One of the most popular travel destinations today is Dubai. Dubai is the most modern and progressive of the seven emirates and is a relatively new tourist destination because it has gained it’s popularity in recent years.
Located just five hours from Europe and three hours from most parts of the Middle East, Near East and India, it makes a great short break. The city is located on a coastal strip that is bordered by a desert and gets very hot and humid during the summer. Dubai has several airports and frequent visitors from countries granted automatic visa on entry can purchase an e-gate card to speed up immigration formalities and save passport pages. U.S citizens with valid passports can obtain visitor visas at the port of entry for no fee, for stays of less than 60 days. Dubai International Airport is not only the largest hub in the Middle East but is also the home base of Emirates. The airport is famous for its duty free shopping. Sharjah International Airport is located in the emirate Sharjah and is only half an hour from Dubai. It is taking an increasing number of international flights as the Dubai airport struggles to keep up with demand. A typical taxi ride from there to Dubai will cost about 50 Dirhams.
Taxis are usually hard to find and the easiest place to find them is at one of the malls. They are metered at AED 1.60/km and the rates of all taxi companies are the. There is a standing charge of AED 20 from the airport. All other street pickups attract a standing charge of AED 3.00 during the day and 3.50 at night between 10pm and 6am. Sometimes it may be easier to travel by bus. Dubai Public Transport is a cheaper means of traveling within several districts in Dubai. Public buses are clean and cheap but not very comprehensive. The bus system is most useful for getting between different areas of central Dubai or between the various suburbs. The main bus stations are Gold Souq Market in Deira and Al Ghubaiba in Bur Dubai. The fare is usually 1.50 AED and upto 3.00 AED for an hour long ride to the suburbs.
There are many Rent-A-Cars that provide a mode of transportation for very cheap rates and very little paperwork. Although an international driving permit is not required, some companies may not rent a car without one. Usually, if you are from the US, UK, or Australia your driving license can be used to obtain a temporary driving permit at the licensing office in the City Centre shopping mall. Some agencies will rent out cars with drivers included. An easy way to cross Dubai Creek is by an abra, which is a small ferry. Abra stations are located along the creek on both sides. The cross-river trip costs one Dirham and the service is available around the clock. Abras can also be hired for a private tour. The Roads Transport Authority has introduced a Metro Rail System. Construction is already underway and the first phase is expected to be completed by late 2009. There will be more than six metro lines covering various Dubai developments.
THINGS TO DO
Dubai is definitely most famous for it’s shopping. Shops open as early as 9am and stay open to 10pm and sometimes as late as 12am or 1am on weekends. Discounts are almost always available in the souks, markets, whereas prices in malls tend not to be negotiable. The Dubai Shopping event has been the biggest shopping event in the Middle East for about the last eleven years. During this time almost every shop has a sale. Gold Souk and Spice Souk are two historic markets that have been a part of Dubai since its origin. Gold Souk sells 22k gold and it is quite expensive, although shopkeepers are prepared to bargain. Spice Souk is nearby and both are located at the mouth of the creek.
There are many malls in Dubai. Mercato, Italian for market, is the only Renaissance themed shopping mall in the Middle East. Town Centre Jumeirah offers a stress free shopping environment with a spacious atmosphere. Mall of the Emirates is the largest shopping mall outside of North America. Ibn Battuta Mall has areas themed around six countries: India, Persia, Egypt, China, Tunisia, and Andalusia. It also has an extensive and permanent exhibition of Islamic science, invention, and astronomy. A visit to Dubai is not complete without a visit to Deira City Centre, the most popular mall. Others include Souk Madinat Jumeirah, Burjuman Centre, Wafi Mall, Emirates Towers Boulevard, Gold and Diamond Park, Al Ain Plaza, and Festival City. Several malls have a large Carrefour, where you can find the lowest cost electronics.
The water sport opportunities in Dubai are endless with some of the whitest and sandiest beaches in the world. Entertainment has grown as Dubai has transformed from a small town to a bustling city. There are many music and sport events throughout the year. On a Desert Safari, drivers take you for a roller coaster ride over sand dunes.
The skiing centre is located in the new Mall of the Emirates. Wild Wadi is a water amusement park located in the heart of the city.
PLACES TO SEE
The Dubai Museum is a must see for anyone interested in the history of the Emirate. The Jumeirah mosque is considered to be one of the most attractive mosques in the region and is open to tours on Thursdays. The Burj al-Arab is the only 7 star hotel in the world. Occasionally, there are tours of the hotel when it is not full. Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest structure, is a landmark you cannot possibly miss. The Palm Islands, the three largest artificial islands in the world, are another must see site.
WHERE TO EAT
Most American fast food chains are in Dubai. However, shawarma is the most available and cheapest food. Jabal al Noor is a chain of budget friendly restaurants with its own take on Middle Eastern fast food. Al Dawaar Revolving Restaurant in the Hyatt Regency serves an assortment of cuisines and gives a nice tour of the city. Pars Iranian Kitchen is an open air restaurant where one can sit in traditional machans, large bed-like seating. The specialty is the mixed grill, served with live coal. For those who wish to splurge there are many fine restaurants of every cuisine. Khazana and Jumeirah are run by the famous Indian TV chef Sanjeev Kapoor. Asha’s serves Indian cuisine and is run by Asha Bhosle. Al Mahara is part of the Burj al Arab hotel and serves very high quality food. Cafe Chic, Le Meridien serves French cuisine in a comfortable and sophisticated atmosphere. It is run by Michelin star chef Michel Rostang.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotels are available throughout every price range. However, the demand for hotel rooms continues to outstrip supply resulting in some of the most expensive rooms in the world. It’s difficult to find anything decent for Dhs 600 (US $200). Book at least two weeks in advance for reasonable prices, especially during the September-May high season. For those who really wish to splurge, however, the Burj al-Arab, popularly known as the first seven star hotel in the world, is technically a deluxe five star hotel. Its striking sail shaped building is a symbol of Dubai and one of the most opulent hotels in the world. Rates start over $700 per night.