Ciao Bella! Italy to Open Travel Corridor with the UAE “Within Days”
Dolce far niente is on the agenda.
There’s big news for those of us suffering from an unshakeable, all-encompassing state of when-can-I-pack-my-suitcase-and-go-on-holiday wanderlust. After the Italian government confirmed this week that Italy and the UAE would operate flights for business purposes from May 18, The Gagglerhas learned that a travel corridor for tourists between the two countries is set to be up and running “within days”.
Italy formally reopened its borders on Sunday, May 16 for restriction-free travel for visitors from several countries – EU member states and the UK included – provided they present a negative PCR test, show proof of full vaccination, or recovered from COVID-19 in the last six months.
“I’m very glad to say that in the next few days, the same COVID-tested flights that are operating from a select number of countries will be extended to the UAE,” revealed Giuseppe Finocchiaro, Consul General of Italy in Dubai. “Being one of the countries with the highest vaccination rates, I’d like to commend the very effective anti-COVID policies, including the fast-paced vaccination campaign implemented by the UAE government. In pre-COVID times, Italy was one of the top destinations for travellers from the UAE, so it was of utmost importance for us to relaunch tourism between our countries, with all safety measures required by the current situation in place. We will be truly thrilled to soon see UAE tourists back in Italy.”
While no opening date for the travel corridor has been announced, Italy is keen to join the likes of Greece, Georgia, Serbia and the Seychelles in allowing UAE tourists to enjoy its legendary hospitality and reignite its tourism industry once again.
“Italy is back – and I hope that our government will be able to confirm the opening of the UAE travel corridor before the end of May,” Alessandro Cabella, Managing Director of Rome Cavalieri, told The Gaggler. “Although no confirmed date has been announced, once the travel corridor is opened, no quarantine will be required when a visitor from the UAE arrives in Italy, as long as they can prove that they are fully vaccinated or have a negative PCR test.”
With Italy sticking to rigorous international safety regulations – much like the UAE – visitors should expect strict rules regarding health and safety in place all over the country. “Wearing face masks, both indoors and outdoors is mandatory, social distancing and restricted capacity allowances are being enforced, and there are nighttime curfews, meaning the earlier-than-usual closing times of most restaurants and bars must be respected,” added Alessandro, who oversees seven of Hilton’s most luxurious properties across Italy.
“We launched the Hilton Clean Stay programme last year to protect both customers and staff from any kind of virus contamination, and ensure the highest level of sanitation is on offer in our hotels,” he continued. ‘This programme was implemented across all of our hotels last March, and it will continue to be in place for the foreseeable future – it’s vital to guarantee the maximum level of hygienic security for everyone who comes to stay at one of our properties.”
With the UAE’s rapid vaccination programme to thank for our highly anticipated reconnection with Italy, we’re keeping everything crossed that similarly awesome news from other countries will be revealed in the coming days. Watch this space!
It comes as no surprise that a day trip to Ephesus remains one of Turkey’s most popular attractions; not only are its Hellenistic and Roman ruins both spectacular and well-preserved, but it’s also easily accessible from the city of Izmir. But therein lies the problem. The average tourist will hightail it out of Izmir following a day trip to this archaeological site – and that’s just wrong.
For the uninitiated, Izmir is Turkey’s third largest and most liberal city – and proud of it. Historically known as the Greek city of Smyrna, its significance as a port city continues due to its position along the Gulf of Izmir, resulting in a vibrant seafront promenade known as Kordon. But that’s just the beginning of all it has to offer.
While some of the largest hotel chains have set up shop in Izmir, the intimately scaled Key Hotel comes highly recommended for one reason alone: location, location, location. Standing on the Kordon, this luxury property is housed in what was once the Central Bank building and features 34 elegantly furnished rooms accented with modern amenities. Oh, the breakfast spread only adds to its appeal.
For something closer to all the action, think L’agora Old Town Hotel & Bazaar. Another four-stay property, it resides in a 300-year-old building amidst the sights and sounds of Kemeraltı, one of Turkey’s most fascinating bazaars – but more on that later. While the rooms here are clean and comfortable, its claim to fame is the atmospheric courtyard where great food and live music collide.
Izmir is one of those places where life happens on the streets – whether you’re dining in the bohemian district of Alsançak or immersing yourself into local culture on Synagogue Street, you’ll gain plenty of insights in no time. No vicinity, however, is as ideally suited to people-watching as the aforementioned Kordon. Here, the city’s young and loved up linger alongside fishermen, cafégoers, and street food vendors. It’s also where history buffs will find Ataturk Museum, a small yet decently appointed museum dedicated to the life of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder and first president of Turkey.
If panoramic views of the city are what you’re after, the Asansör (Turkish for ‘elevator’) offers them for free. Built in 1907 by a Jewish philanthropist to assist elders and pregnant women grappling with the staircase between Mithatpaşa Street and Halil Rifat Quarter, it’s housed within a 51-metre tower built of bricks imported from Marseille. Another historic landmark worth visiting? Izmir Clock Tower. Built in 1901 and standing 25 metres high, it’s widely considered the symbol of Izmir. Admittedly, taking in its ornate Ottoman-style of architecture can be tricky considering the many distractions around it – selfie-takers, flocks of pigeons, and kids chasing said pigeons – but it’s easy to see why it once commanded attention.
The clock tower also leads nicely to what can arguably be described as Izmir’s most popular tourist attraction: Kemeraltı. This iconic bazaar dates back to the 17th century and continues to have it all – shops, synagogues, mosques, traditional coffeehouses, artisan workshops, and enough dining outlets to leave you feeling overwhelmed. Make a beeline for Ayşa Boşnak Börekçisi, which ranks amongst the top ten restaurants in all of Turkey and serves some of the best salads you’ll ever eat. Incidentally, tasteful souvenirs and objets d’art await in this area at İzmirShop, about a two-minute walk away. To call the chaotic Kemeraltı a labyrinth would be an understatement, so just go with it and relish the joy of getting lost.
