Dubai – A City of Inspiration and Ambition – My Top 10 List
Dubai is a city on fire!!! Not only is it hot there, but the growth is explosive and not letting up anytime soon. Dubai is a great example of how imagination can turn into reality. It seems whatever crazy idea that comes to mind, the people building Dubai move ahead and build it. The city boasts of many records including:
- The tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa at 160 stories
- The highest restaurant at 122 stories high
- The largest man-made island, the Palm Jumierah Island. Of course they are building a bigger one.
- The world’s only 7 Star hotel, the Burj Al Arab
- The tallest all residential tower at 93 stories
- The world’s largest mall with over 1200 stores
- The world’s most expensive hotel room at $36,000 USD per night
- And the list goes on…
Just to think, the city really did not exist 30 years ago. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was formed in 1971 after an agreement with Great Britain was signed. The country is made up of 7 kingdoms, but most people only know Dubai and Abu Dhabi which are the two most important. The 7 kingdoms are fairly independent but share a currency, a military and something else but I can’t remember – 🙂 Even more striking, is the newest area of Dubai which is called the Marina district and 15 years ago it was a desert with virtually nothing there. Today, (in 15 short years) there are literally hundreds (if not over a thousand) buildings surrounding the largest man-made marina in the world and the Jumierah Beach. This is the new and expensive residential area of Dubai with the tallest residential tower and the largest residential development in the world with 38 tall buildings. Just when you think they can’t build anymore buildings, you just have to look up and see all the cranes that decorate the skyline of new Dubai.
As an entrepreneur, I found Dubai inspirational because of what they created in a very short period of time. Just like a business, Dubai continues to push the edge of both creativity and growth. The pace at which they have moved to date has been nothing short of amazing. I believe that in the next 10 – 15 years, Dubai will be very different from the Dubai I visited this year.
Since Dubai is such a new city, you are not going to find a lot of museums, or any beautiful old palaces / buildings like you do in Europe. I can sum up the culture in two words – The Mall. Yes, it seems like the center of activity in Dubai is going to the Mall, as on most nights, I found myself somehow back at the mall. Partly because it was a nice cool place and partly because the malls are a tourist attraction. From restaurants and movie theaters, to lots of people everywhere, the Mall is the place to be in Dubai. However, the beaches, fancy restaurants, cafe and bars outside of the mall also make up the culture of Dubai.
My Top 10 List
If you are planning on going to Dubai, or just interested in learning more about cool things to do in Dubai, your wait is over because here is the definitive list of great things to do while in Dubai.
- Drinks (or high tea) at the Burj Al Arab – Seeing the Burj Al Arab from the outside is incredible but seeing it from the inside is even better. The only way to see the inside is either stay at the hotel as a guest, or book one of the restaurants or Sky Lounge. The hotel does not allow people to just walk in to take a look. My recommendation is get a reservation at the Sky Lounge for drinks. The Sky Lounge sticks out of the building from near the top floor and you can literally see all of Dubai from there. Now, the drinks are very pricey to say the least. I ordered one pretty standard drink and it was $60 USD, but the views were well worth it.
If you get a chance to stay at the Burj Al Arab even for one night, I would do it. It is an amazing experience that is hard to describe. Starting with the check in process, you are welcomed by name at front door and escorted immediately to your room where the check in process takes place. You see, in your room you have an actual full office complete with a huge Mac and printer. Everything is perfectly orchestrated with your delicious welcome drink being delivered while you are touring your two-story suite (yes, all the rooms are two-story suites). I was actually upgraded, so I had two suites to choose from and decide which one I liked better. Of course, I took 30 minutes to decide after visiting both suites several times. I actually picked the smaller one because I liked the view better. However, smaller is all relative at the Burj Al Arab. Next, one of your three butlers greet you while he takes you on a complete tour of your room. Trust me, take the tour because there is so much you need to know about how everything works and if you have had butler service at other hotels, the Burj takes it to a new level. There are multiple butlers on each floor 24 x 7. One butler stands while you walk by and the other butler races to your door to open it for you (because you should not have open your own hotel room door at the Burj). Once checked in, you can enjoy one of five pools, an incredible spa with an infinity pool that sits on the 18th floor overlooking the entire city. Oh yes, they have two of the largest pools I have ever seen and their own man-made beach built on a terrace in the ocean. OK, I could go on and on about the Burj Al Arab. All I can say, is that if you have a chance to stay even for one night in a 7 star hotel, do it.
- Take a Trip to the Desert – If you are in Dubai, going to the desert is a must. Get ready for a little adventure. Have you ever been Sand Blasting before? Well, get ready to hop in a 4 wheel drive Jeep and have some insane driver bound up and down and all around the sand dunes which can get pretty high. Also, you will see some amazing vistas of nothing but sand and sun. I recommend doing the afternoon trip and catch the sunset over the desert. Next, if you want a ride in the ATV, it is a blast – but maybe a camel ride is more your speed because you can do that too! Then, a nice BBQ dinner and show in the desert rounds out the evening.
