Lonely Planet Local Hayley Skirka has been resident in the United Arab Emirates for nearly 10 years, most of them spent in Dubai. After all this time in the city, she’s seen most of the iconic landmarks and lost count of how many desert safaris she’s been on, so she tends to spend her days discovering more of what makes Dubai a truly liveable city.
From discovering new spots that she can launch her paddleboard from to checking out the plethora of yoga classes popping up around the city, she likes to keep things moving. By night, sundowners, comedy evenings and pub quizzes are her go-to picks.
Dubai is an exploration inside and outside the city © aiqingwang / Getty Images
When I have friends in town… I take them to brunch. They’re amazed at the over-the-top buffet displays, help-yourself drinks stations and entertainment that gets packed into a restaurant. For crazy party vibes, it’s got to be Saffron at Atlantis The Palm. For something a bit more food-focused, I like El Sur at Westin Mina Seyahi. Once we've recovered, a visit to old Dubai is a must for picking up authentic souvenirs and drinking coconut water from freshly chopped coconuts as we sail on the abra from Deira to Bur Dubai. The gold-class cinema experience is another must-do, especially in the hotter months, followed by watching the sunset from At The Top at Burj Khalifa.
Hayley ready for brunch at El Sur © Hayley Skirka / Lonely Planet
When I’m up for a big night out… we kick start with dinner at The Maine, which has freshly shucked oysters that go perfectly with an Aperol spritz. The service is always on point, and the atmosphere is buzzing, especially at the weekend. Afterwards, a few drinks at Copper Dog, a bar that’s been built to exactly replicate the bar of the same name that lies on the banks of the River Spey in the Scottish Highlands, is a good warm-up spot. Finally, we make a beeline for Barasti. As much as it sometimes gets a bad rep for being a favourite with groups of lairy Brits, it’s a Dubai stalwart and has been in operation for more than 20 years. Avoid the carnage and just make your own fun with your group - there’s nowhere else you can dance alfresco on three different levels, smoke shisha sitting on some rocks or see great live entertainment on the beach until the small hours.
For cheap eats… it has to be Ravi. It has a few branches now, but the original one in Satwa attracts visitors, locals and expats for its authentic dishes and super cheap prices. Tuck into mountains of Indian and Pakistani food, and don’t miss the paneer butter – it’s the vegetarian equivalent of the moreish butter chicken and costs a mere Dhs20, compared to the Dhs50 or more that you’d pay anywhere else in the city. Get ready to dig in with your hands.
Beat the crowds with a a paddleboarding session first thing in the morning © Miemo Penttinen - miemo.net / Getty Images
A typical weekend involves... early morning paddleboarding at the beach next to Dubai Offshore Sailing Club, which is one of the few shoreline spots that’s not yet become too crowded. Lunch at Maison Mathis is another regular haunt; this neighbourhood spot does some of the city’s best pizza and is one of the few places outside of a hotel where you can order an afternoon glass of wine. Dinner at Nola Eatery and Social House with its live music and New Orleans-style fare is also a regular pick.
The best place to go on a date is… Pier 7. With seven different restaurants and bars spread over seven floors in one building, you’ve got plenty of choice, and they all come with awesome marina views. If one place is too crowded or there’s no atmosphere, simply hop in the lift and go elsewhere. It’s quite rare in Dubai that you can just relax and get on with enjoying your evening out without the trials of having to hunt down taxis and traverse all over town to get to a different venue. My favourite is Fume on level one for wholesome food served with great cocktail options. Grab a table by the window and you’ve got sweeping waterside vistas coupled with a sharing menu, perfect for a spot of romance.
Escape Dubai to nearby Fujairah © David Steele / Getty Images
When I want to get out of the city… I drive to Fujairah, on the UAE’s north coast. The climate is always a few degrees cooler, and the mountain views make you feel like you’re in a different country, not just a neighbouring emirate.
For my 30th birthday I splurged by… hiring a yacht with a hot tub on the top deck and sailing around the World Islands with all my friends on board.
I know I’m a Dubaite because… I always forget that I need to fill up my own petrol when I go back home to Scotland, and I never bother checking the weather anymore – I just wake up every day expecting bright sunshine.
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