Join me as I travel, play, eat, live and work in cities and places around the world.
Published June 4th 2014
Someone in the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing told me that I couldn't see this global city in a day. And he was not far from being correct. Just like New York, Shanghai, Hong Kong, London, Amsterdam, Singapore, Istanbul or Sydney, there are plenty of top things to do in Dubai. Just going for a drive in the desert would consume a full day. Then there are the numerous up-market beach clubs dotting the coast. And don't forget the world's tallest building, the world's biggest shopping mall and the world's first 7-star hotel. While it is not possible to enjoy all Dubai has to offer in 24 hours but I've managed to condense as much of the city's attractions into a day-to-night experience. Here are the 14 top things to see and do if you only have a day in this playground of the Middle East.
This is one of the most iconic pieces of real estate in Dubai, shaped in the form of a palm tree that extends into the Persian Gulf. Build at a cost of USD12.3 billion, Palm Jumeirah became the world's largest artificial island in 2007. It is the first of the 3 planned islands including Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Deira, which collectively are referred to as the Palm Islands. While you won't have a bird's eye view of the entire man-made island, a drive-through is still a great way to experience this artificial archipelago.
Located on the Palm Jumeirah is one of Dubai's most famous resort. The first resort to open on the reclaimed island, Atlantis The Palm is 110 acres of self-contained attractions and entertainment for adult and kids. There is a 2.3 kilometer river ride with tidal waves, cascades and rapids; 11 million liter underwater exhibit with over 65,000 marine creatures; a dolphin education and conservation center; 20,000 square foot of retail space; and 20 restaurants. It was also made famous globally by its opening which featured 7 times more fireworks than the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. While you can't access the entire resort without being a guest, it is still worth a quick peek.
If you don't have a dining or room reservation to access the Burj Al Arab, the next best thing is grab a photo of the world's most luxurious hotel that helped make Dubai a popular travel destination. The distinctive sail-shaped silhouette is a design hallmark of the world's tallest hotel. A popular and free place to take photos of this stunning structure is the public beach next to Jumeira Beach.
Dubai's biggest mosque is inspired by the famous Blue Mosque in Turkey and features a mixture of Ottoman and Andalusian architectural styles. It can accommodate 2,000 worshipers who visit the mosque for prayers and access its library of 4,000 Islamic and other religious titles.
Not all of us can break the Guinness World Record for a 828-metre jump from Burj Khalifa in Dubai like French professional base jumpers Vince Reffet and Fred Fugen. The next best thing is to enjoy a vertical ascent up the world's tallest building and take in the breathtaking panoramic views of the city, desert and ocean from the observation deck. An open-air terrace provides a different perspective of the sweeping views. An evening visit offers a sea of twinkling lights below. Your ticket allows you to spend as much time as you like.
The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is quite a celebrity. While he can be seen moving around the city, it may not always be possible to meet the man in person. The next best thing could be to admire his palace in the district of Zabeel and grab photos with the peacocks that roam freely near the palace entrance.
Built in 1787, the Al Fahidi Fort is the oldest existing building and a historic site in Dubai. Located behind the walls of coral rock and mortar is the Dubai Museum. The main museum in Dubai was established in 1971 to present the archeology, history and local way of life before and after the advent of oil. It also contains artifacts from Asian and African countries that traded with Dubai.
Experience a river crossing from the modern to the old part of Dubai using the local water taxi or abras for just 1 AED per trip. A wide saltwater inlet called Al Khor or The Creek divides the 2 main city centre districts of Bur Dubai and Deira. A 5 minute ride down and across Al Khor offers views of the old Dubai trade with wooden dhows or traditional sailing vessels moored along the banks of the river that contrast with the modern skyscrapers.
This traditional Souk or Arabic market place where spices were bought and sold has downsized over time with less rows of stalls displaying sacks of spices. Although shops selling wholesale shoes and cheap electronic goods have become more commonplace, a stroll down its narrow streets filled with the scent of different spices, herbs and fragrances is still an experience.
A short stroll from the Spice Souk is the Gold Souk. This is the thoroughfare of gold with over 300 retailers that trade almost exclusively in jewellery made of platinum, silver and diamonds in addition to the precious metal. You can find the largest ring on display and a range of large to small stores that operate mainly in the market.
11. Dubai Metro
The Dubai Metro is a simple, fast and affordable way to get around the city. The stations and trains are all air-conditioned. It is also the world's longest fully automated metro network with a route length of 75 kilometres according to Guinness World Records. Unlike the complex underground networks of London and New York, 2 lines (a Red and a Green) transport you all over.
Located in the center of The Dubai Mall is a gigantic 10 million liters aquarium tank that draw an endless flow of onlookers. It holds the Guinness World Record for the 'The Single Largest Acrylic Panel' at 32.8m wide and 8.3m high. Admiring the schools of fishes and the occasional feeding is free. To fully enjoy the diverse marine life including over 400 sharks and rays, you'll have to buy entry into the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo.
There are lots of see and do in Dubai Mall which would easily consume your day. A unique experience stop is the Arabian-inspired lobby lounge of Majlis located in the old Souk section of the world's largest mall. Here you can try a cup of cold or warm camel milk (which tastes like a rich blend of cow and goat milk to me), camel milk chocolates, camel milk cheese and sip on Arabic coffee. Interestingly, camel milk contains 3 times more vitamin C and 10 times more iron than cow milk and is easily digested by if you are lactose intolerant.
A great way to end the day in Dubai is to enjoy a free outdoor dance performance of lights, sound and water. Performing daily every 30 minutes from 6pm to 10pm, the Dubai Fountain draws a huge crowd of spectators and photographers. With the mighty Burj Khalifa as a backdrop and award winning music, the fountain spurts water as high as a 50-storey building, along 2 central arcs and 5 circles of varying sizes. Over 6,600 of the world's most advance lighting and color projectors create beams of light than can be seen from over 32 kilometers away.