Dubai has grown on me. When the kids were really small we struggled with the place for two reasons, it was too much for very little people and we ALWAYS got hopelessly lost. But the combination of time and GPS has solved both these problems.

It’s probably also fair to say that if a week is a long time in politics then 9 years in equivalent to about 60 years anywhere else. so here goes my revised Dubai guide….

The Malls

Dubai Mall

Dubai Mall is massive, let me re-phrase that, Dubai Mall is insert-appropriate-adjective/intensifier massive. The first time we went was with a couple of mates in their car because we didn’t have one and the boys were only three and 10-months in 2009. The last time we went was a couple of weeks from the time of this writing when the boys are 10 and 8 in 2017. This time it was because I had some training to attend at a Dubai college and our friends Victor and Elizabeth lent us their apartment for the ocassion. After work I would go back to their apartment and both afternoons when I arrived the one place we decided had something for everyone and we actually know how to navigate our way to, was Dubai Mall.


When I think about it one thing that has changed in the DM experience is that the boys enjoy it much more as they get older. When they were wee ones, it was just too much, they got bored and ratty and as a consequence so did we. Also we all know where we want to go now, which is Virgin Megastore, Kinokuniya, Hamley’s and food. Lorena doesn’t do much shopping in the Mall, which leaves more time for me and the boys.

We also of course stop by the have a look in the Aquarium although we only went in once and to be honest it’s just as good with the view from the outside and a lot less expensive, in fact it’s free. They have expanded their offerings since we last went I think, but it would still take me quite a bit of convincing to pay to go in as it really is just as good for free, did I mentions it’s free?

The other place we took the kids when they were younger was Kidzania, which was cool but utterly manic. Take a look at the website for details, but basically if you have a little one between about 3 and 10, it’s too hot to go outside (most of the year in this neck of the desert), and you have cash to burn then Kidzania is as good a place as any. I would recommend a mid-week trip though, as I said the weekend gets madly packed. To give a flavour of what there is to do, the highlights included ‘making’ your own Macka D burger, dressing up as a fireman and manning a fire engine and working in a building site (and not suffering from dehydration, heat stroke and possibly death like the indentured slaves that build the city’s skyscrapers 🙂 ).

The other fun place for kids is the big ice skating rink, Danny is into skating as I write this post and last time we went we took him. The ice itself was fine and the rink is big, but it’s not the cheapest in the world. Also, if you go in the evening it will be busy with local kids (Emiratis), who don’t do RULES. This means you will have kids constantly skating round the wrong way and generally behaving as if they have just be let out of prison. So a tip, if you are likely to burst a blood vessel at this type of behavior, go skating (or to the cinema come to that), in the morning 🙂 .

We have been known to go to TGI Fridays for food as you get the view of the fountain show and plenty to eat. There’s also the food court as well, which is to scale with the rest of the mall, i.e. huge, although sometimes it gets so packed you can’t get a table. We also went to the rainforest cafe once and I seem to remember Danny getting freaked out by the mechanical animals, and you get to pay extra for the privilege, whilst enjoying average food in a place that is as about as far removed from a rainforest as is humanly possible. Also one year we went to Chili’s with cousin Steve and Hyun Ju for Tommy’s birthday. Being in a Chili’s in Dubai you might as well be in a mall in Wisconsin as one on the desert and to be honest that is not always a bad thing. You know what you are getting and that there will be lots of it, but it’s certainly not 1001 Arabian nights.


There is other more completely contrived faux Arabian nights stuff on offer though from the very gold Gold Souk to the Souk Al Bahar across the way from the mall proper, selling all manner of Dubai tat. Just remember that to get there you cross the fountain square which can get really packed at the weekends and can be stressful if you have a buggy.

One other observation in Dubai  Mall is that it is full of tourists, freaks and orange tanned weirdos which can be everything from funny (poe-faced wanna be models strutting about) to sad (people who have got on a plane and come on holiday TO A MALL). Our last trip to the mall provided a double whammy of cultural faux pas or just ignorance depending on how generous you want to be. The first was when we were sitting watching the fountain show off the balcony of  TGI Friday’s when someone stood in front of us to take photos, blocking the view, without even a backwards glance. After he had finished I explained to him that in the UAE we ask first. Then bugger me the next day, sitting in the packed food court we watched a guy come and sit down at a table next to ours with two shop workers already sitting and eating at, he didn’t ask if they minded, just sat down, and then two minutes later was joined by three others!  This time it was Lorena who got up and told them, this is not how we do things in the UAE, we ask first. Two things stuck with me about those incidents. First, the rude buggers were all Europeans and second that we felt a sense of what living in the UAE means culturally, after 8 years here we are expat locals, otherwise known as immigrants.

Mall of the Emirates

Another day another… this time the one with the indoor ski centre with ‘real’ snow. The advantage of MofE is that it is on the Abu Dhabi side of town, so a bit quicker for us to get to. It also has a Virgin Megastore, in fact one that now sells second-hand vinyl. And no, we’ve never been inside the ski centre mainly because I’ve always thought it’s a bit ridiculous and it’s overpriced.

