The city of the future
An incredible trip to the Middle East bringing us to the shiny and spectacular city of Dubai. Just few days here as a stop over before continuing on to Southeast Asia, the final destination on this journey. And what best way to fly here than with Emirates, the flag airline carrier of Dubai, on their Airbus A380. That is always an amazing experience to fly on such a plane, especially for an airplane lover as I am.
Leaving London behind with barely over 12 degrees, and landing a little over 6 hours later at over 35 degrees, that’s priceless for a late in the year holidays. What I was actually not prepared was the temperature shock once the doors from the airport to the outside opened. The heat is such and so, so dry, that it is hard to stand it the first minutes until your body adjust. And that was just 35, considering the +45 experiences in Doha and Muscat from other trips. Thankfully we were prepared and changed the cloths from winter to summer while still at the airport.
It was just matter of few minutes later when we were in the rental car heading to our hotel when we felt out of this world. And what a experience was that! The impressive Sheikh Zayed Avenue heading north passing such a wonderful collection of super tall skyscrapers. The city of the future. This avenue was a hint of what was yet to come. The Burj Khalifa follows after more or less half way toward the Mall of the Emirates, and on and on; the collection of landmarks continue.
What seemed to us to be a small city, it is not at all. It’s very long, covering many kilometres from one end to the other and when you think there’s no more, suddenly the mega project of the Marina appears. Encompassing 200 skyscrapers along the side of the coast; and then who knows how many other on the other side, just across the main avenue. And if that would not be enough, there’s the Palm Jumeirah, The World and other island projects gained to the sea. Everywhere you look there is a crane, frenetic construction 24 hours a day. What you see now, it will change year after year.
On the opposite side, you have the neighbourhood of Bastakiya. This is where the nowadays historic Old Dubai is, the once small fishing village where it all began, before anyone knew the region was petrol-rich. With many souks, mosques, the fort and tiny streets, it kept the charm it deserves back to back with the new city. While right across the Creek, the Al Ras district, also very old and charming, home to the famous Gold Souk. So yes, not everything in here is made new from scratch, you have a beautiful area with the bygone Arabian flair.
Looking for food is not complicated. You have any possible Western chain you could imagine, however for a more authentic food you need to try Shawarma (meat in pita), which costs only around AED5 for one. Do not expect the sizes you get anywhere in Europe or North America, no no, here you get the real authentic way, and are small-ish. Although with 2 you are quite full already. The Karachi Darbar is a chain of restaurants you can find around the city and where to get great Arabian and Indian dishes, huge portions, great quality and inexpensive.
If shopping is what you are after, I think you are in paradise. Whatever you do not find in Dubai, then it maybe does not exist. The shopping malls are the largest in the world, hundreds over hundreds of shops of any kind, and believe me when I tell you luxury here is very much loved by the locals. We are talking about serious staff with value over the millions of USD.
Lastly, activities you can do in the city. Well, again, name it and you have it. Absolutely everything, no matter if indoor, outdoor, the sea or the sky. Paragliding, jet-sky, water-sky has become actually basic things here. Indoor snow sky no problem, the world’s largest slope is within the Mall of the Emirates; or perhaps sky diving? Yeah why not, there is even an airport built solely for this purpose next to the Palm Jumeirah. But other activities more related to this region would be a desert safari on a 4×4 on the dunes. I could be going non-stop, but Dubai is the place where almost anything is possible.
For more information about the city check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. The United Arab Emirates currency is the Dirham (AED). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Dubai
- Dubai Creek It is the river passing through Old Dubai. There is no visit to Dubai if you don’t experience taking an “abra”, which are the small barges that crosses it. These navigate between Bur Dubai in Bastakiya and Deira at the other shore.
- Deira Right across the Creek, home to the famous Gold Souk and old traditional architecture.
- Bastakiya District The old traditional Dubai. A maze of little streets, bazaars, spice market, the fort and many mosques.
- Sheikh Zayed Road The iconic main thoroughfare of the city, running from east to west parallel to the coast and aligned with skyscrapers from all shapes at both sides. It is best enjoyed if you drive through it in a car, otherwise, the metro runs all the way along it and elevated offering spectacular views.
- Jumeirah Mosque Located in Jumeirah Road, just opposite the Palm Strip Mall.
