Dubai's congested roads and high-speed highways are notoriously dangerous (largely due to residents' pathological determination to ignore speed limits or road etiquette), so we don't recommend renting a car unless you've the patience of a saint and the reactions of Lewis Hamilton. However, it's worth hiring some wheels to explore the Hajar Mountains and east coast.
Dubai airport is a major international hub, and a popular stopover en route to Australasia and Indian Ocean destinations such as the Maldives. From the UK, travel with Emirates Airlines, BA or Virgin, or fly into quieter Abu Dhabi airport (www.abudhabiairport.ae); it's an hour away, and if you fly with Etihad (www.etihadairways.com), transfers to Dubai are free. Emirates also has regular flights from New York, Houston and São Paolo.
Public transport is currently almost non-existent, but a four-line Metro system (similar to Bangkok's Skytrain) is under construction and scheduled for completion in 2009 (www.dubaimetro.eu).
UAE country code: +971. Dubai: (0)4.
Get a captivating insight into Arabian nomadic tribes and culture in explorer/photographer Wilfred Thesiger's Arabian Sands; Zelzelah is a biographical account of Mariam Behnam's childhood in Iran and life in the Emirates; Andrew Taylor's Travelling the Sands rounds up a century of desert crossings. Find more regional titles at www.booksarabia.com.
Do go / Don't Go
Dubai is sunny and warm year-round, with very occasional rainy days in mid-winter. Christmas and Easter are peak times, with March bringing some of the city's most popular events. High summer can be unbearably hot and humid, with temperatures reaching 50°C - July/August is definitely best avoided.
On the crossroads of the spice route, every conceivable type of global cuisine is on the menu, from French snails and Asian fusion to German sausages and Sri Lankan fish curries. Don't leave without trying Middle Eastern food, though; pick a delicious mix of skewered meats (not pork, obviously), grilled local fish such as hammour with dry biryani rice, Lebanese meze, pitta-esque flatbreads, chick-pea and aubergine dips, fatayer - dough stuffed with palak (a kind of local spinach) - and delicious medjool dates. Emiratis also love their sweets: Patchi is a popular chain of chocolatiers; there's branch on lively Al Diyafah Street in Satwa (+971 4 398 6038). Just up the road is Al Mallah, one of Dubai's best-loved street-food cafés: hang out with some chicken shawarmas - tasty and inexpensive. Also look out for dibs, a delicious kind of date honey, to take home.
Sandy-coloured Dubai Taxis are clean, new and metered. Flag one down on the street or at a rank, or call one out to collect you (+971 4 208 0808). When the traffic's bad or at the peak of rush hour (7-9am; 12.30-2.30pm; 5-7pm), drivers may refuse to take you, and there can be a long wait even for pre-booked taxis. You can also call private chauffeured cars, which are not expensive and a good option if you have several stops to make. Try Al Falasi Luxury Transport (+971 4 396 6552).
Service is often included in restaurant and hotel bills, but check before you pay; otherwise, about 10 per cent is the norm. If you want to give porters or other staff a tip, AED10-20 is plenty. Taxi drivers don't expect a tip, but you could round up the fare.
Dirhams (AED or Dhs).
Swimwear; enormous sunglasses; every credit card you own; something modest to wear for trips to the souks or rural areas (we're not talking full coverage here, but spaghetti straps and tiny miniskirts will make you feel like a stupid tourist at best).
Dubai Museum (+971 (0)4 353 1862), set in 18th-century Al-Fahidi Fort, has displays on pearl diving and heritage. From there, it's a short hop to contemporary-arts space XVA Gallery (www.xvagallery.com) in the Bastakiya; nearby Majlis Gallery (+971 (0)4 353 6233) also holds regular exhibitions. Near Sheikh Saeed al Maktoum's House (+971 (0)4 393 7139), the former ruler of Dubai's Creek-side villa, the Heritage Village (+971 (0)4 393 7151) at Shindaga makes for a diverting early-evening stroll. Check listings magazines such as What's On for events from camel racing to classical concerts.
Dubai's gold souk is one of the best places to buy gold, diamonds and Gulf pearls. You should be able to haggle the price down, depending on what the day's gold rate is. Most jewellers will also take bespoke commissions for no or little extra cost; Damas is a reliable local chain with outlets across town.
Ah, shopping - virtually a national pastime among Dubai's moneyed expat community, and a modern extension of the city's trading heritage. Once you've scoured the old souks by the creek for gold, frankincense and myrrh, you could check out some of the planet's biggest malls (Ibn Battuta in Jebel Ali and the humungous Mall of the Emirates), but we prefer our shopping centres on the petite side. Mercato on the Jumeirah Beach Road is an Italianate mini-mall with young European brands and boutiques including Topshop, Diesel and Fleurt; and BurJaman (www.burjuman.com) in Bur Dubai has an alphabet of glamorous grown-up labels from BCBG and D&G to DKNY, not to mention a branch of Saks Fifth Avenue. Deira City Centre, opposite the Creek Yacht and Golf Club, is where Emiratis catch a flick then get their Ikea fix.
Check out three-floor 'lifestyle store' Boutique 1 (+971 4 330 4555) at The Walk, JBR - Dubai's answer to Colette and X Corso Como - for fashion-forward lifestyle labels; and Sauce at XVA Gallery for kitsch-inspired fashion and accessories. Don't tell anyone we told you, but you'll find Prada-like purses at Al Karama shopping centre; hang around if you don't see what you like and you might get invited into a secret Aladdin's cave of fake Mulberry, Chloé and Hermès bags round the back. Haggle for all you are worth! If you want cheap electronics, go to Al Fahidi Street.
Burj Dubai (www.burjdubai.com) is the world's tallest man-made structure, standing at over 800m. Its observation deck on the 124th floor offers Dubai's best viewpoint (buy tickets in advance - they are more expensive on the day). Alternatively, have champagne cocktails on the terrace of Uptown Bar, on the 24th floor of the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, or at 360º, above the Marina restaurant, for great views of Burj al Arab and the coast; or at Vu's, the 51st-floor design bar at the top of Emirates Towers' hotel tower.
Not much in this town comes for free - in fact a lot of it is pretty expensive, including afternoon tea at Burj al Arab (from AED275; +971 (0)4 3017600). However, a stroll through the spice souk and Heritage Village won't cost a penny; or take a walk on Jumeirah's public beach.
Late January-February Credit cards and handbags at dawn for huge discounts during Dubai Shopping Festival. February The Dubai Jazz Fest brings the world's top brass to town to jam jazzily in city-wide venues. Wooden sailing boats plow the waves for the Traditional Dhow Sailing Race at Mina Seyahi. February-March New balls, please: the Dubai Tennis Championships serves up ace sporting action from Federer and co. March Tiger comes to tee off at the Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament. Dubai society puts on its fascinators and glad rags to watch the nags at the thrilling Dubai World Cup, the regional equivalent of Royal Ascot. Late October The UAE Desert Challenge: a wheely exciting cross-dune rally race. November Start of the horse racing season at Nad al Sheba race track. The end of the month sees scrums in the sand for the legendary Dubai Rugby 7s event.