In 1833, eight hundred members of the nomadic Bani Yas tribe, led by the Maktoum Family cleverly settled at the mouth of a creek, due to its abundance of natural resources. It became a busy fishing port and renowned for its pearls. In only half a century, the settlement flourished on the Deira side of the creek, with the largest souk on the coastline, with hundreds of outlets and businesses. In one hundred years, Dubai’s population grew to almost twenty thousand, with expatriates numbering a full quarter of the population.
In the 1950s disaster struck. Due to the busy activity of the passing traffic of ships on the creek, the creek began to silt and collapse. Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the late ruler of Dubai, commenced a visionary and costly mission to industrialise further, thus strengthening Dubai’s position as a major trading port. In 1966, oil was discovered in his country, and Sheikh Rashid utilized this new-found wealth to modernise Dubai with breath-taking speed and foresight, spending vast amounts on building hospitals, schools, roads and a modern telecommunications network. In addition, a port and terminal building were built at Dubai International Airport. The largest man-made harbour in the world, at Jebel Ali, was constructed. As a result of this visionary foresight, Dubai became a magnet for both entrepreneurs and tourists alike, keen to enjoy ex-patriot friendliness, accommodation, low import duties and zero tax on both personal and corporate income.
The United Arab Emirates was created in 1971, a long-held dream of creating a federation for its rulers. This included Dubai, Sharjah , Fujairah, Abu Dhabi, Umm Al Quwain, Ajman, and Ras Al Khaimah who joined in 1972, thus creating the United Arab Emirates. The UAE has transformed into one of the richest countries in the world.
Dubai took a decision in the 1980s and early 1990s to become a major “high end” tourist destination, and this decision has paid off handsomely, with Dubai boasting unmatchable hotels, inspiringly remarkable architecture, and world class entertainment and sporting events, this in addition to one of the most sought after shopping destinations in the world.
1. Burj Khalifa
Dubai's landmark building, which at 829.8 meters is the tallest building in the world and the most famous of the city's points of interest. For most visitors, a trip to the observation deck on the 124th floor here is a must-do while in the city. The views across the city skyline from this bird's-eye perspective are simply staggering. The slick observation deck experience includes a multimedia presentation on both Dubai and the building of the Burj Khalifa (completed in 2010) before a high-speed elevator whizzes you up to the observation deck for those 360-degree views out across the skyscrapers to the desert on one side and the ocean on the other.
Wrapping around the Burj Khalifa, are beautiful designed gardens with winding walkways. There are plenty of water features including the Dubai Fountain, the world's tallest performing fountain, modeled on the famous Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas.
2. Dubai Mall
The city's premier mall and provides entry to the Burj Khalifa, as well as the Dubai Aquarium. There is also an ice-skating rink, gaming zone, and cinema complex if you're looking for more entertainment options. The shopping and eating is endless, and there are nearly always special events such as live music and fashion shows within the mall.
One of the city's top tourist attractions, the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo houses 140 species of sea life in the huge suspended tank on the ground floor of the Dubai Mall. As well as free viewing from the mall, if you enter the Underwater Zoo, you can walk through the aquarium tunnels. It is home to thousands of aquatic animals, with over 400 Sharks and Rays living in the 10 million litre tank, including Sand Tiger Sharks, Giant Groupers, and a host of other marine species. A series of carefully designed experiences will allow visitors to come face to face with lots of other aquatic residents including the 'king crocodile encounter'. This giant reptile is 40 years old and weighs in at an impressive 750kg. He is joined by his female companion ‘Queen Croc’ who is over 80 years old!
3. Museum of the Future
Museum of the Future is not just another museum devoted to contemporary creativity, but much beyond that. Employing the latest in design, prototyping, and technological advancements, the museum - just as the name says - is solely developed to craft the real next-generation exhibits that will journey you 50 years into the future. It is where you get to discover the future of ever-dynamic science and innovation within its striking ring-like structure with a vast open center.
