpark, Atlantis The Palm

Jebel Ali Shooting Club
Floodlit clay shooting, pistol shooting, archery – this state-of-the-art gun club caters for all your ballistic needs. Choose from 12 and 20 gauge Beretta shot guns for the clays, and move indoors for the pistol range, complete with Smith & Wesson M&P22s and 9mm Czech CZ 75s. Once you’re done shooting stuff, tuck into a steak at Shooters onsite restaurant.

Off D53 between SZR and Jebel Ali Golf Resort, Dubai, Wed to Mon 4pm to 10.45pm, Dhs220. Tel: (04) 8836555. Taxi: Jebel Ali Shooting Club. jaresortshotels.com

Jebel Ali shooting club

Hunting for sports kit at Adventure HQ
A treasure trove for outdoorsy types, this adventure sports store has every garment and gadget for camping, cycling, climbing, diving, fishing, paddling and generally mucking about in the great outdoors. I get excited just thinking about it.

Times Square Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai Sat to Wed 10am to 10pm, Thur and Fri 10am to midnight. Tel: (04) 3466824. Taxi: Times Square Centre. adventurehq.ae

Breakfast at The Ivy
Dinner at The Ivy is lovely. Lunch is pretty great too. But the breakfast? It’s off the charts. A decadent treat, yes, but the Full English for Dhs90 is a great deal. And the duck hash? I’m drooling on my keyboard. Impeccable service, a beautiful setting and the best hash browns in the business – this is the ideal way to make your weekend feel special.

The Boulevard, Emirates Towers, Dubai, daily 7.30am to 11am. Tel: (04) 3198767. Metro: Emirates Towers. theivy.ae

The Ivy Duck Hash

Buying wacky stuff at Daiso
Any store that has entire aisles dedicated to chopsticks, Tupperware and pens gets my seal of approval. The A-Z of shopping can be found at Daiso, the quirky Japanese store at Ibn Battuta Mall. Walk in with the aim of getting that one specific thing you planned for and it’s guaranteed you’ll get distracted and emerge an hour later with a bag of stuff you had no idea you needed.

Ibn Battuta Mall, Dubai, Mon to Wed 10am to 10pm, Thur, Fri and Sat 10am to midnight. Tel: (04) 3685543. Metro: Ibn Battuta. daisome.com

Daiso Mall

Duplays football leagues
Living in such a transient place means getting to know good people can be tricky. That’s where sports teams come in handy. Sign up, play a game, meet people, and get fit at the same time – simple. The well-organised Duplays sports leagues for men and women offer football, rugby, netball, hockey, volleyball, cricket, softball and badminton on weekday evenings. Team registration for football is Dhs3,500 per season or individuals can sign up for Dhs500 and get placed in a team. The football set-up at the American Academy in Al Barsha is spot on. Plus, you get a fresh Adidas footy shirt at the start of each season.


Duplays Football

Al Barsha Pond Park
How many times have you heard someone in Dubai say this: “It’s great because it feels like you’re not in Dubai.” People are always on the lookout for a spot that makes them feel like they’ve escaped the city. Well, Al Barsha Pond Park is it. The outdoor fitness equipment is in good nick, the running track is spongy, the pond creates a cool breeze, the gardens are immaculate and there are always children’s birthday parties going on, which creates a nice family feel. This is a park with a heart. 

Al Barsha Pond Park, Al Barsha, Dubai, Sun to Thur 8am to 11pm, Fri and Sat 8am to 11.30pm. Taxi: Al Barsha Pond Park.

Shawarma Beach
For those who have trouble remembering the names and locations of Dubai’s beaches, (it can’t just be me, can it?) a handy way to know which is which is by linking them to a food place. I’m sure the bit of beach near the junction of Al Manara Road and Jumeirah Beach Road has a proper name, but I’ve nicknamed it Shawarma Beach. Why? Because I love to go for a swim, then grab a chicken wrap from the nearby Reem Al Bawadi sandwich shop for just Dhs8 and tear into it while sitting on the beach – who cares if you crunch on a few grains of sand while you’re eating?

Jumeirah Beach Road, Um Suqeim 2, Dubai, daily 6am to 3am. Tel: (04) 3484443. Taxi:  Al Manara Road and Jumeirah Beach Road. reemalbawadi.com

Shawarma in Dubai

Sake Saturdays at Okku
Given its blend of cultures and nationalities, eating in Dubai is often an education. Never more so than at Okku on a Saturday night, where their Sake Saturday menu takes you through the evolution of Japanese cooking, with each course paired to their national drink.

 H Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai, Sat 7pm, Dhs550. Tel: (04) 5018777. Metro: World Trade Centre. okku.com

Okku H Hotel Dubai

Al Reef Bakery
I would have once described the Al Reef Lebanese Bakery as a hidden gem, but thanks to the huge City Walk shopping complex that’s sprung up opposite, I’m sure a lot more people have discovered it. Open 24 hours, seven days a week, Al Reef’s serves the usual bakery fare, the pinnacle of which, however, is their selection of cheesy breads and zatars. If I’m completely honest, I’m not 100 per cent exactly sure what their cheese and ‘meat’ flatbread consists of (or even if it’s meat at all), but those hot little snacks have saved my life after many a Dubai night out. Always busy, even at four in the morning, which is when I tend to visit most, it’s cheap, filling, and has to be better than a burger joint. First time visitors should note the slightly curious buying technique, which involves ordering from one guy on one side of the shop, and paying at another on the opposite side – it always catches people out. Throw in the word habibi when ordering to speed up your order.

Al Wasl Road, daily 24-hours. Taxi: Safa Park