Dubai – the glitzy capital of one of the United Arab Emirates’ seven emirates – has become synonymous with 5-star glam and cutting-edge innovation. But there is more to this city in the desert than soaring skyscrapers and opulent resorts. This guide reveals how to see the local side of this global metropolis, from vast sand dunes to bustling souks.

Founded as a trading hub and pearl-diving centre, Dubai became a wealthy city-state in the late 20th century after oil was discovered. Its business-savvy rulers slashed taxes and opened the door to foreign investment. Its population grew rapidly, transforming the once-modest Middle Eastern pearling town into a world-leading trade, tourism, real estate and financial hub.

The most iconic landmark is the Burj Khalifa, a mind-bogglingly tall structure that is shaped like a sail to reflect its home in the Arabian Gulf. But there are many more dazzling buildings to admire, including the luxury hotels that make this a can’t-miss destination. The Burj Al Arab is among them, with its real gold-lined interiors and can’t-believe-your-eyes view.

There is also an opulent shopping scene, as well as a number of cultural and historical sites. The Etihad Museum is a must-see, as are the original Arabian markets (including the opulent gold souk).

As for the beach, there are plenty of options. The best are Al Mamzar Beach Park, JBR Open Beach and Kite Beach, as well as Black Palace Beach and Umm Suqeim Beach.

When it comes to sports, the Dubai World Cup is a major draw for horse racing enthusiasts and the Dubai Desert Classic is a fixture on the European PGA Tour. There are also a number of waterparks and family attractions.

The best time to visit is from November to March, when temperatures are cooler. It’s hot and dry the rest of the year, but it is possible to find some respite in the city’s numerous malls and air-conditioned attractions.

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