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With its ultramodern architecture, man-made islands, and glittering skyline, Dubai exemplifies luxury. The discovery of oil in 1966 helped fast-track the city’s development, but today, most of the city’s revenue comes from tourism, aviation, and real estate. Home to Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, Ski Dubai, an indoor ski area, and Palm Jumeirah, an artificial island shaped like a palm tree, a visit to the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will astound you with its extravagant atmosphere. Indulge your taste buds with a lavish meal at any of the city’s world-class restaurants, dance the night away at a pulsing night clubs, get a taste of the past in the historic Bastakiya Quarter, or explore the red-sand landscape surrounding the city on a desert safari. No matter what you chose, Dubai will deliver, with an extra dose of indulgence for good measure.
Standing among the world’s tallest buildings and luxurious residential properties, Dubai can seem a bit disorienting at first. Walking around can be dicey, since much of the city is connected by major roadways leading to and from each major development. Your best bet? Hop on the Dubai Metro for the easiest (and cheapest) way to get around. Grab a metro map when you land and take the time to orient yourself with the city’s easy-to-use metro system, as it will likely be your main source of transportation during your stay. A Red Line metro station is conveniently located within Al Maktoum Airport and will connect you to other lines throughout the city. The Al Ras station on the Green Line is where to go to see the Gold, Spice, and Textile Souks. The world-famous Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall can be reached via the Metro Link Bridge; similarly, the Mall of Emirates, home to the indoor Ski Dubai, can also be reached via an air-conditioned Metro Link walkway. The world’s tallest hotel, the top-notch Burj Al Arab Hotel, is literally on an (artificial) island all by itself, with the popular sandy stretch of Jumeirah Beach just a short walk away. Wondering where each major landmark lies in comparison to the others? Head to the 125th of the Burj Khalifa for a jaw-dropping bird’s eye view.
If Dubai does one thing well, it’s this: luxury. And there’s no shortage of things to do to indulge all your senses if you find yourself in the UAE’s most populous city. With high-end shopping, world-class restaurants, incredible nightlife, and five-star resorts with amenities galore, a visit to this hot desert city can leave you feeling like a king. But when you’re ready to really dig deep into what the city it all about, a visit to Bur Dubai, the jumble of districts that make up the oldest area of the city, will reward you with winding streets lined with museums, Bedouin culture, art galleries, and historical architecture. Next, head to the Deira area, just north of the creek, to get an up-close look at how Dubai made it’s debut as a trading city. This area is what can be best described as the underbelly of the city — it’s here you’ll see how the old world is still very much alive through its souks, fish markets, and heritage buildings. When it’s time to return to modern times, a visit to the Dubai Marina and the Palm will catapult you from past to present. Home to ultramodern residential buildings, artificial beaches, the 500-store Mall of Emirates, and the manmade Palm Jumeirah Island, the sheer beauty of this breath-taking area of the city will overwhelm you in the best way possible.
Dubai is a city where old meets new at every turn. Make the most of your time with this list of must-see attractions.
Although there’s no shortage of trendy restaurants and quirky cafes selling breakfast staples like eggs, bacon, pastries, and coffee, a traditional Turkish breakfast is the way to go to get a real taste of the city. Try sucuklu yumurta (fried eggs and sliced Turkish bacon), tırnak pide (Turkish bread slathered with butter, honey, and jam), or semizotu (purslane salad with homemade yogurt, garlic, and olive oil).
Lunch time usually consists of traditional Emirati dishes with a modern twist. Most meals start off with a spread of Middle Eastern-inspired dips and snacks, like hummus, tabbouli, pistachios, and dried fruits. Aromatic spices like cinnamon, saffron, and turmeric reign supreme in many of the main dishes, and are often finished off with a healthy sprinkle of fresh herbs like mint or coriander. Feeling adventurous? Try camel meat!
As you head off in search of dinner, you’ll soon realize that your options consist of virtually any cuisine from around the world. Along with it’s huge array of culinary options, Dubai also is known for recruiting Michelin-starred chefs, so an indulgent and delicious meal is almost a guarantee. Prepare to spend some money (restaurants throughout the city certainly are not cheap and many have a dress code), but if there is ever a time to splurge on an exotically fancy meal, it’s now. Reservations are recommended!
If you ever find yourself waking up in Dubai on a Friday morning worn out from a week of sightseeing and have a hankering for a meal fit for a king, you’re in luck. Weekends in Dubai being on Friday, and as midday strikes, you’ll see throngs of people heading out to enjoy the meal that the city does best: brunch. Throughout the city, restaurants and hotels are in a constant competition to outdo each other in this all-or-nothing race for the most glamourous (and gut-busting) buffet. With champagne flowing and the expectation to eat and drink to excess high, brunch here has a slightly risque vibe. Be aware of the city’s strict alcohol laws (being drunk on the street is illegal), but don’t let it stop you from indulging in “drunch” and experiencing one of the most lavish meals you’ll likely ever eat in your life. Cheers!
Dubai’s art and culture scene is fairly new compared to other cities around the world. One of the city’s first galleries, Total Arts, opened in 1996 and is still open today, with over 300 paintings on display.
In the years since, Dubai has strived to establish itself as a leading global destination for arts and culture. The Dubai Culture and Arts Authority was founded in 2008 to support this initiative, but the transformation began even before that when the Bastakiya Quarter (also known as the Al Fahidi Historical District) was revamped in 2005, with new art galleries and eccentric cafes popping up in and around this historic area of town.
Today, you can find opportunities to take in the arts in several places around the city. Dubai’s Community Theatre and Arts Centre (DUCTAC), located within the Mall of Emirates, plays host to international productions, musical performances, and courses that include dance, pottery, printmaking, jewelry design, and more.
Perhaps the most popular art gallery in the city is the ProArt Gallery on Jumeirah Beach Road. Opened in 2010, this gallery prides itself in offering art that the general public can afford, along with regular exhibits and lectures by local and contemporary artists.
Love the opera? The Dubai Opera is a 1,901-seat opera house that puts on a large variety of shows throughout the year, including opera, ballet, jazz concerts, comedy shows, and a full range of musical performances for all tastes.
Are you looking for something a little quirkier? You’re in luck! Check out the Caravan of Women mural on the roof of the Gloria Hotel. This 18,000+ square foot painting was once the world’s largest mural, taking over 100 hours to paint. Next, check out the Rehlatna, the world’s longest graffiti wall on the outside of the Dubai Ladies Club. It’s almost 1.5 miles long, and over 150 street artists from around the world have contributed.
EAFOL is a five-day international literature festival held every March in Dubai. An estimated 37,000 people attend every year to take part in the more than 200 sessions and events, including poetry readings and workshops for adults and children, all conducted in several languages, including English, Arabic, and French. Although events are spread out throughout the city, the majority of them take place at the InterContinental Hotel, Dubai Festival City.