To date, one of the strangest countries I’ve ever visited was the United Arab Emirates. Famous for its ostentatious displays of wealth, likely the inspiration to the song “Arab Money”, the entirely man-made country left me puzzled, which is partly why I thought I’d write a Dubai travel guide.
What do I mean by man-made? Well, most of the popular tourist attractions (at least in Dubai) were spectacular malls, giant hotels, and bazaar-like marketplaces. There were no historical monuments, with the exception of a few large mosques. It was hard to wrap my head around the fact that back in the day, the UAE was probably just a giant strip of desert that nobody thought to visit.
I went in 2012 for a family friend’s wedding and visited three of the Emirates: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are quite well-known, but Sharjah and the rest of the Emirates less so. Apparently I didn’t take any photos of Sharjah, because there isn’t much there – it’s a little disheartening to visit and see the ridiculous economic disparity between Sharjah and the other two Emirates. I do recommend visiting the less “popular” parts of the country just to get a feel for the rest of the country.
If you do find yourself in the Dubai, below are some of the cool and mind-boggling things to do in the city in my Dubai travel guide! And if you’d rather visit for a stopover instead, check out this guide.
Table of Contents
1. The Gold Souk
Dubai is anything but subtle, and the glittery Gold Souk is a perfect introduction to the ostentatious city. The shops upon shops of intricate gold jewelry will trick you into thinking you’ve just entered the cave of wonders.
2. Naif Souk
This is one of the city’s oldest souks, and was actually once a camel market. Now you’ll find shops selling everything but camels – including clothing, leather, and souvenirs. Brush up on those bargaining skills!
3. Abara boat ride
Abaras are glorified water taxis, but that doesn’t make them any less fun to ride. Travel between Deira and Bur Dubai via the Dubai creek and pretend you’re on an epic boating adventure.
4. The Grand Mosque
Bigger and better is the theme here, and the Grand Mosque is the largest in the city – complete with Dubai’s tallest minaret. It’s beauty can only be admired from outside, as non-Muslims are not allowed inside. It’s actually quite pretty – I was just a terrible photographer back in 2012.
5. Burj Khalifa
A Dubai travel guide is incomplete without the addition of the iconic Burj Khalifa, famed as the tallest building in the world. Although I didn’t get a chance to explore inside, the photos I’ve seen taken from the observation deck are stunning. You can also spend the night at the hotel if you have $500+ lying around. Like I said – bigger and better.
6. Mall of the Emirates
Why is there a picture of people in the snow where I listed Mall of the Emirates, you may ask? Why, that’s because the mall has its own ski lift. Inside the mall. I’ll repeat that: there is a ski lift (in fact, an entire mini snowy “mountain”) inside the Mall of the Emirates. If that alone doesn’t entice you to come here, then you likely won’t be impressed by the hundreds of shops and restaurants either.
7. Palm Jumeirah / Atlantis
Natural islands are SO 1990. Haven’t you heard that all the cool countries build their own islands nowadays? Just look up Palm Jumeirah on Google Maps and gawk for a few seconds. On this island, you will find the other Atlantis Hotel, because why should the Bahamas get all the fun? My favorite find on Palm Jumeirah was the ATM that distributes (real) gold bars. Just in case you need some in a pinch.
Looking for accommodation in Dubai? Click here for a guide on where to stay.
8. Ibn Battuta Mall
Not much could blow my mind after visiting both the Mall of the Emirates and Palm Jumeirah, but Ibn Battuta Mall is still impressive enough of an attraction in its own right to be added to a Dubai travel guide. Themed in accordance to Ibn Battuta’s travels, it truly is an architectural delight with beautifully designed ceilings and walls. Shops are nothing special, but this mall almost felt like theme park – definitely worth a visit.
9. Dubai Mall (Fountain Show & Souk Al Bahar)
Dubai Mall is one of the world’s largest shopping malls. Are we noticing a running theme here? We were so tired of malls by the time we finally visited this one, that we actually spent most our time at the nearby Souk Al Bahar – an Arab-style marketplace that sells carpets and antiques. The true highlight of Dubai Mall, and the reason it’s part of this Dubai travel guide, is actually its nightly fountain show. Complete with music, lights, and sound, it makes the Bellagio’s show look like a mere water fountain – probably because this is the world’s largest choreographed fountain system (of course)!
Dubai may be a strange man-made country, but it certainly will leave you slack-jawed and impressed. If they don’t have it, they will build it. And that is the power of “Arab Money.”
Have you ever been to Dubai? What were your impressions, and did we leave anything out of our Dubai travel guide?