Visiting Dubai you will notice a lot of skyscrapers south of Dubai Creek and Old Dubai (Bur Dubai).
There was a real construction boom in the early 2000s, to the point that 7% of the world’s cranes were in this city! A lot of labourers, skilled craftsmen, and experienced professions flocked here like moths to a flame, lured by tax-free income, and secure medium to long-term employment contracts by virtue of the project sizes.
Oil is what has made the UAE rich in a relatively short space of time, but the rulers envisioned Dubai becoming a major financial city and tourist attraction – catapulting the craze to build the biggest and the best.
Some projects have been successes, for instance the Burj Al Arab: a self-appointed seven star hotel. Exclusive it certainly is, allowing entry only to those staying there or dining there (booked in advance). It does live up to expectations however, with top-notch service without being over-bearing.
Unfortunately most other more flamboyant projects were not such hits. Take the Palm Jumeirah for instance. The major thing it has going for it is the Atlantis Palm hotel, located at the far end, dominating the Palm branches. This hotel is grand, with a superb water park, and nice, massive aquariums visible from it’s dining rooms and suites.
Another project which has currently hit a dampener is the World Islands. The islands are visible, but not fully developed and built as the promotional videos envisioned.
Getting around was once a real nightmare. There was no decent infrastructure, causing extreme frustration amongst locals and expatriates alike. The main highway (Sheikh Zayed) used to be clogged with traffic barely moving.
The Dubai Metro came to the rescue. It now links areas beyond the airport to parts as far south as Jebel Ali (free zone port). Plus an extension east along the southern fringe of Dubai Creek is under way, enabling one to reach Wafi Mall.
Local buses also serve a lot of areas, and this air-conditioned mode of transport is really very popular, as buses are full during peak hours. The bus stops are attractive, with many being air-conditioned too (now this is a feature no Western city has!). Route maps are clearly displayed, with bus numbers in big letters on the map.
A very wide range of hotels and accommodation are available, as are clubs, pubs, restaurants, etc.
As most of the residents are foreigners, many languages are spoken and understood, and world cuisine is available.
Here are the best things to do in Dubai:
1. Burj Khalifa, Dubai
For visitors, the observation deck is on level 124 (the building continues for another 40 floors) and is reached via The Dubai Mall. Opens from 10am – 10pm, Sun-Wed: 10am – midnight, Thu-Sat. Cost is 100 AED for adults, 75 AED for 4- 12 year olds and free for under 3. There is an express service for immediate entry – an expensive 400 AED – if you have not booked in advance.
Advice is to either book in advance as the numbers are restricted (particularly relevant for sunset times) or turn up on the day and book for an available time. I turned up at 10.15am and received an immediate entry for 10.30am at a cost of 100 AED (but the sunset times were all booked for several days).
Take the metro to the Burj Khalifa stop. Note that the pedestrian bridge walkway from the station to the Dubai Mall is still being built, so it’s either a hot walk (15 mins) or a connecting F3 bus immediately outside the station (but expect a scrimmage to get on at busy times).
At 124 floors, you would expect something of a view. And it certainly provides it in all directions. The proud claim, however, of being able to see 90+ kilometres (56 miles) on a clear day is usually somewhat false. The sheer heat and dust of the desert rarely allows a clear view much beyond the city itself.
And being so high up certainly helps identify the sheer scale of the city and the vast distances between places – just look at the size of the main roads if you need proof of the fact that it really is a pedestrian-unfriendly city!
And, unexpectedly, there is an outdoor viewing platform. Well protected obviously but you can leave the a/c luxury and move into the furnace of the outdoors.
2. Desert Safari
During our visit to Dubai we were keen to get out into the nearby desert, so we pre-booked a half-day trip. We were picked up from our hotel by a 4WD that seated 6 (plus the driver), stopping off at a nearby hotel to pickup the rest of the group. On the way to the desert, we swung by Sheik Mohammad’s Palace – well, drove down the entrance road towards the palace, where we could see loads of peacocks strutting their stuff.
