A truly cosmopolitan city, Dubai is one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is the second largest emirate and is a stand-alone city as well giving it dual purpose. Most visitors will probably be more familiar with the notion of Dubai the city, with many iconic landmarks some even visible from space. Centrally located between Asia, Europe and Africa, Dubai has recently grown into a major player in the business and trading world.
While Dubai was once an oil-led economy, it has since become known as the a prominent tourist hub of the Middle Eastern region, building many facilities and attractions to accommodate the huge number of annual tourists that the city receives.
Little is known about Dubai’s ancient history despite archaeologists unearthing traces of a localised civilizations dating back thousands of years. Early recordings chronicle Dubai’s importance as a trading post, and one of these earliest mentions comes from 1580 by Gaspero Balbi a Venetian jewel merchant. Balbi described Dubai (then) as a sleepy fishing village. The modern familiar Dubai was founded by the Bani Yas family in the 19th Century. Later, a rival dynasty, the Al Maktoum, took control of Dubai and still rule to this day.
Dubai, like most places in the Middle East, was discovered to be situated upon oil rich reserves. In recent years, the government has shifted its focus from oil-trade and transformed the city into an extremely popular tourist destination. Dubai is now the crown jewel of the UAE, catering to hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. As well as the city itself being a testament to human-engineering, during your stay in Dubai you can expect to find everything from world-class shopping to the most stunning hotel rooms (7 star), with some of the best dining experiences that the world has to offer all under a canopy of brilliant all-year round sunshine.
Dubai has been constructed with the tourist in mind. There are many world class attractions and world iconic buildings that one can visit at anytime. From the traditional to the indulgent, Dubai literally has it all. Old Dubai is the place to go for those interested in the history and culture of Dubai. The Bastakiya District has many traditional buildings that have been preserved and restored. The Dubai Museum is also a must. The museum has numerous exhibits being housed in the al-Faihidi fort. Built in the medieval times, the Jumeirah Mosque is a stunning example of Arabic architecture. Guided tours are available several times a week. The 19th century Sheikh Saeed House is located in close proximity to the shoreline so that the sheikh is able to observe the port happenings from his balcony.
Modern Dubai celebrates glamour, ostentatiousness, and excess. The city aims to outdo any other city but building the tallest, the biggest, and the most indulgent man-made structures on the planet. At 160 floors, the Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. Visitors can take a tour up to the observation deck. Accommodation is not a problem because the building houses nine hotels. Touted as the biggest dancing fountain in the world, the Dubai Fountain is close to a thousand feet length, with jet of water reaching about five hundred feet, a truly a magnificent sight, especially when it puts on a show several times during the evening.
The Burj Al Arab is one of the most iconic hotels in the world. Shaped like a sail, it is located in a private stretch of beach. Every inch of the hotel is shrouded in luxurious furnishings. A helipad is available for those who want to transfer in via helicopter.
Those who enjoy the beach will surely enjoy the warm waters of Dubai. Jumeirah beach is a very popular destination for locals and tourists alike. A jaunt to Palm Island should not be missed. Visit the wall to wall aquariums of the Atlantis hotel. Families can enjoy a day at the Wadi Wadi Waterpark which has numerous rides and attractions.
- Getting around
With gasoline prices cheaper than the rest of the world, and an absence of various kinds of taxis, most residents are able to get around in their own car. It is only in recent years when Dubai was gaining muscle as a tourist destination that the government has prioritized public transportation.
Dubai’s metro is one of the newest and most modern in the world. Currently, there are only two lines in operation, with others still undergoing construction. Taking the metro is convenient if you want to go to the more modern landmarks as there are stops at the Burj Khalifa and the Mall of Emirates. It is not the best way to go around if you want to visit the old city centre. Get a day pass for unlimited rides and a silver card if staying for several days.
Dubai has a public bus system that is cheap and clean. One of the main terminals is at the Gold Souq. Right now, buses in Dubai are limited and infrequent. For a tourist wanting to take the bus, Line 8 will stop at many attractions. An alternative to the public bus is to take a hop-on-hop-off bus that will take tourists to most of the sights and attractions in Dubai. Tickets are not cheap but are worth it to those who are pressed for time.
Taxis are plentiful and this is the preferred mode of transportation by those who do not have their own cars. There are several operators around the city and they charge the same rate. Make sure that the driver uses the metre.
For those willing to brave Dubai’s confusing layout, there are plenty of rent-a-cars available to tourist. Some will not even require an international driver’s license. While there are GPS units available, these are always not accurate. Some car rental companies will also offer the services of a driver.