Considering that Izmir has been home to Greeks, Armenians, Levantines, and Turks over the years, its cuisine is an attraction in itself. Dostlar Fırını, for example, is famous for its many varieties of boyoz, a fried pastry of sorts concocted hundreds of years ago by Jewish bakers. Çelebi Unlu Mamuller, meanwhile, is the ultimate address for bombas. Between fillings like chocolate, coconut, pistachio, and sour cherry, this beloved local haunt manages to do wonders with a bit of soft dough.
Elsewhere, simit (a Turkish take on bagels) and midye dolma (rice-stuffed mussels) are other street food staples worth trying. And with Izmir’s location along the Aegean Sea, its fare is dominated by achingly fresh seafood accented with Mediterranean flavours – and every budget is catered to. Deniz Restaurant has understandably earned a spot on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, while Soirée brings with it the bonus of striking sunset views from Konak Pier.
Izmir is not just a cosmopolitan city – it’s cultured, too. Set inside the beautiful French Honorary Consulate Building, Arkas Art Center features the private collection of Turkish businessman Lucien Arkas and is a must-visit for contemporary art enthusiasts. The ongoing Myths and Dreams exhibition has taken over both floors and all nine exhibition rooms, showcasing works by the likes of Swiss visual artist Daniele Buetti, Turkish multimedia artist Gizem Candan, and Argentinian sculptor Jack Vanarsky.
Broader in scope and often overlooked by tourists, the Izmir History and Art Museum is set within a sprawling urban park known as Kültürpark. This one’s anchored in ancient artefacts, exhibiting an impressive range of ceramic works, coins, jewellery, sculptural fragments, friezes, and more across three pavilions. And with excavations relentlessly carried out in various parts of this region, you can expect to encounter traces of even the Archaic and Classical periods.
When in Izmir
An evening spent at a hole-in-the-wall is the definitive antidote to a long day of tourist must-dos and more mainstream attractions, and an easy way to get a real feel of Izmir. Two favourites? Münire and Karga Cafe. The former is decked out with all manner of vintage kitsch and serves over 20 different flavours of Turkish soda pop – some downright unexpected, like mastic gum. The latter is a no-frills live music venue that comes highly recommended if you’re looking to smoke nargile, have a couple of drinks, and mingle with the locals who live up to their easygoing reputation.
We’re here to help you plan for a fun weekend with family!
Eid al-Adha is a mere weeks away, bringing with it another long weekend to enjoy. Of course, it’s always recommended to plan ahead as venues across the city book up – fast – around this festive holiday. Here, we round up a few fun options to consider.
Celebrate the Eid holiday by visiting Dubai Opera. Sitting in the heart of the Opera District in Downtown Dubai, this architectural wonder is host to several art and cultural events such as theatre performances, opera, ballet productions, concerts, conferences, and exhibitions. This 2,000-seater establishment has the unparalleled ability to transform into three different venue formats: a theatre, a concert hall, and an event hall, enabling it to host a wide variety of events.
Dubai Opera, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Blvd, Downtown Dubai, 04 440 8888, dubaiopera.com
Take your long weekend to greater heights by visiting the Insta-famous Ain Dubai. View the Dubai skyline at 820 feet above ground in the daytime or during the evening. This enormous structure boasts air-conditioned cabin rooms that show 360-degree views of the city. Choose between shared and private cabins before tucking into a wide variety of delectable food and beverages.
For a more family-friendly affair, take a drive down to Al Wasl and see the majestic wonders of nature at Green Planet. Home to more than 3,000 species of flora and fauna, this indoor ecosystem offers visitors an immersive tour of the jungle. Here, you can grab the opportunity to learn about birds, reptiles, sloths, and sugar gliders up close with an experienced guide. Once you and the family have explored its attractions, make a quick stop and refuel at the rainforest-themed café onsite.
If you prefer a more laidback way to celebrate Eid, you’ll never go wrong with a staycation at one of the premier hotels in the city. Standing at 484 metres tall, Gevora Hotel holds the Guinness World Record for being the tallest hotel in the world. Our tip? Head up to the rooftop restaurant Highest View Lounge and order the always-popular T-bone steak, accented by views of the city, of course.
If you’re an avid fan of theme parks, head down to Dubai Parks and Resorts and visit Motiongate, where there’s always something for everyone. You can visit motion picture sets in real life, try extreme rides, enjoy the colourful parade, and more. Oh, and remember to drop by the merchandise store on your way out to see its wide selection of cool movie memorabilia.
Motiongate, Dubai Parks and Resorts, Sheikh Zayed Rd, 04 820 0000, motiongate.com
Travelling – spending time in nature and exploring new cultures especially – is a great way to get away from the daily grind and recharge our batteries. We often come back from vacations with great memories and souvenirs, but have you considered what you leave behind in the places you visit?
Our adventures often come with a heavy eco-cost, and single-use plastics are the apparent culprits. Many countries lack proper waste segregation and recycling mechanisms, so disposable products like water bottles and shopping bags can irreversibly pollute their soil and water. This becomes even worse if you are exploring mountains or beaches, as you could inadvertently wreak havoc on fragile ecosystems in the name of convenience.
What does it mean to vacation sustainably?
It is our ethical and environmental responsibility to not burden our hosts with the duty of cleaning up after us. Thus, the goal of sustainable vacationing is to leave a light carbon footprint. Be conscious about your consumption as it can add to the waste management crisis.
