For me living in Sydney, Dubai was always just a convenient stopover on my way to Europe. It was around 2006 that I ditched Asia as my stopover, favouring Dubai because the longest part of the journey to Europe was done first. Each time I transited here I wondered what exciting adventures, what jaw dropping sights, what amazing experiences awaited me in this famous, bustling metropolis.
At the end of my 2018 Central Asia trip visiting the Five Stans I decided to add on five days in Dubai.
History and Facts
To help you with your general and pub trivia knowledge I’ll start with either reminding (or informing) you that Dubai is not a sovereign nation, rather it is a city within the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Furthermore, it is not the capital city of the UAE. That title belongs to Abu Dhabi.
The area of modern-day UAE, Qatar and Bahrain were all under British Protection as the Trucial States until 1971. At that time, Qatar and Bahrain each declared independence whilst six emirates, including the Emirate of Dubai, decided to unify to create the UAE. The seventh emirate joining the following year.
The story of Dubai’s journey from small fishing village to a major global city has all to do with oil. Initially established in the 1700’s as a small fishing village, by 1901, under British Protection it became a popular trading port as it offered no taxation to merchants. Gradually, the money earned from trading was invested in infrastructure. In 1966, oil was finally discovered off shore in Dubai’s territorial waters leading to an infrastructure, construction and population boom.
Realising that oil reserves will dry up in the future, Dubai started forward thinking and branching out to specialising in other industries. In 1985, Dubai set up the Jebel Ali Free Zone which is the largest economic free zone in the world that offers corporations operating within the zone little or no taxation. This further propelled Dubai’s growth as numerous global corporations began operating here. After the success of Jebel Ali, more free zones were created including Internet City, Media City and Maritime City, this coupled with increasing demand for oil and oil prices saw an even greater boom in Dubai.
Because of this, when the oil runs out, expected in 2029, Dubai will continue to be a major economic, trading and commercial player in the world.
When: September 2018
How: I flew the UAE’s budget airline FlyDubai from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. FlyDubai offers direct links to exciting exotic destinations at low prices. But you get what you pay for.
With Emirates, it’s not difficult to get here from any major city in the world.
Visa: Australians can get a free 30-Day tourist visa on arrival at Dubai airport.
Accommodation: At the luxurious and fun-filled Atlantis, The Palm. With adventure at every turn you can read about my stay here.
Currency: UAE Dirham AU$1 = 2.27 Dirhams (at time of writing).
Five days in Dubai
Day 1 and 2 – Staycation
I didn’t leave the resort. Didn’t move and enjoyed the amazing facilities of the Atlantis resort and honestly no regrets. Dubai has so many luxury resorts throughout the city. Why not enjoy one of them.
Day 3 – Sightseeing
I decided to actually venture out of the hotel. Luckily, right next to my hotel was a stop for City Sightseeing Dubai’s Hop On Hop Off Bus, which became my main form of transport around the city. It is definitely convenient with stops at major attractions including the Mall of Emirates, Dubai Mall, Dubai Marina, the Dubai public beaches and the historic area of Dubai.
Now some people hate doing the touristy thing and would rather navigate their own way around the city themselves. Fair enough. A reminder that Dubai is not a pedestrian friendly city but when temperatures hover over 40 degrees celsius every day you don’t really want to be walking around in the heat anyway. It does have an extensive transport system. Firstly, the monorail that connects the Palm Jumeirah to the mainland and then once on the mainland, a high-tech metro system. It isn’t completed as there are still some stations to be built but it is operational, complete with air-conditioned stations, walkways connecting other metro lines and they are driverless. Furthermore, their taxis are pretty convenient and not that expensive and sometimes, just much simpler.
All sightseeing itineraries of Dubai should start with the big one. The Burj Khlaifa. This famous tower has become the symbol of Dubai. The world’s tallest building, at 828m, is an architectural marvel and is a perfect representation for the epic ingenuity, architecture, and forward thinking that Dubai has worked so hard to become as a city.
There are four ways to enjoy an impressive view of Dubai from the Burj Khalifa. You can find out more information on each of them including the most up to date prices and book online here:
1. The Lounge:
The World’s highest lounge at 585m offers a buffet breakfast, high tea, champagne and canapes and a DJ depending on the time of day. With all packages including access to the outdoor terrace.
2. Burj Khalifa Sky:
For a more intimate and exclusive experience you can travel up to the 148th floor and enjoy the World’s highest observation deck outdoor terrace at a vertigo inducing 555m. If you choose this option you also get a personalised tour by a ‘Guest Ambassador’, an included drink as well as a comfortable, more low-key ambiance. In addition you also get access to the main observation decks at level 124 and 125.
3. At The Top:
This is the main observation deck of the tower on levels 124 and 125. But you do get to go on the world’s fastest elevator.
After umming and ahhing which option to choose I was all set on booking option 2 because I thought “might as well get a 2 for 1 deal”, even if it is a little bit more pricier. That was until I saw option 4 – the At.Mosphere Restaurant.
On Level 122, 442m above the ground is the highest restaurant in the world. It is, absolutely, fine dining with prices to match but I thought “why not” whilst securing my reservation. I saved it for my final night in Dubai as a toast to a grand adventure in this city and honestly it was the perfect ending. I was even sat right on the window seat where I could see Dubai’s famous fountain show from dizzying heights.
