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There is archaeological evidence of life in Dubai dating back several thousand years. However, very few documents predate the series of European empires that occupied the territory from the late 18th century.
Britain was the most influential foreign power in Dubai during this period, and in 1892 formalised Dubai’s status as a British protectorate. The tax-free model, which remains a pillar of economic policy today, was introduced a few years later and Dubai quickly developed into an important port for international trade.
The turbulent global economy between the two World Wars hit Dubai’s lucrative pearling industry and trade partnerships hard. Increased social unrest threatened to bring down the Al-Maktoum dynasty that had ruled since 1833.
However, the discovery of oil in 1966, and the formation of the independent United Arab Emirates in 1971, launched an era of breathtaking expansion and modernisation.
Today, dwindling supplies of the black gold have shifted development projects to the commercial and tourism sectors, with visionary ruler Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum determined to make Dubai a world leader in every sense.
Spectacular, ostentatious, mind-blowing: these are just some of the ways to describe typical Dubai holidays. Indulge in the brazen luxury and VIP entertainment of the world’s most extravagant resorts, set on the sun-soaked Persian Gulf coast. Whether you are looking for retail therapy, spa treatment, or fine cuisine, this is a place to pamper yourself.
Record-breaking constructions are popping up all the time, so find a flight to Dubai and explore this man-made miracle in the Arabian Desert.
The Al-Fahidi fort, built in the 18th century to defend against foreign aggressors, is the perfect setting for a museum offering a glimpse into the city’s modest existence before a big oil discovery. A collection of finds from archaeological digs—some dating back to 3,000BC—proves that there was life in Dubai long before skyscrapers. A video presentation charts the staggering transformation from desert town to futuristic metropolis.
Outside the fort, the history lesson continues in the pokey alleyways of the Bastakiya district. Here you can see how wind towers kept houses cool before the advent of air conditioning. The government is making a concerted effort to market the district’s cultural credentials, with plenty of restored buildings opening as galleries and museums.
This seven-star hotel (according to its own rating system) is probably the most recognisable landmark in the city. The innovative design—curved like a sail catching a stiff breeze—set the standard for modern development in Dubai. The 780m² gold-plated Royal Suite, complete with private cinema, is probably out of reach for most, but afternoon tea at the ‘Skyview bar’ is a good place to sample the high life.
Officially the tallest building in the world at over 828 metres, the Burj Khalifa is the undisputed centrepiece of Dubai’s impressive skyline. The tower cost an estimated £670million and was named at the last minute after the ruler of Abu Dhabi, who helped save Dubai from bankruptcy during the recent economic crisis. Its 160 stories contain mostly luxury residencies and corporate suites, but the public observation deck on floor 124 offers spectacular panoramic views of the city and beyond.
The city’s largest mosque is also the only one in the city that non-Muslims can enter, albeit with a registered guide. The mosque’s sweeping arcs and proud minarets turn crimson at sunset and then glow golden under soft artificial lights through the night. The organised visits are part of a cultural programme designed to help integrate Dubai’s multifarious population with traditional Arabic culture.
Tip * Booking your Tours, Transfers & Airport Parking before you go will save your money & time and ensure a stress free start to your holiday
The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU)
The SMCCU welcomes visitors to learn about the local culture, religion and beliefs in the Arab world.
The amusement park is fun for the entire family and includes rides, games and a water park.
This restaurant and nightclub built entirely out of ice is a unique way to beat the heat.
The fountains are choreographed to music and shoot water as high as 500 feet into the air.
The tallest building in the world, this structure has an observation deck on the 124th floor. It is also home to the Behold Telescope, which allows visitors to view their surroundings in real time or view archived images.
Take a stroll on the boardwalks along the creek, which separate Deira to the north from Bur Dubai to the south.
Visit the third-largest indoor ski slope in the world. Located inside the Dubai Mall of the Emirates, you can ski and snowboard on 6,000 tons of snow.
Located in the Dubai Mall, this is one of the world's largest aquariums and is home to 33,000 aquatic animals, including sharks, giant catfish, penguins, otters, and piranhas.
