Known as a hedonistic playground for adults, Dubai is indeed the place to be if you've got money to burn. A checklist of top attractions conceived in architects' minds only, the city now boasts real structures that were never considered before. These mighty attractions include the Burj Khalifa, the world's highest building, Atmos.phere, the world's highest bar; in the same complex you'll find the Dubai Wall, the world's largest mall, just out front, is a manmade lake with the world's tallest choreographed fountains.
Dubai is one of seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates, and is the biggest emirate city in the country, and has even surpassed the capital, Abu Dhabi. Bordered by the Arabian Sea, Dubai has the advantage of having a long and wide coastline, which doesn't quite recall the rugged beauty of an exotic island, but does the job in the sweltering desert heat.
Dubai started out as one of the most avant-garde cities in the world, and a couple of decades down the line, it's just about holding it together as a brilliant parody of itself after crossing a harsh crisis period. However, for travellers that are keen on going beyond Dubai's design nightclubs (Cavalli), towering hotels and champagne-fuelled lifestyle, there is another layer to explore; one of vibrant culture and arts, which should definitely not be missed out on.
Dubai living is fast and often frivolous, which sets the scene for things to do here. Shopping, getting pampered and eating well are favourite pastimes, which won't come cheap, but which Dubai has learned to perfect over the last 40 years.
Friday brunch is huge in Dubai, so make sure you have somewhere with great food lined up to sample the real weekend atmosphere. All four and five star hotels offer great spreads, so you can't really go wrong in Dubai.
When in Dubai, you have to visit the Burj al Arab hotel in JBR (Jumeirah Beach Resort) for its unusual architecture alone. You can book afternoon tea or meals at any of the hotel's restaurants.
We mentioned having a wander around the Bastakiya area and the art galleries in Al Quoz in the section above. But we would also recommend going to the fish market on Al-Khaleej Rd near Al-Shindagha Tunnel. The market opens at 6:00pm every day. There are only men at the market, so women might feel more comfortable with their shoulders covered. In the car park there is also shark on sale - whether or not this activity is legal, is unclear.
Dubai is built around the main road, the Sheikh Zayed, which crosses the city from north to south and although there is an over-ground railway network and the emirate is also developing a tram line, the most practical way of exploring the city is still via car. Now in terms of things to see, there is the Burj Khalifa complex that includes the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa Tower (named after Abu Dhabi's sheikh), At.mosphere (the tallest bar in the world), the Armani Hotel, the Dubai Mall (the largest shopping centre in the world), the beautiful The Address Downtown Hotel (although the service here leaves a lot to be desired) and what the locals call 'the lake', where the largest choreographed fountains dance at intervals every evening.
Next on the list is Deira, the original starting place of Dubai, which is still clearly marked by its history. Based around the Creek, a river crossing the city, it is still possible to get a feel for the emirate's authentic atmosphere in its textile and gold souks, or by riding in a wooden dhow (traditional boat) across the river to explore the spice souk and fish market. We also highly recommend just walking along the banks of the Creek to see the colourful traditional wooden cargo boats unload merchandise of all sorts. The arty Bastakiya area is also worth stopping by for a bite to eat. You may want to visit the banks of the Creek now, as the Sheikh is planning a development in the area that has left us speechless - watch this space for the largest bridge in the world to be built over the Creek in the next few years.
The other area that should be on your list is Al Quoz located off Sheikh Zayed Road close to the al Barsha neighbourhood. Here is a thriving art scene with the oldest gallery now 15 years old. At first the area will look like nothing but warehouses and car manufacturers, but delving a little deeper, you will soon see the abundance of galleries; all outing on thought-provoking shows.
And last, but not least, we would recommend seeing Ski Dubai, the indoor snow dome, at the Mall of the Emirates, just to see residents of the Gulf getting kitted up to walk on (false) snow for the first time.
When organising a trip to Dubai, think about the weather as from June to August it is unbearably hot. Few people take the risk of walking outside in the sun around this time of year.
While in Dubai, make sure you are dressed appropriately when visiting the city - Dubai is a lot more lenient than the other emirates, but women wearing revealing clothing may be made to feel uncomfortable via the glares and stares of Emiratis, Indians and Pakistanis.
A holiday in Dubai doesn't come cheap, so make sure you have a considerable budget. If you are going for shopping, then consider going during the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF), which runs from early January for a month. Art fiends might prefer to travel during the Art Dubai fair, which usually takes place in March.
If driving, avoid rush-hour - remember that the weekend in the Emirates is from Friday to Saturday.
Although Dubai is a lot more modern than the other emirates, women should avoid wearing low-cut tops and shorts outside their hotel. Also, remember that drinking and being drunk in public is punishable by law, as is any display of affection to the opposite sex as well as homosexual displays of affection.
The best time to visit the Emirates is from November to March as temperatures reach a cool 30°C instead of a whopping 60°C ?(something you might want to keep in mind when planning your next trip)!
Dubai really is heaven for foodies. As it has such a varied population (only 10% of the population is local), food from all four corners of the globe is prepared just as authentically as in the country of origin. We recommend trying Al Murooj's Indian restaurant, Zaika, The H (formerly The Monarch)'s Okku Japanese restaurant, and the Sofitel for French cuisine. It is sadly rare to find restaurants serving local dishes originating from the country's Bedouin past.
While in Dubai, you can also try skiing and shark diving at the Atlantis Hotel or at the Dubai Mall's aquarium. We recommend spending two days in the desert to learn about the country's past. Several tour operators organise desert camp experiences, but this tends to be a little bit like a Disney attraction. We preferred staying at Bab al Shams (previously Jumeirah), which is a couple of hours out of the city, but allows you to witness sunrise and sunset in the desert in true Dubai style.
As Dubai isn't the most authentic of destinations, there isn't much to bring back apart from camel milk chocolate and a few chintzy keyrings. People tend to bring back sunburnt faces and expensive designer handbangs, which don't actually cost a lot less in Dubai.
However, something worth investing in while in the Emirates is gold, which costs proportionally less than back home. Every emirate has a gold souk, and Dubai's is next to the textile souk close to the Grand Mosque.
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