What to see
Middle Eastern markets are referred to as “souks,” and in the past they would sell goods arriving from places like India, the Middle East and China. As time’s gone by, the things being sold at these markets have changed, and the variety on offer has expanded dramatically, yet they’ve kept their traditional feel. The souks of Dubai offer an endless range of products – you’ll find goods like gold, textiles, perfume, spices and electronics all under one roof, and you can barter for the best price too. The two main market areas of Dubai, Deira and Bur Dubai, are separated by a stream, and a boat service runs between them. It’s great fun wandering around the markets of the city, hunting for the perfect gift, then haggling for the right price – and of course, it’s a great opportunity to meet the people of the city.
This elegant mosque boasts two minarets and a splendid central dome, typical of the Fatimid architectural style. The mosque is one of the city’s leading attractions and is featured in most literature associated with Dubai. Six days a week, tours of the mosque are organized for non-Muslim visitors. These run between Saturday and Thursday, begin at 10:00 and last around an hour. It’s generally better for Muslim visitors to come outside of these times to pray and appreciate the mosque in a more peaceful atmosphere. It’s the most photographed mosque in Dubai, so be sure to have your camera handy.
The El Fahidi Fort was built in 1799 in order to defend any potential attacks from the sea, but since 1970 it has served as a the Dubai Museum. The most impressive part of the museum is the newly opened section beneath the castle. Here, using cutting-edge technology, the history of the city is explained in meticulous detail. Around 10 km from the city and located on and around an estuary, the museum is the best place to see the history, culture and art of Dubai all in one place. As well as artifacts and art, there are many pieces of writing and photographs relating to the city on display at the museum. In the museum garden, there are wonderful examples of the boats, architecture and weapons which have been used throughout Dubai’s history.
The Burj Khalifa has an astounding 160 floors, and after the 150th floor, it is constructed from steel. It’s the first building in the world to have a steels structure built on top of a reinforced concrete body in such a fashion. In addition, none of the façades of the building are flat, a design feature to help reduce the effects of wind on the building, and for the same reason, all its corners are curved. The Burj Khalifa holds no fewer than eleven world records – among these are the world’s tallest building, the world’s fastest elevator, the world’s highest elevator, the world’s highest mosque, the world’s highest restaurant and the world’s highest nightclub.
Burj Al Arab
The Burj Al Arab is located on its own artificial island just off the coast of Dubai, and stands at 320 meters tall. The standards of service in this hotel are second to none, with each floor having its own reception and room services. Amazingly, all of the rooms are duplex suites. The Burj Al Arab’s external design was modeled on a sail, and its clean lines suggest an understated simplicity. Not so inside, where decadent luxury and opulent design is found on every floor. Dancing water features, huge aquariums, intricate upholstery and golden decorations all add to the grandeur of the Burj Al Arab.
The Al Bastakiya district of Dubai was established in 1890, and was made up of around sixty homes, most of which belonged to wealthy Persian merchants. The traditional houses are separated by narrow streets, but these were abandoned by their residents for more modern accommodation when oil was discovered in the area. During the modernization of the district, due to the intervention of British architect Rayner Otter and Prince Charles, the demolition of the houses here was halted. The Al Bastakiya allows a glimpse into the traditional past of a city which is now one of the leaders of the modern world. The Al Fahidi Fort and Dubai Museum are located in the district of Al Bastakiya, making it the best place to see the more traditional side of Dubai.
This school was initially established in 1912 by Sheikh Ahmed bin Dalmouk, one of the most successful pearl traders in the Persian Gulf. After he passed away, his son completed construction and took over the running of the school, naming it after his father. The Ahmadiya School, which only provided education for boys, is set in a beautifully designed building. The artistry and craftsmanship evident on the doors and windows of the building give you an idea of the elegant artistic style of the time. It now serves as a museum, displaying the history of Dubai’s education in the most authentic setting possible.
The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence
If you want to enjoy a delicious meal after your evening of shopping in Dubai, the street in front of the Jumeirah Beach Residence is one of the best places to go. There are more than three-hundred restaurants on the 1.7 km-long road, with street artists along the stretch giving all kinds of performances. If you have a passion for cars, you’ll see the expensive sports cars of the rich and famous lining this glitzy part of town.
Wild Wadi Water Park
If you want to escape from the heat and have a great time while you do, the Wild Wadi Water Park is the perfect place. Part of the Jumeira Beach Hotel, the park is full of incredible attractions, including a simulated wave pool where you can even surf! There are water slides ranging from the fun to the truly hair-raising, which kids (big and small!) can enjoy. You get some fantastic views of Dubai at the top of some of the slides – giving you some idea of their size – and the park welcomes visitors from all over the world every year. There’s everything here for the whole family to have a great day out, including restaurants and relaxation areas, so be sure to make the most of this amazing water park while you’re in Dubai.
Global Village Dubailand
Global Village Dubailand was opened in 1997 and has become one of Dubai’s leading entertainment venues, with incredible restaurants and shopping available too. Global Village is split into 31 sections, each representing a country. In each section you can sample some of that particular country’s cuisine, while the stores sell the traditional products belonging to the culture. It’s a perfect place for the whole family, with thousands of shows taking place here each year – it even has its own theme park!
What to eat
Dubai borrows from the culinary styles of Pakistan, Lebanon, Morocco and Egypt, but the city’s favorite dish is of Indian origin. Made with rice and diced lamb, and flavored with saffron, Biriani is served in almost all the restaurants in the city. If you’d prefer, you can have it made with chicken or fish, and there are vegetarian versions of the dish too.
Shawarma is one of Dubai’s most common dishes. It’s doner meat, salad and sauce stuffed into pita bread. You’ll find shawarma on almost every street in Dubai, and it’s similar to the dürüm (doner meat wraps) sold on the streets of Turkey.
You’ll find this curiously named dessert of Egyptian origin all over Dubai, and there’s several interesting legends behind the name of the dish. The most popular explains that while on a hunting expedition, the mayor of an Egyptian city stopped by a poor village in search of something to eat. Knocking on the door of a small house, the housewife inside quickly threw a sweet together to serve the mayor. Having thoroughly enjoyed the desert, the mayor inquired as to the name of the dish. In her nervousness and excitement, the housewife blurted out “Umm Ali,” and that name apparently stuck ever since. The dish is half way between baklava and bread pudding, and is cooked in a traditional pan called a ruqaq. A mixture of pastry, dried fruits and nuts are thrown into the pan, and then covered with a mixture of milk, cream and sugar. This is then baked in the oven and can be served hot or cold. Quick and easy, it’s a delicious sweet which has become a favorite in Dubai.