Then it was off to the desert, about 30 minutes drive away. On the way we learned that our car was one of around 40 that the company had out that day, and that we would be driving in convoy once we hit the sand.
Arriving in the desert, we had to wait for most of the other cars to arrive, which gave us time to scramble up a small sand dune and take arty photos of sand, and some camels in the distance. Soon is was time to head off for some fun driving on the sand dunes – like being on a roller coaster but no corkscrews.
The duning was fun, and thankfully no one in our car got sick (I drugged up before hand), nor did we get stuck in the sand or have any other incidents to report. After a couple of stops along the way – for photos, camels, and sunset – we arrived at the desert camp where we dined in Bedouin tents (on surprisingly tasty food) and were entertained by belly dancers.
3. Jumeirah Beach Park
Current reality is that there are hardly any public or open beaches left in Dubai: Villas, apartment blocks and luxury hotel resorts take-up all the beach space there is; and if you wish to use the beach, you’ll have to dig in your pockets for the necessary pennies.
But there is hope! If your hotel is not on the beach or you live in Dubai and don’t have a beach club membership, visit the Jumeirah Beach Park.
The park was opened in 1989 on 13 hectares of land to be the 1st beach park. Different levels distinguish the park, constituting a group of green hills encompassing recreational and games areas with play grounds, sports fields and BBQ areas.
This is one of the few beaches that doesn’t belong to a hotel, yet still offers greenery, toilets, showers, a small kiosk and those ever-important and authentic palm trees for shade… and you can have a whole day of this sun-kissed bliss for only DHS5 per person!
“Where’s the catch?” you may ask… well, this park isn’t really a well-kept secret, so it gets very full on the weekends (Friday & Saturday). So busy, actually, that especially women may not feel comfortable being gawked at by hoards of men.
It’s best to visit the park on a weekday (Sunday to Thursday). Residents are at work, so only houseguests and tourists can enjoy the luxury of a quiet day on the beach.
And ladies, if you want complete peace-of-mind, visit the park on a Monday (Ladies Day). Even the staff at the kiosk and the lifeguards are female, so you don’t have to worry about being gawked at or hit-on by desperate guys.
Please note that even on a ladies beach, it is FORBIDDEN to be topless. This is still a Muslim country, so please keep your swimsuit on!
4. Atlantis – Aquaventure Waterpark
Dubai can be as cheap or expensive as you want to make it. You could stay in the Atlantis Hotel, or pay to use its Aquadventure Waterpark which certainly does look lovely, or visit the sea-lions, or the dolphins, or the aquarium. All of these things are expensive. We considered visiting the aquarium but did not, instead we just had a wander around for free.
There are security men all over the hotel to make sure you cannot go to things you have not paid for, but without paying you can laugh at the gold dispensing ATM machine in the lobby, admire the sea themed paintings on the lobby ceilings, have a look at the dolphin themed lights. Walk down to the front of the hotel and try to get a photo that doesn’t have ninety-two cars in it. We enjoyed all of these things, but then we are cheap to run and easy to please.
I had read negative things about the monorail but personally I liked it. It now links with the new tram. Get on the tram from the metro at Jumeriah Towers Station or DAMAC Properties Station and get off at Palm Jumeriah. The walk from the tram to the monorail is odd as you go through a huge car park, but at least it is indoors and air-conditioned.
You cannot use your NOL card on the monorail. You must buy a ticket from a person or a machine. Single tickets are 15 dirhams, return tickets are 25 dirhams.
The monorail will take you up the trunk of the artificially created Palm Jumeriah Island to the Atlantis Hotel.
From the monorail there are wonderful views of The Burj al Arab Hotel, the Dubai skyline, the Atlantis Hotel Beach and Waterpark. You will also see all the posh houses on Palm Jumeriah Island. There is still some construction going on.