- Dubai Mall This is the mall where you will find the largest acrylic aquarium glass in the world. Of course the aquarium itself is amazing, right in the middle of the main atrium, and hundreds of shops.
- Burj Khalifa Next to the Dubai Mall. Currently the tallest man made tower on earth, it is spectacular in all senses. But the most astonishing way of visiting it is by going up to the level 120 where the viewing platform is (as a note, there are still over 60 floors above this point). You need to prebook your tickets in advance, this will save you a lot of money and time. But remember, you will need to attend for the time you booked it, and cannot be exchanged for other date and time on the day of your visit. You can in the other hand, amend it with enough time in advance. The best time to go up is one hour before the sunset, this way you will get to see 3 in 1. Daylight, sunset and night time.
- Dubai Fountain At the bottom of the Burj Khalifa. Shows are every 30 minutes from 18.00pm to 22.00pm on weekdays, extended until 23.00pm on weekends. This is the world’s largest choreographed fountain, and definitely worth to see more than one show.
- Mall of the Emirates Continuing west along Sheikh Zayed Road, the next gigantic shipping mall, home to the world’s largest indoor sky slope.
- Burj al-Arab The so celebrated 7* hotel. It’s shape has become a worldwide icon of the city. Although you can not go inside unless you are a resident, check for some tours. You will need to go well dressed though.
- Palm Jumeirah One of the prides of Dubai, fully finished now. Only few lots still empty to be build. A monorail system interconnects the metro station Palm Jumeirah with the farther end of the Palm, the Atlantis Hotel.
- Hotel Atlantis Right at the end of the Palm, the last stop of the monorail. A landmark in the skyline since its construction. The views from this point towards the Dubai Marina are simply surreal, out of this world.
- Dubai Marina At the time of our visit, this place was in full speed construction, and although the original plan includes 200 super tall apartment skyscrapers, about half of them were built. This area without doubt must be spectacular in few years time.
The international airport is one of the largest in the world and it does not stop growing. Dubai is the biggest interconnecting base linking the West to the East. From the airport, Terminals 1 and 3 are served by the Dubai Metro, where you can connect in the old city centre for the line running parallel to the coast line.
A day pass valid for unlimited rides on the metro and buses costs 14 AED, while the Nol Silver stored-value card costs 20 AED (including 14 AED worth of balance) and gives you a 10% discount on both the metro and bus fares.
The main bus stations are Gold Souk Market (in Deira) and Al Ghubaiba bus station (in Bur Dubai). The flat fare is 2 AED. Clear route maps and timetables are placed inside the bus stands. And very important, the front seats are reserved for women.
The metro is the most convenient and fast way of moving around, although it does not cover the coast line itself, so be prepared for walking from the metro station to anywhere down the coast like the Burj al-Arab and beaches nearby. This can be extremely difficult because of the intense heat and no shade to cover. But in the other hand, it will be most likely a one off and tick off from the list of sights. For the Palm Jumeirah, you will need to take the metro up to Internet City or Nakheel, and then walk towards the Palm Monorail.
A very handy bus line connecting many of the sights is number 8. It does start at the Gold Souk then takes the tunnel under the Creek to Heritage Village, and then sets off down Jumeirah Road (just behind the beach) and all its hotels and malls, up to Burj al-Arab and Wild Wadi Waterpark. Terminates near the Internet City, while its 8A variant goes down a little further and also serves the Mall of the Emirates.
In Bastakiya, the best way to cross the Dubai Creek is by taking an abra, essentially, a small wooden ferry. The cross-river trip costs just 1 Dirham, and you will get the best views of the Creek itself. Frequencies are basically on demand one after another, filling very quickly.
Dubai must be one of the few cities I’ve been with such a gigantic, vast and incredible choice. But be prepared for the high prices. 4 and 5 stars hotels are very expensive, unless a good deal becomes somehow available. In any case, a 3 stars hotel anywhere in the Emirates has the quality of what a 5 star would be in many European countries. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo or Ebookers.
From our experience, we can highly recommend Hotel Centro Mall of the Emirates, Road 329, Al Barsha 1, PO Box 115060. A great property, beautiful design, comfortable, super clean, offering a fantastic breakfast, and having an splendid pool on the roof top terrace which we could use every day, morning and night. Their opening times were the longest I’ve seen on any hotel, and we were actually told by the receptionist that soon would be 24h opened. Conveniently located near the Emirates Mall and the metro station Sharaf DG.