The simple rule of sustainable vacationing is ‘no plastic, no pollution’. This can be done by replacing plastic and synthetic products in your luggage with eco-friendly ones. If you are new to sustainable practices, this can be quite difficult – even seasoned sustainability warriors can find it frustrating! Enter: My Eco Souk, an online shop for all things eco-friendly and recycled. Here, we share our top product picks from the souk for a sustainable holiday.
Reusable Water Bottles
Disposable water bottles are a common fixture in most vacations thanks to their convenience and local water safety or quality concerns. Still, they can be a menace to any ecosystem. Did you know that it takes roughly 1,000 years for a single water bottle to decompose? Switching to a stainless steel or hardwearing glass version is the simplest way you can prevent pollution from single-use water bottles.
Carrying a hot liquid like coffee in cheap plastic cups is not exactly appealing – not only do they pollute the environment, but they also leach chemicals that you could ingest. Even paper cups might not be as innocent as they seem. Nearly 6.5 billion trees are cut down annually to manufacture compostable paper cups, so why not carry a reusable coffee mug or collapsible steel cup on your next trip?
Shopping is a must during vacations, especially as it’s an opportunity to support local artisans. But shopping with disposable plastic bags is always a big no for anyone interested in going green. Most plastic bags end up clogging landfills and leach microplastics into soil and groundwater. Instead, pack a couple of canvas or cotton shopping bags. You can easily fold them and carry them around in your backpack or handbag.
Vacations often mean eating on the go. Unfortunately, disposable cutlery like spoons or forks is often too small and too light for recycling and, when disposed of improperly, can be harmful to marine and wildlife. We recommend steel cutlery as a budget-friendly alternative as it can be washed and reused safely as many times as needed. And if travelling light is a priority? Pick compostable or biodegradable cutlery made from materials like sugar pulp or bamboo.
Packing snacks is a must, especially if you’re travelling with kids. But how are you packing them? Do you use styrofoam or plastic containers? Or ziplock bags? Not only do such materials contribute to local pollution, but they also contain chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA), which have also been linked to cancer. This year, ditch them for eco-friendly alternatives like recyclable containers or reusable silicon bags. Another interesting idea is to carry beeswax wraps instead of using aluminium foil or saran wrap.
Humanity adds roughly 600 million kg in plastic toothbrush waste each year and, because plastic is practically indestructible, almost every toothbrush made since 1930 still exists. So, what can we replace them with? Bamboo toothbrushes. They’re ideal to take with you on holiday and even toss away at the end without any guilt as bamboo is completely biodegradable. Moreover, it is a fast-growing crop that does not pressure water resources.
Obviously, the plastic packaging of our personal care products is a threat to the environment, but the chemicals within can cause significant harm, too. Around 14,000 tonnes of sunscreens are washed into the oceans every year and damage underwater habitats. VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) – found in hairspray and perfumes – can cause air pollution and add to carbon emissions, so start packing personal care products that are natural and organic. Carrying soap and shampoo bars will also save you from lugging multiple bottles around.
Disposable sanitary products are a major pollutant, and there is nothing convenient about them when it comes to their consequences on the planet. A disposable pad or tampon will take around 500 to 800 years to disintegrate. Moreover, they cannot be recycled as they contain both organic and synthetic materials. We suggest you opt for a reusable menstrual cup to not only prevent pollution, but also gain major savings. Alternatively, you could replace your disposable pads or tampons with biodegradable ones.
Plastic straws, although small in size, have big environmental consequences. Single-use plastic straws cannot be recycled or broken down naturally, so they end up as microplastics and release harmful chemicals into the soil and groundwater. They are particularly problematic for aquatic animals, who often confuse them for food. Thankfully, you can now carry steel, copper, or biodegradable straws that you can use multiple times. Another fun option would be edible straws – watch your kids chomp on their straws after finishing their drink!
Doing your own laundry when you are on vacation can not only add to your savings, but also bring down the amount of luggage that you need to lug around. But there is a catch. Most commercial laundry detergents contain harsh chemicals that damage your clothes and add significant pollutants to water bodies. For the most practical and eco-safe option during your trip, try a laundry egg. It is compact, chemical-free, and does the job of both detergent and conditioner.
On the lookout for fun, family-friendly activities this season? You’re in luck. Dubai offers an extensive variety of both outdoor and indoor activities perfect for all ages. Whether it’s to get the adrenaline pumping or to recharge and unwind, we’ve got you covered.
Mountain & Desert Safari Tour
Experience an immersive ecotourism tour with the whole family this summer and explore the Dubai wilderness. Book the customisable mountain and desert safari tour by Platinum Heritage and embark on an awe-inspiring journey through the mountains and wadis. Take your tour to the next level by adding hiking, cycling, or even swimming to your itinerary. You never know, you might chance upon a wild Arabian oryx or majestic gazelles.
Mountain & Desert Safari Tour – Platinum Heritage, Office 1303, Control Tower, Motor City, 04 440 9827, platinum-heritage.com
Anantara The Palm Dubai Resort
Make the most out of the summer season at Anantara The Palm Dubai Resort. This gem in the heart of Palm Jumeirah takes pride in being home to the only overwater villas in the United Arab Emirates. Furthermore, this lush family-friendly resort offers three temperature-controlled swimming lagoons, various water activities for all ages, and wellness programmes perfect for a relaxing getaway.
