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18 of Dubai’s Best Hidden Gems

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From beaches to coffee spots and everything in-between…

In our opinion, Dubai is one of the most exciting places to live or visit. From the beaches to the soaring skyscrapers, malls to a buzzing foodie scene, there’s plenty to see and do here! But want to know what makes the city even more special? The many hidden gems that add the icing on the cake. From tucked away cafés to fabulous play spaces, culture to art and unique restaurants, these are some of our favourite spots in Dubai…

Food & Drink

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Life ‘N One
Fancy having breakfast and coffee (or lunch) surrounded by greenery, sitting on picnic rugs, at rustic wooden tables or perhaps while reclining in a hanging Byron Chair? This bohemian paradise is in the heart of Jumeirah but feels a million miles away – the perfect place to relax and recharge. The menu here is super healthy but mega yummy too – everything is gluten, dairy and sugar free so you can tuck in without any guilt (their juices and smoothies are incredible). When the heat starts to kick-in there’s also a little air-conditioned indoor secret garden that provides that much-needed dose of nature. Oh – and Life’n One is also a well-being centre with classes ranging from Pilates to meditation plus regular workshops focusing on holistic healing. We love.

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The Farm, Al Barari
An oasis in the desert, The Farm at Al Barari is a must for a mama-meet up, bite to eat with the other half or even a little family feast (their kids menu is completely delish). Oh and they’ve just launched an afternoon tea that we’re lusting after.

If you haven’t been to Al Barari then be prepared for some serious home envy. This luscious development just off Emirates Road (opposite The Villa) is serenely beautiful and features more than 16 kilometres of landscaped lakes, streams and cascades, 34 themed gardens and more than four million plants – all the vision of landscape directory (and one of our sassiest mamas) Kamelia Bin Zaal.

If the weather allows, pick a spot outside on the wooden deck, suspended over a lake – surrounded by gorgeous gardens complete with babbling brooks and birdsong. The international menu is all about local and organic produce wherever possible and changes regularly (another excuse to visit often) plus there are often events and kid friendly activities from story-telling to seasonal arts & crafts (keep an eye on their facebook page for deets). Take a book, hang around in a hammock and just escape the city for a while. Totally heavenly.

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The Terrace, Dubai Creek Harbour
This has to be one of the most amazing spots we’ve ever been to, with skyline views to match. The Terrace at Dubai Creek Harbour is actually the sales office of the new Emaar development on the banks of the creek – but don’t let this put you off! The real gem here is a gorgeous grassy area complete with a food truck by the Vida Hotel serving burgers, crab cakes and sandwiches, a kids corner and the natural beauty of the Ras Al Khor wildlife sanctuary. Head here while the weather’s good – open only on weekends (Fridays and Saturdays) from 10am to 10pm. Magical.

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Smiling BKK
Nope we don’t mean the one in Wasl Square (although that’s pretty cool) – the original Smiling BKK is tucked away in a quiet residential street between Jumeirah and Satwa (look for the mustachioed neon Mona Lisa behind the Jumeirah Post Office) and is the coolest little place for a really very good Thai meal. Brilliantly kitsch, the décor is a mishmash of coloured lights, ornate memorabilia, Thai tourist t-shirts and cool little artefacts – place mats are pages ripped from magazines, there’s an instrument at your table for attracting the wait staff’s attention and the menu has hilariously renamed versions of all the Thai classics (wax on, wax off, Nirvana and The Karate Kid are all versions of scrummy noodles).

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Stomping Grounds
This recently opened speciality coffee hub is fast becoming the talk of the town – and for good reason. If you’re always searching for the perfect cup of Jo then get down to Stomping Grounds pronto – we’ve been known to drive across town for a fix. And with a super cute café menu and lovely relaxed interior this is a perfect place to while away the hours – whether you’re in between school runs or tapping away on a laptop. Oh and the homemade carrot cake needs a special mention. Paired with Sumatra piccolo or flat white or a Nicaraguan La Peña long black. Perfection. Open 8am for that much-needed caffeine hit first thing – until 11pm if you’re planning a night out and need some help (we hear you mamas!).

