21 reasons to visit Dubai in 2021
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The year 2020 has changed travel in ways that were previously unthinkable.
As international travel opens up slowly, Dubai is emerging as a safe destination with the safety and wellbeing of travellers at the top of their agenda, with revised airport procedures, clear Dubai-bound safety measures, strict SOPs at hotels and waterparks.
According to Dubai Tourism, the city is also working hard to ensure travellers have a plethora of activities to indulge in – from Michelin-starred food and top notch art to stellar outdoor or nightlife activities, as well as some serious adrenaline-pumping attractions.
1. Dubai Shopping Festival - December 17 to January 30, 2021
Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) is back for its 26th edition from 17 December 2020 until 30 January 2021, with over six weeks of family fun and entertainment, live concerts, unique markets, art installations and stage shows plus super sales, unmissable promotions and chances to win life-changing prizes across the city. Perfect for those that want to enjoy retail therapy and exciting events as well as the wonderfully mild weather, a visit to Dubai during DSF will make for a fantastic start to the year.
2. Gastronomy – Dubai Food Festival – February 2021
Catering to the 200+ nationalities that call Dubai home, Dubai is a truly cosmopolitan destination where nationalities mingle to sample dishes from across the world. New restaurants opening up include Brasserie Boulud, Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud's first restaurant in the region, Burj Al Arab's SAL which will offer up Iberian-inspired dishes, and Taiko Dubai, home to contemporary Far Eastern cuisine.
For foodies, Dubai Food Festival (DFF), a city-wide culinary extravaganza that takes place each February, is well worth a visit. DFF sees restaurants set up on the beach, welcomes celebrity chefs for master classes, invites the public to taste signature dishes at the city's top restaurants and more, all in the name of food.
3. Art Dubai - March 17 to 20, 2021
The 14th edition of Art Dubai will celebrate its unique positioning as the most international art fair, bringing together diverse communities from around the world. Presenting the largest selection of galleries from across the MENASA region, as well championing the finest artistic output across the Global South, the fair's agenda will include art and social activations taking place on the beach, the Creek, and outdoor settings across Dubai, while the fair layout and access timings will be adapted with necessary health and safety rules in place.
Art aficionados who cannot visit during Art Dubai can still experience two hotspots of culture anytime during the year with visits to Alserkal Avenue and Jameel Arts Centre. Jameel Arts Centre, located along the Creek, is an independent arts institution dedicated to exhibiting contemporary art from and about the region. Once an industrial area, Alserkal Avenue now houses over 60 art, design, retail, dining and creative spaces – be it dance studios, artisanal cafes or art galleries. This is where visitors can find eL Seed studio, home to the ‘calligraffiti' artist's intricate compositions and public art projects that fuse traditional Arabic calligraphy with the style and colours of graffiti.
For something a bit different, the Theatre of Digital Art offers visitors a new way to experience masterpieces of the world's most notable artists such as Van Gogh and Monet. Breathtaking digital shows combine high-end technology with classical art, accompanied by stunning music, visual effects and surround sound. The art space covers over 1,000 sqm with large HD screen projection all over the walls and ceiling for a truly immersive experience.
4. Ramadan - April 12 to May 11, 2021 (tentative, dependent on the sighting of the moon)
Ramadan is the holiest month of the year for Muslims around the world; a time for reflection and increased devotion. Time honoured traditions, Islamic culture and hospitality are at their peak during the month making it a truly special time to visit. The quieter pace of the day when Muslims observe the daily fast invokes a spirit of calm and introspection – but after sunset, the city comes to life with plenty of shopping, arts and cultural events taking place throughout the month. Visitors can learn more about Ramadan by visiting the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) located in the Al Fahidi District Historical Neighbourhood or by joining a special tour of Jumeirah Mosque. Experiencing Iftar, the evening meal with which Muslims end their fast, is also a must.
5. Expo 2020 - October 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022
Expo 2020 Dubai will be a once-in-a-lifetime global celebration, opening up a world of wonder, excitement and hope for millions of visitors from around the world. Taking place for six months, it will offer something for everyone, irrespective of age, nationality or interest.
Through the theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future' Expo 2020 Dubai provides a platform to encourage creativity, innovation and collaboration across three subthemes: Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability. The theme reflects the history of Dubai, historically called Al Wasl, or ‘the connection' as Dubai has long played an important role in connecting east and west, north and south. Expo 2020 Dubai's vision is to build on Dubai's role as a cross-continental gateway and deliver a World Expo that advances the potential of human collaboration, while inspiring visitors to create a positive, long-term impact for people around the world.
Expo 2020 Dubai will feature the best in entertainment, technology, cuisine and culture, from every corner of the globe, for an unforgettable six months.
