My Dubai still-to-do-list: 10 years on, how have I not done these?

From birdwatching in Ras Al Khor to finding a tailor in Satwa, here are some of those things that many Dubai residents just never seem to get around to

Flamingos in front of Dubai skyline at Ras Al Khor Wetland Reserve. Courtesy Discovery
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I have watched Netflix. And I don't mean that I've seen some of the shows on the ubiquitous streaming service; I mean I have scraped the barrel of its seemingly endless depths until there is nothing left that even remotely appeals. Re-runs of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air? Check. The Ted Bundy Tapes? Check. All three seasons of Money Heist? Check. All those cheesy chick flicks starring Noah Centineo? Check. 

So it goes in the UAE summer. Hours on end cooped up indoors, welded to the sofa, with my dogs eyeing me hopefully, even though it’s the middle of the afternoon and they know as well as I do that it’s way too hot to go out for a walk.

I find myself longing for cooler climes and promise myself that, once the weather does get better, I'm going to make the most of it. I am going to spend every available minute outdoors. I am going to go camping and horse riding and spend long, lazy afternoons at the beach. I am going to try every outdoor dining venue in the city and host barbecues in my garden. Etc, etc, etc.  

I make this same pledge every year. But it is human nature to take the things around us for granted. When these things are too easily accessible, we tend to overlook them. I grew up on an island, but rarely made time to go to the beach. My friends in London are not rushing to the city's world-class museums every weekend. My family in Kenya never go on safari.

So it seems like a good time to create a Dubai to-do list – a directory of all the things I've been meaning to do for years, but haven't got around to yet. Some will have to wait until winter, but there are others that could provide a welcome respite from my Netflix binge (until the next Noah Centineo film comes out, that is).

My Dubai still-to-do list 

1. See the flamingos at Ras Al Khor

Flamingos at the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Santuary
Flamingos at the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Santuary

Every time I drive along Al Khail Road towards the Business Bay Crossing, I make a mental note to visit the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. It is an utter anomaly – a wetland sanctuary in the heart of an intensely urban environment – and serves as a home for thousands of birds, including flamingos. There are three bird hides on the perimeter of the sanctuary, which can be accessed for free. And yet, I just keep on driving past.

2. Stay at XVA

XVA Gallery, Cafe, & Hotel in Al Fahidi. Image Courtesy of XVA.

NOTE: Danna Lorch, artsy winter activities for children.  *** Local Caption ***  XVA Gallery, Cafe, & Hotel in Al Fahidi. Image Courtesy of XVA.jpg
XVA Gallery, Cafe, & Hotel in Al Fahidi.

When I first moved to Dubai, my employer put me up in a scuzzy hotel apartment in the heart of Bur Dubai, so this often-overlooked neighbourhood was my first introduction to the city. I immediately fell in love with its raw oddball charm, and spent many a weekend exploring its Al Fahidi District. I was intrigued by the area's alleys and hidden art galleries, particularly the XVA, a quaint spot located in a traditional house. I've always intended to go back to my "Dubai roots" and spend a weekend at the adjoining XVA Art Hotel. But I haven't. 

3. Smash stuff

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - March 16th, 2018: Reporter Evelyn Lau. The Smash Room opens in Dubai. Friday, March 16th, 2018. Al Quoz, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
The Smash Room in Al Quoz, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

A space where you can shatter, break, stomp and destroy everything around you? What's not to love? As its name suggests, The Smash Room is where you go to expunge all your unbridled rage – by destroying everything from plates and mirrors to furniture and old electronics. It's been on my to-do list since the day it opened.

4. Afternoon tea at Burj Al Arab

A man takes pictures after the last sunset of 2018 near Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai, United Arab Emirates December 31, 2018. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
The building is undeniably a Dubai icon, inside and out. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

There is no bigger cliche, perhaps, than a spot of afternoon tea at Dubai's most recognisable hotel. And yet, this is a UAE rite of passage that I somehow managed to miss. In truth, I'm not much of an afternoon tea person and Dh635 seems a bit steep for a few scones, even if you are in a globally renowned landmark. And yet, somehow, I feel like I can't really call myself a proper Dubai resident until I've done this.

5. Visit my local racecourse

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, DECEMBER 26, 2014. General crowd pictures of the race day at Jebel Ali Racecourse. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Jason Ford. Section: Sports. *** Local Caption ***  AR_2612_Horse_Racing-08.JPG
General crowd pictures of race day at Jebel Ali Racecourse. Antonie Robertson / The National

Nestled between The Greens and Emirates Hills, the Jebel Ali Racecourse is five minutes away from my house. There are horse-racing meets here every other Friday for most of the season, and yet I've never managed to make it to a single one, even though I imagine it would be a thoroughly fun day out, in a completely anti-Dubai-World-Cup kind of way.

Read more: Why it's time to visit Jebel Ali Racecourse, Dubai's hidden treasure

6. Buy fish from the source

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 18 MAY 2018. The Jumeirah Fish Market. Standalone images. Fish for sale in the market. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Standalone. Section: National.
The Jumeirah Fish Market. Antonie Robertson / The National

Wake up early, head down to the sea and haggle over a batch of freshly caught fish at the Jumeirah Fish Market. Invite friends over for a fishy feast. It’s not difficult – and yet I still haven’t managed it.

7. Find a tailor in Satwa


Satwa on a rainy evening in Dubai .

(Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National)

Section: NA
There are plenty of tailors in Satwa. Reem Mohammed / The National

I have a heap of clothes that need altering and a dozen more ideas in my head of items that I would like to have made from scratch. I know that there are countless tailors in Satwa who could do this for me, at minimal cost. Satwa is not far away. And yet …