I have lived in Dubai since the late 1990s, much before the city became the global metropolis it is today. Before the world was bowled over by the mind-boggling skyscrapers and opulent investments, I knew Dubai in its infancy stage just before the property boom.
Dubai is one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates. The largest and most populous city in the country, Dubai is known for its unique opportunities, ultramodern architecture, pampered lifestyle, and luxurious amenities. As a result, Dubai is considered as one of the best and most expensive places to live in the Middle East.
Dubai is viewed as a desirable vacation destination for tourists from around the world. In the first half of 2017, the city witnessed a 10.6 percent increase in the number of tourists. That measures to be 8.06 million people.
So, what can a local like me suggest to visitors to Dubai? Read on to find out!
THINGS TO DO IN DUBAI
The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Road
Dubai is well-known for its massive air-conditioned shopping malls. But when an outdoor shopping and dining promenade was opened in 2008 by Dubai Properties Group, it was an instant hit with residents of Dubai. The Walk is a 1.7 kilometer long strip at the ground and plaza level of the Jumeirah Beach Residence complex in Dubai.
Complete with pavement cafes, fashionable boutiques, local handicrafts, recycled art, sand sculptures and many others, it is hard to believe that this part of Dubai was a complete desert up until 2007. Beach-goers revel in water and sand sports, as well as camel rides.
The Walk is also located adjacent to Dubai’s “golden mile”, the signature service of the Hilton Worldwide Resorts brand, now located in Jumeirah as the Hilton Dubai Jumeirah Resort and Hilton Dubai The Walk.
The Grand Jumeirah Mosque
Built entirely from white stone in the medieval Fatimid style, the Grand Jumeirah Mosque is the most photographed mosque in Dubai. Large enough to seat 1,200 worshipers, the mosque’s slender minarets and intricately carved domes are a sight to behold, especially at sunset.
The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in Dubai conducts 75 minute tours of the Grand Jumeirah Mosque for non- Muslims, everyday of the week except Fridays. The tours begin at 10 am, and do not require any reservations. Visitors interested in this unique opportunity to learn about Dubai culture, must arrive at the main entrance of the Grand Jumeirah Mosque by 9:45 am. Modest dress is advised, though traditional attire is available on the premises of the mosque.
The tours cost AED 20 per person, and includes traditional Dubai hospitality treats, including dates, Arabic coffee, tea and traditional pastries. Children under the age of 12 can visit for free.
Majlis Ghorfat Umm Al Sheif
Built in 1955 before the oil boom, this relic of the past has long been forgotten amidst the glitz and glamour of Dubai. The words “Umm Al Sheif” is in honor of one of Dubai’s famous Pearl Fisheries.
At the time, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al Maktoum ruled the United Arab Emirates as Vice President and Prime Minister, as well as Emir of Dubai. Responsible for the modernization of Dubai, he was acutely aware that oil resources would soon become depleted and was the visionary behind major trade infrastructure. His famous words were, “My grandfather rode a pony, my father rode a pony, I drive a Mercedes, my son drives a Land Rover, his son will drive a Land Rover, but his son will ride a camel.”
Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al Maktoum would spend his summer afternoons at the Majlis Ghorfat Umm Al Sheif in Dubai. Made of gypsum, chandal wood, coral as well as teak wood from India, the two-storey structure features traditional Emirati elements such as a palm frond roof, wind shutters, and a wind tower. This allowed breezes to travel through the structure, creating natural ventilation during the hot Dubai summers.
The ground floor consists of an open porch with columns and a small room. The upper floor has an open porch, the main hall and a small room. The majlis is decorated with rugs, daggers, rifles, lanterns, coffee pots and radios. The palm garden consists of an irrigation system known as falaj.
Till date, the UAE National Celebrations in Dubai are held here.
Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary
Dubai is not only a magnet for millions of tourists each year. It is also the destination of choice for thousands of migrating birds.
The Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary in Dubai was internationally recognized in 2007 by the Ramsar Convention, a 1971 treaty signed in Ramsar, Iran for the global conservation of wetlands.
