12 Things to See and Do in Dubai
Like London or New York City, Dubai is a melting pot with many different people from around the world. Locals are called Emiratis and only makeup about 10% of the total population. The attraction to this city is that it aims to be the biggest, best, and most modern city in the world.
Dubai is in the United Arab Emirates which is in the heart of the Middle East. With their world-class beaches, fascinating architecture, cutting-edge technology, and superb cleanliness, you will be astounded at all that Dubai has to offer.
If you traveled to Dubai 50 years ago, you would have only found dunes and small fishing villages. The rise in oil production caused this city to grow, bringing banking and technology businesses worldwide. Now it is 8th most visited city by tourist from all over the world. Once it was only known to attract wealthy travelers, but today has become affordable due to the many airlines serving this city.
OVERVIEW OF DUBAI
- Dubai is the name for both the emirates and the city. Dubai is one of the seven emirates that comprise the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
- The official language in Dubai is Arabic although English is widely spoken. Most of the signs are in both Arabic and English, to make it easy for tourists to navigate and get around the city.
- The currency is the United Arab Emirates Dirham.
- Dubai declares Islam as its religion and therefore respecting the cultural and religious rules is particularly important. Other religious sanctuaries are also present throughout the city such as Christian churches and Buddhist temples.
- The dress code in some places is strict and enforced so; please do not be offended if you’re asked to cover your head. Bathing suits are allowed but only in designated areas of swimming.
- Although alcohol is forbidden in Islam, you will find plenty of bars and restaurants that offer alcoholic beverages. Drinking alcohol in public places such as the beach or public parks is not allowed.
- Dubai only has two seasons, hot and hotter. The best time to travel to Dubai is November through March because the summers can be brutal and scorching hot.
Here are some of the most interesting sites and restaurants I encountered on my trip:
BURJ AL ARAB and JUMEIRAH BEACH
Although I didn’t get to step a foot into this extravagant hotel, I did manage to get a picture of it in the background as I stood on the Jumeirah Beach.
Why is this hotel so intriguing? Burj Al Arab, is a self-proclaimed seven-star hotel, with its distinctive sail-shaped silhouette design, a symbol of modern wealth. Although there isn’t such a thing as a seven-star hotel, they hold on to their claim of fame to be the most luxurious hotel in the world. Burj Al Arab only offers suite accommodations with discreet check-in within your room, a private reception on every floor and swarms of personal butlers, each with exquisite hospitality. A helicopter pad is available on the side of the top level for easy access to your room. The one-night stay starts at $2,000 a night and unfortunately for me it was out of my budget. The hotel does not allow walk-ins, as you must have a reservation to be allowed entry into the building.
One other option to get inside is to schedule an afternoon tea visit (reservations required) but trust me it will not be cheap!
One way to see Burj Al Arab without paying for a one-night stay or drink expensive tea is to visit Jumeirah Beach. This is a public beach (many beaches in Dubai are privately owned) and will give you a great Instagram picture!
Palm Islands are two artificial, man-made islands constructed by sand that was dredged from the bottom of the Arabian Gulf. The Palm Islands are the only structures in the world you can see with the naked eye from space that forms the shape of palm trees. Along the outer branches are residential homes, tourist attractions, hotels, and entertainment centers. The Islands is home to the well-known Atlantis Resort.
You may drive on the island or rent a bike at the Byky Station. Another exciting way to see the islands is by a helicopter tour, although not cheap it is an amazing experience, and I am sure one you will never forget.
Atlantis Hotel and Resort
At the Atlantis Hotel and Resort, guests are offered an assortment of activities such as the Aquaventure Waterpark, Swim with the Dolphin Encounters, Cuddle with the Sea Lions, and the Lost Chambers Aquarium. You can visit as a regular guest, even without staying there, and meander through the resort. The Lost Chambers Aquarium has 10 underwater chambers where you can see over 15,000 marine animals and get a unique insight into the history of the long-lost civilization.
