Dubai has many attractions – from world record sights to quaint villages and historical quarters peacefully coexisting with each other. Mosques, museums, waterparks, deserts and mountains form the backdrop of this bustling city full of things to do. The city has rich travel and tourism industries which has positioned the emirate as the “ecstasy on the earth” thereby driving thousands of tourists to its shores every year. Here are a few top tourist attractions in Dubai you must not miss!
Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood (formerly BASTAKIYA)
Walk through the labyrinthine lanes of the historic neighbourhood full of restored houses with traditional wind towers in one of the last remaining pockets of Old Dubai. The towers are believed to have been built nearly a century ago by wealthy pearl traders from Persia. These traditional houses appear pretty bleak and ordinary from the outside, but when you enter the, it’s a whole new world. Wonderfully carved wooden doors, decorative grilles and stucco panels complete the picture. The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding operates a guided tour through this neighbourhood on Sundays at 10am. The atmosphere is very evocative and there are plenty of delightful art galleries and cafes to explore, not to mention calligraphy artists willing to style your name in the traditional way. There is even a lane for spices – sort of a mini souk.
The Museum is the first place to start exploring if you have to first understand its past. That way you will appreciate the tremendous effort that went into making the city it currently is. The museum gives you an understanding of the cultural and historical influences of the area-a great day for young and old alike.
Al-Fahidi Fort, built in 1800, is home to the Dubai Museum, and is thought to be Dubai’s oldest building. Dubai Museum includes archaeological objects such as pottery, stone and metallic items, stone engravings, and skeletons which were discovered during digs in Dubai (areas of Hatta, Al Sufoh, Al Qusais and Al Jumeira). Some pieces date back 4000 years. The modern structure built underneath the fort is very interesting – showcasing Dubai’s history using the latest technology and culminating in a reconstructed souq from the pearling days, complete with authentic sights and sounds. It is quite fascinating to see the speed at which the transition from poor pearling village to modern metropolis occurred.
The Grand Mosque
Very close to the Dubai Museum is Grand Mosque with more than fifty large and small domes dwarfed by Dubai’s tallest minaret (70m) which gives a very distinctive appearance. The present mosque however is the replica of the original mosque from 1900 and was built quite recently, in 1998. The original Grand Mosque was also home to the town’s school where children learnt to recite Quran. The mosque however is off –limits to non-muslims.
From Bur Dubai souq, follow the waterfront to the mouth of the Creek to one of the most historical areas of Dubai with origins dated back to the 18th century. The area gained importance in the 19th century when the ruling family moved here. The old district has been carefully restored and is the home to the open museums of the Heritage Village, and has the home of former Sheikh Rashid Al-Maktoum in the traditional area of the city in Bur Dubai. The residence is open to public as a museum and some interesting facts can be unearthed there.
Al Ahmadiya School, Deira
Built in 1912, this was Dubai’s first school and has now been nicely restored. It recently celebrated its 100 years. Entry into this school is free. Plenty of exhibits of old reed pens and diplomas. Free entry.
Heritage and Diving Village
Just outside the Shindagha heritage area is the Heritage and Diving Village which is an outdoor museum intending to acquaint the visitors with the regions traditional art, customs and architecture. This is where you can sample some of the original Emirati cuisine such as the date-honey soaked luqemat, pose with a falcon and browse through the touristy knick-knacks.
Is the largest in the city, and a wonderful example of Islamic architecture. Built in the medieval Fatimid tradition with the interior decorated with elaborate Arabic calligraphy. It is one of few mosques in the city open for visits by non-Muslims, the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding conducts special tours for non-Muslims to help promote understanding of Islam. Guided tours are available on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday beginning at 10AM, followed by a question-and-answer session. Located on Jumeirah Road, the mosque is an especially great place to visit in the evening when it’s dramatically illuminated by floodlights.
Jumeirah Archaeological Site
Although one of the most important archaeological sites in the emirate, the Jumeirah Archaeological site unfortunately does not have many takers and the only visitors here are those really interested in the history of the region. The area is believed to be a caravan route stop linking Iraq and Oman and many artifacts including pottery, coins, tools and jewelry dating back centuries have been unearthed here, although they are now on display at the Dubai Museum.
