Dubai, United Arab Emirates: A global confluence of cultures

Satisfy your wanderlust in one of the world’s most culturally diverse cities.

Dubai's skyline is iconic, with the world's tallest building—the Burj Khalifa—towering above the rest at over 2,700 feet (828 meters).
Photograph by Robert Breitpaul, Getty

A geographical intersection among Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, Dubai, the shimmering financial capital of the United Arab Emirates, is one of the most culturally diverse places on the planet. Some 90 percent of Dubai’s more than 3 million residents are citizens of other countries, an astonishing assemblage of expats representing all corners of the world.

The resulting kaleidoscope of perspectives, languages, and cuisines make the independent city-state of Dubai (one of the seven emirates comprising the UAE) an extraordinary place for discerning travelers to deepen and broaden their understanding of the world. Nowhere is this more evident than in the city’s luxury hotels, including two properties from the pioneer of international luxury travel, InterContinental® Hotels & Resorts. The InterContinental Dubai Festival City and the InterContinental Dubai Marina perfectly embody the cultural diversity of Dubai and reflect the 70-year heritage of the InterContinental brand—now the world’s largest luxury hotel brand.

For UAE resident and InterContinental® Ambassador member Turky Al Hammadi, Dubai’s fusion of cultures is most evident in its culinary melting pot. “I am a foodie, and trying new cuisines is a big part of my culture experience,” says Al Hammadi, who lives in Abu Dhabi and regularly travels to Dubai. “I like Dubai’s restaurants because like the city itself and the UAE, the restaurants infuse different cultures and cuisines in one place.”

As an InterContinental® Ambassador, Al Hammadi is able to savor authentic dining experiences wherever he travels thanks to personal recommendations from the local staff at each InterContinental® Hotels & Resorts property. In Dubai, in particular, expert insights into the local culinary scene are essential since travelers are presented with seemingly limitless options for exploring culture through food.

Dubai’s smorgasbord of flavors spans the globe—from authentic Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Korean hawker staples at 24th St. World Street Foods and ceviche at Mexican Cantina, to the Tokyopolitan pizza counter inside the Dubai Design District’s izakaya (Japanese pub-style) Akiba Dori, and everything in between.

Sophisticated palates are satiated at the array of top-notch Dubai restaurants opened by Michelin-starred chefs, such as British culinary star Jason Atherton of Marina Social at the InterContinental Dubai Marina. At Marina Social, which overlooks the waterfront, an open kitchen gives guests the opportunity to watch Atherton’s team prepare sumptuous British-Mediterranean inspired offerings, such as Beef Wellington with “cheesy chips” and filet of Norwegian salmon with potato puree and traditional French provincial artichokes à la barigoule.

Not to be forgotten among Dubai’s multicultural treasures are its more traditional gems: local Emirati and Levantine cuisine. At stylish Siraj, the intimate, fine-dining restaurant inside Dubai’s Arabesque Souk Al Bahar (“sailor’s market”), guests can sample homegrown dishes, such as Kafta Bel Tahina (skewers of minced lamb kofta, or meatballs, served with tahina sauce) and meat Margooga (a nourishing tomato-base stew of lamb, mixed vegetables, fragrant spices, and spongy, unbaked bread).

Complementing the emirate’s multicultural appeal is Dubai’s drive to be among the best cities in the world by 2021, the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UAE. The Dubai Plan 2021— a multi-pronged, government-led initiative—is powering this effort by encouraging and investing in sustainability, education, creativity, and an innovation-led economy.

A preview to this future will be on display at Expo 2020, a colossal innovation, culinary, and cultural festival running from October 20, 2020 to April 10, 2021. The international exposition—expected to be the largest event ever staged in the Arab world—is designed to promote cross-cultural collaboration and understanding through programming, celebrating the “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future” theme. Nearly every nation is slated to participate, putting Dubai’s cultural diversity front and center on the world stage for 173 action-packed days.

Dubai’s captivating combination of global influences and forward-thinking approaches is also on full display in the Dubai Design District, or d3, which is being built as part of the Dubai Plan 2021. D3 is home to art galleries; furniture, lighting, and interior design showrooms; pop-up stores; public spaces; and restaurants showcasing original creations by UAE, regional, and international innovative thinkers.

Among d3’s worldly offerings are Amato, the UAE’s first global couture fashion brand, and the Sconci Art Gallery, the first Italian art gallery in Dubai. The thoughtfully curated gallery provides a platform for emerging UAE artists and exhibits works by renowned international artists, such as Syrian painter Fateh Moudarres, Lebanese painter and sculptor Madi Hussein, and American Pop artist Andy Warhol.

The diversity of cultures in Dubai also inspires local efforts to make a positive difference in the wider world. At the d3 Fatima Bint Mohammed Bin Zayed Initiative, or FMBI, for example, shoppers support social good with each purchase of a hand-woven, heirloom carpet made from Afghan wool by an Afghan artisan. Launched by Her Highness Sheikha Fatima Bint Mohammed Bin Zayed in partnership with Afghanistan-based Tanweer Investments, FMBI helps empower Afghan women by creating fair wage jobs and offering social services, education, and health care benefits to artisans and their families. To date, FBMI reports employing over 4,000 Afghans, 70 percent of whom are women, and 35 percent of whom are widows.

Whether experienced through food, art and design, personal interactions with local residents, or by being part of Expo 2020, Dubai’s global confluence of cultures presents seasoned travelers with the rare opportunity to explore the world in a single place.

Learn how you can continue fueling your fascination for discovering new places by becoming an InterContinental® Ambassador.

Participating InterContinental® Ambassador members will receive a token gift for their time.

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