From the timeless tranquillity of the desert to the lively bustle of the souk, Dubai offers a kaleidoscope of attractions for visitors.
The emirate embraces a wide variety of scenery in a very small area. In a single day, the tourist can experience everything from rugged mountains and awe-inspiring sand dunes to sandy beaches and lush green parks, from dusty villages to luxurious residential districts and from ancient houses with wind towers to ultra-modern shopping malls.
The emirate is both a dynamic international business centre and a laid-back tourist escape; a city where the sophistication of the 21st century walks hand in hand with the simplicity of a bygone era.But these contrasts give Dubai its unique flavour and personality; a cosmopolitan society with an international lifestyle, yet with a culture deeply rooted in the Islamic traditions of Arabia.
Having expanded along both banks of the Creek, Dubai’s central business district is divided into two parts — Deira on the northern side and Bur Dubai to the south — connected by a tunnel and two bridges. Each has its share of fine mosques and busy souks, of public buildings, shopping malls, hotels, office towers, banks, hospitals, schools, apartments and villas.
Outside this core, the city extends to the neighbouring emirate of Sharjah to the north, while extending south and west in a long ribbon of development alongside the Gulf, through the districts of Satwa, Jumeirah and Umm Suqeim.
The Creek, a natural sea-water inlet which cuts through the centre of the city, is the historic focal point of life in Dubai. A stroll along its banks evokes the city’s centuries-old trading traditions.
Visitors will be captivated by the colour and bustle of the loading and unloading of dhows which still ply ancient trade routes to places as distant as India and East Africa. An attractive way to view the Creek and the dhows is from an abra, one of the small water taxis which criss-cross the Creek from the souks of Deira to those on the Bur Dubai side.
Boatmen will also take visitors on a fascinating hour-long trip from the abra embarkation points to the mouth of the Creek and inland to the Maktoum Bridge, passing on the way many of the city’s historic and modern landmarks.
There are three main excavation sites in Dubai, at Al Ghusais, Al Sufooh and Jumeirah. The first two are graveyards dating back more than 2,000 years. The Jumeirah site reveals artefacts from the 7th to 15th centuries. Though not yet open to the public, tourists or tour operators may obtain a permit from Dubai Museum to visit the digs.
The old Bastakiya district with its narrow lanes and tall wind-towers gives a tantalising glimpse of old Dubai. Immediately to the east of Al Fahidi Fort is the largest concentration of traditional courtyard houses with wind towers. In the past, the city was famous for a mass of wind towers which lined the Creek on either side. These were not merely decorative; they were the only means of cooling houses in the days before mains electricity. Bastakiya is currently undergoing renovation and preservation and will eventually become a small ‘tourist village’ with a museum, a cultural centre, restaurants and an art gallery.
Sheikh Saeed’s House
Dating from the late 1800s, Sheikh Saeed’s House was built in a commanding position near the sea so the Ruler could observe shipping activity from its balconies. With its wind towers and layers of rooms built around a central courtyard, it is a fine example of regional architecture.
The city has many fine mosques. One of the largest and most beautiful — Jumeirah Mosque — is a spectacular example of modern Islamic architecture. Built of stone in medieval Fatimid tradition, the mosque with its twin minarets and majestic dome is a city landmark. It is particularly attractive at night when subtle lighting throws its artistry into relief. The elaborate Jumeirah Mosque is Dubai’s most admired mosque from the outside and one of Dubai’s most photographed sights.
Situated on the Bur Dubai side of the Creek near the Ruler’s Court, Grand Mosque was re-built in 1998 and now has, at 70 metres, the city’s tallest minaret. It has 45 small domes in addition to nine large ones boasting stained glass panels, making it a distinguished landmark and important place of worship.
Built around 1870 the Nahar tower was one in line of defences to the east and north of the city. One of three watchtowers guarding the old city, the restored Burj Nahar in its picturesque gardens in Deira is popular with photographers.