Literally translated as “Cape of the Creek”, Ras Al Khor is one of the few protected urban spaces in the world. Located at the mouth of Dubai Creek, the wildlife sanctuary covers an area of 6 km. It consists of salt flats, intertidal mudflats, mangroves, as well as lagoons, and supports more than 20,000 migratory birds belonging to 67 species, such as the West Asian Flyway, grey herons and black-winged stilts. But the pink flamingos are the star attraction for visitors to Dubai, and feeding time is one to watch out for.
Tourists in Dubai can access the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary through two platforms equipped with on-site binoculars:
— The Flamingo Hide on the western edge off the junction of Al Wasl and Oud Metha roads.
— The Mangrove Hide on the southern edge located near the mangrove forests.
Abbas bin Firnas in Dubai
When it comes to the history of flight, we often think of the Wright brothers and Leonardo da Vinci. Some may even have heard of Eilmer of Malmesbury, who attempted to fly a glider in the 11th century. But few realize that the original architect of flight was born in the 9th century, a man unknown to the West but celebrated in the Muslim world: Abbas bin Firnas. Visitors can learn more about him at Dubai’s Ibn Battuta Mall.
Abbas bin Firnas was born in 810 in Ronda, Spain (Andalusia). He was an inventor, physician, engineer, poet and musician. Descending from Berbers, he lived in the Umayyad Emirate of Cordoba.
Abbas bin Firnas is the first man to make a controlled flight in human history. Inspired by Chinese kite designs discovered through the Silk Road, he first parachuted off the Grand Mosque in Cordoba, but sustained minor injuries.
For the next 23 years, Abbas bin Firnas studied the flying mechanisms of birds and continued to improve his machine. At the age of 65, he once again launched himself into the air, this time from a mountain. He managed to complete an entire circuit, coming back to his point of origin. However, he had failed to provide a stability mechanism to ease his landing and as a result crashed to the ground. His back injured, he could not make a third attempt.
The Guadalquivir river in Cordoba, an airport in Baghdad and a crater on the moon all have one thing in common- they are all named after Abbas bin Firnas.
Original Skeleton of Diplodocidae in Dubai Mall
Located in the Souk Dome of the Dubai Mall, these bony remains of a long-necked whip tailed sauropod are over 155 million years old. Discovered in the sleeping position at the Dana Quarry, Wyoming, USA in 2008, more than 90 percent of the bones are original. The prehistoric skeleton was originally housed at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. However, the founder of Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Modern Art Gallery, Khalid Seddiq, had it shipped to Dubai.
Scientists have named the prehistoric dinosaur Amphicoelias brontodiplodocus. The skeleton is of a young adult, measuring 80 feet long and 25 feet tall. These dinosaurs were primarily vegetarians, and used their long necks to reach into tree tops, swallowing entire branches and leaves without chewing. Since they weighed nearly the same as five adult elephants, the vertebral columns of these dinosaurs were thin so as to support their enormous weight. Bones resembling two beams under the tail helped provide uplift.
One interesting detail that scientists noticed was that the tail bones of the prehistoric dinosaur were broken, despite the rest of the skeleton being completely intact. Hypotheses include the tail being viciously bitten by a prey in self defense, or being injured in a fight.
It is postulated that the dinosaur may have died in a drought. Dana Quarry was a natural trap where both predators and prey came to drink water.
The Waterfall at Dubai Mall
Installed in 2009, The Waterfall in Dubai Mall was designed by Singapore-based DPA Architects. It consists of two cylindrical structures, that are 30 meters in diameter and 24 meters in height. An overhead reservoir continually recycles the water.
Running the entire height of the Dubai Mall (four levels), The Waterfall is adorned with fiberglass sculptures of human divers. Designed to reflect sunlight by day, and illuminated at night, this Dubai art installation creates a dynamic visual illusion of rhythmic flowing water.
Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo
Measuring 51 meters in length, 20 meters in width and 11 meters in height, the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo is the world’s largest suspended aquarium.
Located in the Dubai Mall, the 10 million liter tank houses more than 140 species of marine life, including the largest collection of Sand Tiger sharks in the world.
