See Another Side of Dubai

Thought Dubai only catered to the rich and famous? This United Arab Emirates city might court visitors with expensive tastes, but beyond the skyscrapers and Western brands is a desert destination with enough cultural and hip hotspots for a bragworthy weekender that surprisingly - won't break the bank.  So if you're longing to escape the cold, here is an alternative plan for a two-day short break in this Middle Eastern playground.

Start your day by bagging a table at this quality foodie haven in the edgy Al Quoz area or grab its famous banana bread and exceptional coffee to go.  The ever-popular Tom & Serg was set up by Aussie Tom & Serg was set up by Aussie Tom Arnel and Spaniard Sergio Lopez, who imagined a hip, Melbourne-style café in a city that happily taken influences from all over the globe.

A ten minute walk from Tom&Serg is Alserkal Avenue, a former marble-processing factory that was transformed into a cool gated arts district in 2007.  Since then, the complex has become a thriving community for creative types who wouldn't be out of place in Shoretditch.  Wander round the warehouses and you'll find pop-ups, cafés and vibrant galleries showcasing work by local and foreign artists.  Film buffs should swing by the Cinema Akil, a boutique onsite picturehouse that screens classic, art house and foreign flicks for free.

For all its expansive urban development, Dubai has managed to keep some heritage intact.  Case in point: the Al Fahidl Historic District in Bur Dubai - the city's oldest residential area was established by merchants back in the nineteenth century.  Also known as Bastkiya, it was spared from demolition in the 1980s with help from Prince Charles, and now the area has been restored as a maze of lanes, wind towers, galleries, courtyards and boutique hotels ripe for exploring.  Afterwards, make a beeline for the nearby Arabian Tea House for a taste of traditional Arabic cuisine.  Don't be surprised if there's a queue though - this charming, old-school café is a hit with locals and tourists alike.

A visit to the Coffee Museum is essential for anyone who's ever wondered about the history of the black stuff.  Set up as a traditional Emirati home, it has exhibits, tasting, a reading room and a small gift shop where coffee lovers can stock up.  The venue is off the beaten track so it can be tricky to locate, but locals will point you in the right direction - if your nose doesn't find it first.

Go for gold or take a ride on the creek side.  Dubai's famous Gold Souk in Deira is metres away from the Bastakiya quarter.  Rows of shopfronts sparkle with extravagant bling that can be a bargain if you barter hard enough.  Beware: you'll have to battle through hordes of vendors shifting watches and bags before you can set foot in the fold-selling establishments.

For a more stress-free Deira experience, a trip across Dubai Creek in an abra (wooden boat) is just the ticket (and a well-priced one at that).  A five-minute trip from Dubai Abra Station costs just one dirham, or for 100 dirham hire a water taxi for an hour and the driver will take you up and down the river for a creek-level eyeful of old-meets-new Dubai.

To wind down the evening after a days out and about, hop in a cab for a 20-minute ride to Little Black Door, an award-winning bar and lounge at the Conrad hotel in Bur Dubai.  It's on the fancy side but a local and eclectic enough to make it worth a visit.  Advance booking is recommended if you want to try the quality cocktails, as alcohol isn't widely served in Dubai.  The DJs play a mean set - cue '90s R&B - and foodwise you can expect a respectable selection of sliders and sharing platters.

Have brunch on the beach.  Dubai has its fair share of sun, sea and sand, but Kite Beach is the destination for water sports, kite fanatics and the first meal of the day.  Before securing your tanning turf, grab a bite at one of the may beachfront restaurants.  Park House has a lovely vibe and a pretty terrace, or head to the two-level LaOla café.  Later on, you can try one of the many top food truckss in the area for lunch.

Discover fashion's finest twenty minutes away from Kite Beach is the shiny Dubai Design District, an upmarket fashion business quarter that bills itself as 'D3 - the home to designers, artists and creative thinkers'.  It's still under development, with plans to be fully set up by 2021, but it already offers a decent array of fun outdoor installations, events and Instagram-worthy restaurants.

Far full-on, twenty-first-century retail, hit the Dubai Mall, the largest shopping complex in the UAE.  This manmade wonder isn't just about spending (although that is definitely an option). It has a very large aquarium, an Olympic-sized ice rink and an indoor theme park.

Located next to Burj Khalifa, the tallest skyscraper in the world, is the extravagant Dubai Fountain.  Crowds flock from all over to see the 'world's largest performing fountain's put on a show every 30 minutes from 6pm.  It's just a short distance from the Dubai Mall, but the best way to watch the action is to grab front row seats and eat at a nearby restaurant, such as the pan-Asian Karma Kafé or the Punjab-inspired Patiala.  The best bit? Guessing which song the fountain will splash along to next: the playlist ranges from Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' to Adele's 'Skyfall'.

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