- Visit the Burj Khalifa – Yes, it is the tallest building in the world and it is stunning from the outside, but also pretty cool from the inside. Be prepared to spend some serious dollars for the elevator ride. It is $100 USD to visit the observation deck on the 124th floor and $150 USD to the highest observation deck in the world at the 145th floor. I guess they have to pay for the building somehow. I will say that once you get up there, they treat you quite well. They served drinks and fancy snacks while up there. I highly recommend going up during the sunset.
- Take a boat ride around the Marina and along the coastline – Seeing Dubai from a completely different perspective was very cool. Again I recommend sunset for this activity as well. It is cooler and I think the best time to take pictures. You start by touring the world’s largest man-made marina with lots of tall buildings surrounding you. Then, see the new city (literally built-in the last 15 years) from the Arabian Sea. Next, is the amazing man-made Palm Island where you can get a great view from the outside of it. While you can only view the outside of the island since tour boats are not allowed inside, the palm leaves, seeing some of the villas and massive hotels being built is great. Then, off to the Burj Al Arab for a view from the sea. Be sure to take tons of pictures of the city’s icon. Finally, get pretty close (but not too close) to the 7 royal palaces only visible from the coastline. Each palace represents a different royal family (one for each kingdom of the UAE).
- Visit the Malls – I am not a shopper, so how could this land on my top 10 list? Well, the malls in Dubai are as much a tourist attraction as a place to shop. First, there are no duty or taxes in Dubai, so everything is supposedly less expensive. Next, there is every store imaginable and you get to see the real culture of Dubai in action. This is where the locals hang out. If that is not enough, then strap on your skis and head to Ski Dubai (in the Mall of the Emirates). Yes there is a ski resort inside the mall and kept at a cool -4c, it really is a winter wonderland. I did the Penguin experience where you not only get educated about these little guys, but also get to hang out with them up close and personal. Proceeds of this experience go towards saving them, so it Is actually a good thing. There are two huge malls in Dubai. The Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world. For me personally, it was just too big and I did not love it much. I did like the aquarium inside the Mall which of course you can tour. I preferred the slightly smaller Mall of the Emirates, although still huge, but a better layout.
- Take the Monorail through the Palm Island – The Palm Island is pretty cool considering it is the largest man-made island in the world and it is in the shape of a palm tree. The monorail gives you a pretty good view of it. It stops at the massive Atlantis Hotel and there are two cool things there. First, If you like water parks, then this is by far the best. Next, is The Lost Chambers – a collection of 22 aquariums. I have to say it was very well done and well worth the money. One note, the Atlantis Hotel boasts the most expensive hotel room in the world at $36,000 USD a night. If you are looking for a bargain, you can book one of 4 underwater rooms at $12,000 USD a night.
- Take a Trip to Abu Dhabi – Just a 90 minute drive to the capital city of the UAE. The highlight of Abu Dhahi is the massive and beautiful Sheikh Zayad Mosque. I have not seen many Mosques in my life but this rivals any church I have seen. It is one of the largest in the world and every detail is perfectly done. From the massive courtyard, to the amazing and colorful chandlers inside, it is something you must see. While Abu Dhabi is not nearly as big as Dubai, that is actually what I liked about it, It was not over built. Like Dubai, everything is new with lots of nicely done tall buildings that make up the skyline.
A day at Jumierah Beach – A trip to Dubai would not be complete without spending some time at the amazing Jumierah Beach. It pretty much stretches the entire coastline of the city and has white sand and warm waters. Very comfortable even on a hot day. If you are not staying at a resort on the beach, there is a huge public beach near the Burj Al Arab that I would recommend.
- Visit the Gold Souk – Souk is the Arabic word for Market. The gold market is quite a scene. The original markets are in the old town of Dubai and is well worth a visit. If you plan to buy, then negotiation is expected.
- See a movie in luxury – This might seem like an odd one, but doing activities indoors is actually a good thing given the heat. I have not seen this in the US, or other cities before, but you can have a luxurious movie experience inside the Mall of the Emirates. Put your feet up and stretch out in a comfortable leather reclining seat big enough to put your feet straight out. Cover yourself in a cozy and soft blanket and select from a menu of tasty food items delivered by the waiters throughout the movie. All you have to do, is hit a button. All of this for the bargain price of $40 USD per person (OK, it is kind of expensive but worth the experience at least once).
So in closing, I really enjoyed my time in Dubai. It was different from many of the places I am visiting in Europe. Dubai can be an expensive city, so get ready to spend some money. One thing that is not so expensive, are the hotels. There are so many luxury hotels to choose from and at least during the time of my trip, they did not seem too expensive (except for the Burj Al Arab).