Dubai ranks as a top destination for expats desiring high standards of living, tax-free wages, safety/stability, and sun all year round. Despite being an Islamic country with specific rules and customs, there is a certain Western vibe in the air. Personally, it felt like a strange combination between Las Vegas (minus the gambling and nudity), Miami, and London, all with a semi-conservative Arabic twist.
Dubai is one of the leading global tourism hotspots and continues to climb the ranks as a top destination, ahead of hosting the Expo in 2020. A range of activities are available for all ages, all year long.
Here is my first impression driving along downtown – just wow!
Perhaps an obvious selection, the Dubai Mall is the world’s largest shopping center by total area, with more than 1,200 retail outlets (from Armani to Zara) – it is located at the foot of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building (everything in Dubai is over the top).
The mall features an aquarium, ice rink, and an outdoor music-themed water show, which is great for families.
Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR)
If after visiting the Dubai Mall you still need more retail therapy, head to JBR, with its relaxing promenade.
Then, stroll along the Jumeirah public Beach at sunset. Nearby is the Dubai Marina with its massive yachts.
Dubai is pulling out all the stops to become one of the world’s great global cities. Currently under construction and within walking distance from JBR will be Bluewaters Island, featuring what will be the world’s highest Ferris wheel (210 meters), the Ain Dubai, and surprise surprise…more shops.
What it will look like when it is completed in 2018.
What it currently looks like
Desert Off-Roading Adventure
There is certainly much more to Dubai than shopping. Naturally, since desert makes up more than 90% of the United Arab Emirates, it is the biggest outdoor adventure playground.
As you leave the city, the desert sands replace the skyscrapers. If you are highly experienced, you will be able to enjoy the thrill of driving your own 4×4 through desert dunes. Otherwise, as a beginner, it is best to join one of dozens of desert touring groups that offer professional desert driving and off-road courses, such as Dubai Offroaders.
Here are a few images from my first-ever desert off-roading experience.
A number of tour companies provide other desert tours, including:
- Desert dune buggies/quad bikes
- Sunset camel trekking
- Traditional Arabic sunset dune dinner
Al Qudra Cycling Track
Sticking with the desert theme, if you are into biking/rollerblading, I would highly recommend checking out the 86 km Al Qudra cycling track, only a 30-minute drive outside of Dubai. Certainly a unique opportunity to combine exercise with admiring the mesmerizing desert and local wildlife. Just make sure to avoid going during the hot summer months, as temperatures can reach upwards of 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) .
Bordering Dubai, to the north, is the more conservative Emirate of Sharjah, widely considered the nation’s cultural capital. It is certainly an underrated destination, and I will tell you why.
The Al Qasba canal front is a popular waterfront quarter with plenty of cafés and restaurants, especially at night when the temperatures are cooler. One attraction that stands out is the 60-meter-high Eye of the Emirates observation wheel.
Remember that you are in an Islamic country and must respect their customs
Sharjah’s Central Market, known as the Blue Souk, is the city’s most famous landmark. The market hosts more than 600 shops devoted to carpets, gold/jewelry, perfume, and food.
Other notable cultural attractions in Sharjah, which I did not have enough time to experience, include:
- Sharjah Arts Museum
- Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization
- Sharjah Maritime Museum
- Sharjah Science Museum
- Sharjah Light Festival
If you have more time in the United Arab Emirates, check out:
- Aquaventure Waterpark and Wild Wadi Waterpark
- Ski Dubai
- Global Village
- Dubai Creek and the Gold Souk
- Camel Race Track
- Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi
Until next time! Perhaps somewhere in Eastern Asia?
Travel Photographer and Author of the Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography
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