Anantara The Palm Dubai Resort, East Crescent, Palm Jumeirah, 04 567 8888, [email protected]
Take your summer getaway to the waters at Laguna Waterpark. There’s exciting attractions for everyone – surf, splash, and slide the whole day with the Dubai skyline as your backdrop. Pro tip: don’t miss out on the fun and iconic ‘Free Fall’. Enjoy the scenic views from the glass capsule sky box platform and let the floor drop under you for a straight plunge down the splashdown lane!
Missing winter? Look no further than Ski Dubai. It’s a massive 22,500-square-metre resort situated inside Mall of the Emirates that offers skiing and snowboarding activities, an elaborate snow display, and best of all – penguins. Cool down with the family this summer and take your snow boots for a spin at this beloved Dubai destination.
Ski Dubai, Mall of the Emirates, Sheikh Zayed Road, Al Barsha 1, 600 599 905, skidxb.com
Meet some of the cutest, most intelligent aquatic and avian creatures at the Dubai Dolphinarium this summer. Settle in as bottlenose dolphins and fur seals execute breathtaking acrobatic feats at UAE’s only dolphin and seal show. Then, take your trip up a notch and be captivated by a wide variety of birds doing the coolest tricks sure to wow the whole family.
Hate it or hate to admit it, but it took a pandemic to prove that “immunity inequality” (as Bill and Melinda put it) is very real. However, long before coronavirus put forth the debate of vaccine passport privilege was the matter of passport privilege, and it continues to reek of hypocrisy for countless reasons.
That’s why the term ‘visa on arrival’ is music to the ears of so many. Not only does it bypass the tedious paperwork needed for the average tourist visa application, but it also allows everyone the joy of travelling on impulse. Sound appealing? Here’s a list of destinations where UAE residents can get a visa on arrival. Admittedly, it’s not an extensive list, but it has it all – history, gastronomy, culture, nature, and even naughty-looking nuts.
Head to: Baku
Stay at: Fairmont Baku
The capital of Azerbaijan is so much more than “the next Dubai”. In fact, its deeply historic Icheri Sheher begs to differ. Not only does this open-air museum host domed bathhouses, sandstone caravanserais, and storied mosques, but it’s also home to Maiden Tower and Palace of the Shirvanshahs – both listed in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Add Baku’s mild weather, a meal at museum-meets-restaurant Şirvanşah, a trip to Zaha Hadid’s iconic Heydar Aliyev Center, and the countless cafés and boutiques of Fountains Square to the mix, and you’re set.
Bonus: It takes only two hours, 55 minutes to fly to Baku.
Head to: Kazbegi
Stay at: Rooms Hotels Kazbegi
Most UAE residents never make it beyond Tbilisi – but should. In fact, a hectic capital city is hardly the place to take a time-out. We recommend enjoying Georgia’s cultural and geographical diversity by heading to Kazbegi, a small valley town steeped in ancient mythology and officially named Stepantsminda. Here await opportunities to stargaze, soak in hot springs, hike across gorges, and more. History buffs will love the 14th century Gergeti Trinity Church that is located at an elevation of 2,170 metres and boasts Mount Kazbek – a now-extinct volcano – as its backdrop.
Bonus: Tbilisi, a Silk Road crossroads, represents the epitome of East meets West.
Head to: Vakkaru
Stay at: Vakkaru Maldives
Unlike most travel destinations, where you stay in the Maldives is downright crucial – it can make or break your trip. Enter: Vakkaru Maldives, where you will indulge in a level of luxury that you’d be embarrassed to acknowledge back in the real world. And while white-sand beaches and turquoise-blue waters are a given, this property stands out because of its location within Baa Atoll, the only UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in the Maldives. Elsewhere, a sense of personality comes courtesy of Assouline coffee table books, farm-to-table experiences, and efforts towards sourcing educational materials for the local school.
Bonus: Guests can take a speedboat to Thulhaadhoo – the only island where Maldivians still create traditional lacquer artefacts that once catered exclusively to nobility – to explore authentic culture and purchase souvenirs.
Head to: Praslin
Stay at: Raffles Seychelles
Legend has it that Praslin island is the real-life site of the mythological Garden of Eden. But there’s more. Not only is it the archipelago’s second largest island, but it’s also home to blush-inducing natural wonders. Anse Lazio – one of the world’s most beautiful beaches – happens to be located just around the corner from Raffles Seychelles, while the granite boulders of La Digue are a boat ride away. Most memorable, however, are the fabled Coco de Mer palms at Vallée De Mai nature park. These ancient 40-metre trees produce the world’s heaviest nuts, but it’s their suggestive shape (reminiscent of a woman’s nether regions, to put it politely) that makes them so unique.
Bonus: Creole cuisine is a unique blend of Indian spices, African flavours, and European cooking techniques, making it a tourist attraction in itself.
Let’s admit it: most of us put a lot less spotlight on Father’s Day as compared to the other holidays. It’s an often-overlooked but nonetheless special day that celebrates father figures everywhere, so make your dad feel valued with one (or more!) of these fun ways.
Be a Sport
The month of June comprises some of the biggest sporting events of the year, so shout your support for dad’s favourite team at one of Dubai’s best sports bars. Kickers Sports Bar, conveniently located at Dubai Sports City, has TV screens on every wall so that audiences at this cool joint never miss a spectacular moment of action.
Kickers Sports Bar, Football Zone, Sports Village, Dubai Sports City, 04 448 1001, kickerssportsbar.ae
Make a Splash
If your dad is up for an adventure in the city, take him to a waterpark! Dubai boasts a great number of options that perfect for some well-deserved family time. Aquaventure at Atlantis the Palm features a wide array of slides and thrill rides perfect for beginners and adrenaline junkies alike. Let your dad show off his valour at its most popular attraction: the Leap of Faith. This slide has an 18-metre vertical drop sure to keep the blood pumping. Aquaventure also offers group attractions such as the Aquacondo and Zoomerango that the family can enjoy together.
