Fast becoming the stopover of choice for many Australians heading to Europe, Dubai is so much more than a man-made oasis and is well worth taking the time to explore.
Dubai is an Ali Baba city, appearing out of the shimmering desert of the United Arab Emirates like a magic trick from some improbable Arabian tale. Gaze on the tallest structure ever created, get lost in huge shopping malls – and even go skiing. Yet you’ll still find traditional cafés where elderly men puff serenely on sheesha pipes, and markets colourful with spices and gold. A vibrant and cosmopolitan city with diverse entertainments, unparalleled shopping and dining, and urban projects of staggering proportions, Dubai enjoys a laidback atmosphere by Middle Eastern standards, yet never foregoing a distinct Islamic flavour.
Hop on a traditional abra boat (AUD$7) and journey along Dubai Creek, past wind towers and trading dhows. The old town includes the excellent Dubai Museum (AUD$1), perfume and spice markets, and little eateries with great-value meals. The elevated metro provides you with as good a look at Dubai’s spectacular skyline as any guided tour. You don’t have to own an oil field to stay well either. Family-friendly Mercure Gold Hotel (AUD$90) has stylish, contemporary rooms and a lovely rooftop swimming pool, while Ibis World Trade Centre ($120) has small but comfortable rooms and is centrally located.
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A ride on a sightseeing double-decker (AUD$66) highlights the main sights, and includes a dhow ride and walking tour. Then head to gargantuan Dubai Mall for endless shopping, a walk-through aquarium (AUD$30) and an extraordinary water fountain show. Ascending adjacent Burj Khalifa (AUD$37) provides a dazzling panorama from the world’s tallest building. Stay at Pullman Dubai Mall (AUD$230), which has luxurious rooms, several good restaurants and a rooftop pool. Alternatively, boutique XVA Art Hotel in the old quarter has just seven rooms, each created by notable regional designers and centred around a shady, marble-flagged courtyard.
Dubai has plenty of ways to separate you from your loot. See the desert on an early-morning hot air balloon ride with Balloon Adventures ($300), the cityscape on an Alpha Tours helicopter flight ($375) or the sand dunes on an Arabian Adventures sunset safari ($108) before checking out the high-end fashions along Jumeirah Beach Road. There’s also a richness of choice in top-end hotels. Recently renovated rooms are huge at family-friendly Jumeirah Beach Hotel (AUD$470), where rates include entry to Wild Wadi Water Park. Chic Shangri-La Hotel Dubai offers water views, attentive service, and a wonderfully indulgent spa.
The Dubai Department of Tourism has a comprehensive website. You can download its mobile app Definitely Dubai, an easy-to-use location-based application, with information on the latest happenings and special offers on tours and shopping.