Visiting Dubai - What to See and Do
(Dubai International Airport DXB, United Arab Emirates)
It is obvious upon casual inspection that Dubai
likes to do things over the top. This wealthy little emirate goes for the biggest, the tallest and most impossibly out-of-place attractions imaginable. Thankfully, it is not all glass and steel here. This iconic city has managed to retain a pleasant smattering of its traditional culture amidst the skyscrapers and uber-malls.
The Dubai Creek still runs inland from the sea, filled with traditional dhow boats that ferry passengers between the modern district and the old town of Al Bastakiya. The Gold and Spice Souks are another great look into the past, while everywhere else, the city faces clearly into the future.
From its indoor ski area, to the world's (currently) tallest building and one of the planet's largest shopping malls, Dubai rarely does things modestly. There is watery fun at Aquaventure, desert adventure right on your doorstep and superb beaches at the edge of the city's streets. Prepare to loosen the purse strings and be amazed at this oasis of indulgence in the desert.
Ten things you must do in Dubai
- The Burj Khalifa is currently the planet's tallest building, rising like a glass needle from the completely flat desert. Just looking at it is a surreal experience, and the elevator ride to the 124th floor's observation deck is definitely worth the admission fee if the weather is clear. If possible, book a room in its six-star hotel.
- Dubai's Gold Souk is famous around the world and worth a visit simply to gawk at the sheer quantity of gold in its myriad forms. Though the gold is priced at market value, the diversity of jewellery, gemstones and other baubles is astounding. Some great deals are available in this vast souk, and the craftsmanship is excellent.
- Take a look back in time at the Persian roots of the city in the lovely Al Bastakiya neighbourhood. Spread along the Dubai Creek, it is the best area in the city to wander, especially in the early morning, when it is still refreshingly cool. Visit the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding to join a 60-minute walking tour that will explain the history of this fascinating district.
- It is usually hot in Dubai, which makes the ultra-modern and gigantic Aquaventure water park an absolute treat, whether you are a kid or not. Float down the lazy river with its little sections of rapids and waves, splash around in one of the many pools, or slip down the seven towering water slides for a little thrill. It is a great water park, with the different bathing suits hinting at the many cultures enjoying the place.
- One of the top attractions for animal fans is Dolphin Bay, an educational and entertaining centre inside the Atlantis Resort. The highlights are the Dolphin Encounter that lets up to ten people touch the creatures in a shallow pool, and the more extreme Dolphin Adventure that lets six people actually hold and ride a dolphin. Visiting the education centre is free for everyone.
- Between the Mall of the Emirates and the even bigger Dubai Mall, you have got the planet's largest single shopping complex. The Dubai Mall itself has over 1,000 shops, 160 places to eat, an indoor skating rink, a theme park and a very enjoyable water fountain show. The Mall of the Emirates is no slouch either, with its indoor ski resort, huge cinema complex and high-end retail shopping. You simply have to see these two malls to believe it.
- If you aren't staying at a beachside hotel, you can still enjoy the lovely sand and sea at one of Jumeirah's excellent beach clubs that allow guests to buy a day pass. The advantage of a beach club is that you get to enjoy water sports, swimming pools, fitness clubs, restaurants and bars as if you were a guest at a top hotel.
- Ski Dubai is such a lark that you just have to check it out. It covers three football fields, has a chair lift and the longest run is some 400 metres / 1,300 feet. Even when it is 45°C / 113°F outside, visitors are shivering in the ski dome, while skiing, snowboarding or tobogganing. There is also a play area for snowball fights and snow angels.
- The Jumeirah Beach Park is the public stretch of beach for those who aren't staying at a beachside hotel. It runs for nearly a mile and is easily the nicest of the city's handful of public beaches. You can rent umbrellas and chairs, buy ice cream and swim in the warm water. Worth noting, it closes at sunset, at which time everyone has to get out of the sea.
- The only mosque in Dubai that is open to non-Muslims is the Jumeirah Mosque. It is the emirate's main mosque and a real beauty. Dress conservatively at this attraction and stop by anytime for a look inside the venerable building. The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding organises 90-minute tours that start at 10:00. You can even take photos, although children under four are not allowed inside.