Once a sleepy fishing village known for its pearl divers, the discovery of oil nearby in 1966 begun the transformation from its prior status as a rural backwater to the glitzy uber-modern city state we know today. Seeing the need to diversify away from living off oil revenues in recent years, the leadership of this emirate within the UAE began to build out its commerce sector as well as others, seeking to become a financial, transport, tourism and educational hub in the Middle East.
In this respect, they have largely succeeded, as this metropolis possesses the tallest tower on Earth, some of the most decadent luxury resorts known to humankind, and several educational zones that seek to draw students from around the world and to build up the knowledge of its local populace.
If all things shiny, new and expensive appeal to you, visiting this 21st century city will prove to be a trip that will dazzle you from the second you lay foot upon its turf.
It can be easy to dismiss Dubai as simply a modern monstrosity that was plunked down in the middle of a barren desert in the past 20 years, but this is far from the truth, as human habitation has existed in this area for thousands of years. To get the scoop on what life was like before a tsunami of modernization swept away the pearl diving culture here only a few decades ago, visit the Dubai Museum and spend an hour or two perusing the exhibits there.
A compelling mix of the old and the new is present here, with the well-preserved al-Fahidi fort, which contains examples of old-fashioned reed houses within its walls. Underneath the fort lies modern exhibits, which uses authentic sounds, films and reconstructions from days gone by to bring the spirit of Old Dubai alive once again.
Much of the old building stock in Dubai has been cleared away to make room for the gleaming steel and glass skyscrapers that are commonplace in the city state today. However, the Bastakiya District has been set aside to preserve a vital reminder of its humble past, becoming quite a trendy area as a result. Many cafes and art galleries have opened here over the years, making it a great place to admire the traditional architecture of Dubai’s past, while partaking in people watching in this fascinating corner of the Middle East.
While Jumeirah Mosque is not terribly significant in terms of the history of the religion of Islam, its presence within one of the most progressive and tolerant cities in the Middle East presents a unique opportunity for non-Muslim visitors to connect with the 1,300 year old faith. The mosque itself is a beautiful structure crafted in a style found commonly throughout the Arabic world during medieval times.
The Sheikh Mohammed Centre of Cultural Understanding grants tours throughout the day, explaining the true nature of Islam, and taking questions from all comers during the Q&A session that follows. Photographers take note: the floodlit exterior of the Jumeirah Mosque is at its most spectacular at night, so make plans to visit during that time.
Of all the modern attractions to visit in Dubai, this sticks out, quite literally, like a sore thumb. The Burj Khalifa is the tallest structure built by humans that currently exists on this Earth, with the views from the observation deck looking more like Dubai as viewed from an airplane than at heights more commonly associated with buildings of a more humble stature.
Back on Terra Firma, a sight that is just as impressive is the Dubai Fountain, located close to the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa. With jets that span 270 metres across its massive pool, the fountain puts on one of the liveliest shows of its kind in the world, with intricate dancing manoeuvres and a peak water blast that tops 500 feet high. Come by during the evening to grab a great spot to watch this unmissable spectacle.
You may not have the money to stay in a place like the Burj al-Arab Hotel, but that doesn’t mean you can’t drop by to gawk at the many luxuries that the super rich take for granted every single day. Dress in your very best, try to get your reservation in for a tour early, and you might get a chance to see some of the suites that are available to the very top tier of the global jet-set. Failing this, booking a seat at high tea in the afternoon, or for a (very expensive) meal in one of their restaurants can also be done, but again, do so at least a few days in advance!