Aquaventure, Atlantis The Palm, Crescent Road, 04 426 0000, atlantis.com
Take a Ride
Another great way to spend dad’s special day is by taking him on a jetski tour around the city. Treat him to two exciting hours of fun as he takes in the gorgeous views around Jumeirah, Burj Al Arab, Atlantis, and Bluewaters Island while he glides through the turquoise waters of Dubai with his very own personal watercraft.
Ride in Dubai, Jumeirah 4, Al Fintaas St. Fishing Harbor, rideindubai.com, 052 714 2600
Catch a Flick
For the laid-back dads out there, you can’t go wrong with a classic night of entertainment at the movies. Spoil your dad with tickets to the latest action flick – or two – with VOX Cinema’s exclusive ticket offers. Look through its list of partnered banking establishments and avail movie tickets for half the price.
VOX Cinemas, 600 599 905, uae.voxcinemas.com
Celebrate this special day by treating the family to a scrumptious feast of Asian-American fusion dishes. Han Shi Fu at Aloft Dubai Creek is a gem in the heart of the city, offering traditional yet innovative flavours reminiscent of the most popular dishes in Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai, New York, and Los Angeles. Here, the menu boasts a wide array of dim sum, entrees, alcoholic beverages, and more in its well-curated unlimited and à la carte menus.
Han Shi Fu, Aloft City Centre, Deira, 04 228 1075, @hanshifudxb
Experience the wonders of being a tourist in your own town by booking a staycation for the family. It’s a great weekend activity, perfect for dads in need of a little R&R. It’s also an easy way to escape the city grind without the stress of travelling. Bonus: you can up your gifting game by booking a well-deserved full-body massage for your dad.
Browse some of our favourite staycation spots here.
Take your dad shopping for great staple pieces for his wardrobe, trading in his old and worn-out shirts during a fun day of mall-hopping at Dubai’s many shopping destinations. Oh, and be sure to watch out for amazing promotions during the Dubai Summer Surprises usually happening right around June – just in time for Father’s Day!
Learn more about countrywide shopping events here.
Cut ‘N’ Shave
Make a huge difference to your dad’s grooming routine by treating him to a luxurious shave at 1847. This establishment is one of the Middle East’s most exclusive men’s grooming lounges, dedicated to providing premium services from haircuts to facials and more at its 12 locations across Dubai. Give your dad the pampering he deserves and book him in for the comprehensive ‘Murdock London’ shave, 1847’s signature service.
Looking to treat an outdoorsy dad? Go sightseeing in Dubai’s deserts by joining a safari tour, which you can easily customise by choosing from a number of fun activities – dune bashing, quad biking, and buggy riding included. Have your dad immerse in the culture while experiencing the endless thrills that the desert has to offer. Win-win.
Summer’s here, and schools will be closed before you know it, resulting in that all-too-familiar feeling of restlessness. But jetting off to a foreign destination isn’t always an option, which is why we’ve scoured the city of Dubai for a handful of hidden gems, each of which caters to all ages. Win-win.
1. Courtyard Playhouse
For those who think Dubai lacks culture, listen up. Independent theatre Courtyard Playhouse, located in Al Quoz, is where it all happens – acting classes, improv workshops, theatrical productions by amateur theatre groups, and more. Culture vultures will love National Theatre Live, an initiative by National Theatre to broadcast the best of British theatre live from the London stage to cinemas around the world.
And as Courtyard Playhouse is a partner venue, past screenings have included the likes of Fleabag, Hamlet, and Hedda Gabler. The ultimate family-friendly offering, meanwhile, are the highly interactive Improvised Kids’ Storytime sessions held every Saturday. They’re especially popular amongst families as children aged 4-11 can get in on the action, volunteering on stage or directing the actions of the actors, resulting in a wonderfully whimsical afternoon every time.
It’s no secret that art is easily one of the best ways to express oneself – or just a great way to while away the hours during summer. Enter: thejamjar, a community arts space rooted in supporting the development of Dubai’s arts scene through educational initiatives, community projects, and more. Tucked away in Alserkal Avenue, the studio hosts everything from guided DIY sessions to classes that cover drawing techniques and even workshops on connecting with your deeper self through art.
Young ones, meanwhile, are welcome to attend the bi-weekly Jam Time sessions where anyone over the age of four can paint for two hours together and take home the artworks. And if your kids are even younger? Opt for Toddlers Artsploration, which serve as bonding sessions between toddlers (ages 1-3) and their guardians while helping them develop their motor skills.
To walk into the intimately sized History of Cinema Museum is to step into a world of mechanical wonders. A hidden gem in every sense of the word, it’s open by appointment only and discreetly located in Barsha Heights, chronicling the progression of visual entertainment from its inception to the advent of early cinema through a collection of over 300 antiques.
The magic of the moving image comes to life through interactive exhibits that take visitors on a journey through time and technology – they can peep into an 18th century peep box or turn the reel of an early 20th century mutoscope to see the flicker effect. As for the rarest piece? A toy magic lantern with a 1001 Arabian Nights theme from Germany circa 1860. A guided tour, for obvious reasons, comes highly recommended.
Artisan chocolatier Mirzam offers so much more than its beautifully wrapped creations. Workshops and tours are also offered at its facility, so there’s always something to look forward to – like the Coffee & Cocoa Pairing Workshop, for example. This one’s a must for anyone who loves chocolate and coffee as it takes attendees on a sensory journey expertly pairing signature single-origin chocolates from its Maps collection with single drip V60 coffee from El Salvador, Brazil, and Ethiopia.
