Appropriately housed in one of the city’s oldest buildings, this museum provides a well-laid-out and comprehensive history of Dubai. Learn exactly how and why, in just a third of a century, this extraordinary destination has risen from being a simple desert settlement to one of the most progressive and modern cities in the Middle East. Many exhibits take the form of lifelike dioramas, while a separate archaeological exhibition covers the ancient history of the region, with a display of exhibits discovered in several excavated tombs
Noisy, chaotic and colourful, Dubai’s souqs are an enticing reminder that you are, indeed, in a foreign country – something you might forget when you’re poolside at your five-star hotel. The small Spice Souq is a heady introduction to Middle Eastern exotic herbs and spices, while Bur Dubai’s Textile Souq (p66) is another assault on the senses with its vividly patterned fabrics. Don’t miss nearby Hindi Lane (p65), a tiny alleyway flanked by stalls selling brilliantly coloured religious decorations, or the Deira Gold Souq, which has a dazzling display of jewellery at remarkably low prices. Deira Gold Souq
Wandering around the maze of narrow lanes in the Bastakia Quarter provides a tangible sense of historic Arabian architecture and culture. The streets are flanked by lowlying traditional buildings, complete with wind towers, arabesque windows, and decorative gypsum screens. Punctuated by the occasional splash of dazzling bougainvillea, this evocative area are home to a couple of the city’s most characterful guesthouses, as well as cafes, galleries, and museums. If you want to learn more about local history, join one of the informative organized walking tours.
Dubai’s otherworldly megaprojects got you craving a dose of reality? Walk alongside the Creek and it’s easy to imagine life in Dubai half a century ago. The wooden dhows, bustling souqs, stately wind towers, and graceful mosques have barely changed over the decades. Wander the streets surrounding the Creek in Bur Dubai and Deira to experience a vibrant multicultural region that has become home to hundreds of thousands of people from across the globe. The most evocative route to cross the Creek is by hopping on one of the traditional abras (water taxis).
This landmark hotel, with its dramatic design that mimics the sail of a ship, floats on its own man-made island and has become the iconic symbol of Dubai’s boom years. If you’re not in the ultra-moneyed league that can afford to stay here, you can still indulge in a little make-believe by opting for one of the cocktail or afternoon-tea packages, or by splashing out on a romantic dinner in the underwater restaurant. The interior is all about impact, drama, and unadulterated bling, with dancing fountains, gold fittings, giant aquariums, and private whirlpool baths your butler can fill with champagne (or caviar) – if you so wish.
6 Dubai and Abu Dhabi are rapidly evolving as exciting centers for art in the Middle East. In Dubai, the annual Art Dubai art fair has been instrumental in reviving the city’s art culture. Ranging from the dusty industrial surroundings of Al-Quoz to the chic sophistication of the city’s financial center and the bohochic Bastakia Quarter, the contemporary art scene here is buzzing. It’s a similar picture in Abu Dhabi with its dedicated cultural ‘island’, Saadiyat, which includes branches of leading international art museums the Louvre and the Guggenheim. Shishas by artist Mounir Fatm i at Art Dubai 2012 (p20)
The first rule is to realise that, as far as shopping malls are concerned, there are no rules in Dubai. Just arrive without preconceived ideas and be prepared for sights and experiences that go way beyond mere retail therapy. In Dubai, shopping malls represent an integral part of the culture and lifestyle; they are places not just for conspicuous consumption but for extravagant entertainment and world-class dining, Disney-style theme parks and extraordinary architecture. In summer, malls are where everyone retreats to escape the heat, socialise, clinch deals and puff on sheesha pipes. Ski Dubai at Mall of the Emirates (p113)