2023 Year in Review: 23 things we loved in the UAE 

2023 Year in Review: 23 things we loved in the UAE 



From Beyoncé to Barbenheimer, and COP28 to celebrity chefs, here are the year’s highlights.

As we say goodbye to one year and hello to another, 2023 has been special. 

We mourned together at the ongoing conflict in Gaza. We celebrated together at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2023. We laughed together at actor Jason Mamoa’s love for the capital as Yas Island Ambassador. And it’s fair to say, we changed the world together, thanks to COP28 – United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai. 

This was the year of the celebrity chef, from Jason Atherton throwing down the culinary gauntlet with Row on 45 to Dinner by Heston Blumenthal’s medieval menu throwback. The UAE’s food industry continued to get the recognition it deserved, as the MICHELIN inspectors awarded Abu Dhabi four MICHELIN Stars and Dubai with 14 MICHELIN Stars. 

Can you call yourself a UAE resident if you didn’t visit Atlantis The Royal? Bonus points if you were invited to the star-studded opening. If you managed not to take a photo at the Beyonce Knowles concert, we salute you. Oh, and a golden visa will be coming your way if you could drive through the autumnal downpours. 

Rizz was Oxford University Press’ Word of the Year, Swiftie entered our slang, and AI got us wondering if we would all lose our jobs. Plus, the UAE confirmed that it’s never short of ambition, as megaprojects were announced as regularly as tram stops and the laws changed on gambling. 

We hope you enjoy this love letter to the last twelve months. Here are 23 things we loved in the UAE in 2023.

Atlantis The Royal

In the UAE, we are used to seeing structures rise from the sand and into the sky. Atlantis The Royal has been created one Tetris-like block at a time and officially opened to the public in February 2023. The site includes 795 rooms, 102 suites, celebrity chefs, a state-of-the-art spa and a private beach stretching two kilometres. In true UAE style, it is home to the world’s largest jellyfish tank (4,000, to be precise) and Skyblaze Fountain (a fire-meets-water show).

Cloud 22


Whether you were team Barbie or Oppenheimer, it suddenly felt like you had to wear your film on your sleeve. Barbie may have been fashionably late to the GCC, but it still had a pink-tastic impact. Suddenly, it felt like we had entered a Barbie world, as every other bar, café or restaurant had been painted pink. Abu Dhabi’s BYOU Beauty Salon had Barbie-inspired treatments and L’Arc Café had Barbie-inspired drinks and desserts. Barbie went on to become the highest-grossing film of the year and generated more than $1 billion at the global office.

Year in review

Beyoncé Knowlesconcert 

While Beyoncé’s concert was part of the Atlantis The Royal’s opening party, it is worthy of its own entry. The invitations were so sought after – the FACT Editor-in-Chief secured one – and hit the headlines around the world. Taking place on 21 January 2023, it marked her first concert in four years. The set list included 17 songs, from Brown Skin Girl which she performed with her daughter Blue Ivy, to the breakout banger Crazy In Love. In a nod to the region, she performed with the Lebanese dance group, The Mayyas, and wore the Dubai-based fashion label, Atelier Zuhra.

Beyonce in Dubai

Celebrity chefs 

Jason Atherton flexed his MICHELIN muscles with Row on 45, which offered a 17-course menu. The supper club turned restaurateur Hawkerboi opened his first restaurant. James Soo Yong Kim impressed us with Les Dangereux in Abu Dhabi. FACT Dining Award Dubai winner Reif Othman opened Hoe Lee Kow. If you suffered from the #dubaiproblem of not being able to get a reservation at Tom Arnel’s The Guild, we wish you luck for 2024. 

Soul Collective DXB

Concerts in the UAE 

The UAE turned up the volume with amazing A-list concerts. The Formula 1 concerts included Chris Brown, Shania Twain and Foo Fighters – the rock band’s frontman, Dave Grohl, said he needed a “no cursing” sign to remind him not to swear. Backstreet Boys, Charlie Puth and Robbie Williams all rocked Abu Dhabi. Towards the end of the year, however, concerts were cancelled out of respect for the conflict in Gaza, and many have been rescheduled for 2024. 

