Glitzy Dubai is the United Arab Emirates’ holiday hot spot. This city of high-rises and shopping malls has transformed itself from a desert outpost to a destination du-jour, where tourists flock for sales bargains, sunshine, and family fun. Dubai is famous for sightseeing attractions such as the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building) and shopping malls that come complete with mammoth aquariums and indoor ski slopes.
10. Mall of the Emirates
Mall of the Emirates is one of the city’s most famous malls with the spectacular (and surreal) Ski Dubai facility inside. The indoor ski slope is complete with chairlifts and a penguin enclosure, all at a continuous temperature of -4 degrees Celsius. There’s also a cinema complex and a family entertainment center with a whole host of rides aimed at both the big and small. The shopping opportunities are boundless, as are the eating options, offering every conceivable world cuisine.
9. Dubai Aquarium
One of the city’s top tourist attractions, the Dubai Aquarium houses 140 species of sea life in the huge suspended tank on the ground floor of the Dubai Mall. As well as free viewing from the mall, if you enter the Underwater Zoo, you can walk through the aquarium tunnels.
Different activities help you get a closer look at the sea life. Glass bottom boat tours (on top of the tank) are particularly popular. Cage snorkeling and shark diving activities are also on offer.
8. Heritage and Diving Village
Dubai’s architectural, cultural, and maritime heritage is showcased at the Heritage and Diving Village, with displays related to pearl diving and dhow building – two of old Dubai’s historic economic mainstays. There are also recreations of traditional Bedouin and coastal village life, with Persian homes, a traditional coffeehouse, and a small souk where potters and weavers practice their handicrafts at the stalls. Local music and dance are performed from October to April, and visitors can get advice from practitioners of traditional medicine.
7. Sheikh Zayed Road
Sheikh Zayed Road is the main thoroughfare running through Dubai’s modern downtown business district. This wide, eight-lane highway is rimmed with towering glass, chrome, and steel high-rises along its entire length. It’s one of the best on-the-ground vantage points for Dubai’s famed skyscraper views. Main attractions are along, or just off, the strip between the roundabout and the first intersection, and most of Dubai’s famous malls are located along the road’s route. The Dubai World Trade Tower has an observation deck on its top floor that offers visitors panoramic views (a cheaper option than the Burj Khalifa), and the Gold and Diamond Park (Sheikh Zayed Road) is a one-stop shop for jewelry lovers, with 118 manufacturers and 30 retailers all under one roof.
6. Jumeirah Mosque
Jumeirah Mosque is considered by many to be the most beautiful of Dubai’s mosques. An exact copy of Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque that is eight times its size, the Jumeirah Mosque is a fine example of Islamic architecture. This stone structure is built in the medieval Fatimid tradition, with two minarets that display the subtle details in the stonework. It is particularly attractive in the evening when lit with floodlights. The Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Centre for Cultural Understanding (which also runs a program of tours, lectures, Arabic classes, and cultural meals) organizes guided tours of the mosque designed to try to foster a better understanding of the Muslim faith. Tours begin at 10am daily, except Fridays.
5. Dubai Creek
Dubai Creek is a saltwater creek located in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Previously it extended to Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary but as part of the new Dubai canal it extends through to the Persian Gulf.
Dubai Creek separates the city into two towns with Deira to the north and Bur Dubai to the south. The creek has been an influential element in the city’s growth, first attracting settlers here to fish and pearl dive. Small villages grew up alongside the creek as far back as 4,000 years ago, while the modern era began in the 1830s when the Bani Yas tribe settled in the area. The Dhow Wharfage is located along Dubai Creek’s bank, north of Al-Maktoum Bridge. Still used by small traders from across the Gulf, some of the dhows anchored here are well over 100 years old. You can visit here, watching cargo being loaded and unloaded on and off the dhows. Dhow workers often invite visitors onto the vessels for a tour, where you can gain insight into the life of these traditional sailors. Many of the dhows here travel onwards to Kuwait, Iran, Oman, India, and down to Africa’s horn. This tiny remnant of Dubai’s traditional economy is still a bustling and fascinating place to wander around.
