Dubai is an emirate in the federation called the UAE (United Arab Emirates). The main city of the emirate is also called Dubai. The emirate is located on the southeast coast of the Persian Gulf and is one of the seven emirates that make up the country. It has the largest population within the UAE at 2,106,177 inhabitants, and is the second-largest in terms of land territory at 4,114 square km after the capital, Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi and Dubai are also the only two emirates to have a veto power over critical matters of national importance in the country’s legislature. The city of Dubai is located on the emirate’s northern coastline and heads up the Dubai-Sharjah-Ajman metropolitan area. It is rather like an independent city-state and is the most modern and progressive emirate in the UAE, developing at an incredible pace especially in the tourist and trade sectors.
Dubai as a metropolis has today emerged as a cosmopolitan urban agglomeration that has steadily grown to evolve into a global city as well as carve an appropriate place for itself as the preeminent business and cultural hub of the Middle East, and a major transportation hub for passengers and cargo in the Persian Gulf region. Though Dubai’s economy was historically built upon the oil industry, the emirate’s Western-style model of business drives its economy with the main revenues now coming from tourism, aviation, real estate, and financial services. Dubai of late has attracted much world attention through many innovative large construction projects and sports events. The city has become symbolic for its skyscrapers and high-rise buildings, in particular the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. On top of all this, Dubai is home to other ambitious development projects including man-made islands, hotels, and some of the largest shopping malls in the region and the world. This increased attention has also highlighted some labour and human rights issues concerning the city’s largely South Asian workforce. Dubai’s property market went through a major setback in 2008–2009 following the financial crisis of 2007-2008, but is making a gradual recovery with help from neighboring emirates.
Dubai was gaining popularity in recent years as a relatively new tourist destination, until the global economic crash of 2008. Essentially a desert town/city with superb infrastructure, liberal policies (by regional standards), Dubai became popular for its excellent tourist amenities. Just five hours from Europe and three hours from most parts of the Middle East, the Near East, and the subcontinent of India, Dubai is ideal as a great short break for shopping, partying, sunbathing, fine dining, sporting events, and even a few sinful pleasures. It is a city of superlatives: for the fastest, biggest, tallest, largest and highest, Dubai is the destination. It has the largest immigrant population in the world. Dubai is divided into multiple districts or municipalities:
JUMEIRAH — A diverse district whose residents range from Europeans to Filipinos to Pakistanis; a mixed Little Europe, Karachi and Manila. Jumeirah is much favoured by Europeans due to easy access to the beach, One can see beautiful villas here. Jumeirah Beach, Jumeirah Beach Residence’s the Walk and Jumeirah Mosque are top attractions.
DOWNTOWN DUBAI — While Bur Dubai and Deira are traditionally considered “Downtown,” the Downtown Dubai development is smack in the center of the “New Dubai,” between Dubai Marina to the south end and the border with the city of Sharjah to the north. It includes the Burj Khalifa (tallest building in the world), the Dubai Mall (world’s biggest), Dubai Fountain, and lots of other skyscrapers and hotels.
DUBAI MARINA — is a mega-development that borders Jebel Ali (the world’s largest man-made port). It is full of skyscrapers and hosts the “Jumeirah Beach Walk” with a number of restaurants, hotels, an open-air market when weather permits, and frequent shows. Dubai Marina houses one of the highest concentrations of Westerners in Dubai.
SATWA — One of Dubai’s Little India and Little Manila, due to the presence of Filipinos and Indians. A whole lot of Filipino and Indian restaurants, shops, supermarkets may be seen here. Gold and textiles is what people come here for, so while as a gold shopper the Gold Souk might be your top destination, Satwa too has numerous gold shops and is hassle free, also not so crowded.
KARAMA — More of like a mixed commercial residential district, another of Dubai’s Little Indias and Little Manilas, cheap eats and cheap buys are the thing here.
BUR DUBAI — A historical district. Bur Dubai is the usual term for the area from Jumeirah to the creek. The creek separates Bur Dubai from Deira. Tourist attractions from abras to souks to floating restaurants to the famous creek are found here.
DEIRA — Dubai’s old Financial centre. Today Deira is a bustling commercial-residential district with some old souks, including one specializing in spices.
ARABIAN RANCHES AND EMIRATES HILLS — These are two separate places, residential rents here are expensive due to the land value, and just like the whole of Dubai, these two are also Man-made.
