You won't visit another city quite like Dubai. It is the largest city in the United Arab Emirates boasting a banquet of luxurious, larger-than-life entertainment, attractions, and accommodations for adventurous travelers. Its stunning skyline is a stage where modern architects compete, while maintaining a style that reflects its ancient Bedouin culture. There's no danger of boredom in this city, in fact, it is sure to exceed many of your expectations.
Oh so many things to do...
The first thing I did in Dubai was visit the mall, and no, it wasn't to shop. This location is at the heart of Downtown Dubai and it's a great place to get started, especially if you don't have set plans for your trip. More importantly, you can check off several of the Guinness World Record sites with a single visit. The Dubai Mall itself is a record breaker being the world's largest mall, and there are a few incredible attractions inside, including the world's largest acrylic-wall aquarium, which you can walk through inside a tunnel.
Also within the mall is an ice skating rink, movie theater, opera house, virtual reality theme park, trampoline park, and several art exhibits. Just outside of the mall is the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, right next door to the world's largest water fountain. You may not care that much about seeing a fountain, but if you get there on the hour, you'll witness a spectacular water dancing display that is synchronized to music, a different song every time. It's even better at night when colorful lights illuminate the water. Here's a personal favorite...
If you have time, make a reservation with XDubai XLine, the world's longest urban zip line. You'll start at the Amwaj Towers and zip by the Burj Khalifa at about 80 mph, then land on top of the Dubai Mall.
And places to stay...
Perhaps Dubai's most iconic resort and one of the most photographed buildings in the world, Atlantis, is front and center on the Palm Jumeirah island. I'm sure you've heard of it; a man-made island in the shape of a palm tree. Dubai actually has 2 of them sticking out into the Persian Gulf. At Atlantis, you can play at Aquaventure, the world's largest water park with over 100 slides and attractions. Swim with Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins and South African fur seals. Wave at the sharks and sting rays as you float down the clear tube through Shark Lagoon. On Palm Jumeirah, there are many other gorgeous resorts offering unforgettable experiences like W Dubai (Marriott), Sofitel, and The Retreat.
For my first trip to Dubai, I stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton M Square Hotel & Residences. I chose this hotel for its convenient location between Downtown Dubai, Old Dubai, and Jumeirah Beach. And, it was super affordable at arround $600 for my 5-night stay.
Crossing the Dubai Creek on an Abra is like going back in time. Purchase a 25-cent fare to cross the creek and take in the sights and sounds of the old city. If you like history, be sure to check out the Dubai Museum inside the oldest building in the city, Al Fahidi Fort, for a closer look at the city's past. Stroll along the creek banks and visit a few of the many souks, shops, and restaurants to immerse yourself in the traditional Arabic comforts and style.
Jumeirah Beach is one of the best public beaches Dubai has to offer. The shoreline is a lively place where you can rent a jet-ski, have a barbecue, or play some volleyball. The sand is white, the grounds are neat and clean, and the clear blue water is warm and inviting. Beach-goers can find refreshment at one of the many nearby cafes while always within sight of the striking Burj Al Arab, a remarkable structure that resembles the sails that grace the Persian Gulf's waterways.
If you want to get a little further out of the city, try a Dubai Desert Safari. This afternoon tour goes well into the night and makes for an unforgettable adventure in the desert. You'll start with dune-bashing on a quad-bike for about 30 minutes, then your tour will continue over the sand dunes to your final destination with a few other activities like sand boarding and camel riding. At the dinner location, you'll be offered some Arabic aromatic coffee and dates as well as some hookah smoking. Delicious Emarati meals will be served while you enjoy live entertainment such as Tanoura and belly dancing, a fire show, and even falconry. All for under $100!
Want to see another amazing city in the UAE? The bus service is the fastest and cheapest route to Abu Dhabi from Dubai. For less than $10 and under 2 hours each way, you can see some incredible sights in another impressive city.
In Abu Dhabi you'll find even more striking architecture like the World Trade Center and the Qasr Al Watan Palace. If you go anywhere in Abu Dhabi, be sure to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and experience one of the most elegant and ornate buildings in the world. Out of all the places I visited in the UAE, this is where I spent the most time and took the most pictures. Here are a few...