Bait Al Wakeel
Built in 1934 by the late Sheikh Rashid, Bait Al Wakeel was Dubai’s first office building. At the edge of the Creek near the abra landing, the building has been completely restored and now houses a museum devoted to Dubai’s fishing and maritime traditions.
The souks on both sides of the Creek are attractive not just for their shopping bargains but also as places for the sightseer and photographer.A huddle of narrow alleyways has survived on the Deira side despite intensive building in recent years. In the tiny lanes of the spice souk, the atmosphere and the scents of the past can be savoured. Bags of spices, incense, rose petals and traditional medicinal products are stacked outside each stall.
Along the slightly larger lanes of the gold souk, each shop window is crammed with gold necklaces, rings, bangles, earrings and brooches. In the evening the area is a hive of activity. Gold prices are among the lowest in the world.
In other small streets, the visitor can find shops selling nargilehs (hookah or hubble-bubble pipes) and coffee pots, and nearby tea stalls where both of these items are in daily use.
There are traditional bakeries where large flat loaves of delicious unleavened bread are baked to order inside a domed oven called tandoor. Small textile shops sell veils with decorated edges, pantaloons with embroidered anklets, and dress lengths with similarly embroidered necklines reminiscent of The Arabian Nights. On the Bur Dubai side of the Creek are lanes full of textile shops, where a blaze of colourful raw silks and cottons hang in profusion in shop windows.
The fish souk in Deira is an attraction in itself. Early in the morning and late at night, local fishermen unload mountains of fresh fish which they sell in a frenzied bargaining session. Kingfish, red snapper, rock cod (the popular hammour), barracuda, tuna, lobster, crab, king prawn, sea bream, squid, pomfret, shark, mackerel, sardine and other species are available in abundance for most of the year.
Al Fahidi Fort, which houses the Dubai Museum, is another imposing building. It once guarded the city’s landward approaches. Built around 1799, it has served variously as palace, garrison and prison. It was renovated in 1970 for use as a museum; further restoration and the addition of galleries was completed in 1995. Colourful and evocative dioramas, complete with life-size figures and sound and lighting effects, vividly depict everyday life in pre-oil days.
Umm Al Sheif Majlis
The summer resort of the late Ruler of Dubai has been restored and is open to the public. Built in the early 1950s in the coastal Umm Suqeim area, the majlis gardens feature a reproduction of the traditional falaj irrigation system. The majlis provides an intriguing insight into Dubai’s rapid development.
Heritage and Diving Villages
A traditional heritage village, located near the mouth of the Creek, has been created where potters and weavers display their crafts. Here the visitor can look back in time and experience some of Dubai’s heritage. The Diving Village forms part of an ambitious plan to turn the entire Shindagha area into a cultural microcosm, recreating life in Dubai as it was in days gone by.
Bani Yas Square
Dominating Bani Yas Square in the heart of Deira is Deira Tower with its distinctive circular ‘cap’. An early example of the effort to blend modern architecture with the older surroundings, Deira Tower incorporates features designed to soften the impact of the harsh summer climate on the occupants of shops, offices and apartments within. Nearby on the Creekside, strong vertical lines ending in arches on the skyline identify Al Owais Tower.
A group of distinctive and remarkable modern buildings are ranged near the purpose-built dhow wharfage beside the Maktoum Bridge, including the Etisalat Tower, the Department of Economic Development, Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, The National Bank of Dubai headquarters and Dubai Creek Tower.
Located in Jumeirah, the Dubai Zoo is a popular attraction, especially for families. Featured in its large aviary are regional birds of prey. Nine species of large cats and seven species of primates are on show, along with many Arabian mammals. The zoo is shortly to undergo relocation and redevelopment allowing animals to live in areas designed to be as similar to their natural environment as possible.
Parks and Gardens
Situated around Dubai are numerous public parks and gardens offering a peaceful respite from urban life. Particularly popular with families, they offer attractive picnic spots and children’s play areas with a variety of entertainment facilities. The largest of the city’s parks are Jumeirah Beach Park, Dubai Creekside Park, Mushrif Park, Al Mamzar Park and Safa Park, while many smaller ones throughout the city provide pleasant green oases.
