Dubai, a destination that rarely stands still, has plenty of outdoor activities and adventures to offer nervous travellers mindful of Covid-19 risks.

Desert oasis

A hot desert wind blows between rows of vast metal warehouses but inside each one the air is fresh and cool and there’s abundant space to enjoy the contents – from sparse galleries with blank white walls showcasing avant-garde art to a trendy plant-based café and stylish community spaces.

Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue is a marble factory-turned arty warehouse destination in the Al Quoz industrial district and attracts a cool crowd of locals. When I step into A4 I realise I could be anywhere (though most likely somewhere like Brooklyn or Shoreditch) but I hadn’t expected a co-working space like this in Dubai. 

The minimalist room is festooned with green plants, the smell of fresh coffee permeates the air and there’s a gentle soundtrack of tapping keyboards. People are perched on stylish chairs gazing at Apple laptops and up the industrial staircase a group from a well-known soft drink brand are brainstorming. 

One of the effects of Covid-19 on the developed world has been the rise of remote working and it’s likely to make plenty more hubs like this pop up, full of digital nomads whose travels now combine business and pleasure. 

Thinking outside the box

Alserkal Avenue is just one of the emirate’s arty destinations and a great place to work or hang out without worrying about crowds.

Recently opened in Downtown Dubai is another hybrid venue, Foundry. Part art hub, part co-working space, it pays homage to the city’s creative scene with sculptural works and murals by local artists, a dedicated podcast room for audiophiles, weekly art tours, movie nights, workshops and community pop-ups.

Other arty options include Jameel Arts Centre, a creative space with an open-air sculpture park, and the beachfront district of La Mer in Jumeirah – one of Dubai’s most recent and prolific street art hubs, blending murals and graffiti with a plethora of restaurants serving international cuisine on shaded terraces. 

Dubai experienced a rush of visitors around the turn of the year and no wonder – a combination of scorching temperatures, relatively short flights times and being on the government’s corridor list made it an attractive option. When the UK’s travel corridors open again Dubai will remain a great option for sun-seekers.

The destination is one of many to be awarded the WTTC’s Safe Travels stamp and Dubai Tourism’s Senior Manager of International Operations, Shahab Shayan, says a robust strategy was put into place from the start of the pandemic. 

“The key priority was to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our residents and guests,” she says. “We also launched the ‘Dubai Assured’ compliance programme, awarded to tourism and retail establishments that comply with health and safety protocols; inspectors check venues every two weeks to ensure compliance.”

While Dubai is well known for its luxury hotels and fiercely air-conditioned shopping malls, there are a number of outdoor attractions which will sate those still unsure of mixing outside their bubble indoors. 

Top outdoor experiences

Shifting sands: The classic Dubai excursion, a desert safari offers a taste of the region’s authentic Bedouin culture with dinner under the stars as well as the chance to explore the dunes by car or camel, witness the local wildlife or even take to a hot air balloon for a bird’s eye view.

Back in time: The Al Fahidi Historical district is a window into the very different Dubai of the mid-19th century. Located along the Dubai Creek, its sand-coloured buildings are topped with wind towers which provide natural air-conditioning, and visitors will find museums, craft shops, cultural exhibits, courtyard cafes and art galleries.

Get high in Hatta: Hidden in the Hajar Mountains, the region of Hatta has long been enjoyed by locals as a retreat away from the city hustle and bustle, but has more recently become an adventure hub. Visitors can try mountain biking, axe-throwing, zorbing and even kayaking on the Hatta Dam and, if they stay overnight, experience sleeping in a trailer at the Sedr Trailers Resort. Far from ‘trailer trash’, this swanky modern resort’s American-style converted airstreams are stationary but positioned among ragged red peaks with striking views of the Hatta Dam.

Hit the creek: Around the corner from Al Fahidi, Port Saeed at the Dubai Creek is a pleasant spot for people watching and spotting traders transporting various goods in wooden boats. The best way to see this relatively unchanged part of Dubai is to step aboard a traditional Abra boat and get out on the water.

Life’s a beach: There’s plenty of sand to go around in Dubai and most beaches aren’t crowded. Black Palace Beach (also known as Secret Beach) has perfect views of the Burj Al Arab but is often deserted because it has no facilities.

What's new

Accommodation: Hotel Indigo Dubai Downtown opened in October, close to the Dubai Mall. The 269 rooms feature bespoke shisha lamps and carved wooden wardrobes while the bathrooms pay homage to the country’s pearl diving heritage. Eateries include healthy Open Sesame and Orange Feels, which has a vast selection of Aperol-based cocktails.

Sofitel Dubai The Obelisk is attached to WAFI Mall. The 498 rooms and 97 serviced apartments have floor-to-ceiling windows with views of old Dubai, Dubai Creek and the skyline. Guests can dine on French cuisine at Brasserie Boulud or taste the Far East at Taiko. There is also a Sofitel spa, gym, an outdoor pool with private cabanas and a kids club.

Address Jumeirah Beach is the first beach resort from the brand. Situated in Jumeirah Beach Residences overlooking the Gulf, the property has a Spa, rooftop infinity pool, private beach, gym and spa and dining options include Lebanese/Brazilian fusion restaurant Li’Brasil.

ME Dubai is designed by the world-renowned late architect Dame Zaha Hadid and is in The Opus by Omniyat building in the Burj Khalifa district. It has 74 rooms, 19 suites, a Spa and three food spots but guests can also explore the building’s F&B outlets including ROKA, a branch of London’s Japanese robatayaki restaurant. 

Attractions: Quranic Park opened last year in Khawaneej, a rural residential area on the edge of city. The tranquil outdoor spot is inspired by Islam’s holy book and has lots of gardens to explore, paths to cycle and picnic spots. 

The Palm Fountain is Palm Jumeirah’s latest waterfront attraction, spread over 14,000 square feet of seawater. The fountain’s super shooter reaches 105 metres and comes alive with over 3,000 multi-coloured LED lights. 

The world’s highest Ferris wheel is due to open in Spring 2021 on Bluewaters Island. Ain Dubai is 210 metres high and bordered by shopping malls, restaurants, residences and a souk.

EKart Zabeel opened in December  on the rooftop of The Dubai Mall Zabeel. The environmentally friendly electric karts are on an race open-air track with views of the Burj Khalifa.

Book it with...

If Only

A five-day all-inclusive private beach stay in the family-friendly JA Beach Hotel is from £1,049pp and includes flights and transfers. The hotel is part of JA The Resort with neighbouring JA Palm Tree Court, has a private beach and a huge range of activities and dining options.