I thought it was worth visiting even just to get to ride the monorail. Inside you can only do so much without forking out a fortune, but there was enough to photograph for free to keep me happy.
5. Al Fahidi Fort – Dubai Museum
We don’t often visit museums on our travels, but I was keen to visit the Dubai Museum, mainly to learn about the more recent history of the city.
The museum is housed within the Al Fahidi Fort, which is possibly the oldest building in Dubai. Originally built in 1799 as a defence against foreign invasion, the Fort has since been used as a palace and prison. It was renovated in 1970 for use as a museum, with further restoration and additions added in 1995.
Outside the entrance to the museum you can have a close look at a traditional Arabic boat, a dhow. Inside, highlights for me included a grave, dug up from a nearby archaeological site, that dates back to the 6th century AD, and I also enjoyed reading about and watching a video about the way the city has grown in the last 50 or so years.
There was plenty to learn about ancient Dubai as well, and in turn you could get a feel from life in the city in the mid-20th century with a market recreation including life-size mannequins.
6. Dubai Creek
Old Dubai is separated into two by the Dubai Creek. On the eastern side is Deira while the western side is known as Bur Dubai. Take a stroll down the banks of the creek and enjoy the beautiful skyline scenery, the hustle and bustle of the merchants on the wharfs and the abras crossing the creek. If you wish, you can also take a tour of the creek by an Abra. Crossing the creek is only Dh1. A half-hour tour costs some Dh150.
You can start after a visit to Dubai Museum by walking towards the creek. You can also stroll along the Textile Souq and enjoy the sounds and sights of traders selling their textiles. Many tourist sights are on the Bur Dubai side of the creek – Dubai Museum, Bastakiya, Textile Souq, Sheikh Saeed al Maktoum House and Heritage Village. It will make a nice walk as you pass one attraction after another (provided it’s not summer!). Take a slow stroll and you will enjoy the atmosphere here.
7. Gold Souq
The gold souk is in essence a long covered gallery with dozens of shops on either side. Even if you are not in the market for gold jewelry, you should walk through. By the time you reemerge into the bright sunlight at the other end, you will feel as if you are covered in gold dust and glow like the shining disc overhead.
If you would like to invest in Dubai’s economy through the purchase of some of the yellow metal, keep in mind the pricing system. There is a base price for the weight of the gold, so the first thing the jeweler will do when you express an interest in a piece is to weigh it. Depending on the complexity of the work involved in creating the piece, the per-gram price will increase. Therefore, a simple piece will cost less that an elaborate one of the same weight. It is this difference between the base price of the gold itself and the increased price for the work involved which you can try to bargain to reduce.
8. Burj Al Arab
Burj Al Arab in Arabic means “Tower of Arabs”. Its Dubai’s most expensive and luxurious hotel where minimum per night rates start from $1000. If you are in Dubai then do try to see this hotel. They would charge you AED 120 ($35) per person as entry fee. This fee is refundable at any of restaurants in the hotel . You are supposed to wear formal clothes and no entry is allowed to any one wearing shorts, sneakers, sandals or other casual clothes. You would need to deposit your cameras at reception as photography inside hotel is not allowed.
The hotel has a sail shaped structure which is 321 meters (1053 feet) above the Arabian gulf. It has been built on a man made island 280 meters (918 feet) off shore. There are 202 suites in the hotel. Jumeirah beach hotel and Wild Wadi water park are located just next to it.
Each suite has its own reception, living area , dinning area and office desk with laptop, scanner, printer, multimedia system, fax and copier. Guests have their own dedicated butlers available 24/24. Each suite has 14 telephones. Bath rooms are on ground floor of each suite.
The sail structure outside gives rainbow colors at night. 22K gold is used on walls, pillars and domes throughout. Hotel’s helipad is located on the 28th floor. The central fountain, called The Volcano, is a centre stage for stunning displays. You can enjoy dancing water works there.
