Few buildings are as instantly recognizable as the stupendous Burj al Arab (literally “Tower of the Arabs”). Commissioned by Dubai’s supreme ruler, Sheikh Mohammad, and built at jaw-dropping expense, the building was expressly intended to serve as a defining symbol of contemporary Dubai – and in the twelve years of its existence the tower’s hugely distinctive, sail-shaped outline has established itself as a global icon to rival the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben or the Empire State Building.
The Burj is home to one of the planet’s most luxurious hotels – commonly described as the world’s first “seven star” (although not, it must be said, by the hotel owners themselves). If the exterior is an expression of abstract architectural genius, the interior is a statement of unbridled opulence, its vast atrium decorated in huge swathes of blues, green and reds, bisected with shiny columns plastered with gold-leaf, and with a clutch of decadent in-house restaurants and bars, plus a gorgeous spa and other amenities to make even dedicated hedonists blush – and check their credit status.
Visiting the Burj if you’re not staying there requires a little planning and a bit of money. Non-guests are only allowed into the hotel with a prior reservation at one of various bars, cafés or restaurants (phone 04 301 7600 or email [email protected]). The cheapest option is to come for either a sumptuous afternoon tea or a drink – choose between the 27th-floor Skyview Bar (afternoon tea 620dh, drinks minimum spend 350dh/person) or the perhaps even more spectacular Sahn Eddar atrium lounge (drinks minimum spend 290dh, afternoon teas 400/560dh). If you want to go the whole hog, book a meal at one of the Burj’s two spectacular (and spectacularly pricey) signature restaurants: Al Muntaha (next to the Skyview Bar at the very top of the building) and Al Mahara. There are also two cheaper but significantly less appealing buffet restaurants: the Arabian-style Al Iwan or the slighty nicer pan-Asian Junsui (lunch/dinner buffets 505/560dh at both) – although you’d be better off taking afternoon tea or a drink. For the ultimate Burj experience, try the novel “Culinary Flight” (lunch/dinner 1075/1350dh) comprising drinks at the Skyview Bar followed by a four-course meal, with each course served in a different restaurant, rounded off with dessert at Sahn Eddar.