And if restless kids are in the picture, we suggest booking the Chocolate Factory Tour & Custom Wrapper Making Workshop instead. Fun for all ages, the workshop allows participants to design their own wrappers, which they can then use to wrap their custom chocolate bar, followed by a tour of Mirzam’s chocolate-making process.
While there is no shortage of memorable sunset spots across Dubai, Mazmi Café gets our vote for its backstory and location. Owned by an Italian woman and her Emirati husband, this seriously underrated destination is located in Old Dubai and serves up an honest snapshot of the city – especially as Textile Souk, Shiva Temple, and Grand Mosque are all in the vicinity.
But it’s the must-try homemade gelato (flavours include stracciatella, saffron, and pistachio) that makes it popular with kids and adults alike. And because it sits at the edge of Dubai Creek, Mazmi is not only frequented by residents in need of a change of pace, but it also translates to endless photography opportunities. Incidentally, Mazmi also houses a three-room B&B, where Afghan fabrics, black-and-white photographs depicting fishing scenes, and coffee table books dominate the soothing aesthetic.
Every day brings with it a hit of dopamine as more countries lift travel restrictions, whetting our appetites for adventure and kicking our summer plans into high gear. But exploring a new destination starts with one rather tedious aspect: making a packing list. Here, we do the legwork, putting together a list of tips and hacks by holiday type.
You’re in dire need of some vitamin sea. We hear you. But whether you’re headed to Boracay, Bora Bora, or Zanzibar in search of palm-fringed beaches and crystalline waters, there are a few things to keep in mind.
You’ll need a beach bag, so use yours as a carry-on baggage
A kindle packed with beach reads (why lug books around?)
Two to three pieces of swimwear
One or two cover-ups to take you from the beach to dinner
A light sweater for chilly evenings
A wide-brim sun hat
SPF lip balm
Flip-flops and a pair of dressy sandals
Wet wipes aplenty
An after-sun hair product, like the multitasking Solar Sun Oil by System Professional
City breaks bring with them a bit of everything – food, culture, art, history, and adventure, all in a matter of days. But first? A few packing reminders rooted in comfort and practicality.
A lightweight rain jacket
A handful of statement accessories
Light layers to dress according to weather changes
An anti-theft backpack
A power bank or portable charger
A travel document holder
Dresses – they’re light to pack and can be dressed up or down
A reusable water bottle
A lightweight travel camera
A portable WiFi device
Taking a cruise is a great way to explore several new destinations without long layovers and having to pack and unpack multiple times. Bonus: someone else is responsible for all the planning.
Eveningwear in case dinner comes with a dress code
A hanging toiletry bag with clear pockets
A backpack or beach bag
A travel-size wrinkle-release spray
Necessary medication and a copy of your prescriptions
An international travel adapter
A waterproof phone case
Activated charcoal tablets in case of food poisoning
Specialised attire for themed nights
Oh, and steer clear of the pineapple motif – it’s code for wife-swapping!
Going on safari is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and the memories you’ll make while wildlife-spotting are priceless. As for what you’ll need in the midst of a sprawling savanna? Read on.
A wide-brim safari hat
Moisture-wicking clothing in neutral hues
Local currency for tipping and snacks
A lightweight scarf
Lightweight pants and long-sleeve shirts to prevent scrapes and mosquito bites
A utility jacket
Sturdy closed-toe shoes
A multitasking antiseptic, like Sudocrem
Proof of inoculations
Soft-shell luggage (hard-shell suitcases are banned on the small planes flying into the parks)
A sizable dry bag to protect your belongings from rain and mud
Between the surge of adrenaline during the day and the après-ski traditions that follow, escaping the summer heatwave for powdery pistes is a no-brainer. Just be sure to follow these packing tips.
Resist the temptation to buy pricy ski equipment – rent instead
1 to 3 waterproof ski jackets and pants
Thermal base layers and fleece layers
A non-cotton balaclava or ski mask
Goggles, ideally with changeable lenses for sunshine and low visibility
Bring your own ski boots, and roll up small clothing items inside them
Sunscreen and lip balm, both high in SPF
A daypack to carry all your essentials on the slopes
Sun-drenched shores, picturesque sunsets, and palm-fringed beaches blend seamlessly with chaos of the best kind – meet Zanzibar, an archipelago of four major and several small islands with charisma to spare. Located 35km off the Tanzanian coast, Unguja (more commonly known as Zanzibar) is the largest and most populated of these islands. And to say Zanzibar is the ultimate Indian Ocean experience is an understatement.
Ride aboard a traditional sailing dhow, stop to admire weathered doors with intricate carvings, and explore the heady scents of the many spices that have earned Zanzibar its nickname, ‘Spice Island’. Here, diversity reigns supreme. The Assyrians, Egyptians, Indians, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, English, Omanis, and Shirazis have all been here, some settling down and marrying into local families – thus turning Zanzibar’s modern-day residents into true symbols of its colourful heritage.
Any trip to Zanzibar should be anchored in exploring Stone Town, its historical capital and the only functioning ancient town in East Africa. Located on the island’s central-west coast, its cobbled streets and crumbling 19th century architecture make it easy to see why it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. While you could simply stroll around its bathhouses, craft centres, mosques, and colourful backstreet markets at your own pace, a guided tour comes highly recommended for true insights into this traditional society – and tidbits that you would undoubtedly miss on your own. For example, Zanzibar’s iconic doorways are not only functioning works of art, but they’re also storytellers, revealing the origin, occupation, religious beliefs, and social status of their original owners.