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The Majlis Café, Jumeirah Mosque
A little gem within the grounds of the beautiful Jumeirah Mosque – the Majlis Dubai is shaded by old ghaf trees and is, by its own admission, the ‘first and finest camel milk café in Dubai’. All milk-based products here are made from the milk of our humped friends – there are milk shakes, camel-chino’s, camel-latte’s, camel milk ice-cream and camel milk cheeses and creams. This lovely little gem of a café is the perfect place to sit and watch the world go by to the sound of the call to prayer.

Culture

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Al Serkal Avenue
Al Serkal is a constantly evolving diamond in the rough – an industrial warehouse site in Al Quoz that houses some of the city’s coolest arts & culture venues. Tour the galleries, grab a coffee in the A4 Space – a community destination with a little café, library, screening room and regular pop-up stores – or sign up for hooping classes with Flowground in the evening and hula-hoop your way through fairy-lit avenues.

Psst… the very awesome JamJar – a gallery and arty space that feels like you’re walking into an oil painting – has just opened up in Al Serkal Avenue and offers everything from art classes to exhibitions, alternative theatre to workshops.

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The Coffee Museum Dubai
In the heart of Dubai’s beautiful Al Fahidi Historical District is The Coffee Museum – a café, shop and cultural experience rolled into one awesome space. Not only can you drink the gorgeous stuff here but also learn all about its origins, check out some very cool antiques and hang out in a lovely majlis. If you want to have a go at making your own coffee creations at home then there’s all sorts of Barista equipment to buy (we’re keen on the latte art pens) and there are books on everything from home-roasting to recipes and the history of coffee.

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Majlis Ghorfat, Umm Al Sheif
In-between some of Dubai’s white-washed villas lies the Majlis Ghorfat Umm Al Sheif – a historic two-storey building that served as Sheikh Rashid’s summer retreat in the 1950’s. Beautiful in its simplicity, there are window shutters of soid teak, gorgeous embellished doors and a majlis offering rugs and cushions to sit back on. A great place to take the kids and teach them about the origins of Dubai – ours love exploring the Arabian garden that surrounds the building, complete with date palms and old irrigation channels. Well worth the AED 3 to get in. Open Saturday – Thursday until 2.30pm.

Adventure & Play

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Al Mamzar Beach Park
Clean white beaches, supervised changing rooms, plenty of shade AND air-conditioned chalets to rent for AED 200 – perfect if you have little ones who still sleep after lunch (we wish!) or you just need to escape the heat for a bit – Al Mamzar Beach Park in Deira is definitely a Sassy Mama gem. If you prefer fresh water to salty then leave the sea and splash about in the swimming pool instead – there’s a dedicated kiddie pool for the tots and a water fun park including bouncy castles and other games (all at an additional fee).

Sassy Mama Tip: Fridays tend to get very busy, but most other days the place is practically empty.

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Burj Park, Downtown Dubai
Think you know downtown? Think again – have you ever been to Burj Park, an amazing green 3-hectare island in the Burj Lake? With spectacular views of Burj Khalifa and The Dubai Fountain (especially at night when everything is illuminated by very cool light cubes), the park is linked to the rest of Downtown by bridges and has a promenade going all the way around the edge. The perfect place for a picnic (pick it up from Fortnum & Mason).

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JLT park
A complete gem of a park offering oodles of welcome green space underneath the skyscrapers of Jumeirah Lake Towers, JLT Park offers kiddos the chance to run, chase, or kick a ball across vast lawns (seriously – they’re huge). There are a couple of playgrounds to suit both tiny tots and older children, along with sandy patches for building sandcastles (take along a bucket and spade, mama!) and.. the piece de la resistance: a nifty little zip-wire thing that we haven’t seen in any other parks. The parking gets busy, so arrive early (the JLT traffic is totally worth navigating for this one).