The money you pay at the Burj Al Arab is worth what you see and experience. This hotel is also said to be the world’s only seven star hotel. So plan for Burj Al Arab when you are in Dubai next time!
9. Jumeirah Mosque
You know you’ve entered the most expensive part of town (Jumeirah) once you spot the gorgeous Jumeirah Mosque.
The call to prayer was traditionally made by the “Muezzin” from the top of the minaret. But, “Allah-u-Akbar” (God is Great) is now heard with the help of high-powered speakers 5 times a day.
Dubai is a city of mosques, since it was ordered by H.H. Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum (former Ruler of Dubai) that mosques shall be no more than 500 meters apart.
Mosque literally means a place of prostration and worship.
The Muezzin is chosen to serve at the mosque for his good character, voice, and skills. When calling to prayer, the muezzin faces each of the 4 compass directions in turn while he cries out the Adhan (call to prayer).
Under normal circumstances, non-Muslims are not allowed to enter mosques; however, The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding organises tours that gives visitors a chance to view the city’s most magnificent mosque up close and to encourage expatriates and non-Muslims to know more about Islam, Arabic culture & religious practices. Their Motto is Open doors – Open minds.
Women, please make sure when planning to visit the mosque that you are dressed decently: trousers or wide skirt covering the knees, covering the shoulders and elbows (bringing a light shawl / pashmina is very helpful). It is regarded as especially respectful to cover your hair as well.
10. Madinat Jumeirah
This is definitely one of the most beautiful place in Dubai. It consists of a shopping market for local arts/crafts (Souk Madinat Jumeirah), restaurants/cafés, amphitheatre, pools, fountains, and some resorts/hotels. All are built with local Arabian architecture and beautiful landscapes.
So if you want to look around for local arts/crafts, or indulge yourself at nice restaurants/cafés, or just want to relax while seeing the views, including the infamous Burj Al Arab from near distance, then this place must be your first choice.
Free entrance to the complex. However some areas like beach side are restricted for hotel guests though.
11. Skiing & Snowboarding
Located in the Mall of Emirates is a most unusual attraction for a city located in the desert – an indoor ski slope! Ski Dubai, as it is known, is the first indoor ski field in the Middle East. It looks a bit like a movie set, and is a very popular tourist attraction for the city.
You can ski, snowboard and toboggan here. Besides the standard level ski slope, there is a beginners slope (with lessons mandatory for first timers), play areas for the kids, an area for snowboarders, and even the world’s first indoor ‘black’ run for the serious skiers.
We didn’t actually ski, but spent some time at a café overlooking the very real looking slope, watching beginners learning the basics, and thankful that the thick pane of glass separated us from the icy snow field conditions.
12. Atlantis – Lost Chambers Aquarium
Atlantis is a hotel situated in the Palm jumeira region of Dubai. The mall adjoining the hotel and a theme hall is open to the public. The theme hall is named The Lost chambers of Atlantis. It has an entry fee of 100 aed per adult. It is a fascinating thing to do while in Dubai.
While here, make sure you ride the mono rail from the station adjoining the mall. If you can afford it, the mall has some really trendy upmarket shopping to do.
One of the most popular things for tourists to do in Dubai is to shop. The city is home to some massive shopping malls that can keep you busy for a full day – with not only shopping, but things like dining, movies and even snow skiing!
We visited three of the large malls – The Mall of Emirates (with its indoor snow field), Wafi City (with its over-the-top Egyptian décor), and Deira City Centre (with its one hour taxi queue).
We found many of the clothing shops that we frequent in London, with much the same prices too, along with plenty of designer shops, and a lesser number with a more local flavour. One thing I did note about the clothes in shops that I regularly visit was that the styles on offer here were a noticeably ‘fuller’ cut, and the materials were more garish (to my taste anyway), hence not many purchases were made.
The large shopping malls are open 7 days from around 10am till 10pm or midnight, depending on the day. I can imagine they are very popular air conditioned havens in the hotter months summer.
