Dubai is marked by the contrast of breathtaking architectural feats and towering buildings with deep blue ocean and wide, warm desert. Those with a special affinity for the modern and luxurious will find plenty to love in this city of superlatives, where everything is bigger, better, and newer.
Even as you touch down in Dubai, you’re bound to be drawn in by its impressive skyline, unrivalled even by cities like London and New York. Dubai is not only a metropolis housing millions, but also an independent emirate within the United Arab Emirates on the Arabian Gulf. Settle in for a beach holiday by the glittering water, plan an adventure trip through the desert, or explore the best shopping in the world with a city trip.
Dubai is a glitzy metropolis of superlatives: ultra-modern skyscrapers and the tallest building in the world pierce its skyline, and it is home to some of the best luxury shopping on the planet. (The place has more than 60 (!) malls.) It sits right on the oceanfront, which boasts pristine beaches lapped by the jade-green Arabian Gulf, but is simultaneously also in the middle of a desert. Want to cool off? Over at the indoor winter wonderland you can ski, play in the snow and even spot penguins!
Dubai is the go-to destination for guaranteed sunshine all year round, and a place where you can snap up affordable 5-star hotels and dirt cheap Uber rides. It is also a very child-friendly destination, catering to families with an array of kids clubs, waterparks and the Dubai Aquarium on offer. Dubai ticks all the boxes for a city break, beach holiday and exhilarating desert escape in one go. Here we’ve listed some must-sees below.
The impressive Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world, soaring more than 828 meters above Dubai (that’s double the height of the Empire State Building, just to put it into perspective). The shiny spearlike beacon is the ultimate display of cutting-edge design and Dubai glam—it cost a whopping $1.5 billion to build. It is in fact so huge that it is a destination in its own right, with millions of tourists and socialites flocking to its prestigious address yearly.
Quick tip: snap up a Burj Khalifa sunrise ticket, which comes with breakfast included and takes you to the 124th floor in the world’s fastest elevator, 456-metres high with scenic views of the city.
The upscale Dubai Marina is a residential area in the south of the city built around the world’s largest artificial marina, which is dotted by super-yachts. It is known for JBR Beach and its beach promenade lined with high-end shops, restaurants and buzzing bars and clubs, with a dizzying array of water sports on offer. It may be one of the more touristic areas in the city, which is reflected in the high hotel prices, but it is also the place to be in the evenings. From here you have awesome views of the city’s iconic ferris wheel.
You can shop til’ you drop over at the Dubai Mall, which is located next to Burj Khalifa. This contemporary shopping empire is the largest mall in the world by total land area, spreading out over four floors with more than 1,200 stores and services on offer. Aside from shops, some other mind-boggling features include an indoor waterfall, the Dubai Aquarium and an ice-rink. Too tired to walk with all your purchases? There are mall taxis that drive you from shop to shop!
Dubai has several great sand beaches (both private hotel beaches and public), and Jumeirah Beach is one of the most popular ones. It boasts soft white sand and mellow waves, which appeals to beach bums and families alike. It also offers incredible views of the world-famous, sail-shaped Burj Al Arab Hotel (the epitome of luxury and the world’s only, self-proclaimed “7-star hotel”) and is the perfect place to catch the sunset.
No Dubai holiday would be complete without some desert action - the city is after all set right in a desert. Think fast rides through the dunes, camel excursions, sandboarding, quad biking, photo sessions and traditional desert dinners. You could also sleep under the stars with an overnight desert stay in a glamping tent.
As much as it’s an ultra-modern capital for business, Dubai has simultaneously retained its significance as a trade hub for gold, spices and textiles for centuries and over at its traditional souks (bazaars) you can really get a taste of Old Dubai. What’s more, the trade here is strictly controlled by the government, to ensure the authenticity of the merchandise. Take some time to wander around these legendary markets and marvel at the colours, flavours and shiny objects. There are real bargains to be had, if you are game for bartering a bit.
Whether you are travelling with kids or not, Dubai is host to some spectacular waterparks. One is Wild Wadi Waterpark, which offers 30 exhilarating rides and attractions for the whole family. (If you are staying at a Jumeirah hotel you’ll have free access to the Wild Wadi Waterpark, with buggy and shuttle services running between the beach resorts and the park.)
The most famous waterpark, however, is the one inside the grand 5-star Atlantis the Palm resort -- the Atlantis Aquaventure Water Park, where you can shoot through a clear tube surrounded by sharks, slide down Dubai’s longest Lazy River, get up close with dolphins, sea lions and stingrays and relax on 500 m of private beach.
The highlight of a romantic holiday, on a so-called Dhow Cruise you sit down for a mouth watering dinner gliding around Dubai Marina and Dubai Creek, to the backdrop of the lights of Dubai.
It is safe to travel to Dubai and crime rates are very low in the city. As in every tourist attraction of the world, be vigilant of pickpockets. Contrary to many rumours, tourists are able to dress as they wish to in this Arab country. You can wear your regular bikini on the beach and skirts or shorts are allowed as well. Moderate dressing is advised but there is no risk of being arrested if you choose to dress otherwise. Nevertheless, tight clothes are not recommended and this applies to men as well as well as women!
However, unlike Europe, public displays of affection are shunned upon and kissing in public might be perceived as offensive. Of course, in places with many tourists or expats, the situation will be handled in a more relaxed manner. However, as with any country you are travelling to, it is good to be mindful and respectful of local cultural expectations.
Conveniently, the best time to visit Dubai is during the European winter. From November to March, Dubai winter temperatures drop to 17°C and consequently make your Dubai holidays in the desert a pleasant experience. But don‘t worry if you‘re looking for a bit of warmth – during the day the temperature might still go up to 30 degrees.
However, be warned – in July and August travellers will face over 40 degrees and sometimes even 50°C. January and February are also the busiest months as many people travel to the city for the Dubai Shopping Festival. If you are looking for an indoor holiday experience or are looking for a shopping and luxury trip, the summer months might be your best choice as hotels offer cheap accommodation options
If you are looking for a luxury holiday, Dubai is your place to be! Nothing compares to the majestic skyscrapers and luxury resorts, the huge malls amplified by the atmosphere of the shimmering desert around you. As Dubai is one of the most popular destinations for luxury holidays, you will find many activities that will offer you that little extra spark. Go on a luxury desert tour that will take you to Aladdin’s world; enjoying the endless panoramic views from a camel’s back during the day, then dine that evening to a breath-taking sunset. For travellers without fear of heights, why not enjoy dinner while hot air ballooning or try Skydiving?