Located next to Cluster P (behind Armada Tower 2), Jumeriah Lake Towers.

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The Journey
One of the best things ever to have happened to Dubai – and to us mamas and our kiddos, The Journey is the ultimate play space for city kids, complete with streams to paddle in, sand to dig, a garden to explore, structures to climb and the opportunity to get dirty and have some good old-fashioned fun. Tucked away behind Kite Beach this green oasis is complete with mini orchard, veggie gardens, café, archery area and much more. A little farm and program of kids classes are coming soon too. We would live here if we could! Read our full review here.

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Dorrell Sports Climbing Wall
Got little ones who are climbing the walls at home? How about getting them to have a go at the UAE’s highest climbing wall instead?! Kids aged 4 years and up can have a go (with an instructor) – but this is best for the older gang and fab exercise for mamas too – or if you’re an experienced climber then this is the place to put your skills to the test. The wall is outdoors so you’re exposed to the elements (which just makes it all the more realistic right?!) but there are a/c units pumping out cool air for when summer kicks in. Located at the World Trade Centre Hotel Apartments.

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Al Qudra Lakes
Lakes in the desert? No it’s not a mirage mamas – out beyond Arabian Ranches are a series of beautiful man-made lakes that a huge gaggle of geese, ducks, swans and over 130 species of other birds call home. Located in the middle of the Seih Al Salam desert and Bab Al Shams, the lakes were created by the civic body as part of an eco project and are the perfect place for a picnic while the kids wade in the water – you can even pitch a tent and sleep out under the desert sky. Head out on Umm Suqeim, parallel to the Al Qudra bike track until you get to the bike shop and roundabout – then prepare for a small amount of gentle off-roading. Our fave time to go is just before sunset when the light is beautiful and the birds come home for the night.
psst…rumour has it that visits to the area will be stopped if littering continues so be sure to leave nothing but footprints!

Rest & Relaxation

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Mary Foot Spa
It would be easy to miss this little spa in Wasl Square, Uptown Mirdiff and JBR – even the neon sign on the exterior doesn’t allude to the treats that lay inside. Inspired by the ancient Chinese practice of reflexology, Mary Foot Spa in Wasl Square specialises in making your feet the centre of attention – perfect if you’ve been pounding the pavements or trawling the malls. A tiny little space, the magic happens in a dimly lit room just where therapists soothe tired tootsies while you drift off to soft spa music in big comfy chairs. Heaven. You choose your preferred time span — 30 minutes, 60 minutes etc — then lie back and chill. Money very well spent. Read our full review here.

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Vox Outdoor Rooftop Cinema
Okay, so at AED 150 a ticket, there’s got to be something pretty special about this cinema right? Well how about if we tell you that it’s on the roof of the uber swanky Galleria Mall in Jumeirah so you can watch movies under the stars, seated in plush sofas or swivelly chairs with footrests and munching on scrummy Italian snacks and gelato from Heinz Beck’s ‘Taste Of Italy’ downstairs – or something sweet from ‘Home Bakery’. A cosy blanket and pillow are included in the price of the ticket, as is a soft drink and popcorn or chocolate. Sound good? We think so.

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XVA Art Hotel
If there’s one thing we’re not short of in Dubai it’s hotels… but here’s one with a difference. Hidden in the heart of the historical Al Fahidi neighborhood on the Creek, XVA Art Hotel is a former home turned boutique hotel offering only 14 individually designed rooms, an award winning restaurant and the perfect place at which to escape the world (there are 3 tree-shaded courtyards that are also air-conditioned in the summer and that we long to lounge in with a book). Also home to the XVA Cafe (Gordon Ramsay says it’s his fave in Dubai), rumoured to have the best cheesecake and mint tea in the city, there’s just one problem with the XVA – if you book in for a night you may never want to leave. But then the hotel’s art gallery and design shop are just the thing for picking up something gorgeous to recreate the magic at home.

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Got any favourite little spots you think we should know about mamas? Email sassy@sassymamadubai.com and share your secrets! 

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