One of the most unique ways of getting from one side of Dubai Creek to the other is to take a small boat called an abra. Fares are very cheap and it will allow you to see Dubai’s stunning skyline.
- Beyond Dubai
Dubai is just one of the seven emirates of the UAE. It is also a good jump off point for exploring what the nearby emirates have to offer. Each one is a mini-kingdom with its own particular customs and traditions.
Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is just an hour and a half away. There are short flights between the two emirates. It is also possible to ride an express bus. Abu Dhabi has a totally different atmosphere than Dubai. Visit the largest mosque in the UAE and stroll around the Corniche, a spectacular waterfront that stretches for miles. Yas Island is a favourite destination for some motorsport action.
Umm Al Quwain is a peaceful and relaxing emirate. It does not have a major city so it’s away from the hustle and bustle. This is the best place to witness the exciting camel races. Bird watching is quite popular in the area.
Sharjah is the third largest emirate in the country. It is right next to Dubai. Due to the cheaper costs of living, many people live in Sharjah but work in Dubai. Sharjah has a heritage area filled with historic buildings.
Kish Island is a touristy island that belongs to Iran. Since it is a free trade zone, visitors do not need a visa to visit Kish. There are many beaches on the island and shopping is a popular activity.
- Local activities
Going on a desert safari is a classic Dubai experience. Guests will drive out into the desert in 4×4 SUVs. Skilled drivers will drive up and down the sand dunes in a thrilling ride. Those who get carsick easily might have difficulty with dune bashing. The experience will be completed with a dinner under the stars. It is also possible to go on an overnight camping trip in the desert.
Tea at the Burj al Arab
Tourists would not normally be allowed to just tour the self-proclaimed 7-star hotel. For an indulgent experience, take afternoon tea at the Burj. Sip some tea or a glass of champagne while nibbling on some cakes and pastries. It may be a bit pricey but is one of the best experiences in Dubai. Book months in advance because slots fill up immediately.
Shop until you drop
Shopping is such a popular activity in Dubai. All the major stores can be found in this very cosmopolitan city. Since the city enjoys low tariffs, there are a lot of items that can be bought for a lower price. For those wanting unique souvenirs, a visit to a souk is a must. Textiles and gold are good buys in particular.
- Local cuisine and drinks
Dubai is a food lover’s dream. It is very possible to literally eat your way around the word. All sorts of restaurants can be found in the city. From five star dining experiences to eating at local restaurants, the food in Dubai is nothing to be missed.
Arabic food is a must when in the area. Shawarma, a pita filled with grilled meat and vegetables, is a typical street food that can be found on every corner. Falafel, a fried chickpea meatball, is also a favourite. Arabic restaurants also serve mezze, a set of appetizers, which is a good way to sample various dishes.
With the large Indian population in the city, Dubai also has some wonderful restaurants that serve delicious Indian cuisine. Many of them are vegetarians.
Dubai is a predominantly Muslim emirate. Although alcohol is allowed, it is strictly regulated. Those who want a drink can only do so in licensed establishments. It is not allowed to drink in public or during religious holidays.
- Where you are docked
Port Rashid is the commercial port of Dubai. It is located quite near to the city centre. Passengers will embark or disembark from their cruise journey at the Dubai Cruise Terminal. This modern passenger terminal was opened in 2010 and marked a transfer of cruise passenger services from the old terminal. The new terminal has a larger floor area and fitted with the latest conveniences.
The cruise terminal is one of the largest in the world. In 2012, it was able to receive four cruise ships simultaneously. It will soon undergo expansion with the goal of being able to handle seven cruise ships at the same time.
The cruise terminal has two bus services for the passengers. One bus will head towards Mercato Mall and the other will be stopping at City Centre. Taxis are also plentiful. If staying overnight, hotels will normally be happy to arrange for a pick-up service.
Passengers interested in the heritage and history of cruise liners might be able to get a glimpse of the Queen Elizabeth II. This legendary cruise ship has called Port Rashid its home since it made its last voyage in 2008. It is currently undergoing a retrofit as it will be converted into a 300-room hotel.
Those who don’t want to venture that far out would appreciate just hanging around Jumeirah Beach. The stretch of wind sand is only about two kilometres from the cruise port.
- Regional weather
Dubai experiences a hot arid climate due to its proximity to the Tropic of Cancer. Summers receive almost no rainfall with temperatures soaring up to 40 degrees Celsius. The winter time is the most comfortable time of the year, with temperatures rarely dropping below 23 degrees Celsius. When rainfall does occur it’s typically abrupt and short, always giving way to clear skies and sun.