Nada Badran’s personal and professional travel philosophy is to “visit like a local”, an approach that rings dear for so many of us, and with that, she has perfected the art of the extraordinary travel experience.
The ultra charming, stupendously well informed Nada designs and leads tours of Dubai, integrating the Dubai you’ve heard all about and the Dubai that only the locals know about. This is a far cry from your standard city tour!
1. Where do you call home
Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I live right in the downtown area of Dubai where I can hear the sounds of the city humming. My apartment building is surrounded by an unbelievably wide variety of places including my favorite Karak Tea spot, Satwa Falcon Cafeteria which caters to my all day caffeine cravings in white styrofoam cups, and for only 30 cents, a rarity in Dubai.
2. Earliest memory of Dubai
The World Trade Center. The building was the city’s first skyscraper, built in 1979 and standing tall with 39 floors in the middle of the desert. Driving in from Abu Dhabi, seeing the Trade Center meant we had arrived in Dubai and was met with hurrahs of relief, mostly by our parents who had grown tired of answering the dreaded ‘are we there yet?’ questions.
3. Best spot to eat local, with locals
Al Mallah Cafeteria in Al Diyafa Road. It’s a classic Dubaian spot where you’re guaranteed an excellent chicken shawarma with plenty of garlic to thwart any potential eating distractors.
4. Most memorable meal
I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to sit down with so many incredible people by virtue of my job and to break Arabic bread with. My most recent memorable experience had to be with a Bostonian visiting Dubai for work and for the first time. We sat down for an early dinner at Al Ustad Special Kebab and mused existentially about life, history, politics, relationships, and business, all without crossing swords over who gets more hummus.
5. Best place to watch the sunset
Has to be the desert. In Dubai, one is spoilt for choice when it comes to jaw dropping backdrops all over the city. However, the desert is by far my favorite canvas to watch the sun slowly sink beneath the horizon, with the seemingly endless dunes changing both shape and color with the blowing wind and movement of the sun.
6. A building you'd happily get locked into for the night
I would love to have my own Night at the Museum experience in The Louvre Abu Dhabi. I’d roam about the now-empty galleries at my own pace and stare at the artworks whilst making up theories behind their artists’ inspirations. I’d then pick a spot beneath its stunning dome and stare up at its immaculate design as I wait for the promised rain of light that the dome casts through its holes in incredible mosaic patterns.
7. One store you can't live without
I‘m frankly not much of a shopper. I avoid the malls like the plague, especially on weekends when parking alone can take up to an hour. Yes. I’m talking about you Dubai Mall. We do have a Ripe Food & Craft Market which opens on weekends where you can pick-up awesome one-of-a-kind merchandise from local businesses.
8. One afternoon all to yourself, what do you do
Probably curl up on my sofa with a book in hand. For me, reading is basically free therapy. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, it opens my mind to new thoughts, opinions, and emotions which is always enriching.
I’m currently reading a book called The World in a Grain by Vince Beiser. I had recently attended a literature festival in Dubai where I had met the author. We were chatting and I was fascinated to hear about his inspiration behind the book, a story about the sand mafias in India who illegally mine sand to capitalize on its global demand and his narrow escape when covering the story. His book delves deep into the topic which I would have never imagined to be scarce – the sand that is.
9. What the guidebook won't tell you
Tourists often visit Dubai to see its flashier attractions, but Dubai’s magic is best captured through conversations with its people. We don’t bite. I promise.
10. Dubai's most interesting hotel
Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa. An incredible retreat in the desert far from city chaos.
11. Where do you escape for the weekend
I love finding weekend-long escapes from Dubai. My last weekend-long trip was to Armenia, which is only a 3 hours flight from Dubai, a history buff’s paradise, and Europe’s best kept secret. It was fascinating to explore the streets of its capital, Yerevan, which was surprisingly very modern yet still evokes the spirit of the country’s dark past. A few hours from the city, I was mind-blown by the stunning backdrops of its countryside and its architecturally brilliant monasteries which are steeped in history.
Hotel recommendation: I stayed at the Republica Hotel Yerevan, a modern boutique-like hotel that was centrally located in the city, so was super convenient to get around from.
12. The first thing you do when you get home from a trip
Sometimes even without heading back home first, I’ll call up my favorite street bakery, Zaatar W Zeit. They are open 24 hours and I place an order for an oven baked ‘cheese and zaatar manousheh’. Its regional importance is what I often describe to foreigners as the equivalent of a bagel back in the US. I’ll ask for it to be packaged ‘to-go’ so I can enjoy it at home, but who am I kidding? That manousheh is long gone before I arrive at my doorstep.
13. Don't leave Dubai without...
Wandering with Nada. Guilty self-promotion but I have the reviews to prove it and I can promise you, my enthusiasm for the city is contagious.