Tips for discovering Dubai… sans Kandura
Dubai: OTT and OMG but I sought to navigate the city with Aussie pace and uncover some quick tips and tricks for first-timers.
It’s the flagship United Arab Emirate. Really, try to name another.
Okay, due to the success release of Sex and the City 2, we all know the tourism campaign that is Abu Dhabi, but for years now it has played the supporting role to its benchmarking big sister: Dubai.
Dubbed as Little-Miss-Perfect by a wealth of travel literacies, I had on good authority that it catered to the tastes of the even the fussiest of palates. From its myriad malls, to crisp polo grounds and man-made… well, just about everything, I flew the 12,000 kilometres London to Dubai to find out if the Hokey Pokey is in fact what it’s all about. With flights to Dubai from 140 destinations, including eight direct a day from London, you’ll be sure to find a price and date to suit, with a little hunting.
Touching down, you feel a pang of Arabian magic as if you’ve rubbed the genie’s lamp to conjure a sanctuary of green from the stretch of barren browns. Its neat perfection knocks your breath for a moment and you indeed feel as if you’re swooping into a place far more flawless than departed.
New Dubai shimmers. Whether it’s the flamboyant fountains and distinct architecture, or the stark contrast of desert against manicured lawns, everything in this city screams Over-the-top. It takes a moment to notice that Sheikh Zayed Road seems to somehow slice through the city with a promenade of picture-perfect hotels and buildings that bounce light off every mirrored wall, making them look like emerald towers.
With the stimulation of colourful beauty hogging my senses, I almost forget how warm it is. I almost forget everything here is somehow authentically unauthentic.
While Dubai’s famed shopping malls and almost clinically-clean Metro system have been well documented over recent years, I sought to navigate the city with Aussie pace and uncover some quick tips and tricks for first-timers.
Get introduced to New Dubai in old ways.
They’re geeky and remind you of Sydney’s inbound tourism market, but hop-on hop-off tours are one of the greatest introductions into a city that money can buy. For just over GBP£40 / AUD$70 you’ll get a 48 hour pass on an air-conditioned bus with commentary and the freedom to travel at your own pace. With a red and blue route that splits the city into New and Old Dubai, you get an immediate sense of East meets West.
New Dubai is a life-size tour of brochure-like perfection. Chief among the 21 places of interest, you’ll drive along the man-perfected roads to the famed Burj al Arab, Mall of Emirates, Jumeirah Beach Park, Burj Khalifa, Palm Island and Atlantis on the Palm.
Currency conversion in a foreign city is always the bearer of bad news (and maths skills!)
An easy rough cheat tip, divide the AED (Arab Emirates Dirham) by six for the British pounds equivalent. For example, a 60 Dirham taxi is approximately £10 pounds. This will reassure you that the tax-free mecca is indeed very reasonably priced. Accustomed to criminally expensive Black Taxis and Tube passes in London, you’ll be delighted to see a state-of-the-art Metro system and easy to navigate landmarks. TIP: Under no circumstances should you eat or drink beyond the yellow marked lines into the stations. A fine of 100AED can be imposed.
Don’t discount Old Dubai in lieu of shiny new lights.
From its origins as a pearl fishing port, Dubai has remarkable buildings alongside the Deira side of the Dubai Creek (TIP: a Big Bus Tour pass will include a free Creek ride) and a culture rich in its Spice Souk markets, mosques and Al Fahidi Fort museum. It may not be a replica of Atlantis with an underwater oasis of dolphin swims and four Celebrity Chef restaurants, but Dubai’s most famous market, the Gold Souk, is well worth the stop. With over 200 stores in the Gold Souk it’s estimated that at any one time the souk contains over 10 tons of gold.
Appreciate the numbers.
There’s heavy stigma attached to the obligation to see Europe’s historical attractions. After all, no one goes to Rome without the pressures to see Vatican City or Colosseum. So you’d be forgiven in thinking Dubai a beach-clad trip with little to see and remember. It doesn’t take long to learn that almost every square metre of the city is unusually blessed with its own tale, and the numbers are everywhere: The man-made World Islands can be individually purchased for sale for anywhere from USD$10m-$100m, Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building at 828m, Dubai Mall is the worlds largest shopping complex covering 1.1 million square metres, and you’ll learn Dubai’s most iconic landmark and 7-star hotel, the Burj Al Arab, hosted the first simulated tennis match between Andre Agassi and Roger Federer on its helipad.
In the land where anything seems possible and too much is never enough, Dubai glistens high onto the list of top destinations to visit. From OTT bars and OMG restaurants, this megalopolis that is Dubai, truly has something for everyone.
- Visit: November to April for more bearable weather
- Eat: At.Mosphere at Burj Khalifa — Guinness World Record for the Highest Restaurant from Ground Level
- Drink: 360° – sip in style at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel for Arabian Ocean views and front-row seats to the Burj Al Arab light show (from the Fountain, nightly)