Dubai gets the most attention for its flashy skyline and ultra-luxe shopping malls, but this jewel of the United Arab Emirates has an affection for health and wellness too. Growing increasingly popular as a layover destination, Dubai is the perfect place to break up long days of travel to southeast Asia or Africa with a refreshing 48 hours. Here’s how to do it.
Atlantis, The Palm was the city’s first hotel to open on the famed Palm Jumeirah. Now, the nine-year-old property is undergoing a chic refresh and with a luxe spa, waterpark, private beaches, and 21 different restaurants. Imperial Club access gets you an expedited check-in and quaint breakfasts in the accompanying lounge.
If you want to be closer to the action, Park Hyatt Dubai offers seclusion from the city’s seemingly never-ending construction cranes and bulldozers, but still within walking distance to the must-visit gold souk (a traditional market) and banking district. The 223-room hotel also has a spa, three different running routes, and an 80-foot outdoor lap pool.
The Dubai Creek Striders, the city’s largest running club, hosts group runs three days per week and a weekend long run at 6 a.m. While they ask that you can run at least 10k continuously, pace groups of all abilities are available and they welcome visitors.
After your run, head to brunch at Comptoir 102, one of the Dubai’s best health food cafés, which also happens to be one of its coolest concept stores. Try the smoothie with almond milk, bee pollen, dates, and Himalayan salt and a panini made with organic labneh (yogurt) before browsing the store’s seemingly-endless selection of home goods, fashion, jewelry, and more. There’s even a small organic grocery to pick up some healthy snacks for the next leg of your travels.
In the afternoon, enjoy a pedicure at One&Only The Palm. Dr. Bastien Gonzalez, a podiatrist who works with top athletes and celebrities, has created a dry pedicure system that restores even the most tired feet using tools like dental drills, leather buffers, and creams made from crushed pearls.
Head back to Atlantis for a traditional Lebanese dinner at Ayamna, where Chef Ali Elbourji cooks up his mother’s classic recipes. Share a mixed grill: an assortment of lamb brochette, kofta, shish taouk (a chicken kebab), arayes (meat-stuffed pitas), and lamb chops, served with a chopped salad and freshly-baked pitas.
Enjoy a light breakfast at the Park Hyatt’s Imperial Court Lounge, where the offerings include American and European favorites, but also Middle Eastern fare—hummus and moutabel makes for a nutritious morning meal.
Now it’s time to rejuvenate in a yoga class at Atlantis’ Lost Chambers Aquarium, where you’ll be surrounded by 65,000 sea creatures. Stingrays and sharks glide in front of you during this cathartic one-hour hatha class.
Next, head to Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. At 1,820 feet, the tower also boasts the world’s highest outdoor observation deck, giving visitors an eagle-eye view of Dubai’s famous Palm Islands, the World Islands, and the Persian Gulf beyond. The entrance to Burj Khalifa’s observation decks is located in Dubai Mall (the world's largest mall), so after your trip to the top, visit hard-to-find shops including Galeries Lafayette and La Martina.
You’re off to old Dubai for lunch at Skye & Walker, an airy café whose reclaimed furnishings and eco-friendly ethos would be just as at home in Austin. The menu skews on the healthful side with modern takes on Middle Eastern favorites, like the lamb kofta and spinach quinoa salad.
After lunch, take a walk along Dubai Creek to the city’s famous spice souk, where you can stock up on ingredients like dried limes, as well as turmeric and Persian saffron. Admire the goods at the neighboring gold souk before taking a sunset ride back across the creek on a dhow, a traditional boat.
Conclude your layover with a nightcap at Little Black Door, a dark and mysterious speakeasy (that also offers a bistro-style menu and light bites) nestled in the lobby of the Conrad Hotel. The down-to-earth decor feels more like a London gentlemen’s club than one of the city’s hottest bars, but the friendly bartenders and excellent drinks make LBD an ideal venue to end a weekend in the City of Superlatives.