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Dazzling Dubai: A destination of superlatives

The jewel of the Middle East, Dubai is unlike any place you're ever likely to visit

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On exiting Dubai Mall, the world’s largest shopping mall, the Burj Khalifa, one of the world’s tallest buildings rose skywards before me. Then with dramatic effect, jets of water from a vast lake danced in tune to the sound of music.

A destination of superlatives, it’s unlike any place you’re ever likely to visit with buildings shaped like rockets, built of reflective glass that shimmer in the desert sun, and cranes that dot the skyline touching the sky.

As the city is spread out, and each part is distinctive, I’d suggest sightseeing in doable chunks.

Dubai perfumery

Diera and Bur Dubai

Begin with the oldest and most intriguing part of the city, at the gold, spice and perfume souks, with vendors spruiking their wares in the narrow incense swirled alleyways of Diera. The gold souk sells a staggering array of gold jewellery, much of it inlaid with precious stones, while the perfume souk is filled with the heady aromas of amber and frankincense.

The best way to arrive here is by crossing the creek on an Abra, traditional wooden ferries that have been chugging along for years. As you cruise past minarets and wind towers, it feels like a journey back in time.

On the other side of Dubai creek is Bur Dubai, with a souk, Iranian mosques, a tangle of narrow lanes lined with affordable eateries, an Indian quarter and the Al Fahidi heritage district, where in the former homes of Persian merchants, you’ll find galleries and cafes.

Gold jewellery

Jumeirah

A vast stretch of beach hemmed in by the turquoise waters of the Gulf, Jumeirah has the Burj Al Arab hotel that looks like the sail of a dhow at one end, and Jumeirah Mosque at the other. The Burj Al Arab is one of the city’s most striking buildings, where you can experience 7-star glamour and indulge in high tea. For shopping, head to Box-park, a cluster of shipping containers with funky boutiques and cafes, City Walk or Mercato.

Dubai’s most famous beach is Kite Beach where locals and expats play beach volleyball, go paddleboarding or kiteboarding. There’s also a huge waterpark and giant playground nearby.

Jumeirah

Downtown

Even if shopping isn’t your thing, Dubai Mall, the biggest in the world, is a must see. Aside from its 1,200 shops, there’s an aquarium, ice rink, and great eateries. The jewellery shops offer a lavish collection of gold and gemstones, and for clothing, high end brands are well represented.

The Burj Khalifa is a dazzling sight, with a needle-thin glass-covered exterior that rises to 828 metres. If you want to visit the observation decks, book well ahead of your visit.

Burj Khalifa

 

Dubai Marina and Palm Jumeirah

Dubai Marina is one of the most popular places to live or visit, with high-rise apartments and hotels, and a marina walk, lined with shops and eateries running parallel to the beach, and a winding riverside promenade that delights in the evenings with brightly coloured twinkling lights.

Palm Jumeriah is an artificial island with townhouses, apartments and hotels. I enjoyed my stay here at West Beach, on the left side of the palm’s giant trunk.

Coast skyline

More to explore

Dubai offers many museums and mosques to discover. The Al Farooq Omar Bin Al Khattab Mosque is one of the UAE’s largest, with detailed inscriptions and soaring domes.

Visit the cluster of warehouses at Alserkal Avenue, the heart of Dubai’s contemporary art scene, or discover Dubai’s best murals along 2nd December Street, famed for its affordable street food.

Sharjah, just a 30-minute drive away, offers culture and history with fine examples of Emirati architecture, art galleries and museums. Visit the Heritage Museum in the oldest house in the UAE, the Art Museum and the Museum of Islamic Civilisation. At Central Souk, a market for locals rather than tourists, seek out the delightful Oud Al Khaleej for perfume.

Dubai architecture

TRAVEL NOTEBOOK

Getting there

Fly Emirates, or if the world’s busiest airport is too daunting, Etihad, with complimentary transfers from Abu Dhabi, just a short drive away.

Getting around

Consider hiring a car and driver for each day of sightseeing, or buy a Nol card for the two-line metro line and tram. Distances are deceptively large. Walking is a challenge. A great way to view Dubai’s skyline is from the water with cruises travelling from Bur Dubai to Dubai Marina.

Where to stay

The choice of hotels is staggering, with bling and glamour in spades. Each district has its own distinct character. I liked the Hilton Dubai Palm Jumeirah on West Beach, with shops, restaurants and beaches that cater for locals and expats, slower than the hectic pace found elsewhere, and a promenade for strolls along the beach.

Keep to a budget

Much of Dubai is affordable, though entry tickets to the many theme parks and observation decks can be high.

Dining out

Intimate hangouts with local flair are joining upscale restaurants to bring new texture to the city’s culinary scene. Dining is a multicultural experience ranging from street food to family restaurants and deluxe dining.

When to go

Avoid the searing heat of July and August.

More information

Visitdubai.com

READ ALSO: The many treasures of Abu Dhabi

Petra ONeill
Petra ONeill
After growing up in Australia's outback she enjoys visiting remote destinations in Australia for the wildlife, vast open spaces and brilliant night sky and travelling overseas to exotic destinations to experience different cultures. Her bag is always packed and ready for the next trip

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