Dubai is definitely an oasis in the middle of the desert – a giant metropolitan oasis. When I explain what Dubai is like to my friends and family I tell them it’s like a shiny, new Las Vegas set in the Middle East. There’s no gambling and less influence of alcohol, but the grandeur of the city will still amaze you.
From a distance Dubai might seem overwhelming or intimidating, but it’s extremely safe, clean and easy to navigate with public transportation, so you definitely should not be afraid to explore Dubai on your own. The locals are extremely nice and on several occasions went out of their way to help us. English is the official business language in the UAE, so it’s a breeze to communicate. A couple of days is enough to get a good grasp on the city and to experience all or at least most of Dubai’s top ten attractions.
1.) Burj Khalifa
Go up the world’s tallest building at a rate of 3 floors per second. This building stands at 2,716 feet tall with 160 floors, where 2 of the floors hold observation decks – the 124th and the 148th floors. The view from the 124th floor is similar to the view on the 148th floor, but the ticket price is significantly cheaper. (Check for discounted tickets on Groupon.) Purchase/pick up tickets and enter through the lower level of the Dubai Mall.
2.) Dubai Museum
Built as a fortress in 1787, this museum showcases the history and modernization of Dubai. The museum has an easy to follow layout that provides a good flow through the exhibits. There are replicas of traditional houses and boats as well as displays on the traditional life of Dubai citizens, desert landscapes, and boat manufacturing. At 3 AED (about 1 USD) for an adult admission, this museum is well worth the time and money.
3.) Spice Souk
This market is composed of dozens of open-air and closed-roof shops nestled among a few narrow, covered streets. From the dim sunlight pouring in, to the fragrant incense burning, to the beautiful display of spices, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into an old Indiana Jones movie. You can purchase spices and dried fruits used for cooking traditional Arabic food as well as fragrances and herbal remedies like frankincense and myrrh. Other goods like lamps, textiles and rugs are also for sale in this picturesque market.
4.) Dubai Fountain
Cap off your day by watching the Dubai Fountain dance and illuminate to a variety of music soundtracks. The fountains erupt twice daily in the afternoons, but they are magical at night. The evening performances occur every half hour from 6pm to 11pm. I recommend seeing more than one because the shows vary and the crowds die out as the evening progresses.
5.) Desert Safari
Escape the crowds of the city and venture into the desert to enjoy an enchanting evening under a sky of stars. If you’re a thrill seeker, chose a safari where you can go dune bashing or 4-wheeling through the sand dunes and you won’t regret it. For dinner, enjoy an Arabian feast with traditional entertainment like mesmerizing belly and Sufi dancers.
6.) Dubai Mall
You can spend an entire day in the Dubai Mall and still not see everything. There are 4 floors and 5.4 million square feet to explore. It’s easy to get lost in a space this big, so there are 8 guest service desks to ease your frustration. This mall boasts an incredible 1,000+ shops, 100+ restaurants, indoor ice rink, aquarium, and 22 movie screens.
7.) Jumeirah Mosque
There’s no shortage of mosques in Dubai. The king ordered one to be built every 500 meters, so there are over 55 in the city. The Jumeirah Mosque is one of the most photographed because of its beauty. It is open to the public for educational tours from Saturday through Thursday at 10am. Dress modestly (cover everything except your face, hands and feet) to enter, or opt to wear one of the traditional garments available at the mosque.
8.) Burj al Arab
This hotel is the world’s only 7 star hotel and offers luxury amenities like a complimentary helicopter flight from the airport, a private driver with a Bentley or Rolls-Royce to tour the city, and a golden pool in which to relax and escape the stress of life. Even though this hotel isn’t open to the public, it’s worth getting close and daydreaming about what it looks like inside. If you’re dying to get inside for less than the cost of a night, make a reservation for afternoon tea or dinner.
9.) Dhow River Cruise
Travel the river the same way locals did well before the bustling metropolis was built – by dhow. A dhow is a small boat used in Eastern Arabia that has been in use for hundreds of years. Navigating the river is a great way to get a different perspective of the city.
10.) Palm Islands
Venture onto the world’s largest man made islands. Take the affordable Metro (about 20 AED for a day pass) to the monorail (25 AED for a round trip) to journey up the trunk of the palm tree all the way to the Atlantis Resort. The monorail is elevated, so you can visually see the branches of the palm tree as you travel toward Atlantis.
The United Arab Emirates is constantly out-doing itself by building more out of this world attractions, and I’ve never seen so much construction in my life. The whole city of Dubai is preparing to host the 2020 Expo, so a new world’s tallest building, a second 7 star hotel, an underwater hotel, the world’s largest amusement park, and more man-made islands are all on the table to be completed by 2020.
Dubai is an extremely diverse city where you can find almost any restaurant or product you desire. You can ride a camel in the desert or visit the Spice Souk in Old Dubai and then paint the modern town red. Whether you chose to live it up in Dubai is up to you, but a visit to this city should be on your travel wish list.
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