Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai, United Arab EmiratesThe biggest. The tallest. The longest. The best. Dubai has been working to build everything imaginable, from artificial islands to indoor ski slopes to a futuristic elevated metro system. The largest city (more superlatives) in the United Arab Emirates is filled with high-end shopping malls, luxury hotels, and outposts of Michelin star restaurants. So is it possible to relax–really relax–in this over-the-top city on the Arabian Sea?

Whether you’re coming to Dubai to live it up for a few days or you’re using it as a layover to another far-away destination, it was a long flight just to get here. The massive, continually expanding airport didn’t help calm you down once you landed. So before you start shopping or partying, some chill time is in order at the Desert Palm. Set along polo fields, the resort has views of the always-changing skyline. Relax by the infinity pool. You consider laps, but end up just treading water to cool down. Alternate between the ice room and the sauna at the spa, and then have a Turkish salt scrub. Search for rare blue kingfishers–you’ll know the birds by their cobalt color. Watch sunset chukkas from the rooftop terrace, even if you don’t understand the rules of polo. And drink champagne and eat tapas while acoustic guitar music plays at the open-air Polo Bar.

Photo: Desert Palm Dubai
Photo: Desert Palm Dubai

You’ve yet to check any Dubai sites off your list, but doing practically nothing was just what you needed. After a heavy night’s sleep, wake up early to watch the sun rise over the red dunes. Visit the stables, and take a lesson at the Riding School. And finally head into the city. Take a dhow cruise on Dubai Creek. Shop for spices, dates, and camel’s-milk chocolates at the souks along the narrow streets. Watch a camel race. Scuba dive among the offshore reefs and wrecks. Eat hot and cold mezzes and foga as a belly dancer sways to Arabian music. Top off the meal with a mint tea. And head to Jumeirah Beach to watch the sun set near the iconic Burj Al Arab building. Despite all of the new, exciting things around you, having your feet in the sand is still the best way to end the day.

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