Museum of Future, at a height of 77 meters, is a true architectural marvel! Designed by the renowned architect - Shaun Killa, it features a strikingly oblong ring-shaped stainless steel exterior, with 1024 pieces created using the most advanced robot aided process. It is further enriched with the enlightening quotes of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, which are engraved on it with the marvelous calligraphy of Mattar bin Lahej.
Sprawling over 30,000 square meters, each of the museum’s seven floors appears like a movie set from the cutting-edge future. They will transport you to the year 2071 and beyond. With everything from innovative space stations, stupefying DNA library and a futuristic spa to the most progressive in ecology, wellness, and spirituality, it lets you experience all that you have envisioned in a sci-fi magazine or movie.
4. La Mer
A fine addition to the city’s urban beach culture, La Mer features wide open spaces with palm tree lined boulevards, graffiti art murals, water park and laidback charm. Explore bustling backstreets, treat the kids to action packed excitement, kick back on the beach, try a thrilling watersport, discover a new cuisine, or let your hair down by grabbing a drink in their licensed district.
5. Blue Water Island & Ain Dubai
Bluewaters Island is one of the most impressive man made islands in Dubai located off the coast of JBR. It is a multi-billion project by Meraas featuring the world’s largest observation wheel, Ain Dubai. Located opposite The Beach, the island is also gearing to become a top tourist site in Dubai with a range of leisure facilities, beach activities, luxurious resorts and restaurants. Moreover, the master plan includes 132 retail shops, Caesars Palace and the happening Cove Beach.
6. Dubai Museum
Dubai's excellent museum is housed in the Al-Fahidi Fort, built in 1787 to defend Dubai Creek. The fort's walls are built out of traditional coral blocks and held together with lime. The upper floor is supported by wooden poles, and the ceiling is constructed from palm fronds, mud, and plaster. In its history, the fort has served as a residence for the ruling family, a seat of government, garrison, and prison. Restored in 1971 and again extensively in 1995, it is now the city's premier museum. The entrance has a fascinating exhibition of old maps of the Emirates and Dubai, showing the mammoth expansion that hit the region after the oil boom.
The courtyard is home to several traditional boats and a palm-leaf house with an Emirati wind-tower. The right-hand hall features weaponry, and the left-hand hall showcases Emirati musical instruments. Below the ground floor are display halls with exhibits and dioramas covering various aspects of traditional Emirati life, including pearl fishing and Bedouin desert life, as well as artifacts from the 3,000 to 4,000 year old graves at Al Qusais archaeological site.
7. Bastakia (Old Dubai)
The Bastakia Quarter, also known as the Al-Fahidi neighborhood, was built in the late 19th century to be the home of wealthy Persian merchants who dealt mainly in pearls and textiles and were lured to Dubai because of the tax-free trading and access to Dubai Creek. Bastakia occupies the eastern portion of Bur Dubai along the creek, and the coral and limestone buildings here, many with walls topped with wind-towers, have been excellently preserved.
Wind towers provided the homes here with an early form of air conditioning, the wind trapped in the towers was funneled down into the houses. Persian merchants likely transplanted this architectural element, common in Iranian coastal houses, from their home country to the Gulf. Lined with distinct Arabian architecture, the narrow lanes are highly evocative of a bygone, and much slower, age in Dubai's history.
Inside the district, you will find the Majlis Gallery, with its collection of traditional Arab ceramics and furniture, housed in a wind-tower, and the Al Serkal Cultural Foundation, with a shop, cafe and rotating art exhibitions.
8. Sheikh Saeed Al-Maktoum House
Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum was the Ruler of Dubai from 1921 to 1958 and grandfather to the current ruler. His former residence has been rebuilt and restored as a museum that is a fine example of Arabian architecture. The original house was built in 1896 by Sheikh Saeed's father, so he could observe shipping activity from the balconies. It was demolished, but the current house was rebuilt next to the original site, staying true to the original model by incorporating carved teak doors, wooden lattice screens across the windows, and gypsum ventilation screens with floral and geometric designs.