THE BEST OF PALM JUMEIRAH
Dubai loves riches. Dubai loves the unusual. Period. Palm Jumeriah is the result of a fascination for the two. Built on an artificial island in the Arabian Gulf to look like a palm tree, with luxurious beach-facing villas growing out of the trunk and fronds and hotels of gigantic proportions, the total island area of Palm Jumeirah is about the size of 800 football pitches. This mind-boggling wonder has indeed doubled the length of Dubai’s coastline while managing to attract enthusiastic divers to their artificially created reefs (by sinking two fighter jets, vessels and environmentally friendly concrete compositions). A monorail connects The Palm Jumeirah to the mainland (a further extension to the Dubai Metro Red Line is on the cards)
It must said that this waterpark was constructed with one idea in mind – to get the adrenaline going – because this is exactly what you get here –and in huge quantities. The centrepiece is the 27.5m-high Ziggurat (the views from here are breathtaking) the launch pad for seven slides, including the most wicked of them all: Leap of Faith, a near-vertical plunge into a shark-infested lagoon, albeit protected by a transparent tunnel. There’s also more than 2km of nonstop river action with cascades, tidal waves and rapids. Unfortunately, long lines between attractions tend to interrupt your momentum. Little ones can keep cool in a ginormous water playground where climbing structures and rope bridges lead to myriad slides. Tickets also include access to a private beach, although the water is quite murky and the sand filled with sharp coral pieces.
This fantastical labyrinth of underwater halls, passageways and fish tanks recreates the legend of the lost city of Atlantis. More than 65,000 exotic marine creatures inhabit 20 aquariums, where rays flutter and jelly fish dance, moray eels lurk, and pretty but poisonous lion fish float. The centerpiece is the 11 million-liter Ambassador Lagoon.
Make friends with the affable, finned and intelligent mammals – actually you can go one step ahead and kiss them if you wish or play with them or catch a piggyback ride in the deeper waters of the lagoon. It is believed that the dolphins, stressed out due to captivity, feel a lot better following human interactions – so in reality by hobnobbing with these playful mammals, you are only relieving them of their stress.
Whatever you choose to call it – preposterous or magnificent, there is no denying that this ground breaking feat of architectural excellence has positioned the emirate among the top places to visit in one’s lifetime. This 828 m tall building built in the shape of a desert rose is the most photographed building in the world – although you may get a cramp in the neck by craning to see its top that shoots straight into the sky. Dominating the Dubai skyline, the tower houses nine hotels and a Las Vegas-inspired fountain system which shoots water up to a height of 150m. The visitors’ entrance is located at the lower ground floor of Dubai Mall. Although the tour is called At the Top, the observation deck is the highest open deck in the world and t 452m it’s just over halfway up the tower itself. From the top you can easily pin point all the other building in the vicinity. The elevators whisk you up 10m a second – the fastest elevator system in the world.
RAS AL KHOR
A wetland reserve, Ras Al Khor is a wilderness enclave for migratory birds amidst the swirling Dubai traffic and sky scrapers. Hard to digest, but avid bird lovers swear by the sheer diversity of birds found in the reserve. Last known, there were over 260 species of wildlife, with thousands of pink legged flamingoes being the main attraction. It is also your best chance to see plovers, sandpipers, kingfishers, gulls, wetland insects, reptiles and migratory ducks. For the first time visitor this 620 hectare- sanctuary comes as a pleasant diversion from steel and concrete jungle surrounding it –though you cannot ignore the Burj Khalifa rising over the sanctuary like a mammoth bird. Bird hides (named after the natural features like gurm (mangroves), fantir (flamingoes) and Al Buhaira (lagoon) in the shape of traditional wind towers with super-powerful binoculars and telescopes have been installed within the sanctuary.
Dubai Metro is a blessing – it connects to all the major attractions in Dubai, malls, old and new Dubai and reaches close to the beaches as well. Taxi rides are a tad bit expensive for an average tourist, but Dubai Metro works wonders.
If you have an international driving license and do not mind getting a temporary license when here, you can easily rent a car and drive yourself, it will save you a lot of time finding transport and a neat pile in taxi fares.
Most of Dubai’s attractions within the city are easy to locate and you won’t have trouble finding them. If you intend to drive, get an understanding of the traffic rules here to save a pretty sum in fines.