But not so long ago, this Middle Eastern hub was considered to be merely a stopover destination. In fact, just over 50 years ago, this metropolis was just a modest fishing village.
Now, however, holidaymakers are flocking to spend time in this surreal desert oasis, where luxury and modernity sit side by side with Emirati heritage and customs.
To get a flavour of that Dubai of old, head to the atmospheric old souk to peruse the wares, or down to the Bastikiya area where boutique hotels and art galleries can be found among the sandstone alleyways. Breakfast can be had at Bastakiya’s Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding where the focus is on learning about local customs. Take a traditional dhow across the creek, or head out to the desert to visit a Bedouin camp.
But if you’re keen to lap up the shiniest of Dubai’s attractions, then take an elevator to the top of the Burj Khalifa – at 829.8m it’s the tallest building in the world. Go shopping at the Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the world with more than 1,200 shops. Hop over to the Palm Jumeirah, one of the emirate’s many manmade islands, where you can visit the Atlantis Aquaventure waterpark.
And when you’re all sightseeing-ed out, then simply flop and drop on one of the many stretches of sand such as famous Jumeirah Beach, although be warned that is can get mighty hot – this is still the desert after all.
Places to Visit in Dubai
- Downtown Dubai
- Bur Dubai
- The Creek
- Palm Jumeirah
Unique Things to See and Do in Dubai
- Head into the desert for dune bashing in a 4WD or a more traditional camel ride
- Shoot to the top of the Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world
- Explore the feat of engineering that is the Palm Jumeirah
- Take a dhow across the Creek for a taste of old Dubai
- Discover Emirati customs at the Sheikh Mohamed Centre for Cultural Understanding
Getting Your Fill in Dubai
Dubai may not have been a bustling metropolis for long, but as the skyscraping city has swiftly risen from the dune dust, so too has a diverse dining scene.
Home to 202 different nationalities, and a hub for more than 10 million travellers each year, the destination has drawn influences from around the world and, in turn, has attracted major international chefs to establish a foothold there.
To experience all of these cuisines at one table, set aside a Friday to experience one of Dubai’s infamous brunches. Generally kicking off around noon, service typically goes until 4 pm, although these events can frequently roll through into the evening as diners make a day of what has become a Dubai institution. We’re talking buffets, but these are nothing like the overboiled bain marie style smorgasbords you may have tried, and hated. Here all the food is freshly prepared, much of it to made to order, with the steaming copper pots refilled frequently.
And if you’ve dismissed Dubai as an alcohol-free zone, then think again – nothing dispels that misconception quite like a brunch.
But if tea is more your thing, then a more suitable but equally popular Dubai tradition is afternoon tea available in most of the fancy hotels.
Getting Around Dubai
There are a number of ways to get around Dubai including buses, the metro, the monorail, water buses and water taxis made from traditional but motorised wooden boats known as abras.
The metro, which opened in 2010, is slightly more limited, but is nonetheless pretty frequent, clean and efficient. Then there’s the monorail which connects Dubai Marina with the Palm Jumeirah.
Water buses operate four routes across the creek while the abras have two routes. If these options don’t meet your needs, then you can arrange for your own charter.
Of course, there are also taxis which are plentiful and relatively inexpensive, although beware, the traffic is heavy and you may experience delays.
Best time of year to travel to Dubai
Temperatures can get pretty high in this neck of the woods, so you should aim to visit during the cooler months of November to April when temperatures range between 24 and 35 degrees Celsius.
Those temperatures start to crank up in April, heralding the onset of the hot season when the heat can be quite unbearable.
But with air conditioning in abundance, a visit at this time of year is still manageable if you’re not planning on being out and about.
Ready to plan your visit to Dubai? Check out these popular guides and trips.