Chris Brown

Comedians in the UAE 

If you thought the UAE lacked a sense of humour, we present to you a long list of comedians who performed in the country. Andrew Schulz made jokes about the Burj Khalifa, Kevin Hart stopped a fight in the Abu Dhabi audience, and Trevor Noah praised the UAE for having “a whole different swag”. Trevor joked about Emirates Airline: “The videos come down and the video starts – boom. Most countries around the world are like, ‘we’ll do it in English so people are comfortable’. Emirates are like, ‘hell no, you know what time it is, you’re coming to our country, we’ll finish our announcements and then we’ll get to you’.”

UAE comedy shows

COP28 UAE – United Nations Climate Change Conference 

All eyes were on Dubai, as COP28 UAE – United Nations Climate Change Conference came to the city. Running from November to December 2023 at Expo City Dubai, the annual global climate summit bought together world leaders and created policies to tackle climate change. The famous faces included King Charles III, King of the United Kingdom and Head of the Commonwealth; Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Rishi Sunak; and Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris. 


Dubai Bling 

While we had to wait until the end of the year for Dubai Bling, we did get a cast member Ebraheem Al Samadi’s wedding to keep us entertained. The second series aired on 13 December, and includes lavish locations, fashionable frocks and a whole lot of drama. The cast includes Indian-born and Dubai-based Farhana Bodi; British Iraqi influencer, Safa Siddiqui; Saudi Arabian TV host, Lojain Omran; and CEO of a luxury real estate agency, Zeina Khoury. Co-founder of Huda Beauty, Mona Kattan, has also joined the show.

Dubai Bling locations

First commercial brewery 

Here’s some news to raise a craft beer to – Craft by Side Hustle announced that it will become the first company to legally make alcohol in the UAE. The commercial beer brewery will open in Abu Dhabi and has been granted a license to sell beer on tap, which is brewed on-site. The microbrewery will be located at The Galleria Al Maryah Island, and it can make approximately 25,00 pints a month. The aim is to make 75 different brews, and five to 10 will be available at any given time.

Year in review

Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2023 raced into the capital. Taking place in November 2023, it was held at the Yas Marina Circuit. The Belgian Dutch Max Verstappen led the way with 549 points, and he beat Charles Leclerc and George Russell. The event welcomed celebrities from around the world. One snap alone included Chris and Liam Hemsworth, Jason Statham, Naomi Campbell. Priyanka Chopra, Rosie Huntington-Whitley and Will.i.am. Plus, celebrities in attendance included actor Orlando Bloom, footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, and Chinese American actress Liu Yifei.


Gambling laws 

The UAE has often been called the Las Vegas of the Middle East – just without the gambling. In September 2023, the country introduced a new regulatory body to oversee commercial gaming. The General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority aim to create a regulatory framework for a national lottery and commercial gaming. Plus, a Las Vegas-inspired island is currently under construction.

Wynn Al Marjan Island

Gaza support

Since October 2023, the ongoing conflict in Gaza has made headlines around the world. The UAE has shown its support – not only could people donate through Emirates Red Crescent, but there were small businesses playing their part. All Things Acai donated its profits to PCTF, The Giving Movement donated its proceeds to Tarahum – for Gaza, and Yava donated its profits to charity. Plus, there were special exhibitions including On This Land at Alserkal Avenue.  


Homegrown brands go global 

The UAE is home to world-class brands. To prove the point, cafés and restaurants that were born here have flown the nest. Dubai brands have gone to London: FLTR Coffee opened in Marylebone, the dessert boutique Kayu Bakehouse opened in Shepherd’s Market, and the supper club turned restaurant, Kinoya, made its debut in Harrods. Plus, Chef Izu’s GAIA opened in Mayfair and serves his signature Mediterranean menu.

best restaurants in Dubai

Hotel openings 

Whether you’re doing a daycay or staycay, the UAE is filled with hotels to meet your needs. Bab Al Shams, A Rare Finds Desert Resort reopened after a dazzling redesign. JA Fort Terra Cabins offered peak views and pet-friendly rooms. In 2023, hotel opening announcements included Earth Hotels in Abu Dhabi; Earth Shore in Ras Al Khaimah; Wynn Al Marjan Island in Ras Al Khaimah; and a second hotel in the Heart of Europe. Plus, Ciel in Dubai aims to be the tallest hotel in the world.