- Cost: $30.00 per person
A trip to the Middle East would not be complete without a visit to the traditional souks. Dubai offers several souks, each selling local and imported items from the region. We traveled by water taxi called the Abra, to add to our many amazing experiences while in Dubai. I love to shop at open markets, and I especially enjoy the experience of purchasing locally made products.
- Duration: Plan to spend 2-5 hours.
- Haggling is required if you want to get the best deal.
- Transportation: By car taxi or the Abra (water taxi).
The gold souk is one of the most popular souks to visit and is the ideal place to buy jewelry. Walking past glimmering shiny displays full of gold earrings, necklaces, and bangles made it hard not to try on a few pieces. I have never seen so much gold jewelry in my life. I love jewelry, and thus a purchase was in sight.
My husband is the cook in the family, so visiting the spice souk was his treat. Here we found fresh organic herbs and spices such as turmeric, cardamom, saffron, and cinnamon. We also discovered dried fruits such as dates and apricots and a wide variety of nuts. If you enjoy cooking this is a dreamy place to hang out!
While walking through the textile souk, we found several shops selling traditional outfits. A custom outfit for men in Dubai is called a Kandura which is an ankle length, loose-fitting robe for men, usually white. For women, the traditional dress is called Abaya, which is a long, elegant cloak, in black, which covers the whole body. My husband had fun trying on the traditional garment and I found several beautiful scarves to take home.
When visiting the souks, remember that the stores are open from 9 am to 10 pm. It gets hectic during the day, so I suggest going early in the morning before all the other tourists.
One of the largest choreographed fountain systems in the world is the Dubai Fountain. The fountain is located next to the Dubai Mall which is a nice area to watch the dancing water and relax after a day of shopping. The water show is accompanied by a variety of music, ranging from classical to contemporary along with a magnificent light display in the evening.
- Evening shows occur daily 6:00 pm – 11:00 pm, every 30 minutes.
THE DUBAI MALL
Dubai Mall is one of the world’s largest malls in the world with over 1,000 different stores and over 5 million square feet to cover. Even if you are not a big shopper – there is so much to see and do that you must make this a part of your itinerary. Depending on how much time you have to shop in your plans, you can spend several hours or even days wandering about the mall. Over 92 million tourists visit the mall each year. We walked for miles admiring the window displays and looking for interesting things to buy.
In the mall are the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, Kidzania, SEGA Republic, and over 20 screen cinemas. If ice skating in the middle of the desert is on your bucket list, an Olympic-size ice rink is available for you. We decided to walk through the glass tunnel and gaze at the fish swimming in the 10-million-liter tank. In addition, to fish other animals such as crocodiles, penguins, and unusual birds are a part of the aquarium.
- Scuba Diving in the Aquarium is an option for tourists.
Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world and one of the most popular attractions in Dubai. This building is over 2,500 feet tall and has more than 160 stories. It holds the world’s record for being the tallest free-standing structure and the highest observation deck in the world.
As you make your way to the elevator, you will see a display of a timeline and images as they built the structure. Surprisingly, the ride up to the top in the elevator went fairly quick. The view from the observation deck is truly unbelievable.
WHAT’S INSIDE THE BURJ KHALIFA:
- Armani Hotel Dubai
The Armani Hotel was designed by Giorgio Armani. The chic and stylish hotel features elegant rooms and personally designed hotel amenities.
- Armani Residences
The Armani Residences were also designed by Giorgio Armani. They feature upscale furnishings and accessories designed by Armani/Casa.
- The Residences
The Burj Khalifa is home to 900 residences including studios, one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom suites. The Residences also feature sky lobbies, fitness facilities, swimming pools, jacuzzies, and recreation rooms.
AT.Mosphere is the place to see and be seen at the Burj Khalifa. Here, guests can enjoy fine dining and a range of signature drinks while overlooking Dubai.
- Corporate Suites
The Corporate Suites are located at the highest levels of the tower and occupy 37 floors of Burj Khalifa.
