Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, has become one of the most popular ‘exotic’ destinations in the world. And with good reason – this city on the shores of the Persian Gulf has a pleasant year-round climate, little crime and offers a wide selection of accommodation, shopping and nightlife. It’s a city of superlatives and one that is continually changing – Dubai already boasts the world’s tallest building and the largest artificial island and plans call for the world’s largest hotel and shopping mall. Unlike some other nearby destinations, Dubai is suitable for women travelling alone and families, making it one of the most desirable destinations in the Middle East.
The centre of Dubai is a collection of striking and modern skyscrapers, but one place to capture some of the atmosphere of old Dubai is down by the waterfront in the area known as the Creek. From here, Arabic trading boats known as dhows still make regular journeys to places as distant as East Africa and India. You can easily hire one of the dhows for a trip along the waterfront, or see the area from the promenade which winds alongside the water. At the edge of the Creek, there is a small museum devoted to Dubai’s maritime and trading traditions.
The other neighbourhood which manages to retain some of the old flavour is Bastakiya, a short distance from the waterfront. This area still retains its narrow streets and tall stone towers, used for cooling the house’s interior, along with many traditional courtyard houses. The area is being gradually restored, and many of the homes have turned into cafes and galleries. Not far from here is the Grand Mosque, which boasts the city’s tallest minaret as well as many domes with beautiful stained glass panels.
One of the biggest attractions in Dubai is the shopping, which attracts visitors from all over the Middle East and even further away. The city has no import duties; as a result, many luxury items are a lot cheaper than they would be in the United States. There are many modern and stylish shopping malls in and around the city offering top brand names and designer goods – and of course, the luxury of air-conditioning as well. Dubai has also become one of the best places for nightlife in the Middle East, with a wide selection of bars and clubs.
For a more traditional shopping experience, visit one of the city’s several souks or market places. The most popular of these specialise in local food and vegetables, gold and silver, and hand woven carpets from the surrounding region. There is also an entire street selling electronic items and photographic equipment at discount prices. Don’t forget to bargain with the stallholders – it’s part of the experience. Even the airport is a shopper’s paradise; it is one of the largest duty-free shopping zones in the world, open 24 hours a day, and has recently undergone expansion to offer even more shops.
Dubai is also a popular place for sports, boasting the usual selection of water sports, as well as several picturesque but challenging golf courses that make full use of the desert setting. Wild Wadi is a popular water park that boasts 30 attractions and rides including a 100-foot ride that reaches speeds of 50 mph. If you are in Dubai during the colder winter months, don’t miss one of the exciting and fast-paced camel races, held in the city most weekends. Camel races are not staged just for the tourists – they are considered a serious business as well as a passion in Dubai.
Even if you can’t afford to stay there, a visit to the Burj Al Arab hotel on the coast near Dubai is an unforgettable experience. This hotel is simply the best in the world – the world’s only 7-star hotel – with spacious luxury suites and gourmet restaurants. The hotel was cleverly designed to reflect the character of the area, and resembles a vast billowing sail. At night, the 1000 foot high building is surrounded by spectacular choreographed displays of fire and water, making it visible from miles around.
Overshadowing the Burj Al Arab hotel – as well as every other building – is the Burj Dubai building, currently the world’s tallest. At just over 2,600 feet, the building is several hundred feet taller than the next tallest building in the world. It has 160 floors and also has the distinction of having the highest occupied level in the world. The view from the observation deck of the city, the surrounding desert and ocean is spectacular. Down below, pleasant gardens offer a peaceful escape from the busy and crowded Dubai streets.
There are several excursions you can easily take outside the city into the surrounding desert, to see various archaeological sites – or just to try sleeping under the stars. One of the most popular tours is to a nearby Bedouin village, where the activities may include a traditional feast and camel riding lessons. For those slightly less adventurous, you can spend the night at Hatta, a luxury resort in the foothills of the Hajjar Mountains, and overlooked by the historic Hatta fort. Hatta is popular with locals as well as tourists, and is convenient for weekend getaways.
Dubai is exotic – the faithful are still summoned to prayer several times every day – but at the same time, it offers the familiar and comforting sights of home – malls, fast food and air-conditioned hotels. It is this successful blending of cultures which has made it into one of the top vacation and business destinations in the Middle East.