Sightseeing in Dubai
Before we dive right in, here’s an overview that will help you organise your sightseeing itinerary. Dubai is divided into six major areas – Deira, Bur Dubai, Jumeira, Sheikh Zayed Road and Downtown Dubai, Dubai Marina and The Palm. Each area has a different character from the others so deciding what you want to see is easy.
This 15-km stretch of the coast fronting the Persian Gulf extends from south of Bur Dubai down to the Marina. Sporting whitewashed villas, luxury spas and cosmetic clinics, this locality could easily be mistaken for Beverly Hills than Dubai.
There are some beautiful stretches of creamy sand along this stretch, notably Jumeira Open Beach and Umm Suqeim Beach. Jumeira Open Beach, all of 1 km long, was once a tiny fishing village with no ties to Old Dubai.
It is now the playground of wealthy European expats whose sole occupation is to sunbathe and shop. Sun worshippers make a beeline for this beach, which also has a playground for kids and barbecue areas.
Burj Al Arab :
Apart from the beach, the other iconic tourist attractions along the Jumeira coastline are the Burj Al Arab and Jumeira Beach Hotel.
Dubbed the Eiffel Tower of Dubai, the Burj Al Arab hotel is the most magnificent architectural icon of this tiny emirate. And, indeed, the world let out a collective gasp when this uber-luxury hotel opened in 1999.
Its curved glass façade mimics the sails of the abras or traditional wooden dhows that cram the Dubai Creek in the old quarter further north. You can gawk at this ultra-modern wonder from Jumeira Beach for free or experience its astonishing interiors by paying a pretty penny to snack at its restaurant 600 feet above the ground. If your wallet mocks at the prices, stay firmly at ground level. It’s beautiful when the tower lights up at night.
Wild Wadi Waterpark :
Wet, wild and a wonderland of thrills and spills for children and adult thrill-seekers alike, this water park sits at the foot of the Burj Al Arab. It has a variety of water-themed rides, waterslides and play areas,
and is a cool way to spend the day in sunny Dubai. The park is modelled after the legendary character of Juha, companion of Sinbad The Sailor. According to the tale, Juha's dhow capsized during a storm, leaving him and his family stranded on an island. Since the island was full of streams and waterfalls, they lived out the rest of their days here, never wanting to leave.
Madinat Jumeira :
Wild Wadi Waterpark offers 30 exciting rides, with names like Tantrum Alley and Burj Surj! And there’s something even for surfers. So, if you’re up to riding artificial waves that mimic real waves, opt for the Wipeout and Riptide Flowriders experience. Note, entrance to the park is free for the guests of some hotels, so check with your front desk!
Translated, ‘Madinat Jumeirah’ means ‘Jumeirah City’ and it definitely lives up to its name. This fantasy city lies just south of the Burj Al Arab and unbelievably large.
Downtown Dubai :
It comprises many luxury hotels, villas, the Souk Madinat
, restaurants, cafes and pubs, a cinema, and Venetian-style manmade canals complete with gondolas linking all its various luxury elements. The style and décor is a modern interpretation of Arabian architecture and wandering around this mammoth property is definitely worth your while.
Besides Jumeira, Sheikh Zayed Road and Downtown Dubai is the place to be when visiting this city. Here, Dubai’s famous multi-lane expressways are sneezed at by steel-and-glass totems, making for a very dramatic skyline.
This is Dubai’s business district and the nerve centre of high finance. There are residential enclaves too, where sand-coloured apartment blocks kiss some of the city’s best shopping, designer hotels and trendy eateries.
Burj Khalifa :
Located in Downtown Dubai is the mind-boggling Burj Khalifa. At 160 storeys high, this hotel-cum-apartment complex most certainly has its nose in the clouds. A sleek, needle-like structure, the Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building and was apparently designed as Dubai’s calling card as a world-class tourist destination.
It was meant to cast this wealthy and luxurious emirate as a tourist haven rather than an oil-based economy with mainly business interests. With a tag like that to boast, it is no surprise that the Burj Khalifa has something special to offer tourists other than its sensational façade. The tower has the highest outdoor observation deck in the world and offers gorgeous views across the Persian Gulf. For a fee, you can take the elevator to the 124th storey and also peer through special telescopes that give you a pictorial glimpse into Dubai's history. Highly recommended.
Dubai Fountains :
In a city obsessive about clocking ‘world records’, the Dubai Fountains are just another in a long list of such accolades. For at the base of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, is the world’s largest fountain.
If you arrive after dark, you will see the fountain shoot jets of water into the air, sometimes 490 feet (150 mt) high, while coloured lights ‘dance’ across them to Hindi and Arabic music. The fountain has 6,000 lights illuminating the water and is a spectacular sight. The show takes place every 20 minutes and is worth watching.
