Dubai is certainly a country which seems obsessed with superlatives, yet even one which boasts ‘the best of the best’ has several attractions which surpass all others. Follow our guide to the very (really now) best things to do in Dubai and see just how superlative this city can really be.
THE BEST VIEWS
The Burj Khalifa
In a city littered with skyscrapers, one might assume that just about each and every one gifts outstanding views of the glistening skyline. While this is true to some extent, there is only one building which offers uninterrupted views of Dubai town: the city’s highest. In this case, of course, the Burj Khalifa also happens to be the highest building in the world, so if there wasn’t the small matter of the planet being somewhat round you may be able to see your own backside if only your eyesight was good enough.
If you’d love to shout ‘I’M ON TOP OF THE (MANMADE) WORLD’ and be factually correct, hitch a 10-metre-per-second ride to the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa and, if you make it with all your innards in the right place, you may be astounded to see just how teeny the world’s largest shopping mall actually looks from this high up. The views are mind-blowing to say the least, but do pre-book your discounted ticket online or the most amazing view in town will come with the most amazing entry fee as well.
THE BEST ACTIVITIES
This one’s a no-brainer but if we’re going to do a ‘best of’ list then we can’t help mentioning the great shopping to be had in Dubai.
‘In Dubai…you must buy’. Say it over and over like a mantra and you’re half way there. From the world’s biggest shopping centres, most extravagant designer boutiques to infinitely bustling souks, Dubai has a shopping experience for every wallet. Read our Invaluable Guide to Shopping in Dubai and you’ll get the gist of it.
Yes, we do realize this may sound totally ridiculous, but in case you didn’t know, Dubai is home to the world’s 3rd largest indoor skiing field, and the only one you’ll find in the Middle East, if you can believe that. Ski Dubai, which you’ll find inside the Mall of the Emirates, is an incredible experience, whether or not you’re actually any good at the skiing bit. Playing among 6,000 tonnes of snow, in the middle of the desert, is one of the weirdest things one could possibly do. There are an astonishing five slopes to slide down on and a handy little cafe’ called St Moritz for your cafe’ sipping pleasure. While some visitors claim this is just like skiing in the Alps, we assure you we’ve yet to find a glass-window enclosed slope on the Alps. Fun, surreal and totally worth it! Don’t worry about packing your skiing gear though; you can rent it all here.
Dune Desert Bashing
We’re not quite sure if 4WD dune bashing is a long held Bedouin tradition, yet we do know that nowadays this is as exhilarating as a desert experience can get. For an adrenalin-packed, sand-blasting afternoon, book a Desert Safari Tour through you hotel, and enjoy the very best of the Dubai Conservation Reserve. Tours usually include an hour of dune bashing, a BBQ dinner at a Bedouin desert camp, perhaps some camel riding and an offer of shisha smoking if you fancy it. In Dubai’s case, you most definitely get what you pay for, so now’s not the time to watch the pennies. Arabian Adventures are the most respected, and given the fact they are run by Emirates Airlines they are likely to remain one of the most consistent.
All that heat coupled with all that sand can only result in an inherent desire to swim. If you don’t book a beachside resort (all have their own private beaches), then enjoy this wonderful activity at the Jumeirah Beach and Park, a gorgeous and fully-serviced seaside oasis you’ll find along the 3km stretch of Jumeirah’s waterfront. Here you’ll get sun beds and umbrellas (both rather handy when the sand and sun can both cause 3rd degree burns), a take-away shop and lots of shaded spots for you and your family to enjoy. The only hitch about swimming in Dubai is that the shore is so shallow, a swim in the Arabian Gulf in Dubai is about as refreshing as a swim inside a huge cup of tepid tea. Cold showers are tops!
As it turns out, Dubai’s cheapest attraction also happens to be one of the most iconic things you can do in the sandy Emirate. For merely 1 Dirham, you can catch a ride on an old fashioned wooden boat which ferries millions of passengers every year across the Dubai Creek. Take a ride to visit the Gold and Spice Souks, or just keep ridin’ back and forth until the sun sets. At less than $.20 cents a ride, you really can’t go wrong.
After dark is the best time to take in the most mesmerizing dancing waterfalls in Dubai. The Dubai Fountain, a free and fun attraction on the Burj Khalifa Lake, was designed by the very same architects who built the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas, so you know they’re going to be grand. The spectacle is colourfully lit and choreographed to music, with a different routine starting every half an hour. Grab a front row table at Dean & De Luca cafe’, listen to the music and watch the fountains dance in unison. Totally kitsch yet totally captivating, the water sprays reach head-spinning heights.
Dubai Camel Market
Unless you’re in the market for a brand new camel, we’ll safely keep this attraction in the ‘to see’ list. One of the most hidden treasures of Dubai, yet one of its most inherently cultural attractions, would have to be the daily camel market located next to the Dubai Camel Racetrack in Lisaili, a small village on the way to Al Ain. Camel trading has been an intrinsic part of Arabian culture since time immemorial and this is one of the dustiest, smelliest and most authentic markets anyone could hope to visit when in Dubai. It’s great! Head here first thing in the morning to see haggling at its best and do dress conservatively.
BEST ALL-DAY FUN
Dubai’s premier water fun-park may be a mouthful to pronounce, yet it spells hours of fun in the sun for anyone looking for a little thrilling distraction. Unlike what some first-time visitors believe, this is not a kids’ playground! Sure, there are plenty of rides to keep the littlies wet and wild, but there are also plenty of wicked hair-raising rides for older folks too. Plus the water is actually refreshing here so if you need to get away for the day and recharge those sluggish batteries, this is definitely the place to come to.
BEST INSIDER’S TIP
The Muezzin Call to Prayer
The ‘authentic Arabian experience’ is what most tour operators tend to exploit when offering a multitude of activities in Dubai. From the most authentic-fake designer gear, to the genuine-desert camps and the overwhelming majority of one-of-a-kind souvenirs on offer, it’s safe to say that most of what you’ll see and experience when visiting Dubai will have been specifically created for your viewing pleasure.
Yet there’s one, unmistakably authentic Dubai experience which no amount of mass-tourism could ever ruin; this is also one which most visitors tend to miss: the slow, steady and unmistakable movement of the masses as the local mosques beckons them to sunset prayer.
There is no man in Dubai who can pull a crowd to its knees the way a Muezzin can and to witness this, as a foreigner, is truly fascinating. When visiting Dubai, consider heading to the Bastakiya area around the Dubai Museum just before sunset prayers, and you can be privy to a spectacle that is as breathtaking as the sun glistening its last rays over this amazing city. All you’ll need is patience, an insightful eye and a nice, quiet spot away from the tourist crowds.
Welcome to Dubai.
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