Dubai, the sparkling city that rises from the sand, can be a little overwhelming for first-time visitors. Choosing where to bed down can be equally tricky, but Rough Guides' low-down on where to stay in Dubai should help you decide. Whether you want big, brash, luxurious hotels or a more low-key break in the UAE, this neighbourhood and hotel guide will point you to the best places to stay in Dubai.
Where to stay around the Marina
One of Dubai’s most appealing neighbourhoods, the Marina has much of the action when it comes to bars and restaurants. Its 7km-long promenade, which traces the water's edge, makes for a beautiful dawn or dusk stroll, ideal for eyeing up all those glitzy yachts. On the western side of the Marina, meanwhile, hotels have endless sea views.
Best for keeping it cheap: Rove Dubai Marina
Unusually affordable for this area, the Rove Dubai Marina is a brilliant budget option. Irreverent, colourful decor is a refreshing break from the often stuffy luxury found in many places. Facilities like a laundrette help you save on spending.
Best for a beach break: Hilton Dubai Jumeirah
Touting a reliable brand, this is a solid option on the Marina. The hotel has its own private beach, a good restaurant and large swimming pool.
Dubai's glittering marina © Humza Syed/Shutterstock
Where to stay in Al Fahidi Historical District
Think of Dubai – desert city with flashy skyscrapers and glitz galore – and a "historical district" is the last thing that springs to mind. But there's a bit of history to be found in Dubai. In the north of the city, the Al Fahidi Historical District offers a glimpse of the sleepy fishing port that preceded the glass towers and wide highways that you see today. Sandy-coloured homes built from teak and sandalwood line narrow alleyways, and small gift shops and artist workshops are hidden in courtyards or behind thick wooden doors. A little-visited area of Dubai, this is the best place to stay for a more subdued break.
Best for getting creative: XVA Art Hotel
XVA Art Hotel is a humble haven of creativity and calm. Its small but pretty bedrooms are set around a central atrium, where a resident artist can often be seen working. Healthy, refreshing breakfasts and juices are served here, too.
Best for creekside views: Al Seef Heritage Hotel
Sitting along the shore of Dubai Creek, this hotel is set inside one of Dubai’s older structures in the Al Fahidi area. Rooms are luxurious with a traditional vibe.
Al Fahidi Historical District alley © Nikolay Antonov/Shutterstock
Where to stay in Downtown Dubai
For those with big budgets and a need for some retail therapy, Downtown Dubai is the best area to stay. It’s here you’ll find the world-famous Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world, and the sprawling Dubai Mall, where hundreds of shops and restaurants will keep you busy for days. Don’t miss the daily fountain shows in Burj Lake, which are best viewed after dark.
Best for blowing the budget: Armani Hotel
If you want to live the luxury life, book into the Armani Hotel. This designer property is all style and class, and best of all it’s located inside the Burj Khalifa. Extravagance is the keyword here, so come with plenty of money to splash.
Best for getting a bargain: Vida Downtown
Chic but affordable, this spot has an excellent swimming pool with double sunbeds at its edges and a great restaurant. Its architecture follows traditional styles, and inside the decor is classic Arabian.
Downtown Dubai © Shutterstock
Where to stay around the Sheikh Zayed Road
Most travellers in Dubai will spend a fair bit of time travelling up and down the Sheikh Zayed Road. The main thoroughfare from the airport, it’s an impressive row of skyscrapers and is the best place to view the city’s spectacular and varied architecture. It’s a wide and spacious area and there’s little in the way of walkable restaurants or shops, so is best for those with their own vehicle.
Best for sky-high splendour: Four Points by Sheraton
This hotel has to have one of the highest rooftop pools in town – the views are unsurpassed and you can see right out into the desert. Rooms are simple, and the hotel bar has a great view down the Sheikh Zayed Road.
Best for epic views: The Shangri La
The Shangri La is one of the best hotels for skyscraper spotting along the Sheikh Zayed Road. There are unrivalled views of the Burj Khalifa from its many terraces and even some rooms, and it sits alongside some of the most creative skyscrapers in town.
Where to stay on The Palm
A real icon of Dubai, The Palm Jumeirah is perhaps its most ostentatious show of wealth and luxury. The man-made island sits just off the coast from Internet City (a rather on-the-nose name for the technology business district) and has holiday rentals, luxury hotels and even waterparks on its fronds. If beachfront access is what you’re after, this is the top place to stay in the city.
Best for an iconic stay: Atlantis
Atlantis is possibly one of the most recognizable hotels in the world. Sitting on the far edge of The Palm, its palatial structure is often photographed against the famously orange Dubai sunsets. The resort is sprawling, so there’s something for everyone here.
Best for family fun: The Retreat
The Retreat is a laidback and reasonably priced alternative to some of the flashier options on The Palm, and it’s great for families. There’s a covered outdoor kids' pool – no need for fights about wearing sunscreen – and a private beach for building sandcastles and swimming.
Where to stay in Deira
Few travellers would think to stay in Deira. This older part of Dubai offers none of the glitz and glamour you'll have come to expect, and instead feels like a genuine living and breathing city. If you want to get away from the half-empty adult playground that new Dubai can sometimes resemble, this is the place to come. This is where many of the city’s immigrants live, and the neighbourhood is all the better for it. There are Asian food halls, Indian chai cafes and intriguing shopping malls with a mish-mash of cultures from across the Eastern Hemisphere. Stay here if you want a dynamic, energetic and more down-to-earth Dubai experience.
Best for enjoying the best of both worlds: Swissôtel Living Al Ghurair
Book into Swissôtel Living Al Ghurair and you’ll get all the benefits of having a private apartment as well as those of staying in a hotel. There are two pools and a spa, plus a rooftop bar and a restaurant, and rooms have their own small kitchens should you want to save a little on eating out.
Best for saving your dirham for dinner out: Rove City Centre
The best way to save in Dubai is to book reasonably priced accommodation, and Rover City Centre offers just that. A clean, reliable business hotel, it’s a solid option for those on a bit of a budget.
Deira spice souq © Oleg Zhukov/Shutterstock
Where to stay in the desert
Not strictly a neighbourhood, Dubai’s desert is an alluring place for anyone tired of the bright lights and big buildings. Endless undulating dunes meet the blue skies on the horizon, and at night millions of stars twinkle on a black backdrop – scenes that seem impossible when you’re in the thick of the manic malls and high-end hotels. Here is a place of peace, perfect for reflection and a little appreciation of nature.
Best for a desert oasis: Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa
This is the ultimate secluded getaway. Think desert-view dining, refreshing swimming pools and traditional-style architecture that blends beautifully into the landscape.
Best for being at one with nature: Al Maha
Al Maha is a Bedouin camp like no other – luxurious tents with king-size beds, private pools and decking look out onto the sand dunes. Wildlife such as elegant Arabian oryx roam freely about the grounds. It’s not cheap, but it’s a spectacularly romantic stay.
Desert sands with Dubai rising in the background © Shutterstock
Top image: Dubai Palm © Shutterstock
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