14. Spice Souq
Souq is the Arabic word for Market.
Just adjacent to the Gold Souq, the Spice/Perfume Souq offers a multitude of Arabic fragrances and seasonings, with exotic aromas from cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, vanilla pods and incense, imported from all over the region. The Spice Souq is also known as the “Perfume Souq” or simply “Deira Old Souq”.
You’ve probably had certain ideas about what an exotic Middle-Eastern bazaar ought to look like – Dubai’s very own Spice Souq does not disappoint this expectation.
Even after such a long time, I still LOVE walking in the narrow streets, smelling and seeing, bright colours, busy merchants, running delivery men… yes, this place truly stands still after all these years.
If you pass by a bakery/restaurant, try a “Zaatar Manakish” – a hot, cheesy bread sprinkled with thyme; delicious! Most of the herbs and spices you find here are far cheaper than in Europe and possess far stronger flavour, such as cinnamon sticks, saffron, vanilla pods and cloves.
I went to the Spice Souk to purchase some ingredients for my cooking and baking. A fair price for 3 vanilla pods (make sure they’re moist) is max Dhs 15.
There are hundreds of shops offering a profusion of heavy, oily scents in the adjacent “Perfume Souq”. A little goes a long way! Frankincense and “Buchhur or Oud”, the traditional incense that is sprinkled over glowing coals, is widely used by Gulf Arabs in their homes and on their clothes.
Many shops sell small “incense sets” consisting of a miniature Persian carpet, and a small wooden and golden chest containing myrrh and frankincense – the famous gifts the 3 Wise Men brought the Christ Child.
Women visiting the Souqs should please make sure their legs and shoulders are covered. Dubai is very safe, but the Souks are male-dominated areas where every bit of female skin is gawked at. You may even find that some men will follow “indecently” dressed women around, in the belief that they are prostitutes.
The main walkway is open to the elements, only the individual shops have air-conditioning. Therefore, only visit the souks after sunset during the summer.
Although most people head to Dubai to shop in the modern malls, make sure you take the time to explore some of the souqs (markets) in the older parts of town. On the Deira side of the Creek we visited the Spice Souq and the Gold Souq. When then crossed the Creek and checked out the Bur Dubai Souq.
The Gold Souq is a must see. Dubai has one of the largest retail gold markets in the world, and the Gold Souq has more than 300 outlets. Even if you don’t want to buy anything it is well worth a browse as the window displays need to be seen to be believed. Window after window of gaudy displays of bright yellow gold bracelets and amazing necklaces worn by brides in Bollywood movies. There are also some more tasteful shops with lots of diamond rings and more ‘normal’ stuff. One other cool thing about the Gold Souq was the drain covers with a diamond on them.
The Spice Souq consists of some very narrow lanes, lined with small shops with displays of things like cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, dried fruit incense and nuts. The spices are apparently imported from different places in the Middle East, and are sold here in large sacks.
The Bar Dubai Souq is located on the western side of Dubai Creek. Under beautifully restored wooden arches, you can browse in the numerous textile shops, and the occasional souvenir shop. Apparently the market is geared towards the large community of Pakistanis and Indians who live and work in Dubai. This market was very quiet when we visited and lacked that hectic ‘market vibe’.
16. Boat Trips
Dhow is the name for a long, flat sailing vessel that is found in the Indian Ocean along the east coast of Africa, the Arabian peninsula, Pakistan and India. They are basically wooden cargo ships of 30 to 130 feet that have plied the ancient trade routes of the Persian Gulf for millennia. They’re built by hand using basic tools and are incredibly sturdy. Local trade in the Middle East is primarily by dhow.
They can be seen unloading along the Creek, the historic heart of the city. There are also plenty of companies offering “Creek Cruises” for lunch or dinner. Some are cheesy, some are romantic, but all are memorable.
