The UAE in general and Dubai, in particular, is full of superlatives and opposites. It is also a vibrant and exciting city, a stark contrast between Asian, Western and Middle-eastern cultures, yet all cultures also combine to make the city the dynamic place it is. The city can be described as a place where “East meets West”, reflecting the local culture’s mix of Asian roots with influences from various nationalities.
On one hand, you have soaring, neck-creaking skyscrapers and the amazing flatness of the desert lands on the other. You below poverty line Asian drivers and the uber rich Shaikhs rubbing shoulders, albeit one in front of the car and the other in the backseat. They do have a slightly odd definition for rich! You will realize when you get there!
A trip to the heart of the Emirates is one to remember, no matter how many times you get there. As a visitor, you could not have asked for more sights to be crammed into a city, all within a fast zip by cab or subway.
Dubai is a fairly well-connected city and most of the sights can be seen in around 4 days.
Must see sights in Dubai:
- Burj Khalifa: This Hymenocallis flower inspired skyscraper is composed of three elements arranged around a central core. It stretches skywards for 828 metres (2,716.5 feet) and with than 160 stories. Its is the tallest building in the world, tallest free-standing structure in the world, has the highest number of stories in the world, has the highest occupied floor in the world, has the highest outdoor observation deck in the world, has an elevator with the longest travel distance in the world and of course the tallest service elevator in the world. Dubai and superlatives you see! The stunning interiors were designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP and was led by award-winning designer Nada Andric.
There are various ticketing options to choose from. Book online to skip the queues.(Website) The super fast elevator rockets up the visitors up to the observation decks in a jiffy. Make sure to swallow or your ears will get blocked. Ya, Boeing take-off style! The decks above are worth a visit just for the sprawling views. It’s especially beautiful on a sunny clear day.
2. The Dubai Mall: Adjacent to the Burj is the humongous Dubai mall. Think; a mixture of all your neighborhood mall, only glitzier. Also thrown in are a Dinosaur skeleton, joy rides, and even an aquarium. Definitely a shoppers’ paradise. And as you walk around to make sure to catch a musical fountain show at the adjacent artificial lake. We saw MJ’s ‘Bad’. Just that bit made my day. Also, you can crane your necks and catch the light show on the screen that is the Burj. Stunning!
3. The Desert: What is the desert doing on the must-see list in a city filled with amazing attractions to the hilt? Well, let me explain. Firstly, it’s pretty simple to experience the desert. Just take a desert trip. These usually include hotel pick up and drop, Buffet Kebab dinner, Sand boarding, Dune bashing, falconry, Tannoura dance and Belly dancing. It feels as rustic as Dubai can get. Moreover, you get some awesome vistas on your cam. There’s no downside here!
4. Burj Al Arab: The sail-shaped silhouette of this uber luxury hotel is what made it what it is. Its ultra everything! Definitely worth a dinner’s price!
5. Jumeirah Mosque: It is one of the rare mosques in UAE that welcomes non-Muslim. Women, however, are asked to wear a scarf when visiting. It is large enough to hold up to 1,200 worshippers, was built entirely from white stone in the medieval Fatimid tradition, with towering twin minarets framing a large central dome. When it’s lit up at dusk, the intricate artistry and true beauty are highlighted.
6. Abu Dhabi: Always an interesting detour from Dubai, the capital of UAE has a lot going for it. Take for instance the big Sheikh Zayed Mosque with a lot of superlatives attached to it including a humongous carpet! Also check out the Ferrari world and the Qasr-al Hosn fort. Its a decent trip for a day or two.
Tips when visiting UAE:
- Indian travellers do get an easy visa if coming in via the Emirates. Or else apply for a pre-approved visa beforehand. (Website)
- There are no strict currency regulations and foreign currency is easily exchanged in the UAE. The dirham is the official currency of the UAE. The prefix is written as AED or Dh. Check exchange rates here (Link)
The Metro can zip you to the airport without sitting in traffic, paying for parking, or hiring a taxi—exit the car, down the escalator, and you’re practically at the check-in counter. very convenient!
4. What I read: In ‘The Sand Fish’ the story centres around 17-year-old Noora, a Bedouin living in the mountains. Her mother has recently died and her father gone mad. Her younger brother marries her off to a wealthy pearl merchant she has never met. Living a long sea voyage away from her ancestral home, Noura finds herself the third wife of a man much older than her father. When she learns that none of the other wives have given him children, it becomes clear what Noura’s purpose is.
Its a great detour from most books that focus on its urban achievements. (Amazon link)
5. What I Saw: A privileged young male Arab at odds with his cultural identity and his less fortunate street smart friend; a disillusioned Indian taxi driver and a former Romanian ballet dancer now working as a flight attendant and searching for love and companionship … these individuals all live in Dubai and their lives are about to collide for better or for worse in a city where ambition. Nice gripping tale! (IMDB)
6. The UAE is extremely safe for women travelers, nevertheless, women traveling alone are a novelty and you may find yourself at the focus of unwanted attention.
7. Normal shopping hours are from 9.00 a.m. – 1 p.m. and 4.00 – 9.00 p.m. however many shops, particularly in Dubai and Abu Dhabi stay open all day.
8. Since Muslim festivals are timed according to local sightings of phases of the moon, the dates outlined below for Islamic religious holidays are approximate. The precise dates are not announced until a day or so before they occur. If a public holiday falls on a weekend, the holiday is usually taken at the beginning of the next working week.
A three-day mourning period is usually announced when a member of the ruling families or a government minister or the head of a neighboring state dies. Government offices and some private companies will close for the period.
1 Jan New Year’s Day.
2 Dec National Day.
Al-Hijra (Islamic New Year).
Mouloud (Birth of the Prophet).
Leilat al-Meiraj (Ascension of the Prophet).
Eid al-Fitr (End of Ramadan).
Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice)
9. Gold is a big business here and is slightly cheaper and of better purity here. So do go into the gold souq for a stroll at least. While at it also check out the spice market.