There are loads of other ways to part with your cash in MofE and although it’s not on quite the same scale as Dubai Mall, it’s still huge.

The only thing worth mentioning about MoE is that it’s in a part of  town that has all the cheap hotels a la Ibis or Novotel, both of which have received our patronage.  So you can book in and then walk across to the mall.

Our weird experience in MofE was when we driving into the car park one day and saw a white homeless guy lying on the street outside the mall with no shoes on. Now this is something you DO NOT see in the UAE. Poor construction workers who may have ‘run away’ and will carry your shopping to the car, yes, young white dudes with matted hair and dull eyed stare, no. We stopped to give the guy a bottle of water, but he got spooked and wouldn’t take it from me, so we left it on the street with some money for him to get some food. Scratch the surface in the UAE and you will realize that this is not a place for you to fall between the cracks….

Wafi Mall

We went to Wafi Mall because I’m big on Egyptology and was fascinated to see the tasteful homage to the land of Tutankhamen, AND it has Glow-In-The_Dark Mini GOLF!!!!! Apart from really being a full of ancient Egyption iconography the mall also has a strange combination of shops that doesn’t seem to aimed at anyone in particular, so think WHSmiths next to Bulgari. And yes, it’s shaped like a pyramid.

The mini gold turned out to be OK on hot day but at AED200 for the 4 of us was overpriced. Danny and Tommy took it in turns to throw hissy fits because they were crap, while I remained serene and focused at all times and mom kept forgetting to write the scores down (they expect me to do EVERYTHING)

Ibn Battuta Mall 

More of the same shops? Yes. Any particular reason to visit this over other malls? Probably not….BUT…. if you are coming from Abu Dhabi on the bus it stops here so it’s as good a mall as any. And, if you are a fan of high kitsch, or perhaps feel that your life won’t be complete until you have seen a what appears-to-be full size Chinese Junk inside a shopping mall then this is the place to be.

The mall is designed around the travels of Ibn Battuta and he certainly got about. So each section of the mall is Egyptian, Persian, Chinese, Indian etc. And they must have spent a shed-load in the process. Was it educational? Not really. Did the kids enjoy it? They enjoyed the KFC. Were the shops any different? Err, there was no Virgin (bad) and everything is on one floor so you have to walk miles.

The Neighbourhoods

Dubai Creek and Deira Downtown

My favourite part of Dubai is the area around the creek and the old town, then across to the downtown which has a mini-Bombay vibe. The best bit about the creek is that you can take a water bus for a couple of Dirhams from one side to the other and it actually feels like a ‘real’ experience, which is perhaps a unique experience in Dubai. Legend has it that the Dubai Sheikh was showing a foreign dignitary around and telling him about the plans to ‘upgrade’ the creek area, but the dignitary advised him to leave it as it was, as a way to remember what Dubai used to be like.

So, take the water bus/Abra to the Gold/Spice Souk, run the hard-sell gauntlet, buy some tourist tat and get some Indian eats. You can also go for long walk, weather permitting and take a look at the dozens of dhows that still ply their trade between Dubai and Iran. You can also walk in the other direction to the newly done up Dubai old town. They have opened Sheikh Mohammed’s boyhood house which is worth a visit and there are a couple of cafes around to stop for something on the water side.

Although I would recommend the water abra for atmosphere, we have also rented boats over the years for a longer ride up the proverbial creek. You will have to negotiate price but it’s doable and you can have an hour on the water to get some snaps and the captain will always let the kids have a go at the helm. Lorena also did this trip with her dad when he came and a good time was had by all.

if you go out the back of the souk you’ll find more shopping and the Dubai History Museum. The museum is worth a visit, especially if you are fan of spooky mannequins dressed as pearl fisherman basketwork. It’s not exactly the British Museum but maybe that’s because we nicked all the best bits?

Alkersal Avenue

It’s hard to believe that a city as new as Dubai is going through regeneration, but in Alkersal it is. This warehouse district is now inside the city proper, rather than being an out-of-town industrial park and it has morphed into an artsy area with cafes and galleries, including a place that does (a bit pricey) art workshops for kids and adults. Of course it’s still done Dubai style, which means it’s all quite sanitized, but at least it’s somewhere where things done by independents are happening.

Anyway when we went we visited the chocolate factory slash cafe, the food was a bit rich for the kids, and we didn’t do the factory tour (it’s very small but it was cool to look through the window), but still it didn’t fell like being in a mall.

We also went to the Flipside record shop, which has a great selection of world music, I picked up Funkadelic and Willie Colon & Ruben Blades records. The store attendant was a nice bloke and let us play the records on the loud system. Generally it was a cool space and I’d like to visit again with more time to look around.

The only downside with trip was we took a rugby ball to throw around and got told off for playing OUTSIDE. Anyway we smoothed things out with the chief guard but seeing as it was completely empty it all seemed a bit daft.

Kite Beach

Kite beach came recommended by our best friend Victor and it was a good call. It’s free, long, great for a walk, has a few food stalls and is a fairly well kept secret. It kind of feels like an out-of-fashion stretch of Dubai that has been left to locals who want something a bot less glitzy.

