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Dubai, located on the Persian Gulf in the United Arab Emirates, has gone from small fishing town to huge urban center thanks to a government policy promoting trade and tourism. A few of the ambitious projects currently in the works in Dubai are a series of artificial islands in the shape of a global map, an underwater hotel, and what is planned to be the world’s tallest building, the Burj Dubai.

Because of a recent large influx of foreigners — both those building the city and those enjoying it — only about a quarter of Dubai’s population is native; but what the city lacks in roots it makes up for in cosmopolitan tolerance. Here, Muslim tradition and Western influence coexist, making it an attractive locale for tourists and businessmen from around the world. Here’s a three-day guide to exploring Dubai’s dynamic sights

DAY 1: DUBAI OF DAYS GONE BY

Before diving into the bustling, ultra-modern metropolis that Dubai has become, it wouldn’t hurt to get a taste of what life was like before the city began its boom. Begin your exploration at Dubai Creek, the body of water that divides the city. To the south is the part known as Bur Dubai, and the banks on this side of the creek afford a great view of the northern, more modern part of Dubai, Deira.

You can also take a cruise on any number of water taxis — known as abras — which operate day and night. Find one that will pass by the Khor Dubai Wildlife Sanctuary, where you can spot flamingos and other migratory birds.

Get back on land at Shindagha near the mouth of the creek, where you can visit the former home of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai throughout the first half of the 20th century and the grandfather of Dubai’s current Sheikh, Maktoum.

Built in 1896, the house has been restored and is now open to the public as a museum. The architecture of the residence is typical of the region, featuring wind towers and rings of rooms built around a central courtyard.

Leave the museum and go a few hundred yards further up Dubai Creek to check out the Grand Mosque, which boasts the city’s tallest minaret. Looking at it, you’d think the mosque is as old as the rest of the surrounding historic quarter. In fact, it was built in the ’90s in the style of an older Grand Mosque that was demolished 30 years earlier.

Your next stop should be the Dubai Museum, located inside Dubai’s oldest building, the Al Fahidi Fort. The fort dates from the 1790s and provides a window into what life was like before Dubai’s rapid expansion. The air-conditioned museum is open daily until 7:30 p.m. — and don’t worry, all the multimedia displays are in both English and Arabic.

Now that you’ve had your fill of culture, it’s time to feast and have some fun. Since you’re still in the Bur Dubai section of the city, you’d do well to dine at Ayam Zamam, home to some of Dubai’s best Lebanese food. Enjoy live entertainment in Ayam Zamam’s authentic atmosphere until 3 a.m., or, if you’re looking for a more cosmopolitan experience, head over to Century Village, which has a wide variety of restaurants and bars — offering everything from Portuguese to Japanese cuisine. If you’re in the mood for a more familiar pub experience, check out the neighboring Irish Village.

DAY 2: LAP OF LUXURY

While the city’s roots are on the banks of Dubai Creek, much of the Dubai’s new, modern development can be found along the coastal beaches to the south, where new world-class hotels and other architectural attractions make a day trip worthwhile.

Head southwest to Jumeirah Beach. Your destination here is the Burj Al Arab hotel — starting at roughly $1,000 U.S. a night, you might not want to check in, but it’s definitely worth checking out. Built in the shape of a sail and towering more than 1,000 feet over the Arabian sea, the Burj al Arab is the world’s tallest hotel and billed as the only one to receive seven-star rating.

You can visit the inside for a fee of 200 dirhams, or just over $50 US, which, in turn, will be credited towards food or drinks in the hotel. Climb up to the roof and gaze over some of Dubai’s other new record-setting landmarks, such as the Palm Islands, where some of the world’s most valuable real estate floats off the coast on manmade islands built in the shape of a giant palm.

In the afternoon, set out west from Jumeirah Beach to the Abu Dhabi golf club, located about an hour from the city center. The attention to detail and first-class service at these links is astounding; although Abu Dhabi is situated in the middle of the desert, the grounds have been so painstakingly created you’d never know it. Even if you’re not in the mood for golf, there are extensive facilities like a pool and sauna, as well as a beautiful clubhouse with a bar and restaurant.

If it’s just too hot to be inside, however, you might consider staying at Jumeira Beach for the day. If the warm waters of the gulf don’t provide enough aquatic fun, the Wild Wadi Water Park is at the western end of the beach. The Wild Wadi has a number of award-winning attractions, including thrilling slides that rival the best in North America.

For dinner, head back east along the beach to the Dubai Marine Beach Resort, where you’ll find Al Qasr, another excellent Lebanese restaurant. Finally, round out the evening by taking in the city’s club scene. You can either retreat west along Jumeirah Beach to get to Kasbaa at the Royal Mirage Hotel, or travel south to Planetarium. In either case, you’ll find some of the best that Dubai’s nightlife has to offer.

DAY 3: HAGGLING FOR HIM AND HER

With low tariffs and a prime location in the Persian Gulf, Dubai has always been a trading center. These days, it has become a premier shopping destination, with plenty of bargains and promotions on both traditional and luxury goods.

Kick off your exploration of Dubai’s commercial districts northeast of the Dubai Creek, in the city’s Deira district. There you can spend some time haggling in the many markets, or souks . If you’re traveling with a female companion, she’ll likely want to go to the Perfume Souk, which offers a huge variety of both European and Middle Eastern scents.

Meanwhile, you can take the opportunity to escape to the Electronics Souk, where you can get anything and everything from TVs to karaoke machines. For more exotic wares — even if you’re just there to look — wander around the Spice Souk and Gold Souk. You’ll be able to negotiate a good deal on whatever souvenirs you may buy, and pay almost no taxes.

Of course, there are plenty of modern malls to choose from, too, with more on the way. The Mall of the Emirates, scheduled for completion in late 2005, will have 350 shops and even an artificial indoor ski slope. If you’re in the city in January or early February, you’ll be able to take advantage of the Dubai Shopping Festival, when prices are slashed all around town. Keep an eye out for other special events throughout the rest of the year, like June’s Summer Surprises festival, which feature raffles, entertainment and exhibits.

Once you’ve bought enough loot to fill your bags, it’ll be time to set off to the Dubai International Airport. Dubai’s airport is the busiest in the Middle East — and after three days of sightseeing, partying and relaxing, you’ll probably understand why.

TIPS FOR THE TRIP

  • Dubai’s population is predominantly Muslim; in some circumstances, engaging in activities such as drinking, smoking and gambling can be rude or outright illegal. For the same reason, the bar and club scene here is minimal. Nearly all such venues are found in the big tourist hotels, and just as often feature cheesy has-been acts as they do hot deejays.
  • Weekends in Dubai are on Thursdays and Fridays; therefore these days tend to be the busiest of the week for attractions, some of which are even closed on Saturdays.
  • Outside of Old Dubai, walking is not advisable. Furthermore, there are few marked street addresses to guide visitors. Cabbies will know how to get to where you want to go.
  • In addition to the metered, beige-colored Dubai Transport taxis, there are many unmetered private taxis. These cabs are not allowed to serve the airport, and you settle on a price before setting off with them.

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