Dubai goes by many names: the City of Gold, the Shopping Capital of the Middle East, the Tallest City in the World. It seems it's a city able to collect superlatives with an easy breeze. From a pearl-diving village to a global metropolis in just a few generations, Dubai stands as the extreme example of what boundless creativity (and endless money) can achieve: a 21st-century Arabian dream made real.
Sitting on the tip the Oman Peninsular, its skyline almost floats above the sultry Arabian Gulf. In fact, its most iconic building is a sail of sorts. The Burj Al Arab—a curve of glass and white facades shimmering in the sea—is the world's most luxurious hotel. Dubai also has the tallest building on the planet—the awe-inspiring Burj Khalifa—and some of its biggest shopping centres. Unmatched wealth and splendour have brought the tourists flooding in. The result: a city that is incredibly rich in hotels. Let's check them out.
In a city adopted by the super-rich as their personal shopping centre, it's best to plan your stay in Dubai carefully. Room rates vary widely among its varied districts, from the scarily stratospheric to the merely giddy. It's important to seek out a hotel district that suits your inclinations—and your budget.
Realistically, there are some places you can really only gaze at (unless lottery wins have recently blessed your bank account). Jumeirah is one. Its cluster of super-luxe hotels is capped by the seven-star opulence of the Burj Al Arab. Most hotels are well beyond the reach of all but the business mogul or Arabian prince.
You can share in the glorious opulence of Jumeirah, however, without emptying the bank. Staying in the less exclusive district of Al Barsha, just to the north, is one way. Of course, it too has its share of five-star accommodation fabulousness. But there's a stack of middle-rated hotels that are reasonably priced, too. The beaches are only a short trek away, as is that other wonder of Dubai—the Mall of the Emirates, with its endless shopping and indoor ski resort.
If you want to be closer to the turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf, have a look at the hotels in the Dubai Marina. Here, glittering hotels tower over white-sand beaches, while palatial complexes look down on ranks of super-yachts. And Jumeirah, with its astonishing man-made island of Palm Jumeirah, forms a sumptuous backdrop. Even better, many of the Marina's hotel rooms won't cost you the earth, either.
Skip north to Bur Dubai, and you'll find hotels that are generally large, unassuming and standard-priced, with occasional standouts having remarkably affordable rates. This is where the elegantly reconstructed district of Al Bastakiya is found, as well as several impressive museums.
For genuine history, though, head north into Deira. This one-time ancient Arab port still has fragments of that heritage, with souks selling silks, stalls selling fish and a harbour sheltering a fleet of traditional dhows. The hotels may be less extravagant here—and the prices reflect that—but this hotel district is probably closest to the historic soul of Dubai. And when in a city of post-modern superlatives, it's no bad thing to touch base, sometimes, with ancient certainties.