You could spend January at the Dubai Shopping Festival, or you could saddle up for a camel ride, climb aboard a dhow or up the Burj Khalifa. The choice is yours…
Scale the Burj Khalifa
The Burj Khalifa – aka the world’s tallest building- stands at 1,821ft high and offers dizzying views of Dubai’s skyline, punctuated as it is by skeletal hotels and stellar shopping malls. Not only is the Burj Khalifa the tallest free-standing structure in the world, it has the highest number of stories in the world, the highest occupied floor in the world, the highest outdoor observation deck in the world, the elevator with the longest travel distance in the world and the tallest service elevator in the world. Phew!
Marvel at the Dubai Mall
Shopping is big business in Dubai – as much a daily event as dinner and there’s a plethora of super sized shiny malls all dedicated to the joys of retail therapy but the Dubai Mall is king. It’s the world’s largest shopping mall and is home to enough shops (1,625 no less), bars and restaurants to satisfy serious shopaholics and gourmands alike. The mega mall also houses an on site aquarium (the largest in the world, natch) where you can scuba dive with sharks should you – heaven forbid – suffer shopping fatigue. Stir in an Olympic sized ice rink and the world’s highest dancing fountains and you’re guaranteed something to gawp at.
Potter to The Palm
The Palm is arguably the most audacious of all of Dubai’s breathtaking projects. These three palm-shaped man made islands are often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world owing to the fact that they, along with the Great Wall of China, can be seen from space. This awe inspiring engineering feat is home to scores of swanky apartments (Becks has bought a place on The Palm as have Freddie Flintoff and Frank Lampard) and sumptuous resorts such as the marine themed, celeb studded Atlantis and the (more tasteful) Anantara The Palm Resort & Spa.
Check out the creek
People, perhaps understandably given the emirate’s penchant for publicising its outlandish constructions, have the wrong idea about Dubai – believing it to be all about malls and modernity. But scratch beneath the shiny surface and you’ll find another side to the ‘city of gold’ whose heartbeat has to be the creek. Here you can watch abras and dhows (traditional Arab sailing boats) weave their way across the water, as they have done for centuries. For further local flavour, factor in a tour of Jumeirah Mosque (Dubai is after all an Islamic state even if it isn’t quite how you’d envisage Arabia) on Beach Road.
Seek out the souks
Give the mega malls a miss and seek out Dubai’s souks instead. These traditional market places are alive with stalls selling everything from curly Aladdin-esque slippers and jewellery to pashminas (a necessity given the Arctic air conditioning levels that you’ll find in Dubai’s myriad malls and hotels), batteries, bananas, spices and Indian sweets. All are sold out of large open sacks, making for sensory overload.
Schlepp to Satwa
For more glimpses of the ‘real Dubai’, explore ethnic residential districts such as Satwa and colourful Karama where you’ll get to mingle with the melting pot of cultures – there’s an incredible influx of expats from all over the world – that make up modern day Dubai. Both Satwa and Karma can be easily reached by the Dubai metro – the world’s longest self driving metro system that was introduced four years ago and has helped ease road congestion, no end.The metro is cheap too at just 34p per journey – a rare bargain in a city where prices tend to match the glamour.
Bored of lying on a beach? Camel riding – which offers a unique opportunity to spend your holiday in Dubai doing something different from lazing by your hotel pool, frying yourself in the sun or schlepping around the shopping centres – is where it’s at. Every tour operator under the sun includes a camel ride as part of their half day desert safari tour and thankfully, if your riding experience is restricted to rocking-horses from your childhood days, no experience is necessary. As experiences go, riding a camel out in the true heart of Arabia should top any Middle East itinerary list.
Slalom down the slopes of Ski Dubai
One of Dubai’s jaw dropping wonders, Ski Dubai is situated slap bang in the middle of the air conditioned cathedral to consumerism that is the Mall of the Emirates. Whether you’re a skier or a boarder, a visit to Ski Dubai should feature on any tourist itinerary – after all how often do you get to ski in the desert? The emirate’s first ski resort comes complete with 6,00 tonnes of real snow that falls over night at around minus 10 degrees Celsius. There’s a gentle slope for beginners and the world’s first black indoor run for the pros (and gun ho). Equipment is included in the price – all you need to do is bring gloves. Ski you there?
For just a few dirhams, you can dip at both Jumeirah Beach and Al Mamzar Beach Parks. The former opened in 1980 and spans 13 hectares. Facilities such as showers, sunbeds, changing rooms, children’s playground areas and four outlets selling heart attack inducing junk food are all on offer. However if you want a slice of pearl white sand to yourself, head for Al Mamzar – the park that most of Dubai forgets owing to its location on the outskirts of Dubai. This hidden gem is much quieter than its Jumeirah sibling, making it a decent spot to lay your towel for those tired of being surrounded by tonnes of fellow tourists. One caveat: to avoid embarrassment, remember that Wednesdays are for women and children only.
The Dubai Shopping Festival runs from 1 Jan- 1 Feb 2015