Ah, Dubai: beaches, five-star hotels, glitzy shopping malls – we all know about Dubai, right? Yes, absolutely. But there’s a whole lot more to the UAE’s brashest emirate than the glossy image you see in the media. With 17 years in Dubai under her belt, author Annabel Kantaria, who’s debut novel Coming Home is out now, is a British expat who has lived in Dubai for the last 16 year. Here she reveals some of the top spots in this sunshine mecca.
It’s fair to say I know some of the emirate’s best kept secrets. Chances are, I’ve been here longer than they have. So where should you head to see the real Dubai?
Turn your back on the malls and head to Garderobe on Jumeirah Beach Road. Trust me, there are bargains to be had for this is where Dubai’s fashionistas sell off their pre-loved designer clothes, handbags, shoes and accessories as soon as they’re tired of them – and that’s often after just one season.
For vintage designer finds, try Bambah, a beautiful boutique in Jumeirah that sells clothes, accessories and furniture dating from the ‘30s to the ‘80s. If mainstream is more your bag, take a taxi to Outlet Mall, where you’ll find last season’s designs from labels including Prada, Dior and Armani as well as brands like Coach, Diesel and Banana Republic at up to 70 per cent off.
In terms of markets, Dubai has a couple that are worth a visit: the weekly Ripe Market is an organic farmers’ market that also sells cheese, honey nuts, oils and spices from local producers alongside a popular craft and jewellery market. Located outdoors in the cooler winter months, it moves inside once summer starts to swelter. Look out, too, for the monthly ARTE markets, where absolutely everything on sale is hand-made by local artisans.
Further afield, but worth every Dirham of your taxi fare, is the joy that is the camel market. Ask to be taken to the Camel Racing Club on the Al Ain Road just past the Rugby Sevens ground. There, among bins of camel feed, you’ll find embroidered silks and textiles that make great throws and tablecloths. If you visit around sunrise or sunset, you might even catch the camels loping round the race course: in the golden haze of a Dubai sunset, it makes a great Instagram shot.
Speaking of Instagram, the Al Fahidi Historical District (sometimes also known as Bastakiya) is perhaps the most photogenic part of Dubai. Here you’ll get shots of traditional Emirati houses, wind towers and shady courtyards. You’ll find curiosity shops selling spices, trinkets and souvenirs, as well as art galleries and some of the most peaceful cafés you could dream of. Look out for the XVA Hotel & Café,  which serves exquisite vegetarian food, the Arabian Tea House, and Local House, where you can even try a camel burger.
While you’re up that end of town, make like you live in Dubai: take a walk into the nearby fabric souq, cross Dubai Creek on an abra (water taxi) and lose a few hours haggling for 18-carat gold jewellery in the gold souq.
In terms of eating, Dubai has five-star restaurants a go-go but if you want something authentic, Al Fanar restaurant at Dubai Festival City is worth a try: it’s one of very few places in Dubai that serves Emirati cuisine and, judging by the number of Emiratis you see there, it does it very well.
For the freshest local fish, those in the know visit Bu Qtair, a simple shack close to the beach in Jumeirah. Glamorous it isn’t: the fisherman’s catch of the day is served on paper plates and eaten outside at plastic tables – but it might possibly be the best fish you’ve ever tried.
They say camel milk is an acquired taste but it’s also very nutritious… if you find yourself in Dubai Mall, nip into The Majlis and tick another box by washing down a camel-milk muffin with a “camelccino” or a “camellatte”.
And finally if you’re looking for a popular spot to watch the sun go down, Dubai’s legendary beach bar, Barasti, is a must. There, you can eat, drink and dance right on the sand with the waves lapping your toes – now, what’s not to like about that?
Coming Home – The darker the secrets, the closer they lie. An ordinary family. A devastating betrayal – by Annabel Kantaria, RRP £7.99.