At the end of the beach (or is it the beginning?), things hot up a bit and there is an activities area with lots of restaurants as well. We did the adventure playground bit, it was a touch tame for the kids (who were 9 and 11 when they did it), and it was Dubai price, but it got them moving and kept them busy for half an hour or so.

Also worth a mention is a restaurant further along from Kite Beach called Bu Qtair which is apparently a Dubai institution. It can take a while to get served and has a weird queuing system, but it’s worth it. Basically you buy a massive spicy fish then eat it with paratha and that’s about it. But it’s cheap, has a great non-expat atmosphere and, well what more do you want.

Jumeirah Beach Residence

JBR means the Walk,which means Benidorm meets the Black Sea meets Vegas, which all means seriously tacky nonsense, which can ether leave you totally depressed about the state of humanity or wryly amused, according to which side of bed you got out of.


Luckily I went for the latter on the day I visited with Lorena and the boys and we had fun day unhampered by a pangs of conscience for contributing to the downfall of the human race.

So, when on the walk, walk (sounds obvious but someone didn’t get the mail as there are constant traffic jams it seems). Come in the evening to gawp at the ars… I mean Pan-national, Rich, Absolutely Trendsetting Superstars (PRATS) drive their supercars up and down at 5 miles and hour and of course gawp at the other gawpers, it’s free and makes you feel smug AND superior. Then get something to eat at one of the ubiquitous Dubai chains and do some more car watching.

This is the backside of the Walk, the front side is indeed a Walk and a decent public beach and a load of eating places. We also tested our strength (or at least Tommy did) from the hang as long as you can stand at the fair (he did well but no cigar) and we got free t-shirts from the Netflix promo stand, what’s not to like?

Would I go again? Probably not, did we have fun, yep.


Literature festival

Dubai has a literature festival every year that one year featured Tommy’s favourite writer at the time, Darren Shan. The day of the event coincided with one of our rare but at times heavy downpours, and the road  to Dubai was under water in parts. Still we had Cousin Andrea visiting from Ecuador as well and Tommy being excited about seeing his literary idol, so the three of us took the chance. Yes we made it and both Tommy and Andrea had a good time, Tommy got called onto stage by the man himself and Andrea was excited to be at her first literature festival.


Dubai 7’s 

Swing LOW SWEET CHARIOOT was surprisingly absent from the Dubai Rugby 7’s, BUT thousands of drunk white men went some way to restoring my faith in rugby kind. It’s official, the boys are rugby mad, which is somewhat problematic for me, given that I think all rugby players are hooray Henry toffs. Still I’ve decided to pack the shoulder chip away for a while and focus on the values building aspects of the game (to say nothing of the opportunities to drink copiously), so it’s off to Dubai we go.

It turns out the Rugby 7’s is actually pretty good, despite being not actually being in Dubai (it’s next to Chicken Farm in the hinterland) and full of rugby types. It’s actually a kind of faux rugby, the games are only 20 odd minutes, there are lots of people in fancy dress, like the merry Elves below and the whole thing feels like a bit expat knees-up, (I wonder why). At AED300 for a day pass it might seem a bit steep BUT kids under 12 go ‘free’ so it actually came in at AED150 each. The kids had loads of their ‘rugger’ mates there, and for any boys and girls that like seriously muscle bound young men, or Dubai dolly birds, there was plenty to please the eye. Anyway I was there for for the sports and there’s loads of that as well, in fact I was knackered just watching them. You also get to see all the rugby power house teams, the All Blacks, England, South Africa etc, in short bursts, which for a 9-year-old like Danny and for not-9-year-old but don’t understand the rules of the game, then that is fine.

There’s also loads of play areas and what not for the little ones, so all in all I would do this again, in fact we probably will, as long as the rugby craze lasts for the boys anyway.


There are more musical options in Dubai than Abi Dhabi for sure, we have seen Santana, Guns and Roses and Uriah Heep (yes they are still alive), but we haven’t been to too many gigs with the kids. Still now they are getting a bit older then this will probably change. One word about choosing which gigs to go with with little ones, I would seriously avoid anything at Autism Rocks, at the risk of making a tasteless joke, it does make you wonder who designed access to this outdoor venue in the middle of the desert, When we went to G’nR we had to dump the car on the side of the road and walk the last couple of K because traffic was so bad and we missed the start of the show. Then it was oversold and badly cramped, tempers were frayed and it was all a bit crap.

Then the other thing to bear in mind is that a lot of venues are over 21’s only, so that’s that.


Anyway, I did recently go to see Dream Theater at Dubai Sports City with Tommy and his mate Freddy. The venue is easy to get to from Abu Dhabi as it’s just off the highway and it’s mercifully indoors. We managed to blag our way into the platinum section down the front, even though we had the cheapy tickets. This may have been because the kids looked so needy, or  more likely the blokes on the door just weren’t that bothered. Anyway the kids were pleased as we got right down the front in among the action…