Desert nights in the Gulf

Dubai isn't all about opulent hotels and malls — boutique stays and budget-level hotels are here, too, writes Lara Dunston.

Dubai is nothing like Las Vegas. There are no colossal neon-lit signs or impersonators performing at shows, no showgirls and certainly no casinos. Gambling is illegal here, even at the world's richest annual horse race, the Dubai World Cup.

Dubai is more like Shanghai: audacious architecture, spectacular skylines, an obsession with fashion and style and a flourishing contemporary art scene. And contrary to rumours, Dubai does have a rich culture. Though much of it is intangible - being rooted in Bedouin heritage and a tradition of storytelling, poetry, song, dance and falconry - there are plenty of opportunities to experience elements of it.

Dubai has built its reputation as a tourist destination on sun, sand and extravagance and, for many years, there were few alternatives to the five-star hotels that line Jumeirah Beach and Sheikh Zayed Road. While opulent hotels continue to open, scores of new, if characterless, budget and mid-range hotels have sprung up in recent years to cater to travellers on a stopover or budget business trip.

If you're here to experience history, culture and art, check in to a charming courtyard house in the Bastakiya. If shopping is your aim, opt for Sheikh Zayed Road or the "Old Town", Burj Dubai.

Luxury

The One&Only Royal Mirage is one of Dubai's most luxurious resorts. With its Moroccan-cum-Arabian-style decor and marvellous beach, it caters for couples unable to decide whether they want a One Thousand and One Nights fantasy or a seaside escape.

Al Sufouh Road, Jumeira. Palace rooms from 1854 dirham ($494) a night. See royalmirage.oneandonlyresorts.com.

Mina A'Salam is lavish and luxurious in the contemporary Arabian style synonymous with the city. It is Dubai's quintessential five-star hotel.

Al Sufouh Road, Jumeira. Rooms from 2338 dirham a night. See jumeira.com.

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InterContinental Dubai Festival City is perhaps the InterContinental's most glamorous property: sleek, spacious rooms with spectacular views, Dubai's finest restaurant, Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire, and shopping on the hotel's doorstep at Dubai Festival City.

Dubai Festival City. Rooms from 892.50 dirham a night. See ichotelsgroup.com.

Grosvenor House Dubai is by the beach, with a big-city feel: colossal lobby, plush rooms, sophisticated bars and fine-dining restaurants.

Al Sufouh Road. Rooms from 1050 dirham a night. See grosvenorhouse-dubai.com.

Park Hyatt Dubai is on tranquil Dubai Creek. Overlooking the yacht club and marina and surrounded by palm-filled gardens, this whitewashed, low-rise, Moroccan-inspired resort is ideal for travellers intent on taking it easy in relaxing surrounds.

Port Saeed. Rooms from 1475 dirham a night. See dubai.park.hyatt.com.

Mid-range

Arabian Courtyard Hotel is a comfortable four-star hotel in Bur Dubai that makes a great base for those who want to spend their time bargaining in the souks and exploring the rich history of old Dubai.

Al Fahidi Street, Bur Dubai. Rooms from 373.60 dirham a night. See arabiancourtyard.com.

Al Manzil is a comfortable four-star designed in a contemporary minimalist and Arabian style. It's ideal for travellers seeking a Middle Eastern atmosphere and with dirhams left to shop with.

Burj Dubai Boulevard, Old Town, Burj Dubai. Rooms from 620.90 dirham a night. See al-manzil-hotel-dubai.com.

Orient Guest House is a boutique hotel offering an experience akin to staying in a B&B and a chance to sleep in a traditional windtower residence in Dubai's old Persian neighbourhood.

Al Fahidi Street, Bastakiya, Bur Dubai. Rooms from 1000 dirham a night. See orientguesthouse.com.

Qamardeen has a splendid pool and wonderful views of Burj Khalifa, the city's tallest building. This contemporary Arabian hotel is perfectly situated for shopaholics and fashionistas.

Emaar Boulevard, Old Town. Rooms from 621 dirham a night. See southernsunme.com.

Rose Rayhaan by Rotana is a 72-storey comfortable property with tremendous panoramas over the city.

Off Al Fahidi Street, Bastakiya, Bur Dubai. Rooms from 540 dirham a night. See rotana.com.

Affordable

Ibis World Trade Centre Hotel is one of Dubai's cheapest hotels. It's ideal for travellers on brief stopovers or with busy itineraries as it is slap-bang in the middle of the city.

World Trade Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road. Rooms from 424 dirham a night. See ibishotel.com.

Holiday Inn Express is the only real budget accommodation close to Jumeirah Beach. Of Dubai's many Holiday Inns, this one makes a decent option for those wanting to combine time at the beach with shopping at the malls.

Knowledge Village, Jumeirah. Rooms from 291 dirham a night. See hiexpress.com.

XVA Art Hotel is a boutique hotel set in an old courtyard house in Dubai's Bastakiya quarter. A stone's throw from the nearby Dubai Museum, XVA makes an ideal base for culture enthusiasts.

Off Al Fahidi Street, Bastakiya, Bur Dubai. Rooms from 650 dirham a night. See xvahotel.com.

Marco Polo Hotel is a four-star stay at three-star prices with a location that's convenient to the airport. It is on one of the best restaurant streets in the Deira area.

Al Muteena Street, Dubai. Rooms from 333 dirham a night. See marcopolohotel.net.

Waterfront Hotel Apartments won't win a design award but does offer clean, self-catered hotel apartments that are good value and in an unbeatable location for visitors keen to experience old Dubai.

Off Khalid bin Walid Road, Bur Dubai. Rooms from 554 dirham. See waterfront-apartments-dubai.com.

FAST FACTS

Getting there

Emirates has a fare to Dubai from Sydney and Melbourne (about 14hr non-stop) for about $1810 low-season return, including tax. This fare allows for stops in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore out of Melbourne and Bangkok out of Sydney; see emirates.com. Australians obtain a free visa on arrival for a stay of up to 30 days.

When to go

Dubai is steamy and sweltering most of the year. The best time to visit is between November and March, when temperatures are moderate — although in the past few years January, once considered the optimum month to visit, has been overcast and rainy.

More information

dubaitourism.ae.

- Telegraph, London

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