MIRDIFF/MIRDIF — A commercial-residential district which is somewhat newly built and lies directly under the flight path to Dubai International Airport. Mirdif City Center is one of the attractions. This is another residencial locality for the well-to-do.
INTERNATIONAL CITY — Just a simple residential area in the middle of the desert, what’s special about it is its architectural design, the residential rents here are cheap and is somewhat the next Chinatown as many Chinese businesspeople reside here.
JEBEL ALI — Once isolated from the main bulk of Dubai back in the 70’s, Jebel Ali is now a major residential and industrial hub encompassing the southern portions of the city. The main attraction popular with locals and tourists alike is the easily recognizable Ibn Battuta Mall, styled on the countries visited by the famous explorer. The mall is built adjacent to the Ibn Battuta Gate Hotel whose large archway may be seen from afar. Surrounding the mall are the Garden apartments, an ethnically diverse district with a large Indian community. Jebel Ali village, a 35 year old community built on the side of Jebel Ali (Ali Mountain) for the European builders of Jebel Ali Port is still popular with western expats. The coastal side of the Sheihk Zayed Road in Jebel Ali consists of many unattractive power and desalination plants that somewhat ruin the view. The port was the 9th busiest in the world in 2011.
Though bang in the middle of the desert, Dubai has a lot of things to offer, different strokes for different people. This time round, we take a break off the beaten path, and while risking the fact that this might make it a bit travelogue-like, we have attempted to make this infocus a mite different, by telling you what makes Dubai a veritable paradise for the traveller, the shopper, the holidayer, and the global nomad. Here goes:
AL AHMADIYA SCHOOL, DEIRA. Built in 1912, this was Dubai’s first school that has now been fully restored. Many might not find the exhibits of old reed pens and diplomas fascinating, but they’ve tried pretty hard, and if nothing else, it has air-conditioning and clean toilets.
BASTAKIYA DISTRICT. One of the last remaining pockets of Old Dubai, home to many reconstructed buildings in the traditional style. While information on the structures is slim here, the atmosphere is very evocative and there are plenty of delightful art galleries and cafes to explore.
DUBAI MUSEUM. A must-see for anyone interested in the social history of the Emirate. A visit starts at the al-Fahidi fort, which has a few examples of the traditional reed houses and other artifacts, but isn’t much to look at. The more interesting part is the modern extension built underneath the fort, showcasing Dubai’s history using the latest technology and culminating in a reconstructed souq from the pearling days, complete with authentic sights and sounds. It is quite fascinating to see the speed at which the transition from poor pearling village to modern metropolis occurred.
JUMEIRAH MOSQUE. This is the largest mosque in the city, and a wonderful example of Islamic architecture, built in the medieval Fatimid tradition with the interior decorated with elaborate Arabic calligraphy. It is one of few mosques in the city open for visits by non-Muslims. The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding conducts special tours for non-Muslims to help promote understanding of Islam. Located on Jumeirah Road, the mosque is an especially great place to visit in the evening when it’s dramatically illuminated by floodlights.
SHINDAGHA DISTRICT — Home to the open museums of the Heritage Village, and has the home of former Sheikh Rashid Al-Maktoum.
SOUKS — There are a number of nice souks, or markets, on both sides of the creek that are worth exploring. They sell everything from spices to crafts to very inexpensive tourist t-shirts.
BURJ KHALIFA. This is the world’s tallest structure at 828 metres and 160 floors. The observation deck at the 124th floor is the 2nd highest in the world after the Shanghai World Financial center. Already dominating the Dubai skyline, the newly opened tower houses nine hotels and a Las Vegas-inspired fountain system. The visitors’ entrance is located at the lower ground floor of Dubai Mall. Although the tour is called At the Top be aware that it isn’t! Although the observation deck is the highest open deck in the world, at 452m it’s just over halfway up the tower itself.
THE DUBAI FOUNTAIN. At 270m in length and sporting a jet that shoots water up to 150m, the Dubai Fountain is indeed the world’s largest dancing fountain and one with a very enticing display.
