Dubai’s first skyscraper was only completed in 1979 but it now ranks third in the world for the city with the most skyscrapers, one of which is the world’s tallest. It’s a city rich in tradition but modern and with huge ambition for the future.
I had been to Dubai three times before but only used it as as a flight bridge to get back and forth to Asia and beyond. I always assumed it was so expensive that it would be out of reach to spend any time exploring it. I was wrong on that front.
I had the opportunity to spend five days there in December, split in two trips as I travelled between the UK and Australia. This photo diary will show the highlights of my time there and hopefully give you a few ideas if you're planning a trip there.
At the Top, Burj Khalifa
The Burj Khalifa is currently the World’s tallest and Dubai’s most iconic building. Measuring to a total height of 829.8 m (2,722 ft). You’ll likely see this gigantic silver needle from most places around the city and in reverse, once you’re up onto the world's highest observation deck, you’ll be able to see all of the city in every direction.
You can book tickets online or buy on location but either way definitely head for the first available time slot or get up there an hour or so before sunset and wait patiently. It does get very busy!
It seems it's a little more for the tourists than locals these days but it’s still a good place to check out some more authentic souks and step away from the futuristic parts of the city. The gold, textile and spice are located next to each other.
D3 Design District
Home to designers, artists and creative thinkers. This area is still being developed but there’s already a thriving creative scene down there with plenty of art galleries to see some great exhibitions.
The Green Planet
The Green Planet recreates the enchanting world of the tropical forest with over 3,000 plants and animals and the World's largest indoor man-made and life-sustaining tree.
Dubai Mall, Aquarium & Fountains
The Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world by total area. With over 1,200 shops, an ice rink, cinema, indoor theme park and the second largest aquarium in the world, you can see why it is one of the most visited buildings on the planet. In 2011 it actually was the most visited building on the planet, attracting over 54 million visitors.
The aquarium, located in the mall, showcases more than 300 species of marine animals, including sharks and rays. You’re even able to scuba dive inside!
The fountains performances are held daily and last up to 5 minutes. Evening shows begin at 6 pm and are every half hour until 11 pm. There are also 2 performances in the daytime; at 1 pm and 1.30 pm (1.30 pm and 2 pm on Fridays). It gets very busy so if you want a good viewing spot, get there early.
Just one of the many amazing beaches in Dubai, Kite beach gets its name from the mass of kite surfers that use this area. There are also plenty of other sporting activities around, from beach volleyball to a world class skate park as well as a stack of pop up style food trucks, making this beach a popular hangout for locals and tourists alike.
Sheikh Zayed Road
This mega road runs parallel to the Persian Gulf along the entire length of the UAE. The section that dissects downtown Dubai is like something from a science fiction movie.
A city with as many skyscrapers as this, of course there are plenty of options to take in a stunning view whilst sipping on an Old Fashioned. My favourites were at the 4 Points by Sheraton and Uptown at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel.
The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding hosts visits of the Grand Jumeirah Mosque 6 days a week Saturday through Thursday at 10:00am. It’s a great way to learn more about Islam and Emirati culture.
The Palm Jumeirah is a man made island, shaped like a palm tree. It contains many residential buildings and hotels, including the famous 5 Star Atlantis. If you head to either end of the outer arch, you’ll be rewarded with great views of the Dubai Marina and Downtown. To give you an idea of the scale of this island, it’s 12km to walk around the outer edge!
Home to some 120,000 people, this area is a city itself. There’s a whole host of good restaurants and bars where you can take in the views of the many skyscrapers that tower above. Head to Pier 7 for plenty of options, all offering great views.
Ski Dubai is an indoor ski resort with 22,500 square meters of indoor ski area. It is a part of the Mall of the Emirates, another one of the largest shopping malls in the world. The indoor resort features an 85-metre-high indoor mountain with 5 slopes of varying steepness and difficulty, including a 400-metre-long run, the world's first indoor black diamond run, and various features (boxes, rails, kickers) that are changed on a regular basis.
Where to Stay.
There's almost too many options when it comes to finding a place to stay! Being that I made two trips to Dubai in a month, I hope my suggestions save you the time and effort of sifting through the many options out there. Both offer top end service, are very well and positively reviewed across travel websites, in great locations and are great value for money.
The H Hotel Dubai
The 5 Star H Hotel is located at #1 Sheikh Zayed Road, home to Dubai's famous skyscrapers, business and shopping districts and offering convenient access to the Dubai World Trade Centre, the Exhibition Centre, Dubai Mall, Burj Khalifa and other business and tourist destinations. As you'd expect the service is impeccable and the room I stayed in was huge and extremely comfortable. There's a pool, a fully equipped gym, an award winning Spa as well as a number of bars and restaurants. I can't recommend Zahira enough. I absolutely love Middle Eastern food so to have a menu curated by award-winning Chef Greg Malouf. I was in food heaven.
Rooms are as low as $90USD per night.
Media One Hotel
The 4 Star Media One Hotel is towards the other end of Dubai but still in a convenient location, just 2 km from Dubai Marina and an 8 minute walk to the beach. The staff couldn't have been more friendly throughout my stay and the breakfast was amazing. The hotel also has a state of the art gym and Miami styled pool/bar area. My room was huge and modern. The bed was perfect.
Rooms are available from around $70USD
This really is just a general overview and has only really scratched the service of what's on offer in Dubai. It's a city that you could come back to a year later and write a whole new list as the expansion of this future city is showing no signs of slowing down! I feel I missed out for all the times I transited through the airport without exploring the city so, I'm happy to have broken that cycle and seen first hand this futuristic metropolis in the desert.