With direct flights from Perth to London, and Qantas resetting Singapore as its preferred transit to Europe, some of the pressure has shifted from Dubai. However, the home port of Emirates Airways remains a very popular stopover for Australian travellers, with few failing to be amazed by the remarkable attractions of this remarkable city.
It’s hard to believe but there was a time when Dubai was a tiny, traditional Middle Eastern fishing port. Then oil was discovered offshore in 1968 and modern Dubai was born. Since then, there has been an extended period of incredible growth to produce today’s Dubai, boasting the world’s highest skyscraper and sculpted manmade islands.
There was a downturn in Dubai’s economy in 2008-2009 — as there was in much of the world — but growth has resumed as the city prepares for the 2020 Dubai World Expo.
Sydney has the Opera House, Paris has the Eiffel Tower, and Dubai has the Burj Al Arab — a self-proclaimed seven-star hotel that soars like a sail billowing just offshore from Jumeirah Beach. The hotel is plush to the point of decadence and remains an inspiring state by day or night.
However, this city of over-abundance can’t have just one iconic building. The 148-storey, 829 metre-high Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building and you can go to the top of the Burj for views, a meal, or to venture onto the observation deck.
Ski Dubai and more
An attraction of the Mall of the Emirates is the chance to go skiing, even when it’s 40°C — or higher — outside. There’s a range of slopes and runs, and even a ski school at Ski Dubai. Of course, there are penguins, too — both kings and gentoos, and a March of the Penguins show.
Everything is for sale in Dubai and the largest shopping centre is The Dubai Mall. It’s the largest mall in the world by total area — the equivalent of 50 American football fields — and features a mind-boggling 1200 shops. It’s very near the Burj Khalifa, and features an aquarium and a 22-screen cinema complex.
The indoor ski slopes at the Dubai Mall are incredible to see (Image credit: S-F / Shutterstock.com)
The Creek is the original Dubai village and it still has some old-style bazaars to explore. When I asked what the hessian bags of loose herbs and resins outside one stall were, I was told it was myrrh and frankincense. Of course, I had to buy some and when I declared them to Australian quarantine, the officer replied, “Oh, I feel so special”.
If I wanted the trifecta, I would have needed some gold, too. That can be bought from an ATM at the Galeries Lafayette in Dubai Mall, where you can buy up to an ounce of 24 carat gold in ingots and coins in just a few seconds. The alternative is to visit the Gold Souk — worth a visit juts to soak up the experience, even if you’re not buying. That’s true for much of the shopping in Dubai — the prices aren’t particularly good value but the settings are.
If you’re in Dubai on a Friday, you should seek out one of the Champagne brunch experiences. In this Islamic State, it seems a bit surreal to be served endless champagne and a huge buffet on the holiest day of the week but it’s quite a show. Alcohol can only be served in restaurants connected to hotels.
In affluent Dubai, you’ll find every cuisine and restaurants by many of the world’s top chefs — with prices to match. However, Dubai also has a very large population of workers from the sub-continent and Asia. Take a stroll around the streets of the Deira neighbourhood to discover some great food at very reasonable prices.
In summer, it’s far too hot to go to the beach in Dubai but in winter it’s a popular activity. However, you should venture onto the Palms, a whole vast region of reclaimed land that, from the air at least, you can see is shaped like a palm tree in a circle. The best way to get there is by helicopter (of course) but there is a road, too.
The Atlantis hotel sits at the end of the artificial island known as the Palms (Editorial credit: Mike Fuchslocher / Shutterstock.com)
If you’ve been on a flight over the past few years, you’ve probably seen an advertisement for Atlantis The Palm the 1539-room hotel that has a large hole in the middle. It takes the watery theme of Atlantis very seriously indeed, and is home to more than 65,000 fish and a waterpark. Even in this world of excess, it excels.
Flying into Dubai, it’s very clear that this ultra-modern city is clinging to the coast while the interior is unrelenting desert. The Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve is the UAE’s first National Park. You can see it from a hot air balloon at dawn or on a 4WD tour — some of which seem keener on showing you the dune-climbing capacity of the vehicle than the desert itself. The day is likely to end with a feast under the stars in a Bedouin setting, complete with dancers and traditional music.
If one of the reasons you travel is to seek the unusual, take the time to see Dubai — it won’t disappoint.
Have you been to Dubai? What do you think of the city as a stopover destination?