Although Dubai was started with money from the oil trade, it has long since shifted its focus to attracting tourism and creating a unique place to spend some time. It is the most expensive city in the Middle East and one of the priciest cities in the world. With hotel rooms that top the charts in terms of luxury and price, a visitor might think that any visit to this Arab Emirate will break the bank, but there are plenty of ways to have a good time and still maintain a sensible budget.
Located near the Burj Khalifa, the mall is absolutely massive, earning the spot as the largest shopping centre in the world. There are more than 1,000 shops inside along with two department stores, more than 160 food and beverage retailers, an ice rink and a movie theatre. The 900-foot-long Dubai Fountain is very entertaining with coloured lights dancing across spurting water. You’ll also find a Sauropod skeleton on display that was originally unearthed in Wyoming, U.S. and flown to Dubai where it was set up in the Souk Dome of the mall.
You could easily spend several days here window shopping or watching people skating, but if you have a little room in your budget, the Dubai Aquarium is an amazing experience, housing more than 33,000 underwater creatures and featuring a tunnel that goes right through the aquarium.
Burj Al Arab
Set between the Palm Islands and the Jumeirah Beach, the Burj Al Arab is both an architectural marvel and a fascinating building to view. The glass facade swoops in a graceful curve, mimicking the sails of the traditional abras that ferry people across Dubai Creek. Inside is one of the most luxurious hotels in the world that you can have a look at for free.
The best view of the tower is by walking Jumeirah Beach and after sundown the “sail” is lit up. Inside you can have a meal, or just a cup of coffee, at the Al Muhara restaurant that’s lined with floor-to-ceiling fish tanks. Another admittedly expensive coffee option is the Al Muntaha restaurant which sits 180 metres above the sea.
By Poco a poco via Wikimedia Commons
The last historic district in the city, Bastakiya Quarter has managed to retain its 19th century charm despite being surrounded by engineering marvels and towering skyscrapers. The name comes from the Bastak, Persia (Iran) traders that settled here and thrived in the growing economy. Many of the beautiful mansions have been converted to art galleries and cafes that preserve the feel of the past.
The labyrinthine streets are a delight to wander with a few key sights to stop at along the route. The Old City Wall is visible behind the mosque and the ever-changing galleries are fun to pop in and see what’s being shown. As you’re walking, look up to spot the wind towers, an early form of air-conditioning that is surprisingly effective.
Dubai has been at the centre of trade for centuries and nowhere is that more evident than in the markets – especially the gold and spice markets. The souks still retain their traditional flavour and the methods of conducting transactions haven’t changed much over the years. Even if the price is marked on an item, don’t assume that’s the final offer. Practice your haggling skills if you plan on buying anything and don’t get talked into going over budget.
The Gold Souk near the Dubai Marina is a glittering treasure trove of trinkets and wealth. Almost 20% of the world’s gold passes through this market in the form of necklaces, bracelets, earrings and other ornaments.
The Spice Souk across Dubai Creek is a feast for the senses. Common spices mingle with rare finds, and determined shoppers can find nearly any spice they may have ever heard about. Items that are pricey back home such as saffron might even be a better deal here.
There are many public beaches that are clean, white sand and have ample space to lay a towel. Private beaches have a few more amenities but many charge to use the space. If staying at a hotel in the city, find out if they have a private beach that’s available to you.
Checking out the Dhows along the wharf on Dubai Creek is a fun way to spend several hours. Not only are the boats fascinating, watching the goods being loaded and unloaded is an interesting glimpse into trade in the Emirates. The cargo can be anything from small cars to kitchen sinks and everything in between. The long, flat, wooden vessels are piled sky-high with goods, and often the piles are topped with a sailor catching up on some sleep before unloading the boats.