Glitzy Dubai is the United Arab Emirates’ holiday hot spot.
This city of high-rises and shopping malls has transformed itself from a desert outpost to a destination du-jour, where tourists flock for sales bargains, sunshine, and family fun.
Dubai is famous for sightseeing attractions such as the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building) and shopping malls that come complete with mammoth aquariums and indoor ski slopes.
But this city has many cultural highlights and things to do, as well as all the glamorous modern add-ons.
Take a wander around the Al Fahidi quarter, and you’ll discover the Dubai of old, then cruise along Dubai Creek in a traditional dhow, and you’ll soon realize there’s more to this city than its flashy veneer.
1. See Dubai’s Famed Cityscape at Burj Khalifa
Dubai’s landmark building and major tourist attraction is the Burj Khalifa, which at 829.8 meters is the tallest building in the world and the most famous of the city’s points of interest.
For most visitors, a trip to the observation deck on the 124th floor here is a must-do while in the city. The views across the city skyline from this bird’s-eye perspective are simply staggering.
The slick observation deck experience includes a multimedia presentation on both Dubai and the building of the Burj Khalifa (completed in 2010) before a high-speed elevator whizzes you up to the observation deck for those 360-degree views out across the skyscrapers to the desert on one side and the ocean on the other.
Nighttime visits are particularly popular with photographers due to Dubai’s famous city-lights panoramas.
Buy your Burj Khalifa “At the Top” Entrance Ticket in advance to avoid long line-ups, especially if you are planning to visit on a weekend.
Back on the ground, wrapping around the Burj Khalifa, are the building’s beautifully designed gardens, with winding walkways. There are plenty of water features including the Dubai Fountain, the world’s tallest performing fountain, modeled on the famous Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas.
2. Sneak in Some Shopping at Dubai Mall
Dubai Mall is the city’s premier mall and one of the city’s best places to visit for a day of shopping and indoor activities to keep the kids busy. It provides entry to the Burj Khalifa, as well as the Dubai Aquarium.
There is also an ice-skating rink, gaming zone, and cinema complex if you’re looking for more entertainment options.
The shopping and eating is endless, and there are nearly always special events such as live music and fashion shows within the mall. The most famous of these are the annual Dubai Shopping Festival in January and February and the Dubai Summer Surprises Festival in July and August.
Location: Doha Road, just off Sheikh Zayed Road
3. Discover UAE history at Dubai Museum
Dubai’s excellent museum is housed in the Al-Fahidi Fort, built in 1787 to defend Dubai Creek. The fort’s walls are built out of traditional coral-blocks and held together with lime. The upper floor is supported by wooden poles, and the ceiling is constructed from palm fronds, mud, and plaster.
In its history, the fort has served as a residence for the ruling family, a seat of government, garrison, and prison. Restored in 1971 (and again extensively in 1995), it is now the city’s premier museum.
The entrance has a fascinating exhibition of old maps of the Emirates and Dubai, showing the mammoth expansion that hit the region after the oil boom.
The courtyard is home to several traditional boats and a palm-leaf house with an Emirati wind-tower.
The right-hand hall features weaponry, and the left-hand hall showcases Emirati musical instruments.
Below the ground floor are display halls with exhibits and dioramas covering various aspects of traditional Emirati life (including pearl fishing and Bedouin desert life), as well as artifacts from the 3,000- to 4,000-year-old graves at Al Qusais archaeological site.
Address: Al-Fahidi Street, Al-Fahidi