Thirty rooms are built around a central courtyard with wind-tower details on top. Inside are the exhibits of the Dubai Museum of Historical Photographs and Documents, with many wonderful old photographs of Dubai from the period between 1948 and 1953.
The marine wing of the museum has photos of fishing, pearling, and boat building. Throughout the building there are many letters, maps, coins, and stamps on display showing the development of the Emirate.
9. Dubai Creek & Al Seef District Dubai
Creek separates the city into two towns, with Deira to the north and Bur Dubai to the south. The creek has been an influential element in the city's growth, first attracting settlers here to fish and pearl dive. Small villages grew up alongside the creek as far back as 4,000 years ago, while the modern era began in the 1830s when the Bani Yas tribe settled in the area.
The Dhow Wharfage is located along Dubai Creek's bank, north of Al-Maktoum Bridge. Still used by small traders from across the Gulf, some of the dhows anchored here are well over 100 years old. You can visit here, watching cargo being loaded and unloaded on and off the dhows. Dhow workers often invite visitors onto the vessels for a tour, where you can gain insight into the life of these traditional sailors. Many of the dhows here travel onward to Kuwait, Iran, Oman, India, and down to Africa's horn.
This tiny remnant of Dubai's traditional economy is still a bustling and fascinating place to wander around. On the Bur Dubai side of the creek, rubbing up against the Bastakia neighborhood, the waterfront has been regenerated as the Al Seef district, with a waterfront promenade backed by traditional coral-block and limestone buildings, a floating market, and shops selling crafts. It's a great place for a stroll with excellent water views.
To travel across the creek, you can either take a trip on one of the many dhows that have been restored as tourist cruise boats or take an abra, small wooden ferry, between the ferry points on the creek's Bur Dubai and Deira banks.
10. Jumeirah Mosque
Jumeirah Mosque is considered by many to be the most beautiful of Dubai's mosques. An exact copy of Cairo's Al-Azhar Mosque, which is eight times its size, the Jumeirah Mosque is a fine example of Islamic architecture. This stone structure is built in the medieval Fatimid tradition, with two minarets that display the subtle details in the stonework. It is particularly attractive in the evening when lit with floodlights. The Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Centre for Cultural Understanding organizes guided tours of the mosque designed to try to foster a better understanding of the Muslim faith. Tours begin at 10am daily, except Fridays.
Deira lies on the northern bank of Dubai Creek, and the winding streets here unveil the melting pot of different nationalities that have come to call Dubai home. On the shore, ancient dhows load and unload with modern banks, hotels, and office buildings as a backdrop.
For travelers, Deira is most famous for its traditional souks (markets), which bustle with shoppers at all times of the day. Deira Gold Souk is world-renowned as the largest gold bazaar in the world. The Deira Spice Souk sells every imaginable spice, with stalls overflowing with bags of frankincense, cumin, paprika, saffron, sumac, and thyme, as well as the fragrant oud wood, rose water, and incense.
While in the district, culture lovers shouldn't miss two of Deira's finely restored architectural gems. Heritage House was built in 1890 as the home of a wealthy Iranian merchant and later became the home of Sheik Ahmed bin Dalmouk, a famous pearl merchant in Dubai. Today, it's a great chance to see the interior of a traditional family home.
12. Dubai Frame
Sitting slap-bang between Dubai's older neighborhoods clustered around the creek and the city's modern sprawl, this tall 150 meter high picture frame is one of Dubai's latest sights. Inside, a series of galleries whisk you through the city's history and explore Emirati heritage before you travel up to the Sky Deck, where there are fantastic panoramic view of both old and new Dubai. Afterwards check out Future Dubai gallery, which imagines what a futuristic vision of the city will look like.
13. Sheikh Zayed Road
This road is the main thoroughfare running through Dubai's modern downtown business district. This wide, 8 lane highway is rimmed with towering glass, chrome, and steel high rises along its entire length. It's one of the best on the ground vantage points for Dubai's famed skyscraper views. Main attractions are along, or just off, the strip between the roundabout and the first intersection, and most of Dubai's famous malls are located along the road's route.
