Dubai is the glittering jewel of the United Arab Emirates, home to feats that can only be described with superlatives. Here you’ll find the world’s tallest building, the largest shopping mall on the planet, and the biggest indoor ski slope ever constructed. It is the largest city in the UAE and its most densely inhabited. Its airport is also the world’s busiest, and it is frequently named one of the most expensive cities for travellers to visit. Fiercely cosmopolitan and unapologetically trendy, Dubai sizzles in the desert heat with no shortage of awe-inspiring amusements at every turn. Read on for our list of The City of Gold’s best attractions:
The Burj Khalifa is undoubtedly Dubai’s biggest attraction, cutting through the skyline at an imposing 2,722 feet. It is the centrepiece of the luxurious mixed-use urban concept that is Downtown Dubai, surrounded by posh hotels, world-class restaurants, luxury residences and designer boutiques. 160 of its 200 stories are completely habitable, with the 9th to the 16th floors occupied by 144 suites for the Armani Residences, and the 19th to the 108th floors occupied by The Residence and The Burj Club, a health and wellness retreat for the uber elite. Additionally, the posh Armani Hotel receives guests from the 39th floor, the world’s highest swimming pool is located on the 76th floor (why not?), there’s a fine dining restaurant at the 122nd floor, while the observation decks are at the 124th, 125th, and 148th floors, respectively.
The tower, predictably, attracts numerous celebrities, but it is also a celebrity in its own right, featuring prominently in Hollywood blockbusters such as Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Furious 7, the seventh instalment to The Fast and the Furious franchise.
Tickets for access to the observation decks can be purchased online for those who wish to look down on the mere mortals milling about below. They can be a good deal cheaper if you pre-book and visit during a non-peak hour. Some Dubai tour packages also include tickets to this stunning skyscraper. Make sure to check with your agent to see if it’s included, or if it can be arranged for you.
At its foot is The Dubai Mall, the world’s largest shopping mall, bar none. It features 1,300 shops within its confines, as well as an aquarium, an ice rink, 150 food and beverage outlets, and indoor theme parks—yes, in the plural.
In keeping with the opulent, over-the-top theme, the Dubai Fountain is also at the foot of the Burj Khalifa. It’s a musical dancing fountain system that cost 218 million US dollars to build and is considered the largest of its kind on the planet. It can spray up to 83,000 litres of water into the air and is equipped with 6,600 lights and 25 colour projectors, features that can be seen even from over 20 miles off. It’s set in yet another architectural marvel: the fully man-made, 12-hectare Burj Khalifa Lake. Fountain performances are scheduled at 1:00 and 1:30 in the afternoon, and then every 30 minutes starting at 6 PM to 10 PM on weekdays, and from 6 to 11 PM on the weekends. Keep in mind that in Dubai the weekend is Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, not Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Burj al Arab
Designed to look like a ship’s sail catching wind, the Burj al Arab is Dubai’s second most well-recognised architectural marvel, a lavish hotel for the ultra-wealthy set upon an artificial island about 280 metres from Jumeirah Beach. It is currently the 7th tallest hotel in the world, though it houses only 202 suites on 28 double-story floors.
Guests can start the luxe experience even before check-in, as they can opt to be picked up from the airport with a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce. Upon arrival, each guest receives a personal greeting while cooling their heels at the lobby with refreshing towels, coffee, and dates – nothing so pedestrian as a check-in counter here. Ushers will then deliver guests to their two-floor suites where they’ll meet their very own personal butler, who will attend to their every need throughout the duration of their stay.
There are nine restaurants and bars on the premises for those who can peel themselves away from their rooms; complimentary access to the five swimming pools, private beach, and Jumeirah’s Wild Wadi Waterpark is included, of course. There’s also a fantastic spa, a tricked-out fitness centre, and a kid’s club for the littles. Even if you’re not staying, the Jumeirah Beach area is a well-known tourist draw and there’s plenty to see and do besides gape at the building on the horizon.
Dubai is a city with a can-do attitude. They don’t really see the word “impossible” here. Nowhere is this state of mind more apparent than at the Palm Jumeirah, an artificial archipelago that extends off Dubai’s coast into the Persian Gulf. The islands, which were formed with reclaimed land masses, have been arranged so that they resemble a palm tree within a circle when viewed from above.
As of 2016, there are about 10,500 people who live on these man-made islands in upscale private residences. It is also the site of several luxury hotels and resorts and swanky retail and dining establishments, making it a popular full-service holiday destination. Popular activities include yachting, swimming, sunbathing, speedboating and other over-water amusements, and much, much more.
Palm Jumeirah is part of the Palm Islands development which includes two more artificial archipelagos built in a similar fashion that will extend beach space in Dubai by about 520 kilometres. The other two, Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Deira, have not yet been completed.
With its slightly more liberal way of life and excellent infrastructure, Dubai is an ideal vacation destination for those who can afford it. The public transport network here is the best in the Middle East, but the most convenient way of getting around is by renting a car or using taxi cabs.
Do note that despite being one of the more modern regions in the Emirates with expats making up about 85% of the population, this still is a city that follows Islamic law quite strictly, and it will do you well to brush up on local customs so as not to run afoul of it. That said, it truly is a city of wonders that anyone will surely enjoy.