Dubai is a city that must be seen to be believed. Record-breaking architecture stands alongside traditional quarters, while manmade islands jut out of the striking 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 awhile, enjoy a meal at At.mosphere on level 122 or head to The Lounge, Burj Khalifa that covers levels 152, 153 and 154, making it the tallest lounge on the planet.
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.
A manmade 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.
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.
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 at Jumeirah Beach Residences (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. The Beach is also connected to the new Bluewaters Island district by a pedestrian bridge. This hip new destination is home to the Caesars Palace Bluewaters Dubai – the world’s second Caesars Palace – and the sunshine-soaked Cove Beach, as well as an array of restaurants and lounges.
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.
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.
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. Since opening in 2016, it's created 80,000sqm for public space and facilities, and a 12km cycling path. The Canal has become a popular visitor attraction with five pedestrian bridges that snake its way across the iconic waterway. Nearby is the Habtoor City development that's home to the exciting La Perle by Dragone show, five-star hotels, and an array of restaurants.
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 the serene area on traditional wooden abras to appreciate the waterways and architecture.
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. Want to know what's on while you're holidaying in the city?