Dubai Mall :
Tagging itself as the largest mall in the world by size, it is the size of 50 football fields and a total shopping-cum-entertainment experience. read more dubai mall shopping
Aquarium and Underwater Zoo :
The Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo is located inside the Dubai Mall, and you can’t miss it. Its gigantic, transparent, acrylic viewing panel dwarfs the shops near the mall entrance and has an extraordinary variety of aquatic life behind it. If you’ve never heard of sting rays and tiger sharks at a mall, well, now you have! Never mind the kids, adults too love it. So don’t forget to stop by.
Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary :
Believe it or not but in this city of glass and steel rising from the desert is a wetland sanctuary that attracts rare and beautiful migratory birds.
And, indeed, the sanctuary boasts mangroves, mudflats, lagoons, reed beds and shrub lands. Located at the head of the 14-km-long Dubai Creek, and covering an area of 620 hectares, the sanctuary is slap-bang in the middle of the city. The creek is in the path of flyway for birds such as the greater flamingo, spotted eagle, yellow-billed stork and pied avocet. This is a birdwatcher’s paradise but, remember, the best birdwatching here is done in winter.
Dubai Marina (New Dubai) And The Palm
Dubai Marina :
This is where you will find those crazy skyscrapers that define Dubai, all in one frame. This collection of towers with their futuristic architecture is the iconic image of Dubai.
The Dubai Marina is an entirely manmade development carved out of desert sand and built around an artificial canal that brings the waters of the Persian Gulf into the development. The Dubai Marina thus creates a second waterfront – the first, and natural one, being the actual Marina. A residential locality that accommodates around 1.2 lakh people, is 3 km long and positioned between the Jebel Ali Port and the American University.
Mall of the Emirates :
The largest mall in Dubai till it was surpassed by the Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates is still one of the best shopping centres in this city. With over 500 retail outlets, it offers products across the spectrum.
But who says size matters? After it lost its title to a rival mall, this one has a calling card that no rival has topped – an indoor ski resort called Ski Dubai Snow Park. Who would have imagined an indoor winter wonderland with fresh snow in the middle of the desert, even as temperatures go through the roof outside? The size of three football fields put together, this ski ‘resort’ has five ski runs (complete with a 197-foot vertical drop!), a snowboard zone and a chair lift. It doesn’t compare with Alpine slopes but sure is a great experience for children and families, just to be able to say they skied in Dubai! Not for serious skiers.
The Palm Islands :
This mall is big on entertainment and can keep you delightfully engaged for an entire day. The food court offers decent cuisine while the experience in its cinema hall is to die for. For the best tickets in the house, you get luxurious leather-backed armchairs and an on-call waiter. The mall also boasts a bowling alley and, for kids, an entertainment centre called Magic Planet. Also located on the property is the Dubai Community Theatre & Arts Centre, which stages plays, musicals, concerts, the opera, children’s shows and other arts-related events.
Depending on how you look at them, The Palm Islands are manmade marvels or a testament to the monumental arrogance of man. Located or planned along the coast of the emirate, only one of them is open to visit – The Palm Jumeira.
The Palm Jebel Ali to the south and Diera Island to the north are on hold.
The Marina :
The best view of these artificial, palm-shaped creations in the middle of the sea is from the air. So don’t miss the sight while flying over the Dubai coast. At ground level, it’s an altogether different story. The Palm Jumeira is nothing but a sea of highrise apartment blocks, hotels and roadways. Many who ride the monorail on ‘The Palm’ say it is an ‘underwhelming’ experience.
If you do make the trip – and it’s not a short one! – visit the island’s flagship hotel on the crescent of the ‘palm’ – Atlantis The Palm. Lavish and over-the-top, the hotel offers accommodation as well as entertainment modelled on the ‘lost city’ theme. The Lost Chambers tour will take you through a series of underwater tunnels and hallways and past the ‘remains’ and ‘ruins’ of the mythical lost city of Atlantis. It’s tacky and best avoided. But the resort’s gigantic aquaventure waterpark is a fun ride, and Dolphin Bay gives you a chance to swim with the hotel’s resident bottlenose dolphins.
It’s a gorgeous place to spend a couple of hours in the evening, when the lights go on in Dubai’s phantasmagorical creations.
The Marina Walk is a beautiful boulevard at the base of the Marina Towers, with lots of cafes, bars and restaurants, and opportunities to smoke a traditional sheesha. The views from the marina are spectacular. Look out to sea and you are bound to spot yachts, pretty toys of the wealthy, bobbing on clear blue waters. Cast your eye towards the Jumeirah Beach Residence area and you will see a crazy skyline carved by not less than 40 towers. Gaze northwards and you can’t miss the Cayan Tower, the world's tallest twisted tower. For those with an artsy bent, there’s good news. The Marina Market is a weekend jamboree, where you can pick up some nifty craftwork. It’s open only in winter.