Dubai sits on a golden sandy coastline in the Arabian Gulf, where the warm azure waves of the sea meet the desert. A high-rise oasis, this city is a pleasure-dome surrounded by dunes; one of the most fashionable on the planet thanks to its ability to satisfy the needs of legions of demanding vacationers. Dubai is about having fun—and it’s one big adult playground.

Nature plays her part here, with year-round sunshine, gorgeous beaches, dramatic arid landscapes, and warm waters, but it’s the man-made attractions that make Dubai so alluring. You can launch yourself into high-adrenaline desert adventures, diving and water sports, and some of the world’s best golf courses. The 5-, 6-, and 7-star hotels offer the ultimate in luxury, and the party scene is hot. malls are the biggest in the world and are packed full of high-class merchandise. And with hundreds of restaurants with cuisine from around the world, you can munch your way from Mexico to Malaysia.

Dubai is an Arab country with a long history as a trading port. Traces of its traditional life, customs, and architecture can still be seen and explored, but today and tomorrow are much more important than yesterday. Almost every building in this metropolis is less than 20 years old and the most dramatic developments—groundbreaking megaprojects—have just been completed or are still under construction.

The city is certainly unique. Islam is its anchor, but it has opened its doors to the rest of the world and has invited them in to work, rest, and play, which creates a truly international atmosphere. Unashamedly modern and materialistic, life here takes place at breakneck speed. The landscape is stark, the confidence is sky high, the can-do spirit is palpable, and the bling is in your face. Dubai produces strong reactions in people, but one thing is certain—love it or loathe it—you will not forget it. It is without a doubt, one of the world’s true must-see destinations.

Shisha: Smoke Without Fire. Emirati men love socializing, but as they don’t drink alcohol they get together over coffee and shisha instead of a drink at the bar after work. The shisha, or hookah,is a smoking device, usually made of glass, that filters smoke through water before it reaches the smoker’s mouth. Shisha tobaccos are aromatic and are often mixed with apple, cinnamon, or cherry, so their taste isn’t as strong as other tobaccos. Smoking shisha is said to induce relaxation—but you’ll have to decide if it’s for you!
Around the Emirate

Considering the sprawling forest of construction cranes marking Dubai City, it would be easy to assume that it is only an urban development. While this is true in part, the emirate also is home to numerous natural attractions. For instance, if you take the road east, concrete will soon give way to a flat, almost featureless landscape—the northernmost tip of the Arabian Desert where acacias stand sentinel and feral camels graze.

The desert was the home of the Emirati until a few generations ago. Now it’s become the Emirati playground. Local families visit to connect with their Arab roots or, in huge contrast, race across the sand in powerful 4WD vehicles. You can explore Dubai beyond the city on two legs, four legs (by camel or horse), or on four wheels. But remember, if you have a rental car it won’t be insured for off-road driving—something you shouldn’t do without a good map and backup water supplies. To be extra careful, hire a reliable tour company to take you on an off-road adventure.

There are also several desert resorts located outside Dubai City.

Bur Dubai and the South Bank

This area, a tightly packed residential and trading district, is known by the name of Bur Dubai, so if you hear people talking about the “Bur Dubai side” you’ll know they mean the south side of the creek.

Most of Dubai’s important historical attractions are located along the south bank, just a stone’s throw from the creek. Fortifications, mansions, and the city’s last remaining historic quarter are within easy reach of one another, and the largest downtown park is also on the south side. Bur Dubai is home to several busy souks, or markets, and bustling bazaars where you cannot miss the city’s multicultural mix.
Deira and the North Bank

Extending north of Dubai Creek—to the border of neighboring Sharjah—is a patchwork of tightly packed districts known by the name of its oldest area, Deira. The district, the historic core of Dubai, has been a commercial hub for rice, spice, and gold trading for more than a century. The traditional souks here, just as important as the city’s modern malls, make quite the contrast as customers haggle over merchandise and barrow-toting warehousemen weave through the crowds. In the Al Ras region, which abuts Deira to the west, you’ll find some of Dubai’s oldest historic buildings amongst the shops and commodity warehouses.

In recent years the Deira side has expanded dramatically, spreading to the east and southeast down Dubai Creek. Dubai’s first high-rises define Al-Rigga, also known as the financial district, where banks and government buildings are staffed by Emiratis dressed in crisp dishdashas (tunics worn by Emirati men). The creek once defined Dubai, and although the city has spread and the modern heartbeat has drifted south, it’s still the place to come to watch the last of the old boats doing business and to take a trip on a Dubai abra.

Head up the creek to the Garhoud and Festival City districts near the airport to enjoy central Dubai’s first purpose-built community and the closest golf course to downtown.
Dubai Marina

The world’s largest man-made marina and waterfront development, Dubai Marina’s 50 million square feet changed the face of the southern end of Jumeirah Beach and started a real-estate boom that has yet to peak. It was the first venture in which freehold real estate could be bought by anyone from anywhere around the globe. The Marina is home to 200 high-rise towers that have become an entertainment, leisure, and business hub, which locals call “new Dubai.”

In addition, a series of specialized free-zone “cities” and “villages” have sprung up around the Marina since the turn of the millennium, as part of Dubai’s long-term plan to become one of the world’s foremost investment, research, and enterprise zones. An impressive selection of Fortune 500 companies have their Middle East, Africa, and India headquarters here, and many more are sure to follow.

Be aware that the man-made inlets to Dubai Marina have separated the southern tip of Jumeirah Beach from the main coastal strip, so you’ll find some of the older hotels here still use Jumeirah or Jumeirah Beach in their titles.

Jumeirah Beach

Dubai’s beach strip runs 11 mi south from Bur Dubai to the new developments around Dubai Marina. For years this stretch of sand was an unappreciated treasure used only by fishermen, but it became a major weapon in Dubai’s arsenal when the emirate started luring tourists. The first sun worshippers—mostly northern Europeans escaping cold winter months—soon began to flock here.

Commonly known in the brochures as Jumeirah (also Jumeira) because of its northernmost district, the strip has lengthened over time to include neighboring Umm Suqeim and Al Sufouh to the south, and the newest and largest hotels are located at the southern end, farthest away from downtown.

Jumeirah’s large resort hotels are a huge tourist draw, with high-quality restaurants, exciting , and private beach clubs that have first-rate sports facilities on and off the water. The low-rise residential districts that back the beach are popular with Western expats, and you’ll find a range of smaller malls, independent spas, boutiques, and restaurants here.
World Trade Centre Area and Burj Dubai

Dubai’s newly developed business district stretches along a few miles of Sheikh Zayed Road, from Za’abeel Roundabout south to Interchange 1. Cutting-edge towers flank both sides of the multilane highway. These architectural triumphs, pictured in numerous media, have come to symbolize modern Dubai. The view is especially impressive after dark when the towers are lit up—some, including the Fairmont , have light shows that play across their facades.

Luxury hotels line the strip, making it a hot spot for entertainment and nightlife. The Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre (often called simply the Dubai World Trade Centre) is the heartbeat of the district, and it often teams with people. Work continues on Dubai’s latest construction phenomenon, Burj Dubai, just south of Interchange 1, which is set to redefine high-rise living and rewrite the record books.

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