The Dubai World Trade Tower has an observation deck on its top floor, which offers visitors panoramic views, a cheaper option than the Burj Khalifa, and the Gold and Diamond Park is a one stop shop for jewelry lovers, with 118 manufacturers and 30 retailers all under one roof.
14. Heritage and Diving Village
Dubai's architectural, cultural, and maritime heritage is showcased at the Heritage and Diving Village, with displays related to pearl diving and dhow building, two of Dubai's old historic economic mainstays. There are also recreations of traditional Bedouin and coastal village life, with Persian homes, a traditional coffeehouse, and a small souk where potters and weavers practice their handicrafts at the stalls.
15. Burj al Arab
The Burj Al Arab is the world's tallest hotel, standing 321 meters high on its own artificial island on the Dubai coastline. Designed to resemble a billowing dhow sail, the exterior of the building is lit up by a choreographed, colored lighting show at night. Decadent in every way possible, the Burj Al-Arab is one of the most expensive hotels in the world, with the most luxurious suites costing more than $15,000 for one night.
For those without unlimited credit, the way to experience the over the top opulence is to go for dinner at the underwater Al-Mahara restaurant, where floor to ceiling glass panels in the dining room walls allow you to view sea life while you eat, or you can enjoy lunch at California style fusion restaurant Scape. For the ultimate panoramic views over the city, book afternoon tea at the Skyview Bar, a minimum spend is required, on the 27th floor.
16. Jumeirah Beach
This strip of sandy white bliss is the number one beach destination for Dubai visitors. Hotels are strung out all along its length, with this being one of the most popular places to stay for tourists. The beach has excellent facilities, with plenty of sun loungers, restaurants, and water sports operators offering jet skiing.
While in the area, brush off the sand for an hour and visit the Majlis Ghorfat Um Al-Sheef, just a short hop from the beach. Built in 1955, this was the summer residence of the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum. The residence, made out of gypsum and coral-block, has been restored and maintains much of the original beautiful decor, giving you a better understanding of the opulent lifestyle of Dubai's rulers. The Majlis Gardens feature a reproduction of an impressive Arab irrigation system and many shady date palms.
17. Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary
You don't have to go too far away from the skyscrapers to soak up a more natural vista. The Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary incorporates the mangrove forests and wetlands of Dubai creek. An important stop-off on the migration routes, it's a prime place to spot flamingos in winter when massive flocks of these majestic pink birds wade through the lagoons, backdropped by soaring high-rises. Various hides in prime spots have been set up within the park to allow bird-watchers good views of the bird life.
18. Mall of the Emirates
Mall of the Emirates is one of the city's most famous malls, with the spectacular and surreal Ski Dubai facility inside. The indoor ski slope is complete with chairlifts and a penguin enclosure, all at a continuous temperature of -4 degrees Celsius. There's also a cinema complex and a family entertainment center with a whole host of rides aimed at both the big and small. The shopping opportunities are boundless, as are the eating options, offering every conceivable world cuisine.
19. IMG Worlds of Adventure
This theme park, near Global Village, is immersive entertainment at its finest and has thrills and spills for both kids and big kids. With one zone devoted entirely to Marvel's iconic characters; another to dinosaur themed rides; and a zone where the Cartoon Network takes the helm, with gentler rides and activities for younger children, there's something here for every age. Whether you want to help the Avengers battle Ultron, scare yourself silly in a haunted house, or join Spiderman as he swings through the city, this is heaven for families looking for a fun filled day out.
20. Dubai Opera
For night time attractions, look no further. Opened in mid-2016, Dubai's classy new opera building is the centerpiece of the waterfront Opera District in downtown Dubai and set to become the city's major cultural hub and main entertainment venue.
