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Lara Dunston is the brains behind the Cool Travel Guide blog and has written or contributed to 40 travel guidebooks (for DK, Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Footprint, Insight, AA Guides and Thomas Cook) and writes for magazines and newspapers all over the world, including National Geographic Traveler, Wanderlust, Get Lost, Lifestyle+Travel, Paperplane, The Independent and USA Today, to name just a handful. Now based in the UAE, Lara couldn’t be better placed to offer an insider’s guide to Dubai, (home to Mr & Mrs Smith’s recently launched  Desert Palm hotel), so we’re delighted to be able to bring you her top tips for exploring the Middle East’s most impressive city (if not the world’s). Over to Lara…

Best BrunchDubai – nightlife
The Friday brunch in Dubai is legendary and all the luxury hotels do them: my favourite is at Traiteur (+971 (0)4 602 1234) at the Park Hyatt, for its free-flowing bubbly and the best freshly shucked oysters in the city.

Best Cocktails
The Roof Top (+971 (0)4 399 999) for exotic cocktails made with premium spirits in a sublime, candle-lit Arabian Nights-inspired setting (with views of The Palm); Bar 44 (+971 (0)4 399 8888) for the most decadent selection of champagne cocktails in town, along with spectacular views of the Dubai Marina skyscrapers; and Buddha Bar (+971 (0)4 399 8888), for exotic spicy Asian-inspired cocktails. The bar is far better than the Paris original because it attracts a regular crowd of locals.

Best Bars
Arabian-colonial style Bahri Bar (+971 (0)4 366 6730), for sinking back in rattan sofas while watching the sun sink over the horizon and the Burj Al Arab light show (this is the closest you should allow yourself to the Burj!); The Terrace (+971 (0)4 602 1234) overlooking Dubai Creek at the Park Hyatt for its vodka and oysters, and DJs spinning as the sun sets on a Saturday afternoon; and Cin Cin (+971 (0)4 332 5555) for champagne, teensy Wagyu beef burgers and my favorite DJ, Sticky Fingers.

Best stores
For funky local designers and groovy fashion from around the globe, go to Amzaan (+971 (0)4 324 6754 ), S*uce (+971 (0)4 344 7270) and Ginger & Lace; for hip casual stuff and cute shoes, head to Five Green; for chic international designers such as Stella McCartney and Easton Pearson, and niche perfume and cosmetics: Villa Moda (+971 (0)4 330 4555), and Aïzone (+971 (0)4 347 9333). Egyptian designer Azza Fahmy does stunning contemporary Islamic and Arabic-inspired jewellery, and Bateel is the shop to hit for delicious chocolate-covered dates.

Best markets
Bur Dubai souq, for curly-toed Aladdin slippers from Afghanistan and vibrant saris from India; Deira Spice souq to stock up on my frankincense and incense burners; Deira covered souq for Arabian attars (heady essential perfume oils in over-the-top gem-encrusted bottles), and sheesha pipes. Very ramshackle and rough around the edges, these are real souqs where everyday people shop.

Tajine (+971 (0)4 399 9999) offers superb Moroccan cuisine prepared by Moroccan chefs, with live music by Moroccan musicians, served in a magical room that will have you thinking (or dreaming) you were in Marrakesh. Reflet by Pierre Gagnaire (+971 (0)4 701 1111) serves glamorous food in a glitzy room, but what else should we expect from the Dubai outpost of one of France’s greatest Michelin-starred chefs? Mezzanine (+971 (0)4 317 6862) produces superlative contemporary cuisine by Gary Rhodes in a chic mod-baroque setting. Fire and Ice at Raffles (+971 (0)4 324 8888) serves highly imaginative molecular gastronomy that isn’t silly, by a talented young French chef. Maya (+971 (0)4 316 5550) offers authentic Mexican (not Tex-Mex!) in an elegant space overlooking the sea (unfortunately, most people don’t get this one – you need to have been to Mexico and eaten real Mexican to appreciate what’s being dished up here).

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