Dubai is all about grabbing your attention. The crown jewel of the Arabian Desert has made a name for itself in recent years with a series of flashy, attention-grabbing projects. Sure, the city-state along the Persian Gulf has the world’s highest building (the Burj Khalifa), the world’s tallest hotel (JW Marriott Marquis Dubai), the world’s largest artificial island (the Palm Jumeirah) and the world’s biggest mall (the Dubai Mall)—but Dubai is so much more than Instagram-worthy glass skyscrapers shining in the desert sun.

Just ask Drake. The Toronto native has been pretty vocal about his love for the Emirate by way of Instagram photos and lyrics. On the More Life track 'Sacrifices,' Drake says, "I got Dubai plates in the California state"; and on 'Free Smoke,' he flat out says he want's to relocate: "I want to move to Dubai so I don't have to kick it with none of you guys."

The popular layover destination has developed into a full-fledged vacation spot in recent years, with so much for you to see and do. Read on to discover why you should add Dubai to your travel bucket list.

Take off

One of the most challenging parts of any traveller’s getaway is the flight. That’s why Emirates (which bills itself as one of the leading airlines of the Middle East) aims to make every flight to Dubai, no matter how lengthy, feel like it’s a mini vacation unto itself.

Emirates is renowned for its spacious business and first class ‘cabins,’ which are often touted as the world’s most luxurious way to fly. Each configuration offers aisle access and includes its own minibar with a selection of soft drinks—and when you’re ready to stretch your legs, you can head toward the back of the plane and mingle in the Onboard Lounge while enjoying canapés, champagne and premium cocktails.

Not flying in business or first? Don’t worry...even the airline’s economy seats are notably spacious, offering plenty of leg room.

Of course, passengers in all classes can enjoy Wi-Fi, gourmet cuisine and extraordinary service. Plus, each seat is enhanced with a USB charger so your devices will be ready to go when you land, and extra-large personal TVs are conveniently located in the seatback area. Emirates’ award-winning entertainment system ICE (Information, Communications, Entertainment) features more than 3,000 channels of movies, TV shows, games and music.

The perks don’t have to end there... One of the really nice things about flying in business or first class on Emirates (to and from major markets like Dubai) is its Chauffeur-Drive Service, which will pick you up at the location of your choice and whisk you to the airport.

In fact, there’s only one problem with Emirates: you may never be able to travel with a standard airline again.

Touch down

The Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest airport measured by international passenger traffic, is about four kilometres northeast of the city centre. After you pass through customs and pick up your luggage, take a private car service, taxi or the Dubai Airport shuttle bus to get to downtown Dubai. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can get around on the Metro – the world’s longest driverless railway. The Red Line runs from the airport to the city, stopping near most hotels, while the Green Line circles the Creek (more about this visual treat below).

Check in

There is no shortage of hotels that are a feast for the eyes in Dubai. If it’s luxury you’re after, try booking at the Atlantis The Palm, set on the iconic Palm Jumeirah Island; or the celebrity favourite, the One&Only Royal Mirage, a modern Arabian palace nestled in a 65-acre oasis of landscaped gardens. Another option is the luxurious seven-star Burj Al Arab Hotel, which is shaped like a sail to represent Dubai’s nautical heritage and is widely regarded as one of the world’s most glamorous hotels.

The Palazzo Versace, located in the heart of Dubai, is reminiscent of a 16th-century Italian palace. With its spectacular architecture and Italian furnishings, every inch of the hotel has an ambience that screams Versace glamour. There’s an extraordinary mosaic (made up of 1.5 million marble tiles) that depicts Versace’s trademark Medusa head on the floor of the grand lobby, and an all-day dining restaurant, the Giardino, which was inspired by the jungle-green Versace dress worn by Jennifer Lopez at the 42nd Grammy Awards in 2000. Imagine eating your breakfast surrounded by walls that are frescoed with tropical leaves and bamboo patterns, which are repeated on the silk-finished chairs. Simply decadent.

Things to do

There’s more to Dubai than its glitzy array of glamorous hotels. Here are just a few highlights to help you uncover the city’s authentic Emirati soul:

Standing 828 metres high, the Burj Khalifa is hard to miss no matter where you look in the city. The world’s tallest building dominates the Dubai skyline, but on a clear day visitors should definitely make the time to take the elevator up to the observation deck on level 124 (the ride takes a mere 56 ear-popping seconds) and experience some unforgettable, vertigo-inducing panoramic views.

You can get your shop on steps away from the Burj Khalifa at the epic Dubai Mall. Along with its 1,200-plus shops and 150 restaurants, the seemingly never-ending mall is home to an indoor theme park, an ice rink, a huge indoor waterfall, a giant Aquarium and an Underwater Zoo. Outside of the mall, make sure you stop and watch the world’s largest choreographed water fountain show. This popular dancing water extravaganza jets water streams as high as 150 metres into the air to various beloved musical numbers from around the world.

The Palm Jumeirah is one of the largest artificial islands in the world, where visitors can check out the Palm’s vast array of high-end hotels, including the Waldorf Astoria, Fairmont, One&Only, Jumeirah Zabeel Saray and, perhaps most notably, the iconic Atlantis The Palm, which is favoured by guests including Kim Kardashian as well as Real Housewives of Beverly Hills Lisa Vanderpump and Kyle Richards.

Dubai may be known for serious glitz and glamour, but the real heart of the city is the Creek. Spend an afternoon away from the hustle of downtown and stroll through the labyrinthine alleyways of the gold, spice and textile souks before you go for a ride across the water on a traditional wooden abra (water taxi).

 

Dubai has many splendid mosques, but Jumeirah Mosque should top your must-visit list. This beautiful mosque prides itself on its ‘Open Doors. Open Minds’ policy and welcomes non-Muslim guests six days a week; Fridays excluded.

Less than a 20-minute drive from downtown Dubai, you can experience the Arabian Desert, the city’s original tourist attraction. Take a desert safari Dubai-style with a little off-roading, followed by traditional barbecues, belly dancing performances and camel rides.

Dining with the locals

During the day, stop by the Arabian Tea House Café in the historic Al Fahidi neighbourhood and let the buzz of the city fade away as you dine in the leafy courtyard. At night, try Thiptara (which means ‘magic at the water’), a restaurant underneath the Burj Khalifa: take in the spectacular views of the Burj Lake and the magical fountain as you enjoy a mix of Royal Thai cuisine and decadent Bangkok-style seafood.

Away from the five-star restaurants (and there are a lot of them), stroll along the historic 2nd December Street in downtown Dubai to find Ravi Restaurant. There’s nothing grand about Ravi (think plastic tablecloths and polystyrene cups), but you will find excellent Pakistani food that rivals any restaurant in the city. A restaurant worth seeking out, and returning to, as many Dubai residents with the means to dine anywhere will tell you.

Note: Alcohol in Dubai is restricted to licensed hotels and restaurants.