The world meets in Dubai – East and West, traditional and modern. Known as the city of ‘-est’ for having the highest, longest and biggest of so many things, there are also a variety of unexpectedly low-key attractions in and around this sparkling desert oasis.
At 828m and a whopping 163 floors, the Burj Khalifa truly touches the sky. Ascending to the 124th floor in a lift that rises at 10m/sec, stepping on to the viewing deck and looking down on the city’s skyscrapers is a breathtaking experience. You’ll also be treated to aerial views of The World (man-made islands built to resemble the globe) and The Palm (the famous palm-tree-shaped islands). On a clear day, the Burj Khalifa itself can be seen from 95 km away.
An opposite extreme is to sleep in a hotel room under the ocean at Atlantis, The Palm, watching marine life swim on
by. Atlantis also boasts a vast aquarium, where animal lovers can observe rare species and enjoy personal encounters with dolphins.
Just a 30-minute drive from the city, a morning hot-air balloon ride offers sweeping views of the Arabian Desert sandscape, the stark Hajar Mountains, oases, and possibly herds of rare Arabian oryxes in the dunes. Then head to Ski Dubai back in the city to tackle snowy indoor slopes at sub-zero temperatures.
Soak up the culture
The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in historical Bastakiya is a must-visit to understand the hospitable, proud and courteous Emirati culture, with its rich customs and humble history. Then walk along the dhow-lined Dubai Creek, or catch an abra (water taxi).
Non-Muslims aren’t permitted inside most mosques, but they’re welcome at the opulent Jumeirah Mosque with its intricate architecture and captivating design details.
Awe-inspiring modern buildings are everywhere. Dubai Marina is visible as you drive towards The Palm – amid this collection of pencil-like buildings, Cayan Tower is twisted 90˚ into a unique helix shape. Also visit the wave-like Jumeirah Beach Hotel; Burj al Arab, which looks like a boat’s sail; and the dhow-shaped Dubai Opera building, which appears futuristic but, in fact, honours the city’s heritage of trading, fishing and diving for pearls.
Stretch your legs
Dubai’s Miracle Garden is rather aptly named. Planted in the desert city each winter, huge arrangements are created from flowering plants. You’ll find entire villages, iconic world monuments, clocks and animals. Recently, a massive replica of an Airbus A380, more than 70m long, won a Guinness World Record for the largest flower arrangement. There is a vast butterfly garden too (consisting of nine colour-themed domes), which is an enchanting experience in the heart of the city.
Every November to April, the Global Village brings the world to Dubai. With 30 pavilions representing more than 75 countries – from Thailand to Turkey and Iran to Italy – visitors can shop for handicrafts and clothing, and taste food from all around the world.
Get a little Retail therapy
Whether you’re keen on local specialities or international designer labels, the more than 1 200 shops in The Dubai Mall have got you covered. Over 70 flagship stores showcase global luxury brands, while another 80-odd are dedicated to gold and fine jewellery retailers of the world. There’s a speciality cheesecake shop and another for all things related to camels, which adds a quirky touch to a day’s outing.
If it’s outdoor shopping that appeals to you, pay a visit to the Gold Souk along Dubai Creek – everything from ingots
to intricate jewellery is found here. The nearby Spice Souk will beckon you with wafts of cardamom, cloves and cinnamon sold by weight. Souk Madinat Jumeirah, a part of the Arabian-themed Madinat Jumeirah Resort, has a blend of indoor and outdoor shopping in a modern take on a traditional market. Here you can shop, stop for a bite to eat and relax for a while alongside the water.
Taste something Tantalising
Emirati food is exotic and delicious, but you’ll find tastes from all corners of the globe when dining out in Dubai. If local cuisine catches your fancy, be sure to try za’atar spice on flatbread, mutabal (brinjal dip), sticky sweetmeats and strong Arab coffee for a sumptuous meal. Enjoy these treats at the revolving Al Dawaar restaurant. Its views of the ever-changing cityscape are a fine way to end the day.
For travel arrangements to Dubai, contact Diners Club Concierge Service on 0861 DINERS (346377), complimentary for those who BELONG.
Text: Keri Harvey; Photography: mohammed shamaa, gallo/gettyimages