UAE's global transport hub is all bustle

Endless shopping dominates in overbuilt Dubai

Long associated with luxury, Dubai is synonymous with the world's biggest, tallest and most expensive attractions. Flying to Dubai in style and staying in elegance have become bucket-list adventures for many; the city also serves as a popular free stopover location for travelers crisscrossing the globe on Emirates airline.

Yet because of this luxury arms race, the United Arab Emirates city has lost some authenticity. Visitors hoping to engage with Middle Eastern heritage will be disappointed with the endless parade of shopping malls and towers. Even the souks, open-air markets that represent an older way of life, have been modernised to feel more like caricatures than originals.

The new Louvre Abu Dhabi is well worth the day-trip from Dubai. Photo / Supplied
The new Louvre Abu Dhabi is well worth the day-trip from Dubai. Photo / Supplied

If you find yourself in Dubai needing a change of pace, escape to neighboring Abu Dhabi. This government center has retained more of its traditional core. Here, you can visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest in the country.

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For art, try the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which boasts a global collection of art from across the centuries - an undertaking meant to prepare the Emirates for a life beyond oil revenue.

If you stop by the Emirates Palace, order the famous Palace Cappuccino, sprinkled with 23-karat-gold flakes, for an actual taste of luxury.

Location: The United Arab Emirates is located on the southeast tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

Soccer-mad Qatar is hungry to succeed

Up-and-coming Doha is trying hard to please

If you're interested in Middle Eastern luxury tempered with cultural awareness, try Doha, Qatar. Think of Doha as the refined, relaxed cousin to ostentatious Dubai. Here, you can taste the elegance of the oil-rich Middle East while connecting to its history.

Doha is another favourite hub for Kiwis traversing the globe. Photo / Unsplash
Doha is another favourite hub for Kiwis traversing the globe. Photo / Unsplash

The gulf blockade means fewer carriers fly to Qatar. To compensate, Qatar Airways offers two flights from Auckland a day with its own stopover program starting at $35 per night.

Life hack: The business class, QSuite, is like a mini-first class - you get a personal cabin. If you've ever wanted an upscale flying experience, this is probably the cheapest way to do it.

Transportation is easy via ride hailing or taxi. Ahead of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar is also building an underground Metro system with posh seats and mood lighting. Day passes cost QR6, about $2.50.

Don't miss the Museum of Islamic Art, which houses artwork from three continents, spanning 1,400 years. The new National Museum of Qatar retells the nation's colorful history through immersive exhibits. The building's distinctive architecture represents a desert rose.

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After sunset, explore the Souq Waqif, a market with narrow, twisty passageways where locals buy spices, sweets and Arabic coffee. Find the working Falcon Hospital, which cares for Qatari racing birds. Eat Persian cuisine at nearby Parisa. Get your camera ready for the entryway's intricate, glass-tiled ceiling!

Doha is the refined, relaxed cousin to ostentatious Dubai. Photo / Agnies Kowalcz
Doha is the refined, relaxed cousin to ostentatious Dubai. Photo / Agnies Kowalcz

Don't forget the Pearl-Qatar, Doha's man-made island. Here, you can visit a private island within an island, the Marsa Malaz Kempinski. Stay overnight or buy a beach day pass to go kayaking or swimming in Persian Gulf waters.

In Doha, mingle with a coffee at the Souq Waqif. Photo / Asim Z Kodappana
In Doha, mingle with a coffee at the Souq Waqif. Photo / Asim Z Kodappana

To mingle with Qataris, celebrate the weekend. Try Cut by Wolfgang Puck in the Mondrian Doha on Thursday night, the weekend's start. (International restaurants in upscale hotels - where serving alcohol is legal - are trendy, especially among Qataris educated in the West.) Then experience Friday brunch, practically an institution in Qatar. Izu and the Drawing Room are locally popular.

Heading home, leave extra time at the airport, where you can discover gems such as modern art, a swimming pool and squash courts.

Location: Qatar is located on a peninsula in the Persian Gulf, sharing a land border with Saudi Arabia.

Doha airport's unnoffical mascot: Just what is Lamp Bear? Photo / Supplied
Doha airport's unnoffical mascot: Just what is Lamp Bear? Photo / Supplied