Using life-size dioramas, the museum depicts daily life in Dubai before the oil strikes.
Here, in one of the oldest areas in Dubai, you can see historic mosques and some ancient architecture.
This desert resort offers customized menus for the perfect romantic dining experience.
Located in the Al Khaleej Hotel, the bar has an 80s feel, a friendly staff and inexpensive drinks.
This is an out-of-the-way, intimate bay that sits on Jumeirah Beach Road between two palaces. It is often deserted, so it makes for a nice private getaway.
You can get great art for a fraction of the usual cost at this monthly auction, which features many up-and-coming artists.
A store with an eclectic mix of African sculpture, Viking helmets, rusty swords and other items that the owner has been collecting for years.
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Dubai has a tropical and arid climate, and the months of June through August are extremely hot and humid, with temperatures reaching as high as 48Â°C. The coolest month is January, when temperatures average 24Â°C. If you are interested in outdoor activities, consider planning a visit during the months of September through May. Dubai hosts many annual events, but some of the most popular include the Dubai International Jazz Festival and Dubai Shopping Festival, both held in February, the Dubai World Cup, held on the last Saturday in March, and the Dubai Summer Surprises, held in June through August. Ebookers can help you reserve hotel accommodation for whenever you decide to visit the city.
If the Burj Khalifa isn’t high enough, you can get a bird’s-eye view of the remarkable city from a sea plane. A 40-minute tour will fly you past all the main coastal attractions, including the audacious collection of man-made islands arranged into a map of the world, as well as the area around Dubai creek.
There can’t be many better ways to escape the ultra modernity of the city than a trip into the vast, empty Arabian Desert. Ride 100-metre dunes in a sturdy 4-wheel drive; then ride them again on a camel.
Most tours will take guests to a remote village for a barbecued dinner and live entertainment—some offer a night in a campsite, allowing for magnificent views of the stars.
Dubai’s giant, air-conditioned shopping centres are like little cities in themselves. Endless rows of stores, haute-cuisine restaurants, and cinemas are expected in malls these days, but an aquarium (Dubai Mall) and an indoor ski centre (Mall of the Emirates) take things to a whole new level.
For an altogether different kind of retail therapy, try and pick out a bargain in the city’s traditional street markets, known as souks. Food lovers will adore the aromas in the Spice Souk, while the Gold Souk offers a dazzling collection of high-end jewellery at unbelievable prices. Haggling is expected and even encouraged—it’s a good idea arm yourself with the daily spot price for gold before you set out.
The pinnacle of the emirate’s blossoming horse-racing calendar is undoubtedly March’s Dubai World Cup, the most valuable race meet on the planet. But for something even more exotic, spend an afternoon watching camel races. The normally docile ‘ships of the desert’ can move surprisingly fast when they need to, and winning beasts are often purchased by the sheiks for vast sums of cash. Races usually take place on Thursdays and Fridays from October to April.
The Atlantis hotel is the standout complex on the man-made Palm Jumeirah Island, and not just because of its salmon-pink exterior. Voted ‘Best Visitor Attraction’ in the 2009 Best In Dubai Awards, the ocean-themed resort specialises in luxury and pleasure. Guests have free access to the exhilarating water park and spectacular underwater city-style aquarium called the Lost Chambers, as well as the opportunity to swim with dolphins.
With 1.2 kilometres of private shoreline and unbeatable views out over the Persian Gulf, the Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina is the place to be for beach lovers. If you can drag yourself out of Westin’s trademark ‘Heavenly Bed’, the resort offers an array of water sports and outdoor activities. Shopaholics (and ski fanatics) will be delighted by the easy access to the giant Mall of the Emirates.
The Jebel Ali hotel’s elegant blue marble lobby sets the tone for this elegant five-story resort known as the ‘Legend of Dubai’. Golf enthusiasts will want to play a round on the championship-standard 9-hole course, set among 128 acres of gardens and beaches.
