Dubai is a city that is not afraid of ambition. Pumping billions into positioning itself as a tourist mecca and business hub, the place is an attention-seeking over-achiever of sorts. Sprouting up from the desert almost from scratch over the last 20 years, the entire city has a start-up mentality. Things happen quickly.
But scratch the surface of the 5-Star hotels and mega malls and there’s a lot more to the city than meets the eye, from a thriving art and design ecosystem to a constantly changing food scene, there’s always something new happening. And in a city that is made up almost entirely of foreign expats, there’s a level of cultural diversity that is hard to match, an aspect that most visitors are unlikely to truly appreciate.
Whatever way you look at it, Dubai is a contradiction of sorts. But love it or hate it, it’s a city that demands attention. With all that said we thought we’d give you 20 reasons why you should visit Dubai right now:
1. Dubai has one of the most amazing skylines in the world
OK, let’s get the obvious out of the way early, there are a lot of skyscrapers in Dubai. Whether you’re Downtown around the Burj Khalifa (the tallest man-made structure on earth), or down at the Marina, home to 4 of the 5 tallest residential buildings in the world (pictured), you’re never too far away from a pretty amazing view.
2. It’s a multi-cultural melting pot
With almost 200 different nationalities calling it home, and a massive 90% of the population coming from outside the country, Dubai is arguably one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. In contrast to cities like New York or London that have been inhabited for hundreds of years, Dubai’s ex-pats are mainly first-generation, bringing with them a host of different cultural traditions. The diversity on show in the city is unparalleled.
3. The city is a foodies heaven
With such a diverse population, there is a spectacular range of food styles available in the city. With hundreds of Arab-Persian-Indian-Pakistani-Filipino-French-Japanese-Chinese-British, and American restaurants, both humble and high-end, there’s something for everyone. Throw in the array of food festivals that happen throughout the year and the stream of pop-up eateries and it’s no wonder people talk about newbies putting on the ‘Dubai stone’.
4. Sun, Sea and Sand
This is another pretty obvious one, but definitely one of the main draws for visitors. With more than 300 days of sunshine per year and over 1,000km of coastline, you’re never too far away from getting your tan on.
5. Things happen fast
Not that long ago, Dubai was a sleepy backwater that was mainly home to fishermen and pearl-divers. Since the 90’s however, when the rulers set out to strategically diversify from being mainly an oil-based economy by focusing on tourism and business, things have seriously picked up the pace. These days, new properties and infrastructure seemingly pop up overnight, and rarely a week goes by without an announcement of some new extravagant project.
6. It is the Modern Art and design capital of the Middle East
From the gritty Alserkal Avenue art district that has sprouted up in the industrial Al Quoz area in the last few years, to the slick art galleries sprinkled through the Financial Centre, Dubai has a pretty diverse art scene. The Dubai Design District has just been opened, and when you throw in the array of art and design festivals like Art Dubai and Design Days taking place, there’s always something going on for the aesthetically minded.
7. The Palm Island
Palm Jumeirah is the world’s largest artificial island, built between 2001 and 2006, it’s home to multi-million dollar mega-mansions and a host of 5-star luxury hotels, including the iconic Atlantis The Palm.
8. Take in the view from the tallest building on the planet
At nearly twice the height of New York’s Empire State Building, the Burj Khalifa is pretty tall. 2,722 ft (828m) tall to be exact. The 163-floor building is the tallest in the world by quite a margin.
9. It’s a shopper’s paradise
Home to the biggest mall in the world (the imaginatively titled Dubai Mall) and with high-end retail locations seemingly on every corner, it’s no surprise that visitors come to Dubai from far and wide for a bit of retail therapy. While many countries have January Sales after Christmas, Dubai has a month-long shopping festival with concerts and giveaways where shoppers can win cars and gold.
10. Visit the traditional Gold Souk
In stark contrast to some of the gigantic mega malls, you can take a more traditional approach by heading down to the Gold Souk, an Arabian jewellery market located in the oldest part of the city. The souk has been a central area of trade in Dubai since the 1940’s and it’s estimated that, at any one time, approximately 10 tons of gold is present in the souk.
11. They know how to put on a decent firework display
Ever since the opening of the Atlantis hotel in 2009, Dubai has tried to constantly outdo itself when it comes to elaborate firework displays. The Palm and The World Islands hosted the biggest fireworks display in history in 2014 (below) and the spectacular New Year’s Eve firework display at the Burj Khalifa has become the focal point of the City’s celebrations since the building opened in 2010, akin to Sydney’s Harbour Bridge or New York’s Times Square.
12. Take an abra across Dubai Creek
While most people tend to picture huge skyscrapers and glitzy 5-Star hotels when they think of Dubai, just down the road, you can swap the chaos of the modern metropolis for the hustle and bustle of the Creek, a hive of activity since the pearl-fishing industry sprouted up in the 1930s. You can cross the river in a traditional abra for only 20c.
13. World Expo 2020
In November 2013, Dubai was chosen as the host city for the 2020 World Expo and the plans for the Expo Village are simply amazing. A purpose-built 438-hectare site will house the event which is estimated to attract 25 million visitors over 6 months and bring $40 billion of investment into the economy.
14. Stay in a ‘7-Star’ Hotel
Dubai has some of the most extravagant hotels in the world. None more so than the supposed ‘7 Star’ Burj Al Arab which opened in 1999 and has become an iconic symbol of the City. It stands on its own artificial island 280m from Jumeirah beach and is connected to the mainland by a private curving bridge. The hotel has it’s own fleet of Rolls Royces for its guests, not to mention a private helipad if you happen to have your own chopper.
15. Friday ‘Brunches’
Not a brunch in the traditional sense – brunches in Dubai are more of an over-indulgent all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink mega feast. Dubai brunches can get very messy, very quickly.
16. Go skiing in the desert
Yep, there’s a ski slope in the desert. A 22,500 square meter, 85m high, 5 slopes indoor ski resort to be exact. It also has the world’s first 400 metre long indoor black run.
17. Take in the biggest fountain display in the world
The Dubai Fountain is a pretty spectacular sight. Made by the same guys that created the iconic Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas, it is illuminated by 6,600 lights and 25 coloured projectors. It’s almost 1,000ft long and shoots water up to 500ft into the air accompanied by a range of classical, contemporary, Arabic and world music.
18. Some of the best beach bars and night clubs around
With miles of stunning beach fronts and no shortage of willing partygoers, it’s no surprise that Dubai has its fair share of slick beach bars where you can soak up the rays during the day and be entertained by some of the best DJs on the international circuit come night time. Away from the beaches, some of the biggest internationals night club brands like Pacha, Mahiki and Blue Marlin Ibiza have opened up over recent years.
19. The Royal Family are actually pretty cool
Unlike most heads of state, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, or Sheikh Mo for short, is a pretty cool guy. His son the Crown Prince, Sheikh Hamdan is a bit of an adrenaline junkie with a taste for extreme sports. Both are keen endurance equestrian athletes and have massive followings on social media. And for good reason too. Case in point, the below.
20. It is one of the biggest travel hubs in the world
Dubai International Airport (DXB) recently took over from London Heathrow as the busiest airport in the world for international passenger traffic with over 70 million passengers passing through its gates. Emirates Airline, Dubai’s state carrier, has also grown into the world’s biggest international airline and, with more than two-thirds of the entire population of the planet within an 8-hour flight, no matter where you are in the world, you’ve probably got direct flights to the City.