Visitors to the Dubai Mall can walk through a 48 meter tunnel, with stingrays and sharks swimming over their heads. They can also take a boat tour to the bottom of the tank, get inside a snorkeling cage, go swimming with the sharks, or ride a personal miniature submarine known as the Shark Scooter.
The Dubai Fountain
The Dubai Fountain is one of Dubai’s most endearing tourist attractions. Located outside the Dubai Mall in Downtown Dubai, it is the world’s tallest dancing fountain. Situated on the 30 acre man-made Burj Lake, the Dubai Fountain is over 900 feet in length. That’s the same as two football pitches.
The Dubai Fountain has over 6,600 WET Superlights, one of the most advanced incandescent large fountain lights available. In addition, the fountain also has color projectors that create a total visual output of 1,000 water expressions, and 1.5 million lumens.
The Dubai Fountain performs to a variety of melodies, ranging from classical Arabic music to contemporary world songs. Its unique structure consisting of five circles of different sizes, two arcs, and powerful water nozzles help deliver a mesmerizing dance masterpiece. At any given moment, the Dubai Fountain can shoot more than 22,000 gallons of water into the air.
The Dubai Fountain performs its routines at the following times:
— Sunday-Wednesday 13:00, 13:30, every 30 minutes from 18:00 to 22:00
— Thursday-Saturday 18:00 to 23:00
At The Top Burj Khalifa
The Burj Khalifa is a megatall skyscraper in Downtown Dubai. With a height of 829.8 meters and a roof height of 828 meters, it is the tallest structure in the world.
The building is an international landmark for Dubai, and has been featured in popular culture. Scenes from the 2011 American action movie Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol were shot here. The Burj Khalifa has also appeared in other movies like Geostorm and Independence Day: Resurgence, as well as television documentaries like Mega Builders.
The Burj Khalifa was originally named “Burj Dubai”. But when Abu Dhabi and the UAE government lent money to settle Dubai’s debts, the building was renamed in honor of the ruler of Abu Dhabi and the President of the United Arab Emirates, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Visitors can reach the admission reception of At The Top Burj Khalifa via the Dubai Mall. Once tickets are confirmed, visitors step onto a 65 meter long travelator, which takes them through time, describing the story of Dubai from its earliest days to the present.
Visitors are transported to the observation deck on the 124th level in a high-speed elevator, traveling at 10 meters per second. Once on the observation deck, the floor-to-ceiling glass walls provide incredible 360-degree views of Dubai. Important landmarks, the city sights, the vast ocean, and the desert sands. It is a truly remarkable way to experience Dubai. In fact, when the ocean tides are low and the skies clear, people can even see the shores of Iran.
The observation deck also features an electronic telescope, an augmented reality device that allows visitors to view the Dubai landscape in real-time, as well as previous images saved at different times of the day or under different weather conditions.
The At The Top Burj Khalifa tour usually lasts 1.5 hours. But visitors can stay as long as they want. They may also catch a bird’s eye view of one of the dance performances of the Dubai Fountain.
Dubai Museum and Al Fahidi Fort
Built in 1787, the Al Fahidi Fort is the oldest building in Dubai. Serving first as a wall of defence, the Al Fahidi Fort was later turned into an arsenal for artillery and weapons, as well as a prison for outlaws.
The Al Fahidi Fort was renovated during the reign of the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. It was opened to the public in 1971, the same year the United Arab Emirates was born. In 1995, another underground museum was built and added to the fort. All together, the Al Fahidi Fort today houses the Dubai Museum.
Visitors can discover Dubai’s history and its heritage, through galleries that recreate every day life in Dubai before the discovery of oil. Historic pearl diving, Arab houses, souks, mosques, ship building and date farms. They can also view archaeological finds that date back to the third millennium B.C. including pottery, weapons and tombs.
The halls of the fort surround a central courtyard, where cannons, cannonballs, and models of boats can be found. A traditional summer house called Arish stands in the corner of the courtyard. Made entirely from palm fronds woven together in a wind tower design, the Arish consists of a kitchen, seating and sleeping areas complete with furnishings and objects used by the locals in the past.