Located right in the heart of downtown Dubai, the Moevenpick Hotel and Apartments makes sightseeing easy in the traffic-congested centre. Guests can choose from nine different dining options, ranging from authentic Indian food at Chutneys to Somerset’s traditional British pub-grub.
Dubai International Airport, famous for its duty-free shopping, is just 4 kilometres from the city centre. New arrivals at either terminal can easily find a taxi, with fares typically starting at 25AED (£4.50). Special airport buses with extra room for luggage also circle the main corridors in the inner city.
Taxis are well regulated, relatively inexpensive, and generally safe. The government-owned Dubai Taxi Corporation has distinctive cream-coloured vehicles, and offers special pink ‘ladies taxis’ for added security. All taxis are legally required to have a working meter. If a driver claims the meter is broken, look for another.
Water taxis operate around Dubai creek and the main coastal resorts, with fares starting at around AED50 (£9). A cheaper, and more serene, way to cross the creek is in traditional wooden boats called abras.
The city’s bus network is cheap and comprehensive, but rarely used by anyone except low-income workers.
In response to growing traffic congestion, the government is constructing an automatic, driverless metro system. One line is presently operational, with another expected to open in August 2011. The metro is scheduled to be complete by 2015, though delays are possible due to the economic crisis.
All public transport is paid with rechargeable ‘Nol’ cards, with fares varying according to the distance travelled.
Consider a car hire in Dubai if you value the extra freedom and opportunities you get from having your own vehicle. Just be ready to sit in the occasional queue.
As you might expect, Dubai has a wealth of top-end restaurants serving dishes from all over the world. Bear in mind that restaurants outside of the main hotels in Dubai and resorts are forbidden from serving alcohol, and that opening restrictions will apply during Ramadan.
For a truly decadent dining experience, try the Al Mahara restaurant in the seven-star Burj Al Arab hotel. Diners can try exquisite seafood dishes while watching hundreds of live fish through the floor-to-ceiling aquarium window.
Gordon Ramsay brought his fine dining to Dubai in 2001, and Verre (in the Hilton) continues to be one of the city’s top restaurants. Michelin-starred head chef Scott Price is now in charge of the kitchen, adding some innovative twists to the world-class menu. As you’d expect in a Ramsay establishment, the service and classy black-and-white decor are impeccable.
The award-winning Fish Basket (Oud Metha) is a great place to sample some of the city’s outstanding Lebanese cuisine. Seafood is obviously the main draw here: fish selected from a market-style display will be cooked to order and served with staple sides like hummus and fattoush.
Kabalen (Sheikh Ahmed Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan Building, Street # 16, Al Karama) is a charming family place serving excellent homemade Filipino food at bargain prices.
Those missing home might want to stop at the London transport–themed Double Decker (Al Murooj Rotana, Sheikh Zayed Road), where British pub staples and international plates mingle on a no-frills menu. Live football and karaoke may not appeal to everyone, but the down-to-earth vibe can be refreshing in ultra-chic Dubai.
Visitors are not required to take any vaccinations or medication before entering Dubai. The risk of malaria is low, but you should take measures to avoid mosquito bites and always consult a doctor in the event of a fever—even after you return.
Temperatures in summer often rise above 40˚C. Stay out of direct sunlight during the hottest hours of the day and be sure to stay well hydrated. Not all water is potable, so stick to mineral water to be safe.
Call 998/999 for an ambulance. Health facilities are generally of a high standard, but quality can vary even between departments in the same establishment. English is invariably spoken in health centres.
Dubai is largely very safe, with little in the way of street crime. However, it is prudent to keep expensive jewellery and electronics out of sight when on the streets—especially at night.
Dubai is one of the most progressive emirates, but be mindful of local laws and customs. Homosexual activity is strictly illegal, as is the possession or consumption of drugs. Women should avoid wearing revealing clothing when outside of tourist resorts and should not walk alone after dark. Alcohol is not served outside of the tourist areas, and drunken behaviour could cause offence.
Road conditions are excellent, though traffic congestion in the centre is a major problem, and drivers can be aggressive. The (often ignored) speed limit is 40–80 km/h in urban areas and 140–160 km/h on motorways.