What to do in Abu Dhabi
What to do in Dubai
What to do in Sharjah
What to do in Ajman
What to do in Umm al Qaiwain
What to do in Ra's al-Khaimah
What to do in Fujairah and on the East Coast
The emirate of Dubai is relatively small in size but large in ambition and drive. Dubai City grew up along a narrow winding inlet or creek that divides Bur Dubai, the city’s traditional heart from the northern area, Deira, a bustling commercial centre and the location of one of the emirate’s international airports. The Creek, spanned by numerous bridges, is still used by trading dhows.
The city itself has spread out along Sheikh Zayed Road, lined by distinctive skyscrapers, including the impressive Burj Khalifa and the eclectic Downtown Dubai development, past low-rise housing and traditional fishing enclaves to what is sometimes known as 'New Dubai'. This is where you will find Dubai Marina, and the many exclusive resorts, hotels and restaurants that line the expanse of Jumeirah Beach.
Massive expansion has also taken place in the hinterland and, of course, the proposed site of World Expo 2020, near Jebel Ali and Al Maktoum International Airport, is also set for development.
1. Walk along the Bur Dubai side of the Creek, soaking up the atmosphere of the bustling souk, dropping in at Dubai Museum in the old Fahidi Fort to get a flavour of life before oil. Ever since the Al Bu Falash, a branch of the Bani Yas, settled here in the early part of the nineteenth century, the Creek has been the lifeblood of seafaring trade in Dubai. Relish the traditional buildings and art galleries in Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, and listen to the echoes of time gone by in Shindagha Heritage Village.
2. Transverse the Creek on an abra (a small wooden ferry) past the wooden dhows that ply their trade across the Gulf, to the goods-laden wharfs on the Deira side. Visit the Gold and Spice Souks here, revelling in the sights and smells of Arabia.
3. Take a trip on the Metro, Dubai’s super-clean futuristic public transport system. Much of the route is elevated, a good vantage point to see the city. The Red Line services the airport and stops at all the major malls. Although shopping is a much-favoured occupation, these malls are also great centres of entertainment. Intersecting with the Red Line on each side of the Creek, at Khalid bin Al Walid and Union Square, the Green Line will take you from Dubai Festival City at one end of the Creek to Al Ras at the other.
4. For that top-of-the-world feeling, zoom up Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and certainly its most elegant, to the observation deck on level 124. Your reward will be an extraordinary view of the city and beyond. Back on terra firma, enjoy the spectacular Dubai Fountain extravaganza, an interplay of light, music and water in the 30-acre Burj Khalifa Lake.
5. And don’t’ forget to visit Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo in the centre of Dubai Mall, one of the largest of its kind in the world with a record-breaking acrylic panel and 270-degree glass walk-through tunnel. Best of all, go for a dive in the aquarium amongst the sharks, stingrays and enormous groupers. Definitely an unforgettable experience.
6. Enjoy the view from the top of the original seven-star hotel, the iconic sail-like Burj al-Arab, probably the most photographed building in the UAE. Close by Souk Madinat offers shopping and dining by the water’s edge.
7. Experience Emirati food and gain a rare insight into Emirati life, culture and religion at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding , a non-profit organisation that seeks to encourage ‘open hearts and open minds’.
8. Be entirely perverse and instead of soaking up the sun on the beach, go snowskiing or snowboarding at Ski Dubai in Mall of the Emirates.
9. Revel in the delights of Atlantis at the tip of The Palm, Dubai’s man-made Island built in the shape of a palm tree. Here, you can immerse yourself in a maze of underwater tunnels teaming with fish, go helter-skelter through the extensive waterpark that is Aquaventure, or play with dolphins.
10. Enjoy the delights of Dubai's sandy shores along the impeccably developed and well-maintained Jumeirah Beach. The JBR Walk, lined by cafes and shops, is extremely popular with residents and tourist of all nationalities, especially in the evenings and at the weekend.
11. Experience the freewheeling marina lifestyle at Dubai Marina, in the heart of the region now known as ‘New Dubai’. This 3-kilometre stretch of water is not just a boat-lovers paradise and the home of Dubai Marina Yacht Club, where you can charter a motor cruiser, the paved palm-tree shaded walkways on both sides of the inlet are ideal for leisurely strolls, running and cycling. Here also shops, cafés and restaurants abound.
12. Venture out on a boat-trip along one of Dubai’s many waterways. Take a sunset cruise, with or without dinner, on a wooden dhow along the Creek or at Dubai Marina. You can also enjoy a ride on the RTA’s streamlined ferries out to the tip of the Palm and the World. Catch the ferry at Dubai Marina adjacent to the Marina Mall or at the Al Seef station near Al Maktoum Bridge on the Creek.
13. Focus on the spectacular flocks of elegant flamingoes that feed at the top of the Creek in the Khor Dubai Bird Sanctuary. During the migrating periods (Sept/Oct and March/April) thousands of wading birds grace these shores. Dubai’s many green parks are also good bird-watching sites.
14.Discover the sleepy village of Hatta, its ancient watchtowers nestling amidst date palms by the side of a wadi (watercourse) at the foot of the rugged Hajar Mountains. Hatta is about a one-and-a-half hour drive east from Dubai past the sand dune known as the ‘Big Red’.
Explore the winding wadis nearby, and take a swim in the mountain pools. Most tour operators organise these trips, if you do not have your own transport.
16. And when you have exhausted yourself on land, learn to dive underneath the warm waters of the Gulf. PADI courses are on offer at a number of centres.
17. And if you are really feeling adventurous, try skydiving in the heart of Dubai near The Palm Jumeirah . The views must be spectacular!
18. The views are definitely breathtaking from the hot-air balloons that float over the desert near Al Ain. This is really in Abu Dhabi emirate but the company will pick you up from Dubai in the early hours of the morning so that you can catch the first rays of sun as it rises over the undulating dunes. Of course, you can also enjoy hot-air ballooning if you are based in Abu Dhabi or Al Ain.