Now why the haze? Turns out the haze is a very common natural occurrence in Dubai. It is not pollution but heat haze caused by very hot and humid conditions.
Did you know the tower is cleaned four times a year but each cleaning cycle takes three months? This means that the tower is being constantly cleaned and there are people whose job it is to constantly be suspended some 800m above the ground. Solid. Pass. For me.
Once you descend back to Earth don’t forget to checkout the fountain show. It is impressive and the soundtrack is constantly changing with music from around the world; K-Pop, Arabic, Top 40, you name it. I don’t really have tips on where the best viewpoint is as the entire foreshore gets pretty crowded. But, if you are running a little late bypass the whole area that is directly outside the Dubai Mall and head around to where the restaurants are. It fills up less quickly here but don’t get me wrong it will still be busy.
There are options to ride on a boat and walk on a footpath further into the fountain during the show. I didn’t choose either of this because reviews of the footpath seemed a little sub par and the boat with the fountain in the background, as seen from the foreshore, made for better photos in my opinion.
Day 4 (AM) – Helicopter ride
One of the best ways to see Dubai is from above. Fly High Dubai is conveniently located at the Atlantis Resort. You will get a new appreciation for Dubai from the air as the helicopter flies passed the highlights all in one 30 – 45 minutes ride.
It also takes you to the historic centre of Dubai, the Dubai Creek where this huge metropolis started as a small trading village. This is where are a number of souks (marketplaces) are located, including the gold, textiles and food souks. In this area you can also catch a traditional dhow boat across the creek for a true insight into the historic times of Dubai.
Interestingly, further up the historic Dubai Creek you get a true juxtaposition of time. An example of Dubai’s unique and futuristic architectural style that is has become famous for. The Dubai Frame is another observation deck for a different view of Dubai
You will also get to fly over what is perhaps Dubai’s most ambitious project; the creation of the World Islands. A completely artificial archipelago, 4km away from the shoreline in the Persian Gulf, built in the shape of a map of the World.
Now, it isn’t a true representation of the World. For example, the ‘Monaco Island’ (Monaco is not an Island) is located next to the ‘Sweden Island’ (also not an island and also, in reality, in a very different section of Europe). The islands itself are completed but development on the some 300 islands has stalled. Only ‘Lebanon Island’ is completely developed for private and corporate functions. A mega resort called “the Heart of Europe” is in the middle of construction on the ‘European Islands’. Basically, the only way I will probably ever enjoy these islands is from the air.
I’m going to be brutally honest here. When you are booking your helicopter ride they are going to ask you your weight and height. A confronting question, sure, but it is for safety so the helicopter doesn’t break Dubai’s strict weight regulations. On the day of my helicopter ride I sat through the safety demonstration and then was weighed. There were going to be 4 other people on my tour, who were also weighed. I was then approached by a manager who asked if there was any chance I could postpone my ride because the helicopter was overweight. It made sense, I was travelling alone, I was the obvious choice.
Obviously someone wasn’t entirely honest with their details or else they wouldn’t have scheduled all of us on one flight. Regardless, I accepted and was rewarded with an upgraded tour, a partial refund and a free digital copy of all my professional photos. The day of my initial ride was a perfect day while the day of the actual ride was really hazy. So I regretted that part but in the end it was still great and I ended up with some money back.
Day 4 (PM) – Head into the desert
To get away from the crazyness of the city I took a tour into the desert. Don’t get me wrong, Dubai is wack bang in the middle of the desert, the heat reminds you of that, but the tall skyscrapers and the luxury resorts kind of detract from that feeling. Luckily, a short drive out of the city and your surrounded by a sea of sand dunes with no sign of civilisation.
Arabian Adventures have a whole range of different desert safari tours. I took a sunset one because I wanted to sing “Arabian Nights” at the top of my lungs as the sun went down… obviously.
After an included hotel pick up it was about an hour drive before we entered the desert national park. Our tyres deflated, we began a ‘dune bashing’ drive. It was fun, but after my adventures in Tajikistan two weeks before it was hardly the most exhilarating experience I’ve had. Regardless, a whole lot of fun and really a ‘must do’ when in Dubai. You can do more exhilarating rides in dune buggies as well. Next time.
Then it was time for the sunset.
*sings at top of my lungs*
After the sunset we made our way to our desert camp where we could ride camels, admire souvenirs, enjoy a three course meal, unlimited drinks and were treated to a belly dance show. By far my favourite moment of the night what when the lights were turned off, everybody was told to be silent and we just gazed at the stars above. Silent, peaceful, reflective, in awe.
Day 5 – Hit up the Malls
Could I afford anything at most of shops at the Dubai Mall or the Mall of Emirates? No.
Was there a K-Mart, Target or Walmart equivalent? Also no.
Did I enjoy window browsing and the air conditioning at two of the World’s largest shopping centres? You betcha
Don’t forget at the Mall of Emirates you can also ski in the artificial ski slopes and the Dubai Mall you can visit the Aquarium.
Five days done. Laters Dubai. Thanks for an epic stay. You truly are more than a stopover.
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