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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 to new Dubai.
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 tantalizing 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. The Bastakiya district has 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 sightseeing and photography. 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.
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 a pleasant green oasis.
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.
Dubai Shopping Festival
Dubai Shopping Festival
extravaganza has rapidly become an internationally-known event, with thousands of bargains, draws, shows, promotions and some of the world’s lowest prices. In addition, the hotels and furnished apartment complexes offer reduced accommodation rates, while
offers great deals on tickets.
Dubai Summer Surprises
Dubai Summer Surprises
is a government initiative begun in 1998 that attracted thousands of tourists during the summer months. Extremely competitive hotel rates, combined with lots of activities, especially for children, meant the first event was a big success.
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Site last Updated : 22/02/2019 12:06