BURJ AL-ARAB HOTEL. Self-proclaimed as the only 7 star hotel in the world, for a real glimpse into “how the other half lives,” afternoon tea, or cocktails, may be an interesting experience. Entry to the hotel requires a reservation which will be confirmed at the entry gate, although residents of adjacent Jumeirah hotels may be able to visit by arrangement. A “very smart casual” dress code applies. Reservations are usually required about a month in advance for a room, but a few days will generally suffice for a meal.
DUBAI MARINA. One of the newer and more popular areas of Modern Dubai, both with residents and tourists. It offers numerous features such as a phenomenal skyline, world class hotels, a fabulous beach, a mall, and 2 different walkways (The Walk and Marina Walk) with coffee shops, restaurants, and shops. Marina Walk is right on the “Marina water”, and there are many yachts there. One can rent a yacht for a cruise around the area. The Walk has a nice open market run from October till May, every Fridays and Saturdays at daylight.
PALM ISLANDS. The three largest artificial islands in the world are located just off the coast of Dubai; a major urban development to add a significant amount of upscale beachfront property to the area. Each of the islands is shaped like a palm leaf, with a trunk connected to the mainland, fronds extending from the trunk, and a crescent (a breakwater encircling the trunk and fronds). Of the three planned, the Palm Jumeirah, at 5 km square and near Dubai Marina, is the only one open yet, connected to the mainland by a freeway bridge and a monorail, and sporting marinas, luxury resorts, and upscale shopping areas.
Lots of places to see and experience, but then, there is plenty to do as well. Dubai offers ample opportunities and has infrastructure for a wide variety of activities, and yes, the gamut caters to different lifestyles and different predilictions as well.
BEACHES AND SEA. Dubai offers endless water-sport opportunities, as it has some of the whitest and sandiest beaches in the world. Ocean temperatures range from 22°C in winter up to 35°C in summer, there are few wave breaks and the strong winds can make swimming difficult. The water is also very salty.
NATURAL OUTDOORS. Although at first glance the outdoors may seem dull and uninteresting, and even dangerous due to the desert conditions, there are actually amazing natural destinations in the emirate of Dubai, which extends into Hatta – the difficulty is in knowing where to find them! There are pristine waterfalls, cliffs lined with fossils, even freshwater lakes.
PARKS. Al Safa Park is one of the oldest in Dubai. It’s a favorite for sports enthusiasts, and has many visitors who come to play tennis, volleyball, and soccer. There is a video arcade for children, and ferris wheel and bumper cars. The park even has a maze to wander through. Barbeques and picnic areas are available for those who want to make a day of it.
CAMEL RACES. The Camel Race Track is one of the more unusual attractions, with races being held on Thursday and Friday in winters. Not only can one watch the races, and also visit the paddocks. Vendors sell everything from beads to rugs and blankets, so one could purchase souvenirs as well.
WATER SPORTS. Thrill seeking water excitement. Banana boat ride and parasailing and many other water sports activities.
DESERT SAFARI. Dubai is well known for its Desert Safaris and extreme adventure sports in the desert. The most tour is called dune bashing. Dune Bashing is done using different things like 4X4 Safari Jeeps, Sand Boards, Quad Bikes and Dune Buggies. Head out to the desert in an SUV with specialist Desert Drivers. The drivers will take you for a roller-coaster ride over sand dunes, show you the sunset from a strategic vantage point and then take you to a lavish dinner with music and dance to complete the atmosphere.
FISHING. Deep sea fishing in the middle of the Dubai Sea.
WILD WADI. Wild Wadi Park is the perfect place for the entire family to spend a day as well as being a great way to beat the heat and enjoy the day away from the bustle of the city. Located close to the hotels and resorts of Jumeriah Beach, the park has water rides, slides, and a lagoon that’s hidden away. You’ll enjoy waterfalls, out of the way swimming holes, and a tidal pool.
DUBAI CREEK CRUISE. The Dubai creek is the foundation from which Dubai grew. It originally served as a port for trading vessels plying to and from India, Africa and the Middle East. Today a bit of the old shipping culture still remains. In and around the creek one can see some of the original buildings that have served as customs houses and defense structures. You can book a ride on the creek with a dinner cruise or even rent a private boat to take you on a hour long ride up and down the creek.
GOLF. It may be a desert, but a lot of money and water is spent on irrigating opulent golf courses. Alternatively, for a more local flavor, try sand golf!
HOT AIR BALLOON. Great Fun seeing all the sand Dunes and mountains early in the morning or during sunset.