The town has changed little during the past 200 years, and boasts a multitude of important architectural highlights. History buffs should start at the imposing Palace Museum. Once the official residence of the Sultan of Zanzibar, it was renamed the Peoples’ Palace following the revolution in 1964 and turned into a museum in 1994. Another defining feature is the Old Fort, the first defensive structure erected by the Omani Arabs when they seized the island from the Portuguese in 1698. The structure once performed double duty as both a prison and place of execution. These days, its restored rooms house offices for the Cultural Arts Centre Zanzibar, while the open-air amphitheatre provides a dramatic screening venue for the Zanzibar International Film Festival. On the lookout for authentic souvenirs? Be sure to make a pitstop at the Cultural Arts Gallery – which is housed within the fort – to watch local artists in action and purchase their works.
The most attractive landmark in the cultural heart of the island, however, is the Old Dispensary. This late 19th century building was commissioned by prominent Indian merchant Tharia Topan, and has been successfully restored after falling into disrepair in the 1970s, so a visit to admire its peppermint-green latticework balconies is a must-do. But no trip is complete without exploring Zanzibar’s beleaguered past, as the island remained a hub of slave trade in East Africa for several centuries. Christ Church is built on the site of the world’s last open slave market, its altar marking the spot where slaves for sale were lashed. While you’re here, be sure to walk over to the poignant slave memorial outside that depicts five slaves standing in a pit wearing original neck collars and chains, their haunting expressions serving as a grim reminder of a not-so-distant past.
An evening spent at the waterside Forodhani Gardens comes highly recommended. Here awaits a carnivalesque atmosphere, courtesy of the al fresco food market that comes alive every night. This is the place to sample everything from crab claws and calamari steaks to the hearty Urojo soup, hand-pressed sugar cane juice, and Zanzibar’s take on pizza – all on a budget, too. Celebrating a special occasion or in the mood to splurge? Head to Tea House Restaurant at Emerson on Hurumzi hotel. Pairing authentic Swahili cuisine with expertly made cocktails, it’s the magical setting of this restaurant that you’ll long remember – think: vibrant floor cushions, dimly lit lanterns, live taarab music, and views over the motley roofs of Stone Town. Just be sure to book ahead and get there in time for sunset.
What Lies Beyond
At least one day trip outside of Stone Town is needed for a change of pace and, considering Zanzibar is blessed with several offshore islands, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Prison Island, originally used by the Arabs to detain insubordinate slaves, is only a 30-minute boat ride away. You can sunbathe or simply gaze at the warm turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean on its powdery-white beach, or snorkel as it is also fringed with a beautiful coral reef. Prison Island is also home to a family of giant tortoises – some of which are over 100 years old – that were imported from the Seychelles in the late 19th century.
Another jaunt not to be missed is the Princess Salme & The Spices tour operated by Zanzibar Different. Because many of the islands produce nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon, it incorporates a guided tour through a spice plantation as well as tracing the footsteps of Zanzibar’s rebel princess by way of Mtoni Palace ruins, Persian baths, and a coffee ceremony amidst spice plantations. The company also runs Mrembo Spa, where employment is offered to blind and deaf therapists with a deft touch. The menu here spans everything from henna application to aromatherapy massages, but for a treatment rooted in tradition? Opt for the Singo Scrub that Swahili women undergo before their wedding day and is made using the likes of ylang ylang, sandalwood powder, rose petals, and rosewater – any excuse for a little R&R after navigating Stone Town’s labyrinth of alleys.
A five-day Eid break is headed our way, but not everyone is keen on the idea of long-haul travel. And that’s understandable. Still looking to explore a new destination and satiate your wanderlust? One word: Bahrain.
Not only is it the only archipelago in the region, but it’s only a mere 70-minute flight away. And between its UNESCO World Heritage Sites, trendy eateries, old-school souks, cultural institutions, and endless island-hopping opportunities, it’s also seriously underrated – especially if a quick getaway is all you can manage.
By now, many of the major luxury hotel groups have landed in Bahrain – Sofitel, Four Seasons, and Ritz-Carlton included. But we’re slightly biased towards boutique hotels, preferring to stay at properties that have an entirely distinct personality of their own. Enter: The Merchant House, an ultra-contemporary property that boasts 46 beautifully appointed suites, a lush rooftop terrace, a library curated by The Ultimate Library of Oxford, and an eclectic collection of artworks by emerging and established artists. Another plus? Location, location, location. The Merchant House is ideally placed in the always-vibrant Bab Al Bahrain area.
Speaking of which: a stroll through Manama Souq is part retail therapy, part cultural experience, so skip the malls and head here instead. The main entrance is the historic Bab Al Bahrain, taking you back in time as you browse shops specialising in everything from jewellery and antiques to calligraphy, handpainted room dividers, embroidered poufs, perfumes, and more. It’s not just kitschy souvenirs, we promise. Oh, and keep an eye out for the art installation inspired by the traditional Bahraini necklace ‘martasha’ while you’re around. Strategically located at the entrance of Manama Souq, it is composed of 20,000 gold-plated coins that are attached to seven-metre strings suspended from the ceiling.
All that walking around will leave you famished, and no trip to Manama Souq is complete without pausing at Haji’s Cafe, where time has essentially stood still 1950. Sitting on those bright-blue benches surrounded by vintage photos and platters of delicious food in a narrow alley is such an unadulterated joy. Bahrain’s tolerance of all faiths is well-documented, so try to visit the Shri Krishna Temple, even if it’s tricky to find at first. Not only was it built in 1817 – making it a whopping 204 years old – but it has also recently been renovated and decorated in the traditional Mewar style of art that originates in Rajasthan.
Take a couple of moments to appreciate the colourful detailing before stepping into Manama Post Office. No ordinary post office, this museum houses an archive of photographs from the postal service since its inception, an extensive catalogue of stamps from Bahrain and all over the world, and a collection of vintage scales and franking machines. As for its claim to fame? It was designed by none other than interior designer Ammar Basheir.