6. Museum of the Future - Opening date TBC, 2021
Set to become one of the most iconic landmarks in the world, the Museum of the Future explores the future of science, technology and innovation. Designed by Shaun Killa, it is already one of the world's most complex buildings – in the shape of a torus, with the round shape representing the earth and the sky, while the empty space in the middle representing the unknown. The 30 000 sqm, seven-storey column-less marvel stands at 77m high, with 1,024 Arabic calligraphy panels on the façade.
The Museum will be a place like no other, a home of tolerance, inviting varied cultural, philosophical, social, and spiritual outlooks. It will bring together inventors, designers and researchers, presenting a range of technologies, becoming an incubator for ideas and designs, a driver for innovation, and a global destination for inventors and entrepreneurs.
7. Ain Dubai - Opening date TBC, 2021
Located on Bluewaters Island, Ain Dubai adds one more item to the list of world records to be broken by Dubai. The giant ferris wheel stands at a staggering height of 210m making it the highest of its kind in the world, offering 360 degree views of the Dubai skyline including Burj Al Arab, Palm Jumeirah and Burj Khalifa. Once completed, Ain Dubai will have 48 capsules, each holding 30 passengers.
8. Palm Fountain
The Pointe, Palm Jumeirah's iconic waterfront dining and entertainment destination, will be home to the world's largest dancing fountain. The Palm Fountain is spread over 14 000 sqft of sea water, the fountain's super shooter will stand tall at 105 metres and come alive with over 3 000 multi-coloured LED lights. The Palm Fountain will have 20 bespoke shows with shows running daily between sunset to midnight while swaying to an array of Arabic, classical and international songs.
9. Palm West Beach – opened October 2020
Discover a new addition to the shores of Palm Jumeirah at Palm West Beach. The walkable waterfront destination offers 1.6 km of promenade and beachfront. Visitors can enjoy round the clock fun on morning runs, lazy beachfront breakfasts, water sports including kayaking, VR diving, stand-up paddleboarding, electric hydrofoil surfing, sea bikes and catamarans, and premium hotels.
Dubai is known for its diverse and sumptuous cuisine, and a visit to the city is not complete without taking advantage of its popular brunches. A Dubai institution, brunch on Fridays is where families and friends get together to enjoy conversation and good food over three-to four-hour dining sessions that cater to every palate, food preference, dietary requirement and budget. Some great options include Asia Asia at Pier 7 for pan-Asian fusion cuisine, Bombay Brasserie for classic and contemporary Indian dining, COYA for Peruvian, Enigma for a taste of Persia, and Zuma for contemporary Japanese.
11. Arabic food
It is said that food is the best way to understand a culture. Foodies can start the day with an Emirati breakfast at Arabian Tea House in the Al Hahidi Historical District or Logma at Dubai Mall, then try authentic Emirati dishes such as Machboos (a chicken and rice-based dish along with loomy, a dried lemon that lends a uniquely tangy flavor) and ouzi (a roast lamb or mutton served on a bed of rice) at local restaurants such as Al Fanar Restaurant and Café, or try Sikka Café for contemporary Emirati food with influences of Indian and Persian cuisines.
For those unsure of where to start, Frying Pan Adventures takes visitors on a cultural exploration, off the city's tourist trail and into culinary treasures, hidden gems and bustling local markets for flavours from across the region. The Middle Eastern Food Pilgrimage features authentic food and cultural experiences designed to unravel the history of the region and give visitors a deeper understanding and appreciation of the cuisine of the Middle East.
Dubai boasts a vibrant golf scene, with plenty of courses and high-profile professional golf tournaments – making it the perfect place for golf enthusiasts, especially in the winter. Some of the top picks include Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club, home to a par-71 course, JA The Resort's par-35 course designed by Peter Harradine, and Emirates Golf Club, the host of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and the Omega Dubai Moonlight Classic. Topgolf Dubai, opening in Q4 2020, will further enhance Dubai's golf scene, featuring American dining with live music, and a computer game inspired driving range.
A 90-minute road trip from the city lies the exclave of Hatta, amidst the majestic Hajar mountains. Prime territory for photographers, adventure seekers, or those just looking to get away from it all, the area's mountains, wadis and farms offer a range of diverse leisure experiences – including the Hatta Dam, a perfect lookout amidst craggy peaks perfect for kayaking, hiking, or simply to take in breathtaking vistas. Visitors can make a night of it at JA Hatta Fort Hotel, perched amidst all the splendour with chalets and family rooms to settle into, or stay at the Hatta Sedr Trailers, the region's first-ever trailer hotel, featuring trailers transformed into hospitality units. Discerning foodies should try the delicious local honey that's sourced from the nearby hives at Hatta Honey Bee Farm too.