Abra Ride across Dubai Creek
Al Khor or “The Creek” is a wide saltwater inlet that divides the heart of Dubai into two main city center districts: Bur Dubai and Deira. Before Dubai’s rapid expansion and land reclamation, the Dubai Creek was the original center of trade and commerce. Even today, abras or traditional boats made of wood, can be seen shipping cargo up and down the Creek. It is a world of contrasts; the traditional coral and gypsum wind towers and minarets, against the modern skyscrapers and glass towers.
Visitors to the Dubai Creek can buy a one-way ticket for the super cheap fare of 1 AED. If visitors want a more personal evening, an abra can also be hired for longer trips at a rate of 100 AED per hour.
There are two main routes:
— The first route runs in front of the Spice Souk, between Bur Dubai Abra Station (west end of Textile Souk) and Deira Old Souk Abra Station.
— The second route runs from Bur Dubai Old Souk Abra Station (middle of Textile Souk) to Al Sabkha Abra Station.
Dubai Miracle Garden
Located in Al Barsha South, the Dubai Miracle Garden opened on Valentine’s Day in 2013 and now receives up to 1.5 million visitors a year. With more than 60 million flowers on display across 72,000 square meters, Dubai Miracle Garden is the world’s largest natural flower garden.
There are 60 varieties of flowers, including geraniums, petunias and marigolds, that are preserved by re-using waste water through drip irrigation. The vibrant floral displays are changed every season to provide visitors a different experience every time they come. Walking under a canopy of colorful umbrellas, or marveling at floral pyramids. There is so much for the eye to behold.
The Dubai Miracle Garden is also home to the Dubai Butterfly Garden, an indoor butterfly sanctuary that is open all year round. The garden on the other hand, is open daily from October to April.
In 2016, the Guinness Book of World Records awarded the title of “largest floral installation” to the Dubai Miracle Garden’s life-size replica of the Emirates Airbus A380.
SHOPPING IN DUBAI
Dubai is known as the “shopping capital of the Middle East, and is home to more than 70 shopping centers. The Dubai Mall for example, is the world’s largest shopping mall.
Since tourism plays an important role in the Dubai government’s strategy to maintain a steady flow of income, shopping is used as a major incentive to attract tourists.
Shopping malls are also venues for other activities like fashion shows, cultural celebrations, and traveling displays.
Another major lure for tourists is gold. The Dubai Gold Souk is located in Deira, in the locality of Al Dhagaya. With more than 300 retailers, the world’s largest gold market sells jewelry and gemstones from places like Dubai and India. Estimates reveal that at any given time, there are nearly 10 tonnes of gold in the souk.
Visitors can find jewelry crafted in 22 and 18 carat gold, pearls, diamond studded ornaments and more. Since the Dubai government regulates the quality of precious and semi-precious merchandise, all purchases are genuine and are given a receipt.
LUXURY HOTEL RESORTS IN DUBAI
When it comes to pampering guests with unique amenities and unrivaled comforts, Dubai’s luxurious hotels lead the hospitality industry both regionally and internationally.
Burj Al Arab
With its distinctive silhouette designed to look like a giant billowing sail, the Burj Al Arab stands out in the Dubai skyline. This five star luxury hotel has come to symbolize Dubai, and has been featured in movies such as Mission Impossible 4 and Syriana.
The Burj Al Arab stands on an artificial sand island 280 meters from Jumeirah Beach, and is connected to the mainland via a bridge. At sundown, the hotel’s facade comes alive with lights that move across its sail-like features.
Guests at the Burj Al Arab are treated like royalty the moment they arrive at the Dubai International Airport. You can either choose to be picked up by a white Rolls Royce, or arrange for a helicopter transfer and land on the hotel’s helipad. The helipad, which is located 212 meters above sea level, is also the world’s highest tennis court. In 2006, Roger Federer and Andre Agassi had a friendly match in preparation for Dubai Duty Free Men’s Open, part of Dubai Tennis Championships.
Everything about the Burj Al Arab exudes opulence. The hotel’s atrium lobby is the tallest in the world. The walls and flooring are made of Statuario marble, the rarest type of marble found in Italy. Authentic 24-carat gold leaf adorns the furnishings, including the TV screens.