Bab Al Shams

Kanye West 

The controversial American rapper Kanye West seems to be right at home in the UAE – so much so, he was spotted taking his shoes off at Atlantis, The Palm’s Nobu. Chef Nobu explained: “The reason he was barefoot was because he gave me a pair of shoes of his design that he wore”. He was also spotted at Formula 1 and Dubai Design District. The Giving Movement’s founder, Dominic Nowell-Barnes, shared a photo of himself with the rapper – could a design duet be on the cards?

Year in review

K Pop stars

K Pop music is popular across the world, and the UAE is clearly a fan. In January 2023, BLACKPINK bought their world tour to Abu Dhabi. In September 2023, Hyperound K-Fest Abu Dhabi took place, and the line-up included the boyband group P1Harmony; rapper Sik-K; DJ Woogie; GOT7’s lead boyband member Jay B; rapper, record producer and singer Peakboy; and the rock band The Rose. 

Blackpink in Riyadh

Million Dollar Listing UAE 

Whether it’s in blockbuster movies or reality TV shows, we love seeing the UAE onscreen. In September 2023, Million Dollar Listing UAE dropped on STARZPLAY, and offered a glimpse into the lives of five UAE-based real estate brokers. Filmed in Arabic and English, the series followed Ben Bandari, Nassira Sekkay, Riad Gohar, Rami Wahood and Zay Brown. Plus, Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles’ Josh Altman made a cameo. 

Million Dollar Listing UAE

Padelxs floating padel court

Padel courts seem to be hitting hard in the UAE. The #trending sport was played on land, but then it became possible to play on water. In February 2023, Padelx opened the first floating padel court in the GCC. Located in Jumeirah Lake Towers, Dubai, visitors can hit some balls, while soaking up the lush lake views. Worried about losing your balls? Fret not, there are glass walls. 


Royal wedding 

If you love a love story, Sheikha Mahra and Sheikh Mana had us swooning. The royal wedding took place in April 2023. Sheikha Mahra’s parents are Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Bin Mana Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and Ruler of Dubai, and Zoe Grigorakos. For the big day, she wore a white dress by the Dubai-based brand Ezra Couture and accessorised her outfit with diamond jewellery and a Chopard diamond watch. 

royal wedding

Royal babies

The royal fever did not stop with weddings. In October 2023, Sheikha Mahra and Sheikh Mana announced that a royal baby was on the way. His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum shared photos of his newborn son, Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum. Sheikh Hamdan also posted a photo of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai holding the newborn. The caption stated: “May Allah protect them”. 

Year in review

The Dubai Balloon 

There are so many ways to enjoy Dubai’s Insta-worthy views, from The Burj Khalifa to The View from the Palm. In February 2023, The Dubai Balloon took off and visitors could travel 300 metres into the air. Located in Atlantis Aquaventure, it offers a family-friendly experience. The 10-minute ride boasts views spanning the Arabian Gulf to Dubai Marina. 

The Dubai Balloon

Tyra BanksSmize & Dreams

The last thing you expect to see a fashionista eating is ice cream. In January 2023, the American model Tyra Banks proved us wrong, and she opened Smize & Dreams in person in the UAE. Located in Brunch & Cake’s restaurants across the country, the ice cream shop pays homage to her childhood. She told us: “I am obsessed with ice cream and have been since I was a wee little one. My great-grandma used to make ice cream, cranking it by hand. Years later, I would bond with my mum over ice cream.” The flavours include Biscaramel; Butter Pecan But Betta; Purple Cookie Mon-Star & Me; Salt & Peppa Sweet Cream; Strawberries and That Salted Cream.

Tyra Banks

UAE megaprojects 

Will they or won’t they? The UAE loves a megaproject. We heard about everything, from the showstoppers (Dubai Reefs) to the strange (a two-storey swimming pool). In December 2023, it was announced that a Las Vegas-inspired island, aptly titled The Island, would open in 2028. The deal made headlines, as it is one of the largest construction contracts in Dubai since 2017, and hints at a shift towards gaming in the country, which is currently not home to casinos. Located off the coast of Umm Suqeim, it spans 10.5 hectares and will include Aria, Bellagio and MGM. 

The Island