14. Night out
For a sophisticated night out, visitors can enjoy a performance at Dubai Opera, a masterpiece of contemporary architecture and home to a variety of performances and events including theatre, opera, ballet, concerts and conferences. With a story that's inspired by the spirit of Dubai, La Perle, meanwhile, is a one-of-a-kind live show that uses state-of-the-art technology and houses an aqua-stage complete with a 12-metre-deep pool filled with 2.7 million litres of water where 65 world-class performers from 23 countries perform breath-taking and extraordinary stunts, ranging from acrobatics and contortion to flying and diving.
For those feeling worn out and in need of an escape, Dubai is the perfect wellness destination to step out of the ordinary and recharge with experiences that both relax and nourish the body, while de-stressing the mind. When it comes to world-class spas in spectacular settings, visitors are spoiled for choice in Dubai. The JW Marriott Marquis' Saray Spa combines ancient healing techniques with locally sourced natural ingredients in the ‘Arabian Body Rituals' treatment, using healing salts of the Dead Sea, Frankincense and exotic perfumes of Rose and Jasmine.
The One&Only Royal Mirage is home to an oriental Hammam, a traditional Arabian body steam and bath experience. For those looking to switch up their savasana, several resorts and wellness experts host refreshing yoga sessions on the beach, under the open skies, with the sound of gentle waves in the background. For unique experiences, book a Hatha yoga class ‘underwater' at The Lost Chambers surrounded by 65,000 marine animals across 250 species, or attempt rainforest yoga and meditation at The Green Planet surrounded by 3,000 different species of flora and fauna.
A trip to Dubai is not complete without a visit to the desert. From desert safaris featuring sandboarding and dune bashing to hot air balloon rides as the sun rises, or stargazing far away from the city lights, there are different types of desert adventures that can be booked.
17. Adrenaline activities
Heart-racing, blood-pumping, adrenaline-spiking adventure awaits courageous ones who are looking for unforgettable moments in Dubai. Adrenaline junkies can see the city from 4 000 metres high soaring through the sky with Skydive Dubai, or zipline head first with the exhilarating XLine, the world's longest urban zipling. The XLine flies over land and water at up to 80km/hr, and is a tandem zipline so two people can ‘fly' at the same time. Or for those who enjoy being in control of their speed, HERO OdySea boat tours are fitted for one or two people, which makes it a great activity for social distancing whilst taking in Dubai's unique scenery from the water.
Home to more than 700 hotels, Dubai caters to all tastes and budgets. With a slew of new properties opening this year and in 2021, visitors will have even more options to choose from. The Address Sky View is nestled in the heart of Downtown Dubai and offers panoramic views of Dubai's skyline including Burj Khalifa. Sofitel Dubai The Obelisk merges modern French style, ancient Egyptian heritage, and the essence and culture of the UAE.
Fans of Zaha Hadid will love ME Dubai, the only hotel with exteriors and interiors designed by the late architect. For little ones, Legoland Hotel, located within Dubai Parks and Resorts, is sure to please. Stylish and affordable Rove Hotels will open a new property on the shores of iconic beachfront La Mer. On Palm Jumeirah, The Royal Atlantis Resort & Residences will introduce a new resort and 17 new restaurants.
19. Theme parks and water parks
With three theme parks and one waterpark, Dubai Parks and Resorts offers visitors a thrilling experience like no other. Featuring more than 100 incredible indoor and outdoor rides and attractions at Motiongate Dubai, Bollywood Parks Dubai, Legoland Dubai and Legoland Water Park, this labyrinth of fun will keep young hearts enthralled. The iconic oceanfront resort Atlantis, The Palm is home to the biggest waterpark in Dubai. Aquaventure boasts adrenaline-pumping rides spread across two main towers (Poseidon and Neptune) that are connected by a giant lazy river that transports riders between slides. With the addition of Trident Tower in 2021, thrill-seekers will be treated to a whole new world of fun with 12 thrilling new rides to experience.
20. Burj Khalifa
Arguably Dubai's most iconic building, Burj Khalifa stands at over 828m and is the world's tallest building. For a bird's eye view of the city, visitors can choose to visit the observatory, At the Top, on the 124th and 125th floors, At the Top Sky on the 148th floor, or dine at At.mosphere on the 122nd floor for an unforgettable culinary experience.
21. Kids' activities
With a wide range of attractions for all ages, family-friendly hotels, and a geographically central location, Dubai is an ideal destination to visit with family. In addition to theme parks and water parks, children will love Aventura Park, a one-of-a-kind rope treetop adventure destination where they can try out ziplines, horizontal and vertical climbing walls and a rope course challenge.
Kids looking to brave colder temperatures are welcome at Ski Dubai where they can learn how to ski and snowboard. Families can explore exotic flora and fauna at The Green Planet, an indoor tropical rainforest – and can even book a rainforest camping experience to spend the night with over 3 000 plants and animals.