Even for the non-golfer, Dubai’s golf clubs are worth a visit, both for the spectacular architecture of their clubhouses and as examples of the successful greening and landscaping of the desert. Full details of the courses are given in the Sporting sections. A nine-hole ‘country’ course is also available at the Hatta Fort Hotel where golfers have a unique fun experience of playing in craggy mountain scenery.
Outside the City
From seashore to mountain peaks, Dubai is a land of great natural beauty and variety. The desert, that accounts for much of the emirate’s almost 4,000 sq km area, encompasses rocky plains, high dunes and, between these two extremes, countless combinations of sand, stone and sparse vegetation.
This seemingly barren expanse supports a surprising diversity of wildlife, both plant and animal, though much of the former is seasonal and the latter nocturnal. Once isolated and forbidding, the desert now offers a fascinating and accessible experience for visitors, with an array of recreational opportunities from safaris by four-wheel-drive vehicle to sand-skiing. A number of roads now cross the wilderness, joining settlements and oases where, thanks to irrigation, ever-larger areas are turning green under the cultivation of vegetables and fodder crops.
Along the flanks of the Hajar Mountains, naturally watered date gardens flourish, their foliage a magnet for birds. In the mountain enclave of Hatta, restoration work has preserved the old falaj or irrigation canals. Nearby, water can be found year round in wadis, steep-sided valleys gouged from the mountains by torrents unleashed by winter rains. The wadis are popular with naturalists and explorers, tranquil in contrast to the clamour of the city. The starkly beautiful exposed rock formations of the mountainsides provide a fascinating insight into the geological origins of the area and the forces which sculpted the rugged landscape.
Other projects are in progress. Here you a list of the main upcoming projects.
Cargo Village Expansion: A Dhs 730 million lage began in June 1998. it is expected to significantly increase cargo handing capacity to almost 3 million tons annually by the year 2018. The 170,000 square metre project will be in 3 stages and is due for completion by the year 2010. It aims at sustaining cargo growth and enable Dubai to meet the new millennium demands. Stage two will upgrade the existing cargo terminals to a semi-automatic status. In the same phase, a new multistory Mega Cargo Terminal (Terminal 1) will be built. Completion of this construction is expected by 2005. In phase three, following the commissioning of Terminal 1, Emirates and Mail Services will move into the new Terminal that will also accommodate general cargo growth of other airlines.
Jebel Ali Port Expansion: A massive Dhs. 4.20 billion expansion plan for Jebel Ali Port will increase capacity from the present 4 million, 20-foot containers (TEUs) to 21.8 million. The project comprises four phases extending until 2020.
Global Archipelago Islands: Al Nakheel Properties will build 30 islands that include hotels, apartments and entertainments area. The 30 islands are located 8 kilometers from Jumeirah beach between Jumeirah Palm and Rashid Port. The Project shall be completed by 2005.
Dubai Railway Project: An ambitious project to give Dubai a public railway transport system is taking final shape with construction scheduled to start by 2003. The expected cost of the project is approximately Dhs. 2.80 billion. There will be two lines – Red and Green – the combined length of both lines will be 50 km. There will be 37 stations. The Red Line will stretch from Sharjah border to Jebel Ali. The Green Line will stretch from Dubai International Airport to Al Ghubaiba area, via Khalid bin Al Waleed Road. The main station will be Al Ittihad Square. Anticipated year of competition is 2008.
Dubai Festival City: Dubai Festival City, a multi-phase project expected to transform the 4 km site along the creek waterfront in Al Garhoud into a world class one-stop destination for dining, shopping, family entertainment and conventions will cost an estimated Dh 6 billion. Construction will commence soon and the first phase of the projects will be completed in 2006. The Festival City will be executed by Abdulla Al Futtaim Group and will be the biggest tourism and commercial project in the Middle East.
