Dubai, the sparkling city that rises from the sand, can be a little overwhelming for first-time visitors. Choosing where to stay 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.
Dubai Marina: the best area for views
One of the best neighbourhoods where to stay in Dubai, 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.
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Jumeirah Beach Residence Area: the best area for families
Most of Dubai Marina’s tourist development is focused on the string of luxurious beachside hotels which now find themselves ignominiously hemmed in by densely packed high-rises on all sides. Much of the area is now dominated by the Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR), the world’s largest single-phase residential complex, comprising a 1.7 km-long sprawl of forty high-rises with living space for ten thousand people.
The JBR’s feature is The Walk at JBR (or just “The Walk”, as it’s usually known), an attractive promenade set into its sea-facing side which is home to a long straggle of boutiques, pizzerias, coffee shops and burger joints. Bounding the ocean side of The Walk between the Sheraton and Hilton Jumeirah Beach hotels is The Beach at JBR leisure complex, an attractive cluster of low-rise buildings.
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Bur Dubai: where to stay in Dubai for the atmosphere
Strung out along the southern side of Dubai Creek, the district of Bur Dubai is the oldest part of the city. You’ll find virtually all the bits of old Dubai that survived the rapid development. Parts of the area’s historic waterfront still retain their old-fashioned appearance, with a tangle of sand-coloured buildings and a distinctively Arabian skyline, spiked with dozens of wind towers and the occasional minaret.
Away from Dubai Creek, the district is more modern and mercantile, epitomized by lively Al Fahidi Street, lined with neon-lit stores stacked high with phones and watches. This is also where you’ll get the strongest sense of Bur Dubai’s status as the city’s Little India, with dozens of no-frills curry houses, window displays full of glittery saris, and optimistic touts offering fake watches or a “nice pashmina”.
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Al Fahidi: where to stay in Dubai for history
Think of Dubai – a 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, this is the best place where to stay in Dubai for a more subdued break.
Downtown Dubai: best location for shopping & malls
For those with big budgets and a need for some retail therapy, Downtown Dubai is the best area where to stay in Dubai. 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 is best viewed after dark.
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.
Palm Jumeirah: where to stay for luxury
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 where to stay in Dubai.
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Deira: where to stay in Dubai for markets
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 best place where to stay in Dubai.
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
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The desert: a truly unique location
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.
Al Barsha: budget-friendly neighbourhood
Al Barsha is a vibrant residential and business district and is well known for its variety of shopping venues, hotels and restaurants, making it a popular place where to stay in Dubai. A major attraction in Al Barsha is the Mall of the Emirates, which boasts a large indoor ski slope and a number of upscale shops and restaurants.
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Top image: Dubai Palm © Shutterstock