By Yvette Caster, Freelance journalist and podcaster
Saturday 22 Dec 2018 5:28 pm
Dubai is admittedly not for everyone, but if you like shopping, good food and fancy hotels it makes a decent break – even at Christmas, which it has embraced visually with its bright trees, if not spiritually, for obvious reasons (its a Muslim country).
As a tourist, sometimes all you want is a mani-pedi at a fancy spa, not a trawl round a billion museums, although I enjoyed my trip to Dubai Museum when I stayed.
Theres enough expats, tourists and, I suspect, people who just like the excuse to fling as many fairy lights, strings of tinsel and balls of glitter about for Dubai still to feel festive over Christmas and New Year.
Plus you can have turkey on the beach.
Christmas brunches are particularly popular, and New Years Eve fireworks are not on the small scale.
The first thing to get your head round here is that, like America, car is king. There are lots of massive roads rather than walkways so getting around often means taxis.
Having said that, I travelled on both Dubais Metro and buses and found both to be clean, pleasant and easy to use.
The second is the fact everything seems to be based around hotels and malls.
As a Muslim country drinking isnt encouraged so the malls play the role pubs do in Britain – spaces to meet friends and have fun.
This brings me on to the third thing – the drinks.
As a Brit who doesnt really drink, I loved the fact people were congregating in cafes, by fountains, in restaurants, cinemas, ice rinks and aquariums (all of which youll find in the malls).
At first it felt a bit 12-year-olds birthday party but, at the risk of sounding puritan, I didnt miss the drunken louts we routinely put up with here.
I spent time wandering round The Dubai Mall. It includes Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, an indoor waterfall, ice rink, virtual reality park, haunted house Hysteria, which is currently running a Nightmare Before Christmas horror experience starring Krampus, open-air cinema, indoor cinema, and more than 1,300 shops and 200 places to eat and drink.
Another thing on drinks – everyone buys bottled water and there werent obvious drinking fountains as there are in America which, given youre in a desert, is a bit odd. Still, I drank tap water and appear to be alive.
If you will insist on drinking booze there are bars and clubs, and most of the hotels have licensed bars so theres no shortage of fancy cocktails and hard liquor. The Irish Village pub is known for its festive celebrations. Its illegal to drink under the age of 21 or be drunk in public.
The unmissable thing to see here – which has its entrance in The Dubai Mall – is the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.
The tourist experience is called At The Top – tickets cost from £28. However, if you want to get to the highest public point, the At The Top Sky lounge on the 148th floor costs £117 and is quieter.
Alternatively you can book breakfast, afternoon tea or dinner at the restaurant in the Burj Khalifa, Atmosphere, which is 122 floors up.
The Armani Hotel takes up 11 floors of the Burj Khalifa, if your thirst for labels extends beyond the shops.
Heading to Dubai Mall at night to see the fountains at the back dance (like Vegas but on a smaller scale). Displays start at 6pm then run every 30 minutes until 11pm. The Burj Khalifa also lights up.
For even more festive shopping theres a huge Christmas markets in Jumeirah.
Madinat Jumeirahs runs to December 28 and includes a German market, snowball zone, gingerbread house-making station, mini train, stunning tree and Father Christmas.
In Business Bay, JW Marriott Marquis Dubai is among the hotels getting festive with seasonal food and drink served until Boxing Day.
While the shoppings great, it being Jesus birthday and all, its worth noting theres no shortage of Christian churches either.
Where to stay and how to get there
I stayed at DoubleTree by Hilton Dubai Business Bay.
It was a lovely property, the highlights being the large rooftop pool, the incredible views of Burj Khalifa and its nighttime light show, and first rate food.
The breakfast was decadent, with a huge buffet offering everything from homemade hummus to perfect poached eggs.
For cocktails and shisha theres Bay Club – the bar area by the the pool, and theres also a popular spa.
The rooms were understated and restful, with lots of woody tones and bright white freestanding baths.
One nice touch was the subtle sofa beds – smart but good for families.
The hotels free shuttle bus running through to day to and from Dubai Mall and the nearby beach was handy too.
Rooms at DoubleTree by Hilton Dubai Business Bay cost from £96 per night.
The hotel is hosting a Christmas Eve buffet, a Christmas BBQ brunch and New Year dinner at its My Square restaurant.
From now until December 31 theres a lunchtime Turkey Takeaway at its Oud Lounge and music, drinks and hot dogs at Bay Club on New Years Eve.
I flew from London Heathrow to Dubai with Emirates.
The trip takes about seven hours.
Flights run six times a day and cost from £379.
The night before I stayed at Hilton Garden Inn London Heathrow Airport.
Rooms are smart and the hotel serves a good breakfast.
Hatton Cross Tube is a five-minute walk away – you can take the tube to your terminal or the Hotel Hoppa shuttle bus from the door (£4.50).
Rooms cost from £59. Hilton has a winter sale offering 25 per cent off rooms at properties across the world. Rooms must be booked before January 31, on stays until May 29.
Top picture: Getty.