It’s hard not to be awed by Dubai. It’s not just the scope of this modern city that boasts the tallest building, largest fountain, and biggest manmade island in the world, but also the sheer amount of new construction that happens seemingly overnight. Blink, and a new edifice has gone up -- shinier, and more impressive than anything else around it, or, more often than not, than anything that’s existed anywhere before. The city is bursting with fabulous global restaurants, incredible shopping, and extreme wealth, but it’s not all just modern buildings and attractions; there’s a historical side to Dubai, too, that’s well worth visiting.
At 2,772 feet, the Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. Head up to the viewing decks on the 124th and 125th floors, or, if you're up for the thrill (and the extra cost) go really high to the 145th floor. Everything about the ride to the top is extreme, including the longest running elevator (140 floors), which soars at 10 meters per second. Back on the ground you'll find the world’s largest choreographed fountain. Try to plan your visit to coincide with one of its shows, which are held every half hour between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.
Start your day in the desert heat, then play in the snow (with real penguins!) on the indoor slopes of Ski Dubai at Mall of the Emirates. Three different packages allow you to experience the fluffy white stuff and the freezing temps by skiing, playing in the snow, or cuddling penguins. Ticket prices include all the cold-weather gear you need to keep you warm.
Just a 45-minute drive from the skyscrapers of Dubai’s downtown are the vast sand dunes of the Arabian Desert. Arabian Adventures will bring you on an once-in-a-lifetime adventure into the desert for “dune bashing” over towering sand dunes. End the excursion with a bucket-list-worthy dinner in a tented camp — complete with belly dancers, camel rides, falconry, and a buffet filled with culinary delights such as grilled lamb, spiced kebabs, and rice pilaf.
Spice and Gold Souks
For a taste of old Dubai, head to these fabulously colorful and fragrant traditional marketplaces along the Dubai Water Canal. Each souk is comprised of twisting alleyways and tiny shops; simply people watching and taking photographs is great way to spend the day, but if you’re on the lookout for souvenirs, you can’t beat the prices here. Travel between the souks using Dubai’s best bargain: open-air abra ferries (traditional wooden boats), which cost less than $1.
What Language Is Spoken in Dubai
Although Arabic is the official language of the United Arab Emirates where Dubai is located, the most spoken language in the Emirate is English.
What to Wear in Dubai
Unlike many other destinations in the Middle East, there are no strict dress codes enforced in Dubai. Western style clothing is acceptable here, as as any form of swimwear on the beaches. However, it is not acceptable to wear bathing suits away from the pool or beach. When visiting a mosque or other religious site, more modest clothing is required, and shoulders and knees must be covered for women. In general, expect warm temperatures, so light clothing is advisable — but be sure to bring a sweater or warm layer for the strongly air-conditioned malls and hotels.
Where to Stay in Dubai
1. Atlantis, The Palm: There’s something very quintessentially Dubai about this luxe, ocean-themed property. It was the first hotel on Dubai’s manmade Palm Jumeirah island. The resort is constantly upgrading and expanding its $1.5 billion property, but the thrill-packed water park and the 3-million-gallon aquarium (which is home to 65,000 sea creatures, making it one of the largest in the world) are always hits. The 1,539 plush rooms and suites are equipped with balconies, oversized bathtubs, luxe linens, and other amazing amenities. Choose from 11-onsite dining options, including Nobu for sushi, Seafire Steakhouse & Bar for steak, Ronda Locatelli for incredible Italian cuisine, among several other eateries. Rates from $193 per night, depending on the season.
2. Manzil Downtown: This centrally located property offers spacious rooms in the heart of the city. Deluxe room amenities include USB outlets in the nightstands, rain showers, a whirlpool-style tub, and a seating area. The stylish lobby features lounge and work space alongside large windows that overlook the courtyard, where locals and guests alike can indulge in shisha (hookah) and cocktails until 2 a.m. The Burj Khalifa, which is just a 15-minute walk away, peaks over the second-floor pool that’s equipped with daybeds, loungers, and a bar. Rates from $98 per night, depending on the season.
3. Jumeirah Madinat: Live out your Arabian fairytale dreams at this hotel complex comprising three unique properties: Al Qasr (rates from $197 per night), Mina A’Salaam (rates from $193 per night), and Al Naseem (rates from $230 per night). All three buildings look and feel like turreted palaces. Travel between the properties via traditional abra boats, which sail through palm-lined waterways. You can also choose to walk along the golden sand that faces the Arabian Sea. Once you check in, you may find it’s hard to tear yourself away from the spacious rooms and plush beds, magnificent pools, 50 restaurants, and the award-winning Wild Wadi Waterpark.