Dubai is home to a wealth of attractions to suit every traveller. Fantastic neighbourhoods, spectacular architecture and unique shopping experiences.
Deira’s famous Gold Souq is usually the first stop for visitors. It attracts a cosmopolitan range of customers, from western tourists to African traders buying up pieces for resale at home. There are over three hundred shops here, most of them lined up along the souq’s wooden-roofed main arcade, their windows packed with a staggering quantity of jewellery. It’s been estimated that there are usually around ten tonnes of gold in the souq at any one time. After all, all that glitters is gold!
This is by far one of the best Dubai attractions. The jewel of the Dubai coast is the Burj al Arab hotel , the city’s best-known landmark which has gained an iconic status. The 321-m high structure is shaped like a sail to complement the ‘wave’ design of the nearby Jumeirah Beach Hotel. It dominates the surrounding residential neighbourhood and can be seen from virtually any point on the Dubai coast. A seven-star hotel, built on its own man-made island and comprising 202 two-storey suites, Burj al Arab restricts access to hotel guests or those who have booked a table at one of its restaurants.
The Madinat Jumeirah resort on the Jumeirah coast is a reimagining of what Dubai could have looked like in previous centuries. Of course, if builders of those times had access to modern construction materials and techniques - not to mention larger budgets! It mixes the wind-tower houses of the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood with the modest former palace in Shindagha and the souqs of old Dubai. Looking for Dubai holidays? If you’re traveling here in January and February, make sure to book ahead. The Dubai Shopping Festival is held there, so it gets busy.
As recently as the mid-1990s, Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood (Bastakiya) was a run-down place with up to 100 people often crammed into a single house. Now, thanks to a restoration programme undertaken by Dubai Municipality’s Historical Buildings Section, it has become a case study for urban conservation in the Arab world. It’s enjoying a new lease of life as the city’s arts quarter.
Dubai Mall, a shopping extravaganza, is also home to the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo . The aquarium’s most notable feature is the spectacular ‘viewing panel’, towering over the shops by the main entrance to the mall. It’s a huge, floor-to-ceiling transparent acrylic panel filled with an extraordinary array of marine life, ranging from sand-tiger sharks and stingrays to colourful shoals of tiny tropical fish. All this can be seen for free from the mall. Inside, the Underwater Zoo is more likely to appeal to children than adults. This is one of the best Dubai tourist attractions, if you’re travelling with little ones for sure.
Rising imperiously skywards, the needle-thin Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building. The Burj opened in early 2010 after five years’ intensive construction, finally topping out at a staggering 828m. It comprehensively smashed all existing records for the world’s tallest man-made structures, past and present. This is Dubai sightseeing at its very best.
Nowhere is the scale of Dubai’s explosive growth as staggeringly obvious as in the far south of the city. It's home to the vast Palm Jumeirah artificial island, and Dubai Marina development - evidence of the emirate’s magical ability to turn sand into skyscrapers and raise entire new city suburbs up out of the waves. Fifteen years ago the district was the largest building site - at one point it was estimated that Dubai was home to a quarter of the world’s total number of construction cranes. Now the building crews have gone, leaving a new city and the world’s largest man-made island.
The excellent Dubai Museum makes a logical stop on a tour of the city. It’s the perfect place to get up to speed with the history and culture of the emirate. The museum occupies the old Al Fahidi Fort, a rough-and-ready little structure whose engagingly lopsided corner turrets make it look a bit like a giant sandcastle.