Dubai’s waterfront epitomizes the city’s personality and no trip would be complete without a cruise along the 10km (6.2 miles) long Creek is the best way to witness the clashing of the historically old and impressive modernity.
The dhow wharf hasn’t changed much in 1,000 years, except that now some of the dhows haul refrigerators, electronics and car tyres instead of date honey, tobacco and cattle.
The best way to see the trading port is from the water. You can hire an Abra (water taxi). It costs 1 Dhs (Dirham) to cross the creek, or you can pay Dhs 10 and have the entire Abra to youself. We paid 80 Dirhams for 4 of us to take a private tour all the way up and down the creek.
Also take time to walk around the dhow wharfage on the Deira side, to the west of the abra dock to get a closer look at the hustle and bustle and the often hard life of the traders actually living on their dhows. Every day (especially in the winter months in the late afternoon) I see photographers walking along the Dhow wharfage, starting right next to the Chamber of Commerce, opposite the Hilton Dubai Creek Hotel.
17. Bastakia Quarter
For a glimpse of old Dubai, take a wander through the atmospheric lanes of the Bastakia Quarter. This area was built in the late 19th century by Persian merchants, and these days the buildings have been beautifully restored and are now part of a conservation area.
The Bastakia Quarter is home to the largest concentration of traditional wind-tower houses. The wind-towers were not only decorative, but were an ingenious means of cooling houses in the days before electricity, as they funnel cool air down into the house. The typical homes are two stories, with a central courtyard that most of the rooms open onto. They are fairly plain on the outside, but look out for the carved wooden doors and decorative panels on the wealthier merchants homes.
There are a few interesting galleries in the area, and if you need a break and want to have a look inside the courtyard of one of the traditional homes, head to the Basta Art Café, where you can relax with a drink or a meal in the shady courtyard.
18. Wild Wadi Waterpark
Wild Wadi claims to be the largest water theme park in the Middle East. This is not true: the little known DreamLand park in Umm Al Quwain has 50acres more space but is older and more basic. Also, AquaVenture at the Atlantic Hotel Dubai (opened in 2008) is bigger as well.
Nevertheless, Wild Wadi definitely is very well done and laid out, with rides for adults and also smaller children. They’ve basically managed to pack as much excitement as they can into 12 acres and I’ve always had a fun time there.
Unfortunately they seem to be increasing their prices constantly, so it’s not cheap! But if you decide to spend an entire day or even get a family-package price, it’s worth it.
The park consists of 23 rides and attractions, 14 of which are interconnected.
The water can be pretty cold at times, so be prepared to sport some goose bumps if you visit during December or January!
There’s also various food outlets around the park that serve your usual burgers, sandwiches, salads, etc. Unlicensed – no alcoholic beverages. They’ve introduced a cash free payment system of waterproof wristbands that store electronic credits.
My favourites are the “Jumeirah Sceirah” (33 metres/108 feet high. You reach speeds of up to 80 km/h-50 mph!) and the pitch-black darkness of the “Tunnel of Doom”… smile nicely at one of the lifeguards and they’ll turn you around to let you go down the slide backwards… Aaahhh!
19. Big Bus Tour
If you don’t have the time for a full-day city tour, or if you have wisely decided that your suicidal tendencies aren’t sufficiently strong to evoke the need to hire a car and drive in Dubai’s crazy traffic, the Big Bus Tour is a convenient and safe alternative to see the city.
You can hop on and off at your leisure (tickets are valid for 24 hours or 48 hours). Tours operate daily between 09:00am-05:00pm. Since the year 2010 there are now even night tours! The tour has recorded commentary in 8 different languages.
One ticket covers 2 routes:
If you want to see the “real Dubai” and best sights, I recommend the Red Route, which includes the Dubai Creek, Al Fahidi Fort and Dubai Museum, the Souqs (bazaars) and a few shopping malls.
The Blue Route covers mostly the 5-star hotels and fanciest shopping malls. I guess this tour is useful if you want to take a lot of pictures for “showing off” later.
