Dubai is a visionary’s playground, an architect’s artwork and a traveler’s paradise.
Very often we take what we have so readily available for granted. Somewhere along the lines of yearning to dip my soul in every shore of this planet, I left the shores of my birthplace itself unacknowledged. It is almost astounding how much Dubai has developed in the span of just over a hundred years. The sandy dry deserts were spell-bound to have transformed into glistening infrastructures.
A liberal culture, still very Islamic, where the number of expats are said to have exceeded the number of nationals under a selfless monarchy, nothing but fascinates me. So I decided to re-explore it with new eyes and find all the major reasons behind what makes it seductive.
Here are my TOP FIVE PICKS FOR YOU:
1. Dubai History Museum in Old Dubai
What is a cultural experience without knowledge of how it came to be? Al Fahidi Fort, the oldest fort in Dubai preserved and renovated, which is now called the Dubai History Museum, attracts over a million visitors each year. For a mere 3 dirham (0.82$/0.67€) ticket, you are able to trace back the history of Dubai to the 1700’s when it was used as a port for pearl trade.
As if the war weapons and dhow depictions on the original sandy ground level weren’t enough, they built an entire surreal underground portion with sculptures of people who embodied tradition in action. It almost felt like I was watching a 3-D movie while walking.
The best part is that while you drive all the way to old Dubai, 20-30 minutes from downtown, this is not the only eye candy for you. Right around the corner are the passageways of an old model neighborhood called the Al Bastakiya Quarters. Some of the coolest art galleries, restaurants and calligraphy stores create a comfortable Arabic environment for tourists here.
Better yet, surrounding an end of the Quarter is the Dubai creek – perfect for a long walk or Dhow Cruise dinner excursion.
2. The city’s panoramic view form ‘At The Top’ at Burj Khalifa
With 163 floors, Burj Khalifa has been the tallest building of the world since 2008. Back then I was in high school, and the persistence with which Burj was being constructed swept across all news sources in UAE: how rain or shine, a minimum three floors were being put together each day. I have been at the top in the afternoon and at night, and my recommendation is to invest in the dusk-to-night tickets. The night view of Dubai is breathtaking from the observatory at the top, as the city lights glitter and shine personifying Dubai’s aura and face value.
Although this magnificent structure has its own entrance for commercial and residential apartments, the public observatory has its entrance through the connected passageway in Dubai Mall, which is right beside it. Tickets get sold out really quick, since this is one of the spots tourists from all around the world treasure, hence I urge you to book your tickets way in advance.
3. The Dubai Fountain Show at Dubai Mall
Conveniently enough, Burj Khalifa is right by the largest mall in the world by area – The Dubai Mall. Any and every retail store you name, this mall has it. There is a huge aquarium in the center for those interested and an ice rink for the adventure-minded.
My personal favorite in this mall is the huge Japanese-based retailer Kinokuniya, with sections of genres that contain books from all across the world under one roof. It’s a delight to spend hours just reading in their bookstore seating areas especially for bookworms.
Right outside of Dubai Mall, with a spectacular view of Burj Khalifa and the surrounding buildings, is the Dubai Fountain Show in the lake by the same name, which is the world’s largest choreographed fountain system. The best part about all of it? It is absolutely free of cost!
Throngs of people create stampedes during rush hours, especially at night or during the weekends. I would recommend going as early as possible, to avoid tired shoppers from all over the mall taking from the essence of the calm fountain show.
Here is a map and schedule directly from the website:
Afternoon shows, daily (except Fridays)
1:00pm and 1:30pm
Afternoon shows (Fridays only)
1:30pm and 2:00pm
Evening shows, daily
6:00pm – 11:00pm, every 30 minutes
4. Dune bashing in Desert Safari
The most audacious of your experiences in Dubai, is the fifteen minute dune bashing in desert hummers. Why look for man-made roller-coasters when there is a natural one available in this city.
Usually, desert safaris are done with tour groups that take people to the desert from famous pick up points all over Dubai. It is an all day excursion with an initial dune bashing adventure and the rest of the evening at a camp with traditional belly and Egyptian Tanoura dancing accompanied by snacks and all-you-can-eat dinner buffet.
There are henna, hookah, sand art stalls, camel rides, and pictures with an eagle for those interested. It almost seems like a mini festival in the middle of the desert.
5. Surf and snorkel at the Kite beach
Waves they creep up, invading your privacy just enough for them to catch your attention, and then swift away, back into the abyss of the Arabian Sea. Kite beach is that dreamy place with the seven star pinnacle: the Burj-Al-Arab hotel. Early rising surfers take over especially in the cooler months from October-March to relish these waves and views.
Walk on the other side of the Burj-AL-Arab, and you have yourself the Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR). This is a beach owned by the residence but not limited to the residence. It has a better gentry and cleaner water due to its maintenance and accessibility control. From Reel Cinemas, to big chain restaurant and hotels, this beach has it all.
I particularly enjoy kayaking and watching people skydive from the nearby Palm Jumeirah. They are also constructing a huge Ferris Wheel right now, which should be functional soon.
While you had my top five pics for you, I have three more personal favorites for those who have extra time on their hands:
Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi
In the grand scheme, this place is underrated. If I were the judge, I would call it a wonder of the world. Sheikh Zayed Mosque is one of the world’s largest mosques, having a capacity of 40,000 people. It is an utter breath-taker with chandeliers made of German Swarovski and part-gold.
One and a half hour drive from Dubai cannot suffice for this beauty, that was built by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan to celebrate the cultural diversity of the world of Islam. Grand pillars and clear blue pools surround and add to its serenity. The timings are very reasonable, however the dress code is strict (they provide hijabs for women).
Snow ski in Mall of the Emirates
Second to the Dubai Mall when it comes to area, Mall of the Emirates triumphs the hearts of the shopaholics. However what stands out in particular is Ski Dubai, a huge snow park built in an environment-controlled setting within the mall. Many miss out the icy slope fun in this year-round burning city, and hence this indoor adventure park.
Dhow cruises and dining in Marina
Dubai Marina is a beautiful lake with bustling restaurants and residence that surrounds it. The Dhow cruise is an Arab cultural experience of dining in mobile cruises with exemplified city views that surround the lake.
For those of you who want to experience seven sins of the nightlife come to life under one roof, Pier 7 is your place. It is a signature building in Dubai Marina area with seven exquisite dining experiences in seven different floors. A snapshot of each floor’s experience is provided in its website. This is a good place to relax and smoke shisha (or hookah) after the Dhow dinner.
The best thing about Dubai is that there is Metro to get around. Taxis aren’t uncommon either, and now there is uber! The emergency police or ambulance phone number is 999. I will soon be writing a blog about must-knows about the culture in Dubai, so stay tuned!
Incase I have missed out on anything, feel free to ask questions. Also, I am always open to feedback.
Until next blogpost,