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Dubai: Dazzled by the desert's delights...


The high life: The view of the Dubai skyline from Raffles hotel

The high life: The view of the Dubai skyline from Raffles hotel

The high life: The view of the Dubai skyline from Raffles hotel

Another week, another jaw-dropping hotel is conceived in Dubai. This time, it's a long-awaited underwater number known as The Water Discus, which will allow guests to sleep below the surface of the sea, offering a view of underwater life.

The 21 rooms are expected to be submerged up to 10 metres below water, with huge windows offering a view from the bed and an external 'explorer' robot which can be controlled from the room to allow guests to interact with marine life.

It's just the latest in a long line of offbeat designs to hit the Emirate state, which has a staggering number of fantastic restaurants, enough retail opportunities to satisfy the most rampant shopaholic and a burgeoning art scene. The chances are you'll only be visiting for a couple of days so you need to choose carefully to make sure you find the hotspots.

First stop, where to stay in this glittering Gulf state.

As the latest project proves, they don't do run-of-the-mill hotels in Dubai. Raffles is a huge glass pyramid with a glowing beacon at its peak. The suites are tasteful and modern with fantastic views over the city and enough top-notch bars and restaurants to keep you entertained for days. From €180 (raffles.com/dubai).

To escape the bustle of the city, Al Maha is in a desert conservation area. Each Arabian-style tented villa overlooks sand dunes and has its own infinity pool. Watch the wildlife from your terrace and soak up the tranquillity. But this is splash-out territory with rooms from €600, including dinner, breakfast and desert activities (al-maha.com).

Dubai is a hungry traveller's dream destination. For an authentic Emirati experience, go to Shindagha, the oldest part of town. There's nothing like a stroll along the waterfront to whet the appetite for Arabian mezze at Kan Zaman (alkoufa.com).

If you fancy dressing up, make for Reflets, a restaurant by the Michelin-starred chef Pierre Gagnaire in the InterContinental Festival City (00 971 4 701 1111). For food that's closer to home, Establishment England can be found at Dubai's branch of the Ivy (theivy.ae).

The city has no shortage of good places to stop for a drink. Top of my list is the Basta Art Café in the old Bastakiya district with its cool, leafy courtyard -- perfect for escaping the modern city and sampling freshly squeezed juices, teas and Arabic coffee (00 971 4 353 5071).

One of the most spectacular places to dance the night away is the maximalist nightclub at Raffles, in the very peak of the pyramid with views over the city.

Dubai and retail therapy go hand in hand and most of the shopping happens inside huge malls. The Dubai Mall is the world's largest and is home to every designer and high-street name you can imagine.

If shopping isn't your thing, visit the Aquarium, where you can even dive in and help at feeding time (thedubaimall.com/en).

If your wallet is still tugging at you, book a tour with Kelly at Divine personal shoppers to find the city's hidden treasures.

Take an abra (boat taxi) across the Dubai Creek to the gold and spice souks in Deira. Here you get a real sense of another Dubai as you roam through the narrow streets.

If you have a new suit in mind, visit Sun Rise tailors with a picture of an item of clothing you want copied, then pop across the road to buy your desired material and they will have it ready in 24 hours. Ta-dah! (00 971 4 349 1325).

Dubai's cultural scene is booming right now. It has its own art fair and more than 50 galleries. One of the best is the Third Line, which exhibits contemporary Middle Eastern art (thethirdline.com).

For something less high-brow, Arabian Adventure's Sundowner Supper includes a thrilling drive over sand dunes in a 4x4, camel-riding, belly-dancing, watching the sunset and eating delicious food. Phew. From €70 per person. (arabian-adventures.com).



Emirates flies daily from Dublin to Dubai with fares from €530.

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