20. Heritage Village
Located along the tight bend in the Creek, the Heritage Village attempts to show traditional life in the emirate of Dubai as it once was. A building with a wind tower, the old Gulf answer to air-conditioning, has been built with an explanation of how the system works.
Small houses made of mangrove and palm frond have been set up as well as stalls where locals demonstrate traditional crafts such as pottery making and metal pot making. The only trouble here is that they are not always open, so check timings carefully. You might call ahead before you go to find out if crafts are being demonstrated because they weren’t when we were there in mid-afternoon.
You can be sure, however, that the shops, which are also within the confines of the Heritage Village, will be open for business. They offer a fairly wide collection of items, though much of what they sell is actually of Indian or Pakistani origin. The cute leather camels you see, for example, are almost always made in the Subcontinent. And the silver Bedu jewelry is mostly new, so if you’re looking for old stuff, it’s best to shop elsewhere.
Dubai Marina is one of the newer projects in Dubai. It is a self sufficient city, built by the beach, with hotels, residential towers, recreation, shops and restaurants. The focal point of this area is a man-made marina which cuts off part of this neighbourhood into an artificial island. Around the marina is a beautiful area with many shops and restaurants and it has become a popular hangout place, especially at night. Dubai Marina is one of the zones in Dubai where foreigners can own property, so it is popular with expats and foreign investors. Those who have lived here have had to endure a couple of years of construction, though fortunately, most of it is near completion. Dubai Marina has some of Dubai’s best resort hotels, such as Royal Mirage, Grosvenor House, and the Ritz Carlton.
You can get to the Dubai Marina by taking the metro to Dubai Marina station or Jumeirah Towers Station. We got off at Dubai Marina and took the feeder bus to the Marina Walkway. This was good for taking photos but very hot and with little shade. We then walked down to the sea next to the Hilton Hotel. There was a public beach next to this hotel with beautiful white sand and clear blue sea. Very very hot though. Had a look in the Hilton and noticed it is possible to use their pool and beach facilities for the day for a fee.
22. Sheikh Zayed Road
The main throughfare connecting downtown Dubai with Dubai Marina and further to Abu Dhabi is called Sheikh Zayed Road. About 10 minutes from downtown Dubai lies a cluster of skyscrapers that house shopping centres, hotels, restaurants, offices and residences. Famous landmarks in this area include Emirates Towers, DIFC (Dubai International Financial Centre), Shangri-La and Dusit Hotels, and the list keeps growing. The latest landmark in the making is Burj Dubai, expected to be the highest building in the world.
It essentially runs from Abu Dhabi to Dubai (some 120 kms/75 miles), but it is the last few kilometres of Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai that are of major interest. It is here, a few miles south of Dubai Creek, that the majority of the new skyscrapers of Dubai are to be found, built in a cluster around Burj Khalifa.
The road itself is six lanes in each direction, with the new Metro red Line running through its centre, and, as one would expect as a centre of finance and business, not only are the buildings offices, but also hotels and, to a lesser extent, apartments.
With the hotels, there are also a number of restaurants (including western chains such as Pizza Hut) lining Sheikh Zayed Road and Etihad has its Dubai check-in at the Chelsea Tower Suites building.
23. Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House
The relatively modest mud-brick house in which Shaikh Saeed Al-Maktoum, the founder of modern Dubai, lived, has been carefully restored and opened to the public. For a tiny fee of Dhs. 2 per person, it presents quite an important view of the settlement as it existed in the first 60 years or so of the 20th century.