Terminal 2 Expansion: Dubai International Airport will start the expansion of Terminal 2 at a cost of Dh 500 million. Phase one will be completed by August 2003 and the second phase will be completed by 2005. The expansion will have dedicated sections for passengers processing facilities – immigration, visa delivery and transfers, a separate section for well wishers, and a 300-seat restaurant. A second baggage claim carousel will be added along with a dedicated transit lounge and two new boarding gates.
Development of Al Jadaf: Dubai Municipality will start the development of Al Jadaf area an area of 6 sq kilometers. In this new area, there will be 6,819 housing units in addition to an entertainment area.
Deira Corniche Improvements: The Deira Corniche will have a new frontage at a cost of Dh 3.307 billion. Dubai Municipality will development the corniche in 2003 and it will cover the area between Hamriyah Port and Port Rashid. The area covers about 5 sq km along Deira beach. As part of the project, the Municipality will develop the existing Fish and Vegetable Market and the Hamriyah Market will be shifted to Al Awir. The project will include commercial buildings, an art museum, social clubs, tourism centers etc. A special area will be reserved for the monorail, which will connect the Deira Corniche with Bur Dubai passing near the Al Shindagha tunnel. An artificial island will be built in front of the beach and will be connected to the corniche by a bridge. The island will also have four hotels.
Dubai Airport Expansion: The Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) has revised its growth projections for passenger traffic through Dubai International Airport to 70 million passengers by 2016 and 100 million by 2025, up from a previously projected 60 million per year in 2020. Accordingly the new expansion will be designed to handle up to 70 million passengers a year. Work on the airport expansion began in mid-2002.
Greenhouse Projects: The DH 1.2 million-greenhouse project near the camel track at Nad Al Sheba started in January 2002.
Jebel Ali Coastal Area Development: This project covers a 1,275 hectares area, which will be developed into a residential and tourist’s area with the construction of hotels, beach cabins, housing and public utilities in line with international standards. Main features will include artificial water canals and lakes that will crisscross the entire area in a variety of shapes. A Business and Financial Island will also be set up with skyscrapers, international hotels and tourists resorts along the water desalination plant is also proposed as part of the project. The plant will have a daily production capacity of 3000 megawatts of electricity, as it will treat more than 260 million gallons of water daily.
Umm Suqeim Beach Project: this project involves development of the beach into a tourist destination. It will include a car park, coffee shops, shops for selling water sports accessories and marine equipment and the rental of various equipment.
Green Community Village: Union Properties is embarking on a Dh 650 million integrated community village project at the Dubai Investment Park. The company will be the first in Dubai to introduce 30-year lease contracts for expatriates at the Village, which will have 700 residential units.
Dubai Autodrome and Business Park: Union Properties plans to build Dubai Autodrome, the Middle East’s first fully integrated motor sports facility. A 5km circuit designed to Formula One specifications, complete with grandstand, hospitality suites, retail shops, F1-themed refreshment outlets and restaurants. Facilities will include educational centres for 4*4 and rally driving, indoor and outdoor kart tracks, junior Formula BMW, Touring Cars, Formula 3, American Le Mans, Super Bikes plus off-road driving and driver training contres. In keeping with Dubai’s quality standards, Dubai Autodrome aims to be the region’s motor racing hub. An Automotive Business Park will be established within the complex and available for leasing to support the industry.
Hydrofoils Hotel, Dubai – Epic destination with 220 suites under the sea
Dubai is to host the world’s first underwater hotel called Hydropolis. The hotel will resemble a giant submarine anchored in the Gulf, and accessed only by a tunnel via a waterside reception area. Work on the AED 1780-millon 220-suit facilities would begin this year, finishing in 2006. While the technical details are still being worked out, the property will be built down to a depth of 20 metres, some 300 metres off the Jumeirah coast. The land station, a connecting tunnel and the and the submarine complex. The land station will be the reception area, and will also feature administrative facilities. The connecting tunnel provides the access, while the submarine complex is the hotel itself.