Each floor has its own reception desk and fleet of butlers. There are 202 rooms and all have magnificent views of the Arabian Gulf. But one of the Burj Al Arab’s unique residences is its signature Royal Suite. It comprises of a staircase made of marble and gold, as well as a four-poster canopy bed on a rotating pedestal. The super king beds consist of the finest Egyptian cotton sheets, and guests can choose from up to 17 types of pillows. The ornate bathrooms are spacious, and come with a jacuzzi as well as a complete set of Hermes toiletries.
No trip to Dubai is complete without visiting the iconic Burj Al Arab. Whether savoring fresh scones with jam at Afternoon Tea, reclining by terrace pools, or taking a simulated submarine voyage through the aquarium, guests will have an experience larger than life. Fancy some gold dust on your cappuccino?
Madinat Jumeirah of Dubai is the largest luxury resort in the United Arab Emirates. This opulent five star luxury resort’s architectural beauty lies in its imitation of a traditional Arab city. It is spread over nearly 40 hectares of landscaping complete with palm fronds, waterways, arches, bridges, and its own private beach. The waterways also harbor one of Dubai’s turtle sanctuaries, with the aim of rehabilitating injured turtles before releasing them into the wild.
The Madinat Jumeirah consists of three grand hotels: Jumeirah Al Qasr, Jumeirah Mina A’Salam, and the more recent Jumeirah Al Naseem. In addition, there are 29 summerhouses in Jumeirah Dar Al Masyaf and 7 Jumeirah Malakiya Villas.
Guests are spoilt for choice with the myriad of features this Dubai luxury resort has to offer. The Madinat Jumeirah includes two grand ballrooms, an amphitheatre that can seat a 1,000 people, five tennis courts, 2 kilometers of private beach access, 26 private rooms at Talise Spa, as well as a climbing wall and high altitude suite at Talise Fitness. The resort also has Dubai’s only entertainment center and multi-purpose venue, Madinat Arena.
Guests can enjoy an eclectic mix of boutique brands, souvenir shops, luxury goods, jewelry and local Dubai products at the Souk Madinat Jumeirah. The narrow passages imitate the souks of a bygone era, with subtle lighting, heavy doors and the smell of oud (frankincense).
There are over 40 restaurants and bars, more than enough to satisfy any appetite and taste buds. Whether you fancy Oriental cuisine at Zheng He’s, the flavors of Mexico at Tortuga, or local culinary specialties at Hanaaya, Madinat Jumeirah is the favorite haunt of Dubai’s food lovers.
As the evening progresses, guests can lay back and relax on wooden abras (traditional water taxis of Dubai), weaving their way through the stunning water canals, past wind towers and forts of this Arabian fantasy land. The next time you are in Dubai, come explore the Madinat Jumeirah!
Atlantis The Palm
The legend of Atlantis comes alive in Dubai at this nautical-themed luxury hotel resort. The first resort to be built on an island, Atlantis The Palm, or “Atlantis” as it is most commonly referred to, is a joint project of Kerzner International Holdings Limited and Istithmar. It was designed by architects Wimberly, Allison, Tong and Goo (WATG), an international firm specializing in luxury hotels. The core structural integrity of the 23-story hotel was handled by UK based multinational construction company, Laing O’ Rourke.
When Atlantis was officially opened in September 2008, more than 100,000 fireworks were set off from nearly 700 firing stations in Dubai. That’s seven times the number that was used in the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Located at the peak of Dubai’s exclusive Palm Jumeirah, Atlantis offers rooms with unparalleled elegance and ambiance. Guests can enjoy impressive views of the Palm Island and the Dubai skyline, that too from the privacy of their own balconies. One of Atlantis’ signature collections is its underwater suites. Unique in the Dubai hospitality landscape, the floor-to-ceiling windows provide breathtaking underwater views of the 65,000 marine inhabitants of the Ambassador Lagoon. In 2015, the resort was awarded “World’s Leading Landmark Resort” by the prestigious World Travel Awards.