Architecturally, the house is essentially a large rectangle with a central courtyard and wind towers at each corner. Wind towers are perhaps the most significant feature of the old regional architecture, and demonstrate a rather clever passive air-conditioning system. Essentially, they are open, square structures with an x-shaped bevel built inside, which channels every available breeze, from whatever direction, down into the structure, thereby cooling the interior as much as possible. Walls are very thick – upwards of 2 feet (0.6 meters) or more – and windows are small, which also help keep the temperature inside down at a bearable level. Decoration is very low-key, mostly consisting of geometric cut-outs above the windows and beneath the roof. This subtlety of design flies in the face of today’s opulence, which is often high Kitsch, a style I privately refer to as “Louis Farouk”.
If you expect to see how the old Shaikh lived, his furniture, or his personal articles, you’ll come away disappointed, I’m afraid. The only room that had any “furniture” in it at all was a small majlis, or reception area near the entrance, with cushions laid against the walls with a carpet in the center. It does house, however, a wonderful collection of early photographs taken in the city between roughly the turn of the century and the mid-60s. I was especially impressed with the series of portraits of the Shaikh and the male members of his family. I was disappointed, however, that the photographer(s) seemed to be anonymous, for no names were mentioned at all.
24. Ibn Battuta Mall
Tirelessly trying to impress tourists, Dubai has one more thing that is a must-see place: Ibn Battuta Mal. Ibn Battuta was a famous Arab explorer in the 14th century. He traveled for about 29 years, covered more than 75,000 miles (120,000 kilometers) visiting the equivalent of 44 countries which were then mostly under the governments of Muslim leaders of the World of Islam.
This mall is actually composed of 7 sections, each section having its own design-theme. There are Indian theme, Chinese, Egyptian, etc. It is not too crowded but far from city center, though public transportation is available to and from (via-airconditioned bus).
25. Mall of the Emirates
The largest mall in Dubai, suitably impressive with an internal ski slope with real snow, cinemas, a carrefour and an abundance of shops selling everything you could want (apart from a Mac shop, have to go to Ibn Battuta for that).
The ski pass for the internal slope was 95AED whilst I was there. You also get provided with all your warm clothes to be inside the giant freezer that is Ski Dubai – I myself have an irrational fear of skiing so I didn’t go in and test it out, but it did look like they were having a good time in there.
In the parking lot, they have people to come and wash your car for you whilst your shopping.
Luckily the mall provides you with a map, so you have some chance of making it back out before retirement, but as the prices are quite a bit lower (for me anyway) than at home, there is a very strong temptation to buy lots of things, i.e. the more you spend the more you save, you can also claim tax back on certain products if you are a foreigner.
- Featured image: Stefan Langmann [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 1. Burj Khalifa, Dubai: Gary Bembridge from London, UK [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 2. Desert Safari: Rob Young from United Kingdom [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 3. Jumeirah Beach Park: Shahroozporia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 4. Atlantis – Aquaventure Waterpark: giggel [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 5. Al Fahidi Fort – Dubai Museum: أمين علوان [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 6. Dubai Creek: https://www.flickr.com/photos/46453719@
N00/297576836, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
- 7. Gold Souq: Ian and Wendy Sewell [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 8. Burj Al Arab: Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA
- 9. Jumeirah Mosque: Leandro Neumann Ciuffo [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 10. Madinat Jumeirah: Aidas U. [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 11. Skiing & Snowboarding: Keirn OConnor from New York City, United States [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 12. Atlantis – Lost Chambers Aquarium: AwOiSoAk KaOsIoWa [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 13. Shopping: giggel [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 14. Spice Souq: Syedphotography [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 15. Souqs: Syedphotography [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 16. Boat Trips: Shahid1024 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 17. Bastakia Quarter: McKay Savage from London, UK [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 18. Wild Wadi Waterpark: Edgar El [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 19. Big Bus Tour: Chris Sampson [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 20. Heritage Village: CultureArts [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 21. Marina: travelourplanet.com [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 22. Sheikh Zayed Road: Imre Solt [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 23. Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House: Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 24. Ibn Battuta Mall: Joi Ito from Inbamura, Japan [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 25. Mall of the Emirates: Smoerrebrood [CC BY-SA 2.0 de], via Wikimedia Commons