To travel across the creek, you can either take a trip on one of the many dhows that have been restored as tourist cruise boats or take an abra (small wooden ferry) between the ferry points on the creek’s Bur Dubai and Deira banks.
4. Bastakia (Old Dubai)
The Bastakia Quarter (sometimes also called Al-Fahidi neighborhood) was built in the late 19th century to be the home of wealthy Persian merchants who dealt mainly in pearls and textiles, and were lured to Dubai because of the tax-free trading and access to Dubai Creek. Bastakia occupies the eastern portion of Bur Dubai along the creek, and the coral and limestone buildings here, many with walls topped with wind-towers, have been excellently preserved. Wind-towers provided the homes here with an early form of air conditioning – the wind trapped in the towers was funneled down into the houses. Persian merchants likely transplanted this architectural element (common in Iranian coastal houses) from their home country to the Gulf.
Lined with distinct Arabian architecture, the narrow lanes are highly evocative of a bygone, and much slower, age in Dubai’s history. Inside the district, you’ll find the Majlis Gallery, with its collection of traditional Arab ceramics and furniture (housed in a wind-tower) and the XVA Gallery, with a contemporary art collection (located in one of the historic buildings).
3. Burj Khalifa
Dubai’s landmark building is the Burj Khalifa, which at 829.8 meters is the tallest building in the world and the most famous of the city’s points of interest. For most visitors, a trip to the observation deck on the 124th floor here is a must-do while in the city. The views across the city skyline from this bird’s-eye perspective are simply staggering. The slick observation deck experience includes a multimedia presentation on both Dubai and the building of the Burj Khalifa (completed in 2010) before a high-speed elevator whizzes you up to the observation deck for those 360-degree views out across the skyscrapers to the desert on one side and the ocean on the other. Nighttime visits are particularly popular with photographers due to Dubai’s famous city-lights panoramas. Buy your Burj Khalifa “At the Top” Entrance Ticket in advance to avoid long line-ups, especially if you are planning to visit on a weekend.
Back on the ground, wrapping around the Burj Khalifa, are the building’s beautifully designed gardens, with winding walkways. There are plenty of water features including the Dubai Fountain, the world’s tallest performing fountain, modeled on the famous Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas.
2. Dubai Museum
Dubai’s excellent museum is housed in the Al-Fahidi Fort, built in 1787 to defend Dubai Creek. The fort’s walls are built out of traditional coral-blocks and held together with lime. The upper floor is supported by wooden poles, and the ceiling is constructed from palm fronds, mud, and plaster. In its history, the fort has served as a residence for the ruling family, a seat of government, garrison, and prison. Restored in 1971 (and again extensively in 1995), it is now the city’s premier museum. The entrance has a fascinating exhibition of old maps of the Emirates and Dubai, showing the mammoth expansion that hit the region after the oil boom.
The courtyard is home to several traditional boats and a palm-leaf house with an Emirati wind-tower. The right-hand hall features weaponry, and the left-hand hall showcases Emirati musical instruments. Below the ground floor are display halls with exhibits and dioramas covering various aspects of traditional Emirati life (including pearl fishing and Bedouin desert life) as well as artifacts from the 3,000- to 4,000-year-old graves at Al Qusais archaeological site.
1. Dubai Mall
Dubai Mall is the city’s premier mall and provides entry to the Burj Khalifa as well as the Dubai Aquarium. There is also an ice-skating rink, gaming zone and cinema complex if you’re looking for more entertainment options.
The shopping and eating is endless and there are nearly always special events such as live music and fashion shows within the mall. The most famous of these are the annual Dubai Shopping Festival in January and February and the Dubai Summer Surprises Festival in July and August.