Dubai is full of surprises. The glittering skyscrapers are in stark contrast to the endless desert and the old town is a world away from the vast array of new developments. Hidden among the skyscrapers and desert is an abundance of ancient and modern attractions. One thing is for certain, Dubai doesn’t do things by halves!
Here’s thewholeworldisaplayground’s quick guide to the best sights in Dubai:
1| Dubai Fountains
Designed by the creators of the Bellagio water feature in Las Vegas the all singing, all dancing Dubai fountains are the world’s largest choreographed fountains. OK they don’t really sing but the water show is accompanied by music and lights. There’s a lot of fun to be had watching the fountains shoot as high as 50 storeys and yet still look tiny compared to the Burj Khalifa looming in the background.
2| Burj Khalifa
Speaking of the Burj Kalifa, the world’s tallest building is nothing short of awe inspiring. Standing at a mind blowing 828 metres the Burj Kalifa is a stunning piece of architecture. If you have a head for heights, check out the observation deck on the 124th floor. It’s only 452 metres high but the views are outstanding on a good day and it’s quite surreal standing on the outdoor terrace with the whole world at your feet!
3| Burj Al Arab
The iconic 7 star sail shaped Burj al Arab dominates the Dubai skyline and the only way to access the hotel is by being a guest or having a reservation at one of the 9 restaurants and bars. The 7 stars are an urban myth but it is often billed as one of the most luxurious hotels in the world and it really has to be seen to be believed. It’s literally dripping in gold. Check out the details of our visit to the Burj al Arab for cocktails here.
4 | The Shopping Malls
Dubai is unquestionably a shopping mecca. Shopping fan or not, the malls are worth checking out if only to experience first hand how large they really are. Dubai is home to the world’s largest shopping mall, Dubai Mall, which has over 1,200 stores and boasts an aquarium, underwater zoo, an Olympic sized ice rink and a four storey waterfall. Another favourite, the opulent Mall of the Emirates, hosts an indoor ski resort. Really!
5| The Souks
Get your haggling hat on. Even if you’re not planning on adding any jewellery to your collection, a walk through the Gold Souk is worth it to see the incredible amount of bling overflowing from every store. Or maybe, if you’re like me and behave like a magpie with a weakness for shiny things, it’s best to stay away! The Spice Souk is a mix of spices and souvenirs and is peppered with lots of touts hawking watches and scarves. All in good fun!
6| The Beach
Dubai has lots of lovely beaches and although some are owned by the luxury hotels dotting the coastline there are a few blue flag beaches accessible for a small fee. The warm waters of the Persian Gulf mean swimming in the sea is quite like stepping into a warm bath. Just the way I like it! We checked out the Jumeriah Public Beach which is free to access and offers a great view of the Burj al Arab.
7| The Desert
For me a visit to Dubai is not complete unless you’ve seen some Arabian desert action. There’s a few ways to check out the desert in Dubai: Jeep safari, a hot air balloon and a stay at a desert resort or campsite are some of the alternatives. We opted to drive out of Dubai and check out Big Red, a 300 foot sand dune. Just don’t drive too far or you’ll end up at the Dubai/Oman border and the point of no return!
Now if only I’d found an oasis in the desert, my holiday would have been totally complete.
8 | Jumeirah Mosque
The Jumeirah Mosque is the most recognizable mosque in Dubai and the only one open to non Muslims in the Emirate. Built using the medieval Fatimid construction technique it is architecturally stunning and beautifully lit at night. We didn’t make it inside but access is possible on one of the organized tours.
9| Dubai Creek
It’s a fascinating stroll along the Dubai creek waterfront watching the old style dhows and the water taxis zip passengers across the creek while the larger boats unload their wares on the sides. The Creek is a hive of activity and it was a great insight into how the old part of Dubai operates.
10| Bastakiya Quarter
Dubai’s old town is in stark contrast to the towering skyscrapers in the new parts of town and this in itself lends a certain charm to the area. Bastakiya is a maze of shaded buildings, art galleries, cafes and wind towers. The city’s oldest building, the Al Fahidi Fort, is located in the Bastakiya Quarter and houses the Dubai museum.
11|Sheikh Zayed Road
It’s like New York only taller and wider! I loved driving down Sheikh Zayed Road surrounded by the glittering skyscrapers. If only there wasn’t so much traffic in Dubai!
12| Palm Islands
The artificial palm shaped islands were built using reclaimed land and are best visible from the air. The Atlantis, a luxury hotel located on the crescent of the palm, dominates the view from the water.
Dubai is a desert gem with so much to see and do. Our Top 12 sights are an excellent starting point to help plan your Dubai trip.