You are landing in the middle of the Dubai Shopping Festival (www.visitdubaishoppingfestival.com), when the city is carpet-bombed with dazzling line-ups: food festivals, shopping extravaganzas, exotic headline acts, dedicated tours, never-before events, and not-to-be-missed fireworks. Meanwhile, here’s a timeless Dubai itinerary that you can try to fit in alongside: take a walking tour of historic Bastakiya; and learn more about Emirati heritage at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding; visit the Dubai Museum, and Majlis, the city’s first art gallery. Walk along the creek till the Sheikh Saeed House, a beautifully restored courtyard home with archival photo exhibits; and learn about the UAE’s pearl diving traditions at the Heritage and Diving Village. Hop on to a water taxi near the Bur Dubai souk (where textiles have been sold since the 1830s) and get off at Deira to watch colourful dhows plying the waterway; catch some of the action that makes the Grand, Spice, Gold, Perfume and Fish souks among the busiest bazaars here. Nearby is Al Ras and its immaculately kept Heritage House. You can also take a dhow cruise with dinner from the Al Boom Tourist Village in Deira. More for your list: the observation deck on Burj Khalifa, now the world’s tallest building, botanical gardens and an amphitheatre for open-air performances; dune bashing and belly dancing on a desert safari (offered by dozens of reliable agencies); a guided tour of the stunning Jumeirah mosque (only Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends; dress conservatively); a stroll by the lively Jumeirah Beach Road; and tons of fun at the Aquaventure waterpark.
Shopping, of course, is best done at the splendiferous Dubai Mall, the Mall of the Emirates (Ski Dubai is here), and Wafi City (the oldest and quietest of the three), and also at Bur Juman Centre, Deira City Centre, Ibn Battuta Mall, Emirates Boulevard, Bur Dubai souk (especially for textiles and tailoring), the Karama Shopping Centre (cheaper stuff), and the smaller Mercato, Magrudy and Marina malls. The popular Global Village, a multinational carnival for sorts, comes up for a couple of months around the shopping festival. Buy tax-free electronics (with international warranties) at Al Fahidi Street.
In Abu Dhabi, experience the Heritage Village (shop for souvenirs here), shop at Marina Mall, and browse at the carpet and Iranian souks of the Dhow Harbour (look out for the boats returning in the evening). You have to visit the magnificent Grand Mosque (free tours at 10am from Sunday to Thursday), and the old fort and its cultural evenings (schedules at www.cultural.org.ae).