Destinations Dubai

Where to Stay & Play in Dubai

Dubai skyline at sunset with Burj Khalifa

The sprawling, desert-fringed metropolis of Dubai truly is a city like no other, and at every turn you can expect to find a beguiling mix of old and new – with no shortage of ways to enthrall even the most seasoned of travellers.  

From an enormous palm tree-shaped island, gravity-defying skyscrapers and trendy eateries to high-end shopping precincts, colourful souks and some of the world’s most luxurious hotels, this enchanting destination offers up just about everything you could imagine, and within each neighbourhood, there’s a story to uncover.  

Whatever your travel style calls for, here’s our roundup of where to stay in this dazzling, high-octane emirate.  

Planning a trip to Dubai? Check out our collection of incredible escapes 

Downtown Dubai: Best for sightseeing and shopping  

For those craving the feeling of being in the centre of the action, Downtown Dubai is where you need to be. Arguably one of Dubai’s most iconic neighbourhoods, the pedestrian-friendly design of the area makes exploring a breeze. The immaculate promenades will lead you to the Dubai Opera, the Dubai Fountain, the Dubai Mall and the impossible-to-miss Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world. At night, position yourself at the edge of the Dubai Fountain to catch a show of dancing fountains and lights perfectly timed to music, or take a seat at one of the surrounding restaurants overlooking the fountains. 

You won’t regret a stay in the midst of Dubai’s bustling centre. Among our top picks include Armani Hotel Dubai, The Palace Downtown, Address Dubai Mall or Sofitel Dubai Downtown.  

Palm Jumeirah: Ultimate luxury 

Ariel view of Palm Jumeirah Dubai, a man-man island that is in the shape of a Palm Tree.
Ariel view of Palm Jumeirah. Image by Delpixel via Shutterstock.

For a stay complete with serious ‘wow-factor’, you can’t look past the man-made archipelago Palm Jumeirah. This engineering marvel is perfectly shaped in the exact way the name suggests – like a palm tree – and is home to some of the best on-trend eateries and vibrant beach clubs, and some of the glitziest, five-star hotels and resorts. If you’re lucky enough to score a window seat on the flight over, you might get a chance to see The Palm from above, or if you’re feeling brave, try skydiving for unrivalled vistas of this island marvel. 

For a luxe stay, take a look at the One&Only The Palm, W Dubai – The Pam, Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah, Fairmont The Palm and Atlantis, The Palm. 

Jumeirah Beach Residence & Dubai Marina: Unrivalled nightlife & world-class restaurants  

Affectionally known as ‘JBR’ to locals, Jumeriah Beach Residence is a burgeoning waterfront community in Dubai that has plenty going for it. Just behind JBR lies Dubai Marina – a waterfront haven (approximately 20-minutes from Downtown Dubai) where some of the world’s tallest and most architecturally intriguing residential towers dominate the skyline.  

Locals and travellers flock to ‘The Beach’ opposite JBR, an expansive beachfront boulevard teeming with things to see and do. Jump on a jet ski and race across the gleaming waters, go parasailing to see it all from above or ride a camel along the beach. Be sure to soak up the atmosphere from one of the beach clubs abuzz with activity including Bla Bla Beach Club, Azure Beach, or Andreea’s, and keep an eye out for live music and performances hosted throughout the year. Then, head to the marina precinct studded with top-rated dining and nightlife, luxury shopping boutiques and more. For a seriously luxe experience, consider hiring a yacht for the day and leave the marina behind as you cruise into the Arabian Gulf’s shimmering waters.  

To place yourself in the heart of it all, consider a stay at Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort & Spa, JA Ocean View Hotel or Movenpick Hotel Jumeirah Beach. 

Old Dubai: A touch of ancient charm & history  

Step back in time and enter the bustling neighbourhoods of Bur Dubai, Karama, Satwa and Deira. Collectively these areas make up the area known as Old Dubai — where traces of the city’s roots as a trading hub for everything from spices and gold to coffee still lingers with an alluring sense of marvel and intrigue. 

Alongside Dubai Creek is where the unmissable action within Bur Dubai and Deria can be found, and for just AED2 (approximately A$1), you can shuttle between these areas on an Abra – a traditional, motorised wooden vessel. Weave through the narrow laneways to reach the many spectacular souks where independent jewellers, spice merchants and local artisans can be found selling their wares or spend time getting lost in Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood to see the XVA Art Gallery and Al Fahidi Fort (originally constructed in 1787), which is now home to the Dubai Museum. When hunger strikes, the vibrant Meena Bazaar shopping area is somewhere foodies can dive into a plate of spice-laden curry or a fragrant rice dish at of the many hole-in-the-wall style eateries. Later, listen as the call to prayer fills the air for an atmospheric experience.  

As for accommodation, luxury and ancient opulence go hand in hand, with many hotels in the area conveniently situated within close reach of Dubai International Airport, including Raffles Dubai, Park Hyatt Dubai or Palazzo Versace Dubai.  

Jumeriah: Family friendly fun & beachside adventures  

Ariel view of Dubai with Burj Al Arab
Enjoy time exploring the Jumeirah neighbourhood. Image by Creative Family via Shutterstock.

This desirable seafront district southwest of central Dubai stretches across three areas – Jumeriah 1, Jumeriah 2 and Jumeriah 3 – with each offering the ultimate in luxury while conveniently located just a short distance from Downtown Dubai. Catch the action at the buzzing Kite Beach where families can enjoy beach football, beach volleyball, tennis and kitesurfing, or hang by the newly unveiled skatepark and kids’ play facilities. Grab a table at one of the modern restaurants, make a splash at the world-renowned waterparks and marvel at one of Dubai’s cultural icons, the famous Jumeirah Mosque constructed in 1975.  

Our pick of where to stay? Try the Four Seasons Resort or the world-famous Burj Al Arab – an architectural marvel that juts out from the beach on a standalone man-man island. 

Beyond the city: Seeing Dubai through a different lens 

Two 4WD vehicles driving over sand dunes in the Dubai Desert
Experience a desert escape. Image by pheolixDE via Shutterstock.

Escape the energetic streets of Dubai for the dramatic, fiery-red sand dunes that fringe that city to connect with Dubai’s unique heritage and the Bedouin people, the oldest inhabitants of the Arabian desert. Choose to indulge with a luxe stay at one of the five-star resorts within the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve for an unparalleled experience. Thrill-seekers can embark on a heart-racing desert dune safari where 4WD vehicles tear up and down the steep dunes. Slow down with a camel ride or visit a traditional Bedouin village in Al Marmoon Desert where you might sample freshly brewed Arabic coffee, watch a cooking demonstration to connect with the culture.  

For an escape you’ll remember forever, take a look at Bab Al Shams Desert Resort or Al Maha, A Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa.  

Dubai is waiting for you… Take a look at our collection of incredible escapes.  

Gemma's greatest joy in life – aside from writing about all things travel-related – is setting foot in new places, revisiting countries she’s already fallen in love with, meeting new people and sampling every dish that comes her way.