Atlantis is the top pick by celebrities traveling to Dubai. As a result, it is not uncommon for guests to stumble across their favorite star, a film shooting or a live show with real-time contestants. In 2016, three episodes from season 3 of The Real Housewives of Melbourne were based at the resort. Mission 7 in the video game Ace Combat: Assault Horizon takes place in Dubai, where players can fly through the resort gates to earn an achievement. The Bollywood movie Happy New Year was shot almost entirely in Atlantis.
For the perfect gastronomic evening, Atlantis is the ideal dining destination for both locals and tourists in Dubai. Michelin Star chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Nobu Matsuhisa make frequent visits to Dubai to host culinary delights at the resort. There are 23 restaurants including Seafire Steakhouse and Bar, Saffron Asian Buffet, Shawafel, Ronda Locatelli, and Ayamna Lebanese Restaurant.
Guests at the Atlantis have privileged access to a number of activities in the resort. Enjoying an immersive Hatha Yoga class surrounded by aquatic life in The Lost Chambers Aquarium. Hopping on one of many thrill rides at Aquaventure Waterpark. Scuba diving with bottlenose dolphins. Sun tanning at the Nasimi Beach or getting a facial at the Shuiqi Spa.
This and much more awaits travelers at Atlantis The Palm, Dubai!
The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina
Overlooking the Arabian Gulf, the Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi occupies a prime spot on Dubai’s iconic Jumeirah Beach. The five star neoclassical beach resort is located close to major attractions in Dubai, and is perfect for guests looking for personal relaxation as well as proximity to Dubai’s central hub.
The palatial rooms come with great luxuries, from marble bathrooms and whirlpool tubs, to private kitchens and gym. Guests can enjoy panoramic views of the Arabian Gulf and the Palm Jumeira.
The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi offers guests a diverse range of amenities, including 5 lagoon-style pools, 1,200 meters of private beach area, tennis courts and privileged access to the Emirates Golf Club. After a long day of exploring Dubai, guests can unwind with a deep tissue massage, acupressure or crystal therapy at The Westin Heavenly Spa. There is also a number of activities at the Water Sports Centre, ranging from water skiing and wind surfing, to knee boarding and kayaking. This makes the resort particularly popular with water sports enthusiasts from Dubai and abroad.
There are nine restaurants and bars at the Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi, including Chinese, Asian, Italian and Spanish. Since I was craving Thai food, I decided to dine at the chic Spice Emporium.
~ Spicy Red Curry with Tofu
The entree consists of bamboo shoots, bell peppers and basil cooked in coconut milk and red Thai chilies.
~ Green Curry with Vegetables
Green peas, broccoli, baby corn, red bell peppers and eggplants are cooked together in coconut milk to create this Thai original.
Not only were the entrees exquisitely cooked, but the evening was further enlivened by performances by traditional Thai dancers. I will definitely be coming back to The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina!
DINING IN DUBAI
Dubai is a food lover’s dream destination. The city has a diverse range of cuisines, that easily cater to the tastes of its multi-ethnic population of locals and tourists. Fast food outlets like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and KFC can be seen everywhere in Dubai, from shopping mall food courts to gas stations. Fine dining options consisting of South Asian, Chinese, Lebanese and Italian are also widely available.
Shawarmas are extremely popular, and can be eaten anywhere, from Dubai luxury hotels to the small diners in Deira and Karama. A shawarma is a Levantine meat dish that involves chunks of lamb, chicken, beef or mixed meats being grilled on a rotating spit. Sometimes, the meats are cooked throughout the day. Shavings are cut off from the main block of meat and served to diners, while the remaining meats continue to be roasted on the rotating spit.
The sale and consumption of pork and alcohol is legal, but regulated. Pork is sold to non-Muslims in designated areas of supermarkets and airports. While a liquor permit is required to purchase alcohol in Dubai, drinks are freely available inside hotel bars and restaurants.
Despite being vegetarian, Dubai left no stone unturned in fulfilling my food fantasies and cravings.I experienced no difficulty in finding a variety of dishes designed to enhance my dining experience. I have compiled some of the many restaurants visited and entrees ravished while in Dubai.
There is so much to Dubai than I could possibly encapsulate in one blog post. The city is continually growing even as I am typing. Every time people visit me in Dubai, they feel it has changed again. What are some of your favorite places in Dubai? Do tell!