It’s mind-boggling to think that this Middle Eastern megalopolis of gravity-defying skyscrapers, world-class shopping malls, and man-made islands—all at the edge of an endless desert—was once a lowly fishing village. The wealth you’ll now find in Dubai has earned it the nickname “City of Gold,” but there’s beauty and tranquility to be found in all that extravagance. From a no-expenses-spared seaside palace to a secluded desert oasis, these 11 hotels top our must-stay list.
Bulgari Resort Dubai
Last year’s biggest news in the name of luxury came at the tail-end of 2017 with the debut of the Bulgari Resort Dubai. Skyline-altering skyrise this is not: no building is more than four stories tall, allowing rooms and suites to spread out luxuriously along the private beach that fronts Jumeirah Bay—each with its own balcony, soaking tub, and walk-in closet. Decadence is found at every turn, from the spa’s gold-tile indoor pool and vitality pools to the yacht club—a Bulgari first—complete with its own members’ lounge and 50-slip harbor.
Atlantis, the Palm
This 1,539-room, $1.5 billion mega-resort may have adopted the scale and title of its Bahamas counterpart, but its lavishness far exceeds anything you’d find in the Caribbean. We’re talking next-level amenities—a 42-acre water park, a giant aquarium filled with some 65,000 sea creatures, a shopping mall exclusively stocking designer brands—and drama, drama everywhere, from the sky-high lobby with its fish-scale-chiseled columns and wraparound mural to the sheer range of guest rooms, including Underwater Suites whose windows look directly into the aquarium. But beware: all that fun comes with a price—and a crowd.
Burj Al Arab Jumeirah
Most hotels that’d self-describe themselves as “seven-star” deserve an eye roll, but not the Burj Al Arab. The hotel’s sail-like façade—now an icon of the city itself—has become a symbol of the no-holds-barred level of luxury Dubai has come to embody. Inside, 202 duplex suites are visions of marble and gold; one of the nine restaurants and bars is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling aquariums; and, at the Assawan Spa, guests float between pampering treatments and a Roman-inspired amphitheater serving drinks and snacks. If you dream it up, Burj will deliver; if not, their fleet of Rolls Royces are on hand for taking you wherever it is you need to get it.
Jumeirah Dal Al Masyaf at Madinat
Of the many rooms at Dubai’s Madinat Jumeirah Resort, those at Dar Al Masyaf are by far the cream of the crop. The only way to reach them is by wooden boat through the resort’s waterways, but the effort is worth the reward: 283 rooms are divvied up among 29 two-story summer houses arranged around a private pool, each with their own butlers and direct access to either the beach or the fountain-filled gardens.
Armani Hotel Dubai
The debut hotel of a fashion powerhouse like Giorgio Armani was bound to break a few design barriers. In this case, a 160-room sleep of extraordinary sophistication in the world’s largest building. Floors 1-16, 38, and 39 of the Burj Khalifa are home to the Armani Hotel Dubai, which pairs Armani’s signature subdued palette with high doses of drama. Just look to the C-shaped leather couch and Arabic archways in the entrance, curved fabric walls and hidden closets in the guest rooms, and 12,000-square-foot spa. Elsewhere, a nightclub, a gift shop stocking Armani’s Privé collection, and an arsenal of restaurants including Armani/Amal, which serves Indian cuisine alongside views of the Dubai Fountain.
XVA Art Hotel
Dubai’s first boutique hotel, which occupies a 19th-century courtyard mansion, is a refreshingly intimate and artistic departure from Dubai’s more ostentatious digs. Just 14 individually designed rooms surround three interior courtyards and are done up with original art and Middle Eastern furniture. While standard amenities are limited to an albeit excellent vegetarian restaurant and café (but no gym or alcohol), XVA impresses in other ways. A satellite building has been converted into an acclaimed art gallery that regularly hosts lectures and film screenings and there’s even an on-site tailor ready to alter your latest souk purchase.
Al Maha Resort
If you’ve ever dreamed of spending the night among the dunes at a Bedouin camp, you can’t do any better than Al Maha. Think of it as the Burj al Arab of the desert: 42 tent-like (and air-conditioned) suites are kitted out with Arabian furniture and antiques, mini-bars, and sun decks ringing private plunge pools, and look out over the red dunes of the Dubai Conservation Reserve—a sanctuary for resident oryx, camels, and gazelles. Privacy here is paramount, but if and when you do pine for human interaction, you can sign up for a wildlife safari or falconry lesson.
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Bab al Shams
A far less pricey—but no less magical—alternative to Al Maha can be found at Bab al Shams (“doorway to the sun”), a fort-like, low-rise oasis built from adobe brick among the desert sands. Like the structure itself, its 113 rooms blend echo their surroundings with sand-hued stone floors and furniture and red Persian rugs—not that you’ll want to spend much time in them. The true emphasis here is on experiencing the desert: take a dip in the pool, dine beneath the stars at one of the handful of open-air restaurants, or set aside time for camel riding or sunset yoga.
Like the Luxor in Las Vegas, this larger-than-life pyramid sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of Dubai’s cityscape. Interiors, however, are anything but tacky. Each of the 200+ rooms are elegant takes on Middle Eastern design, with balconies (the best of which face the Burj Khalifa), mashrabiya motifs, and butler service. Its three swimming pools means you’ll have a chance to escape (or join) the kiddos, while the Raffles Spa is a must for the brand’s signature facials. (Here, do like the locals do and order the one that incorporates Egyptian gold.) The restaurants are excellent—and serve everything from Japanese to steak and seafood—but many of the guests you’ll see are here to fuel up before a night at the resident nightclub, Solitaire.
One&Only Royal Mirage
The One&Only Royal Mirage is arguably Dubai’s most romantic stay, and you’ll know it everywhere you look, from the beautiful mosaic-tiled pool to the domes and arches of its palatial buildings to the symmetry of its palm tree-filled gardens and classic, understated guest rooms decorated with cream-colored carpets and gold accents. After time spent in the hammam and Moroccan restaurant, head to the sugar-white beach to catch some sun or hop on the water taxi for a journey across the bay to the other One&Only.
Anantara The Palm Dubai
Southern Asia meets the South Pacific at Dubai’s first Anantara outpost, on the eastern edge of Palm Jumeirah. The resort’s pagoda roofs and on-call tuk tuks are straight out of Thailand, while its overwater villas are a first for the UAE. (There’s also lagoon-access rooms if you don’t manage to snag an overwater number.) You could get away with never leaving the property—and why would you, what with its private beach, four pools, seven restaurants, and tricked-out spa? No wonder it’s a hit with families, groups, and couples seeking an all-in-one getaway.