Dubai is a city that must be seen to be believed. Record-breaking architecture stands alongside traditional quarters, while man-made islands jut out of the coastline. Here are the top places to tick off your sightseeing list when you’re in town.
Standing 828 metres high, the Burj Khalifa is hard to miss. The world's tallest tower naturally dominates the Dubai skyline, but the true majesty of the building is best appreciated up close or, even better, from inside. On a clear day, the view from the observation deck on level 124 is absolutely stunning, topped only by the view from the luxurious At The Top Sky Lounge on the 148th floor. And for those who would like to linger for a meal in the clouds, At.mosphere on level 122 is the place to be.
A shopper’s paradise
Right next to the Burj Khalifa is The Dubai Mall. To call the sprawling development merely a shopping mall is doing it a disservice. Even an entire day spent here isn't enough to see it all. Along with its 1,200-plus shops and 150 restaurants, the venue is home to an indoor theme park, an ice rink, a huge indoor waterfall, a choreographed outdoor fountain and the giant Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo.
An awe-inspiring show
The Dubai Fountain, located at the base of the iconic Burj Khalifa and just outside the doors of the famous Dubai Mall, features the world's largest choreographed fountain system. This popular dancing water show jets water streams as high as 150 metres in the air. Each colourful, illuminated jet sways in time to various musical numbers from around the world, producing what has become the one of the most popular shows in Dubai. Two showings occur in the afternoon (1pm and 1:30pm), except on Fridays (1:30pm to 2pm) and evening displays begin at sundown and take place every 30 minutes until the final song plays at 11pm.
A palm-shaped island
A man-made island in the shape of a palm tree - there's a reason why locals say 'only in Dubai.' Palm Jumeirah is one of the largest artificial islands in the world and a triumph of human ingenuity. Locals and tourists alike enjoy the Palm's vast array of high-end hotels, including the Waldorf Astoria, Fairmont, One & Only, Jumeirah Zabeel Saray and, perhaps most notably, the iconic Atlantis, The Palm. And with a monorail running down the 'trunk' that connects to the mainland's tram system, getting there couldn't be easier.
Ancient trade routes
Dubai may be famous for the glitz and glamour of its sky-high towers, but the real heart of the city is, and always will be, the Creek. The saltwater estuary is the original site where the Bani Yas tribe settled, and its waters were vital for what used to be Dubai's main forms of economy: pearl diving and fishing. Today, the area is awash with the history of the emirate, as it's home to the Dubai Museum as well as the labyrinthine alleyways of the gold, spice and textile souks. While at the Creek, a ride across the water on a traditional abra is a must, and at an unbelievable AED1 per ticket, it's easily the best value tourist attraction in the city.
Eat. shop. beach.
For those who like to shop, dine, see a movie and go to the beach all in one place, consider a trip to The Beach opposite JBR. With guest DJs pumping out the tunes on weekends, a regular open-air cinema and a popular water park to entertain the little ones for an hour or two, JBR is always buzzing with activity.
Dubai’s neighbourhood beach
The aptly-named Kite Beach is the perfect spot to test out your watersports skills, but there's plenty to do out of the water at this popular spot, too! Grab a smoothie from one of the many open-air cafes and restaurants just steps from the beach, watch bikers and skaters fly by at the newly finished skate park or get into a game of volleyball. With plenty of beach activities, plus an awesome view of the Burj Al Arab, it's easy to spend the whole day here.
Look into the future at the world's largest man-made marina, Dubai Marina. Marvel at some of the world's tallest apartment buildings as you stroll along Dubai Marina Walk or see it from the water as you set sail from the Dubai Marina Yacht Club.
A majestic landscape
Less than 20 minutes driving from the modernist streets of Downtown Dubai, you can experience the marvels of the Arabian Desert, the original tourist attraction of Dubai. Take a desert safari Dubai-style with off-roading, quad biking and sandboarding followed by traditional barbeques, henna and camel rides. Or just drive out and experience the wonder of the desert on an adventure of your own. Those looking for luxury should indulge in a Heritage Dinner Safari. Can't get enough in a day? Treat yourself to an unforgettable night amid the dunes at the Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa or Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa.
