DUBAI, WHOSE ADDRESS could well be Number One, Arabian Riviera, combines the sophistication of a first world metropolis with the potent tang of the Middle East. Justly viewed as one of the most go-ahead cities on the planet, it has transformed sand dunes into golf courses and erected glittering shopping malls on what was once little more than barren desert. Marinas packed with yachts and cabin cruisers have replaced fishing dhows bobbing at anchor, and the billowing sails of the Burj Al Arab hotel replace the Bedouin tent as the emirate's principal icon. New residents can look forward to enjoying a luxurious way of life tinged with a certain exoticism. The shopping in Dubai, anchored around an annual cut-price retail extravaganza, has attained legendary status, with malls such as Ibn Battuta (named for Arabia's wandering Marco Polo) providing a heady mix of international designer labels and local handicrafts within a themed complex. But no single modern retail outlet comes close to the centuries-old Gold Souk, an Aladdin's Cave of precious metals, where ornaments are sold by weight (according to the day's international pricing) and a strong measure of age-old courtesy. Incidentally, there is hardly a security guard in sight. The shopping in Dubai, like the eating, is endless. The emirate's vast smorgasbord of restaurants offers the world's cuisines laid out for the myriad expats who have come to live and work in the city. While humus, kebabs and the like are found at every turn, Dubai expresses its cosmopolitanism in the scores of eateries that serve everything from gourmet French fare and jet-fresh seafood to authentic Cantonese, backed up by extensive and discerning wine lists. Many hotels make great play with Sunday brunch, an event that is as social as it is delicious. Dubai is famous for its high temperatures and zero taxes, and both combine to make for a dizzying social scene, especially in the pubs, bars and clubs. These are usually part of the larger hotels and resorts, commanding sea views or perched atop skyscrapers to afford a metropolitan panorama. Because Friday is the official weekend, Thursday tends to be the big night out, with the volume pumped up and the ice tinkling in glasses as soon as the sun goes down. Inexpensive taxis cluster around the main night spots, so getting home is never an issue. Families with children rarely find themselves short of somewhere to go. Dubai has spared no expense in building some amazing children-friendly attractions. Wild Wadi is a sophisticated water theme park, with the highest and fastest rides outside North America. And only Dubai could have built an indoor ski slope that boasts a variety of runs, 6,000 tonnes of snow and chairlifts. If Dubai could be said to have a national sport, it would be horse racing. It hosts the world's richest horse race and many other equine events, all generously patronised by the ruling al-Maktoum family. Golf comes a close second. Fans of the game find themselves in their element in a range of top-class courses, including the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club, which is right in the heart of the city. Photographs from just a couple of decades ago show Dubai as a cluster of buildings by a stretch of water with the desert next door. Beyond the city limits are the wadis, where residents enjoy one of their favourite recreations, 'wadi bashing'. Roaring through the sands in a four-wheel drive is exhilarating, and usually ends with a picnic or barbecue far away under the stars. Cruising on the azure waters of the Arabian Gulf is as popular. By courtesy of the city's busy sailing clubs, you can hop aboard a racing yacht, a dinghy or a converted dhow. In just half a century Dubai has vaulted from sandy backwater to world-class destination - and continues to grow as it accelerates into the 21st century.