View from Top of Burj Khalifa
Top Burj Khalifa Sky is the observation deck, located at level 148, the highest observatory deck in the world. The observation deck offers a panoramic view over Dubai as you can see for miles into the desert as well as directly below where you stand over the edge of the building walls.
- Be patient in getting the perfect picture standing on the clear floor deck.
- Duration: 2-3 hours
Located within the Al Fahidi Fort, built-in 1787, is the Dubai Museum. This is the oldest building in Dubai. I was eager to learn more about the history and culture of Dubai. In the museum are articles that tell how Dubai evolved into the modern city it is today. You will also find model figurines of native people working in the fishing village, vendors at souks, and daily life of the native people.
- Museum hours are Saturday-Thursday 8:30 am – 8:30 pm, Fridays: 2:30 pm – 8:30 pm.
MALL OF THE EMIRATES
Due to the extreme weather conditions and a wealthy country, shopping malls such as the Mall of the Emirates are designed on a large scale with eccentric activities to do indoors. The Mall of the Emirates has over 600 retail outlets, Ski Dubai, and about 100 eateries. What brings visitors to this mail is the Ski Dubai, Magic Planet, and the many other movie theaters as well as a community theater and art exhibits.
- Hours: Sunday – Wednesday: 10:00 am – 10:00 pm, Thursday-Saturday: 10:00 am – 12:00 am.
Ski Dubai is an indoor ski resort with over 13 miles of an indoor ski area. The resort offers five slopes of varying steepness and difficulty. A quad lift and a tow lift carry skier up the indoor mountain. Next to the slopes is a snow park play area with sled and toboggan runs, an icy body slide, climbing towers, giant snowballs, and an ice cave. To keep the snow from melting, the resort must maintain a temperature of 30 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 21 degrees Fahrenheit at night when the snow is produced.
- Visitors can rent ski equipment and clothes.
- Snow skiing or snowboarding lessons are available as well.
- Hours: Sunday –Thursday 10:00 am – 11:00 pm, Friday-Saturday 9:00 am – 11:00 pm.
The Dubai Marina
If you want to see the architectural design at its best, you must visit the Dubai Marina which is surrounded by astonishing skyscrapers that are mainly residences to some of the wealthiest people in the world. Near the marina are cafes, bars, shopping malls, beautiful hotels, beach access, and waterways that wind through the center of all the buildings.
- Water taxis are available to tour you through the complexities of these high-rise buildings.
The Beach at JBR
The silky sand beach and turquoise blue water are two things that make The Beach at JBR a destination for tourists. Along this gorgeous beach is 4-mile padded walking/running pathways, outdoor workout equipment, daybeds, cabanas along with beach chairs to relax and sunbathe.
You can find yoga classes to attend, parasailing, banana boat rides, and sand volleyball courts. If you have small children, then a visit to the Splash-Pad is entailed. The Beach offers an outdoor movie theater as well as an indoor cinema with ten screens.
Occasionally here at The Beach events such as the Market On The Beach which is an outdoor artisanal mix of unique stalls, offering a wide selection of homemade products and treats to take home.
Take half a day and enjoy the water and all the many activities offered here.
Next to the Burj Al Arab is Madinat Jumeirah, a mini-city in Dubai. Here you will find three grand hotels, each with a private beach, offering watersports as well as some of the most splendid spas. We browsed through several shops, finding these adorable stuffed camels. If you wish to dine here, you will find over 50 different restaurants, lounges, and bars that span over the entire 40 acres.
Dubai is a progressive, glamorous metropolis with a timeless sensibility along with an Arabian flair. You will probably never come across another city so extreme and unique as Dubai.
If you want to learn about where the best places to dine check out my blog, 6 Dining Experience in Dubai to learn more.
Enjoy your travels! Please read my blogs about other exciting places around the world at Traveling Lens Photography.
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Inshallah (God willing!)
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