Bahrain is an island beloved amongst foodies, and it’s easy to see why. A district by the name of Block 338 is where everything from Nikkei cuisine hotspot Clay and patisserie Café Lilou to Japanese restaurant Mirai and Mexican eatery Calexico reside. Elsewhere, rustic-chic Italian restaurant L’ORTO is still the hottest ticket in town, bringing a taste of the Tuscan countryside to Manama – after all, everything chef Susy Massetti touches turns to gold.
Another firm favourite is Fusions By Tala, a dynamic eatery where Bahraini chef Tala Bashmi – the poster child for culinary experimentation – captures the essence and flavours of local cuisine while transforming it into lighter, more elevated fare. But if an entirely unexpected experience is what you’re seeking, make a beeline for Japanese teahouse Chawan. Here, a Bahraini tea master by the name of Budoor Steele hosts traditional tea ceremonies, celebrates Japanese festivals such as Tanabata and Tsukimi, and serves intricately crafted nibbles like onigiri, mochi, and nerikiri.
The island’s art and culture scene is constantly evolving, but Muharraq is where it’s at if you’re pressed for time. You don’t have to go looking for its charm either – it’s there in spades, especially if you’re guilty of Golden Age thinking. And the best way to discover the neighbourhood? A walk down the Pearling Path, a 3.5km trail that snakes through its storied alleyways, rehabilitating this urban center of yesteryear while introducing contemporary infrastructure to match modern-day lifestyles. It’s especially suited to those interested in street photography, public art, street food, and coffee pitstops.
Most people don’t realise that Pearling Path includes 17 public squares that are dotted along the different neighbourhoods that the path crosses, with strategically placed lamp posts guiding visitors through the streets. For an optimum introduction to Bahrain’s pearling era, start at the Pearling Path Visitor and Experience Centre, which sits at the entrance of Qayssareyah Suq and hosts rotating exhibits on pearling history alongside a café and an auditorium. Alternatively, you can begin at the trail’s southern starting point, Bu Mahir Fort (from where boats used to set off for oyster beds) and its glass-walled visitor centre.
While you’re around, be sure to see the Vertical Garden up close – what it lacks in size, it makes up for in innovation. This living laboratory at the entrance of Muharraq is home to over 200 plant species, mostly from subtropical and desertic areas around the world and is the first of its kind in the region. Sheikh Isa Bin Ali House, one of the most impressive examples of Gulf Islamic architecture in Bahrain, is another interesting spot. Stroll around its multiple courtyards and walk up and down the various staircases to take in the carved wooden doors, ingenious wind towers, and perforated gypsum panels for insights into royal life circa 19th century.
There’s no shortage of ancient sites on the island, and one’s more intriguing than the last. The UNESCO-recognised burial mounds from the Dilmun era, for example, are a must-visit. Unique and mysterious, they continue to dominate the A’ali landscape due to their sheer number – there are over 11,000 of them and therefore impossible to miss. Prefer to time-travel within the comfort of a cultural landmark? Of the many exhibition halls at Bahrain National Museum, one focuses on the artifacts and history of the Dilmun civilisation, while another showcases its fascinating burial practices – it even features an actual burial mound that was transported from A’ali and reassembled onsite!
Meanwhile, as Bahrain residents turn to trendy rooftop bars for great views, we suggest Qal’at al- Bahrain (or Bahrain Fort as it is commonly known) instead. Walk around this UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you’ll encounter plenty of vantage points while breathing in the soothing ocean air. On your left, you’ll see the adjoining Karbabad Beach, which explains that aforementioned breeze. Straight ahead? An excavated coastal fortress dating back to the 3rd century AD, with the glistening city skyline rising above the horizon. The site is also surrounded by groves of palm trees, which you’ll notice on your right. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more exceptional example of human occupation that spans nearly 4,500 years.
Sun, Sea, Sand
You’d think an island would entail plenty of beach clubs to choose from, but alas, that is not the case. Luckily, boho-chic Solymar Beach brings dining, partying, swimming, sunbathing, and lounging in luxury to one highly Instagrammable venue. However, what makes Bahrain truly unique in this part of the world is that it’s composed of 70 natural and 33 artificial islands. Jaradah Island is arguably the most famous as it’s only visible during low tide. Another great option is Al Dar Island, despite its size.
For starters, it’s just a 10-minute boat ride from Sitra Fishing Port. If facilities are high on your agenda, this one’s for you – everything from palm leaf huts and chalets to fishing trips, dolphin-watching excursions, and water sports are on offer. There’s even a burger joint on the island in case you get peckish. For something a little more serene, think Nurana Islands. Whether you head here for a run, a horse ride, a swim, or killer views, it’s utter bliss.
The Great Escape
A journey deep into the lush green mangroves in Tubli Bay is one that every tourist should take. This one-of-a-kind eco tour feels like a true escape, taking you away from the commotion of the city centre and introducing you to the aquatic plants and diverse wildlife of this protected ecosystem. Birdwatchers are also bound to enjoy the boat ride due to the sheer variety of resident and migratory birds spotted throughout.
Mother Nature has blessed the island with so much more than the aforementioned mangroves, though. The height and density of the trees at Karzakan Forest is unexpected, to say the least, making it a popular place for impromptu photoshoots and early morning cycle rides. But if you’re going to make the time to visit only one natural wonder, it has to be the Tree of Life. For over 400 years now, this 32-foot mesquite tree has stood all by its lonesome in the barren desert with no water source in sight, making it an enigma to many – and a source of pride for Bahrain.