The Dubai Opera hosts a year round program of famous musical theater productions, concerts by world-class musicians, opera, ballet, and classical music, as well as smaller productions, comedy nights, and concerts. The 2,000 seat theater building itself is an astonishing piece of architectural mastery and one of Dubai's new landmarks, with its highly contemporary glass and steel walls jutting out over the waterfront, built to resemble the curves of a traditional dhow.
21. Kite Beach
This long stretch of white-sand beach, south of Jumeirah beach, isn't just a top destination for sunbathers looking to lap up a lazy day of swimming and soaking up the rays on the sand. Kite Beach is renowned as Dubai's premier destination for kitesurfers and is home to an array of water sports operators. This is where you come to get out on the water kitesurfing or try your hand at stand up paddleboarding, with equipment hire and lessons all easily arranged on the beach.
22. Alserkal Art District
Part of the old Al Quoz industrial district, centered on Alserkal Avenue, has been regenerated to become Dubai's main arts hub and is home to some of the city's most important contemporary art galleries. Established gallery names such as the Green Art Gallery, The Third Line, and the Ayyam Gallery have made their home here, while a host of smaller gallery start-ups have also moved in.
The district's program of rotating collections focuses both on the work of major artists, as well as highlighting new Middle Eastern talent. This emerging district is also the place to come for fashion and accessory boutiques by local designers, pop-up restaurants, and café life, and it showcases the energetic and youthful buzz of a city, which is usually more noted for its corporate face.
23. Aquaventure Waterpark
This waterpark, based at Atlantis, The Palm on the Palm Jumeirah, Dubai's famous man-made island development, is a great place to cool off after a few days of hectic shopping and sightseeing. The waterslide action here is excellent and world-class, with the Aquaconda, the world's longest water slide; a 9 story tall slide, aptly named the Leap of Faith; and water coaster rides. There's also underwater safaris using Sea TREK helmets; a dedicated water play area for smaller children with slides; and for when all your energy has been used up, a 700m sweep of white sand beach.
24. Desert Safari
As well as Dubai's glut of theme parks, a stay in the city can incorporate plenty more active things to do. There are plentiful desert tours, which head out beyond the skyscrapers if you want the kids to sample more natural scenery. Many of the tours include sand boarding or camel riding.
Arabian Adventures has a whole host of desert safari packages in Dubai to suit every kind of adventurer, big or small. With a Nature Walk for the nature lovers, an overnight stay for the Desert Dune Buggies for the thrill seekers, morning desert safaris for the families and evening desert safaris for everyone, there really is a Dubai desert safari to suit everyone.
Their desert safaris take place in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve where only a few operators have access and a portion of your fee supports local conservation projects.
Book a private vehicle with an exclusive evening safari. Choose a private vehicle if you have a group of family or friends.
The Balloon Adventures experience is so much more than just a hot air balloon ride. With the world’s only falconry from the sky performance and riding in vintage Land Rovers through the desert, they give you the complete ‘wow’ experience. This is a desert adventure complete with a lavish breakfast spread in an authentic heritage camp nestled in a Royal desert retreat.
After an unforgettable morning in a magical setting in the desert, you’ll return to Dubai with your appetite for adventure and breakfast fully satisfied!
The Green Planet is Dubai’s very own tropical rainforest. With more than 3,000 species of plants, animals and birds, this green oasis is a sanctuary of exotic flora and fauna. Appealing to visitors of all ages, it caters to fun events like a picnic brunch, swimming with piranhas or playing zookeeper for a day. Aiming to educate guests about the important role the tropical forest plays in the future of Earth, The Green Planet exposes Dubai to another world within its glass dome, all of which is responsibly sourced.
The bio-dome here is made up of four levels: the Canopy, the Midstory, the Forest Floor and the Flooded Rainforest. Each level discusses the role and the importance every part of a rainforest plays. The Green Planet is an experience for the senses with creatures roaming around and waterfalls running strong.
In 2022, the venue began an animal exchange programme with Dubai Safari Park, allowing fascinating creatures to be safely moved to a new home. The initiative fosters the sharing of animal welfare information as well as conservation-focused breeding.