Uncover Dubai’s past
Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood in Bur Dubai is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city. Best seen walking, this area offers a nostalgic view of a bygone era with traditional wind towers and a maze of winding alleyways. You can visit the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) where guests can take part in Arabic classes, heritage tours and guided mosque visits to better appreciate the local culture. After exploring, take an atmospheric abra ride to the souks on the other side of the Creek.
A contemporary history
Discover United Arab Emirates’ contemporary history at Dubai’s freshest cultural offering – the Etihad Museum. The magnificent new museum, located in Jumeirah 1, features a plethora of interactive pavilions where visitors can explore the UAE’s history – with particular emphasis on the significant period surrounding the establishment of the country’s independence between 1968 and 1974 – through photos, films and more. Additionally, guests can learn about the UAE’s rich heritage before the country’s founding Fathers signed the treaty that unified the seven emirates as well as the subsequent economic development.
On the water
Dubai Water Canal is a 3.2km long waterway extending from the Creek in Old Dubai through Business Bay before finding its way to the Arabian Gulf. Dubai Canal will create 80,000 sqm of waterfront public space and facilities, to include new recreational areas like the 3km running track and 12km cycling path. The canal’s beautiful waterfall can be viewed from Dubai’s Business Bay or you can take in views of the canal from some of Dubai’s newest hotels, like W Hotel and the St Regis. The Atrium is a series of five restaurants that are also situated off the canal’s waterfront.
Past meets present
For an experience that marries tradition and luxury, come to Madinat Jumeirah. Literally translated as 'City of Jumeirah' this complex is inspired by an ancient citadel. It encloses luxury hotels, private enclaves built in the traditional style, the world-class Talise Spa, the Madinat Souk, Madinat Theatre, and more than 40 restaurants and lounges. You can also explore on traditional wooden abras to appreciate the waterways and architecture.
Centre of Culture
The Dubai Opera situated in the new “Opera District” in the heart of Dubai offers an enticing schedule which can be likened to that of London’s West End or Manhattan’s Broadway. With views of the Dubai Fountain and next to the Burj Khalifa, the building was inspired by the shape of Arabian Dhow ships and is sure to catch your eye. While the rear of the building arches upwards like a hull and is used as a foyer, taxi rank and car park, the stage area is designed in such a way that it can easily be converted into three different event platforms: theatre, hall or concert hall.
Indoor Theme Park
Fun, excitement, speed - and even 5D, you can expect all this in the enormous theme park, which is the size of 28 football pitches. With the most up-to-date and exciting rides, IMG Worlds of Adventure will bring your favourite characters to life. There are themed rides for younger visitors with Ben 10, Gumball, the Powerpuff Girls and LazyTown, while older visitors can delve into the world of Marvel heroes: Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and The Avengers. You will also come across life-size animated dinosaurs in the Lost Valley. The range of entertainment promises round the clock fun for the whole family, and there are also plenty of restaurants and shops.
Stretching over 13,000 square metres, City Walk is reminiscent of European pedestrian precincts offering a pleasant vehicle-free stroll. Take a walk along tree-lined avenues with shops and restaurants. Look upwards and discover skyscrapers like the Burj Khalifa in Dubai’s city centre. There are also fountains, children's playgrounds and plenty of open-air seating.
Theme Park Thrills
Dubai is in the process of becoming a real entertainment paradise − thanks to the forthcoming opening of the Dubai Parks and Resorts. Children will not be able to contain their excitement in the labyrinth of enormous theme parks such as Motiongate, Bollywood Park, and Legoland theme and waterpark, while the adults can relax on Riverland Boulevard which is home to restaurants and exciting entertainment programmes. The luxury Polynesian-style hotel, The Lapita, is situated in the theme park offering guests easy access to the facilities on offer.
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