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The second-largest of the seven city-emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, Dubai stretches along the southern shore of the Arabian Gulf. Dubai city is a bustling metropolis that has grown in wealth and importance over the years although its extraordinarily rapid growth has slowed somewhat with the worldwide recession. With fast-dwindling oil reserves Dubai built its reputation on being a financial and commercial hub, becoming a modern melting pot of cultures and global influences, as much as it has remained an Islamic state with Bedouin roots. Though the official language is Arabic, English is commonly used; Hindi and Urdu are also widely spoken. Modern Dubai traces its origins to the 1830s, when it was a small fishing village at the mouth of Dubai Creek. The Maktoum family, who still rule the emirate today, led the tribe, and it's their vision and leadership that has transformed Dubai into a global player and glamorous tourist destination.
While it's possible to use the Dubai public bus service from 6 AM to 11 PM daily (fares vary according to how many zones traveled and are paid to the driver upon boarding), it's more practical to use taxis or the new Dubai Metro, which opened in September 2009.
Burj Al-Arab. The extravagant architectural icon that put Dubai on the tourist map, the sail-shaped Burj Al-Arab is one of the most famous hotels in the world, and its striking lines have featured in dozens of design and travel magazines. The decor throughout is flamboyant with lurid textiles and acres of gold plate. The public can't gain access to the hotel (except with a restaurant or bar reservation). Jumeirah Beach Rd., next to Wild Wadi Water Park.
Burj Khalifa. Once known as the "Burj Dubai," the world's tallest building opened on January 4, 2010. It dominates the city's skyline like a scimitar pointing skyward. When completely finished, the building will house a mix of commercial and residential spaces, including the first Armani hotel. The observation lounge and its open-air observation platform, is the highest in the world (timed tickets required). Downtown, off Sheikh Zayed Rd. Admission charged.
Dubai Creek. This small but bustling inlet—more river than creek—is a significant commercial shipping channel. Today the waterfront bears little resemblance to its early years, due to dredging and widening during the 20th century. On the Deira bank near the creek mouth are a series of low-rise merchant districts and the lively shopping souks. Dubai's abras, or water taxis, continually cross the Creek in seven to eight minutes, as they have done for decades. There are also air-conditioned waterbuses that give passengers more protection from the heat. Near the Radisson Blu Hotel, Deira.
Dubai Museum. The tiny Al Fahidi fort was built in 1787 to protect the port from marauding landward tribes and seafaring pirates. Today, the restored fort hosts Dubai's main museum, an engaging place to spend a couple of hours. Upon entering the museum, you step back in time to before the discovery of oil and the arrival of container ships. A series of compelling, cleverly designed, subterranean spaces take you through the daily life, customs and traditions of Dubai's past. Bastakiya, Bur Dubai. Admission charged.
Hatta. In the foothills of the majestic Hajjar mountains about an hour's drive from Dubai, Hatta is a small town with a heritage village and historic watchtowers, and a comfortable resort that is ideal for a weekend getaway. The historic Hatta Fort overlooks the town, and the Hatta Pools nearby are a much-frequented picnic spot. About 1 hour east of Dubai by car.
Heritage Village. This popular Creekside attraction re-creates daily life in Dubai when the city was still a small pearling village and trading port. A visit here allows you to experience a number of traditional Arabian and Bedouin activities. You can watch ladies cook pancakes and pastries while men sharpen knives or repair the bamboo canes used in traditional dances. On Arabic feast days, during Ramadan and on winter nights, the Heritage Village hosts traditional song and dance performances and reenactments of activities, such as a Bedouin wedding. The evenings are when the place comes alive. Near the Al Shindagha Tunnel, Al Shindagha.
Jumeirah Mosque. The finest masjid (mosque) in Dubai, Jumeirah Mosque pays homage to the classical architectural style during Islam's first Golden Age at the end of the first millennium. The sandstone dome and minarets feature detailed carvings, while the interior is covered with ornately painted panels on robin's-egg blue backgrounds. Jumeirah Mosque is the only one in Dubai open to non-Muslims, and then only on a guided tour. Wear conservative clothing; women should also cover their heads. Jumeira Beach Rd., Jumeira.
Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum Museum. This splendid late-19th-century palace overlooks Dubai Creek and was the epicenter of power until the mid-20th century, as the former home of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum, grandfather of the present Ruler of Dubai, who ruled the emirate from 1912 until his death in 1958. The house was also a majlis, or meeting place, where all major court decisions were made. Restored in 1986, it provides a wonderful example of traditional large-scale, high-quality domestic architecture. Near the Al Shindagha Tunnel, Al Shindagha. Admission charged.
Dubai has more than 40 shopping malls. The Dubai Mall (Burj Dubai Complex) is the largest in the Middle East, featuring over 1,000 shops alongside an ice-skating rink and an aquarium—all adjacent to the Burj Khalifa. The Mall of the Emirates (Al Barsha), Dubai's second-largest shopping center at 2,399,480 square feet, has more than 450 shops and department stores, and has an indoor ski slope with real snow. Elegant BurJuman Centre (Khalid Bin Waleed St., Bur Dubai) is home to Christian Lacroix, Cartier, Dior, Donna Karan, Hermès, Valentino, and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Deira City Centre (Near the Dnata Intersection), the most popular shopping center on the Deira side of the creek, won't win any prizes for its design, but its prices are slightly lower than other malls with the same stores. Mercato Mall (Near the Dubai Zoo, Jumeirah Beach Rd.) has Gap, Mango, and Top Shop, as well as many independent stores. Wafi City Mall (Near Grand Cineplex, Al Garhood) has elegant designer boutiques, good cafés and restaurants.
The Electronics Souk (South of Sikkat Al Khail Rd., opposite the Perfume Souk) is not really a souk at all, but several streets lined with scores of dusty neon-lit shops that stock everything from mosque-shaped alarm clocks to MP3 players and the latest digital cameras.
No matter what you need material for—curtains, a business suit, or a ball gown—the Textile Souk has scores of tiny shops with thick wooden shutters trading in textiles, mainly from India and China, including quality cottons and lavish bejewelled fabrics.
The Gold Souk (A maze of streets around Sikkat al-Khail St., Deira) is one of the world's most important jewelery trading centers, its audacious jewelery catering largely to customers from the Gulf region, India, Pakistan and beyond.
Souq Madinat Jumeirah (Jumeirah Beach), a modern air-conditioned take on a traditional Arabian souk, is a beautiful labyrinth of narrow arcades packed with high-quality souvenirs, including fine carpets, arts and crafts, photography, and clothing. The waterside cafés are a great place to relax with a drink.
Desert Safaris. An afternoon drive into the desert by 4WD will allow you to experience the thrills of an ocean of sky and sand; 'safari' activities may include sandboarding.
Golf. Dubai is a golfer's paradise, with spectacular clubhouses and astonishing verdant greens thriving in the hot desert climate. Some of the more popular courses include the Four Seasons Golf Club (Four Seasons Hotel, Rebat St., Al Badia); Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club (Near Deira City Centre Mall); Emirates Golf Club (Emirates Hills); and Montgomerie Golf Club (Sheikh Zayed Rd., Emirates Hills).
Wadi Bashing. The mountainous region of Dubai emirate, around Hatta, offers some exciting wadi bashing opportunities. You'll travel in a four-wheel-drive vehicle along dry, rocky, river beds with majestic mountains providing a spectacular backdrop.
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