It is required that you dress conservatively inside the mosque, like any other religious establishment. Visitors are asked to wear long sleeves and long pants, and women are asked to cover their heads. If you don't have a scarf with you, a hijab is provided before you enter. You can also wear a full-body hijab, which I did simply because I never had. We were also asked to remove our shoes.
The mosque is mostly white with beautiful tile works throughout. Around the tops of each pillar are gold-plated leaf clusters and the columns are decorated with floral arrangements made with inlays of precious stones.
Chandeliers made from gold and precious stones hang in each room.
At night, the mosque really comes to life with bright blue lights that shine against the brilliant white surfaces. Shallow pools surround the exterior corridors reflecting the blue light.
Hearing the Azan (call to prayer) within the mosque gave me goosebumps, it was such a moving experience. My Snapchat videos don't do it justice, but I found a great clip on YouTube.
Getting back to Dubai: I'm sure you've heard a few things about this city. It has a profound reputation, but many subjects are exaggerated or just completely untrue. The United Arab Emirates was the first Muslim country I visited and being completely unfamiliar with the culture, I did my homework. I was shocked by what I read about this nation while planning my trip, and I hope that I can diminish some of the widely accepted falsehoods of this beautiful place.
The most commonly reported falsehood about the UAE is perhaps the strict societal norms, mainly, the dress code. The UAE, is more 'Westernized' than other Muslim countries, so there is no need to dress super conservatively here, especially in Dubai. It's totally okay to wear shorts and tank tops in the city, and yes, even a bikini on the beach. However, if you plan to visit a mosque during your visit, plan to dress conservatively when you go there.
Another misconception about the UAE is that they prohibit the consumption of alcohol. This is untrue, with the exception of the city of Sharjah, which is completely dry. Both citizens and tourists can purchase and consume alcoholic beverages in all other parts of the country. However, you are not allowed to consume alcohol in open public areas like the beach or on the street. Establishments that serve alcohol are required to do so indoors, and out of sight of passersby.
If you have a hankering for bacon, don't fret, you can find that too. The restaurants in Dubai cater to Western tourists, so you won't have any trouble finding pork products. It will actually be harder for you to find traditional Middle Eastern food, believe me. The UAE, despite being a Muslim country, is open and accepting of other beliefs, traditions, and religions. You can even find Catholic churches and Hindu temples if you need one while on vacation.
Many people believe that the increased level of wealth in this nation comes from the oil industry. However, that is only a fraction of the truth. Oil was not discovered in the UAE until the 1930s, and for 200+ years before that, the country was full of fishing villages which controlled much of the booming pearl industry. Dubai and its neighboring city to the southwest, Abu Dhabi, were in competition in the 1950s for control over oil. After several disputes over boundary lines between the two cities, many citizens of Dubai vacated and the wealth of Abu Dhabi increased. The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, began investing in tourism by constructing the first airport in 1959. As a result, tourism in the Persian Gulf exploded making Dubai the 3rd richest city in the world! And, the DXB airport has the world's largest airport terminal and remains the world's busiest airport for international passenger traffic.
Come to Dubai for the world record-breaking marvels. Dubai is a city that likes a challenge. Here, you can see dozens of Guinness World Record winners like:
Tallest building - Burj Khalifa 2,716 ft (828 m), also the:
Tallest free standing structure
Building with highest number of stories (163 floors)
Highest outdoor observation deck (148th floor)
Highest restaurant (At.Mosphere on level 123)
Tallest elevator (1,654 feet / 504 meters)
Largest dancing fountain - Burj Khalifa, 78,867 sq ft (7,327 sq m)
Deepest swimming pool - Deep Dive Dubai, 200 ft (60 m)
Fastest roller coaster - Formula Rossa, 150 mph (240 km)
Largest shopping mall - Dubai Mall, 12 million sq ft (1.1 M m)
Greatest number of 1000+ ft buildings (300+ m)
Longest urban zipline - XDubai XLine, 3,280 ft (1 km)
Largest flower garden, Dubai Miracle Garden, 150,000 blooms
"Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving."