Dubai is many things to many people – actually, let’s be honest, it’s mainly shopping to most people – but while a recent mother-and-daughter weekend there definitely highlighted the commercial side of Dubai, we found a few other great reasons to appreciate to this glittering, booming, ever-changing city state.
First of all, it’s incredibly safe. So safe that when we decided to go for a walk at a rather ungodly hour we wandered through well-lit streets, saw plenty of guards watching over things, and never had a single moment of doubt or fear.
For family travelers, this is a real reason to return. Safe, clean and friendly - what a winning combination.
But for a first-timer to Dubai, what should be on the agenda? What is un-missable in this amazing city? Suppose you have just a weekend, as we did. What should absolutely be on the to-do list?
Well, shopping for one. Dubai has malls are like no other – indeed, at almost 12 million sq.ft the Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world by total area. Before you say “Oh, I’m not much of a shopper,” remember that it’s more than just browsing for clothes or electronics. The malls in Dubai are luxurious and air-conditioned, which is great if you visit in the summer. Mile upon mile of shops of every type, and every corner you turn reveals something bigger and grander than what you just saw.
And it’s not just about the shopping, it’s the whole experience - the sheer massiveness of everything, the luxury, the design, whole floors that seem to go on forever. You can ice skate. You can ski. You can wander through an aquarium, and even don a scuba suit to head underwater and wave to tourists from the other side of the glass. Within the malls there are cinemas, playgrounds for children, and restaurants serving just about every type of cuisine you can imagine. So, yes, it’s easy to spend one full day getting lost in the sheer size of Dubai’s malls.
Then there is the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. You can book your time slot in advance online, which makes sense if you only have a limited amount of time. There are queues to ascend the Burj, but everything is so orderly that it all runs smoothly. We decided to go up at dusk, and the sight of Dubai gradually coming alight as the sun set was something very special. As the sun sank the view from the outdoor observation deck – at 1,483 ft – was stupendous. The buildings lit up, and the fountains 124 stories below us danced to music. They were easy to see because, of course, they are the world’s largest choreographed fountain system.
To counterpoint all this breathtaking newness, a visit to the old part of town is a must. Take the metro (air-conditioned and wi-fi enabled, obviously) and wander round Bur Dubai, where old houses with wind towers are a poignant reminder of what this city was like when it was a small port, famous for its deep sea pearls. The restored Al Bastakiya residential area dates back to the late 17th century, and though much of the area was sadly razed in the 1970s, enough remains to give you an insight into a much more “Arab” Dubai. I consider this an important stop to make, lest you forget where you are in the dazzling glow of modern, cosmopolitan Dubai. With so many thousands of expatriate workers staffing the shops and hotels and offices, it is only when you wander through the quieter older parts of town that you get a feel for the essential history of this buzzing city.
And that, sadly, is the weekend accounted for.
And there is still a trip to the desert to be done…and a visit to the world’s only 7-star hotel, the Burj Al Arab, shaped like a dhow in sail…and a trip on a real dhow…so much more to do.
From a sleepy little port to one of the world’s top tourist destinations, Dubai is living proof of the maxim “if you build it, they will come.”