Dubai Travel Information
Dubai is the quintessential home of sand, sun and shopping. A century ago, it was a tranquil town whose coral-and-gypsum huts housed Bedouin traders and pearl divers. Today the merchants have gone, and international and science-fiction skyscrapers stand alongside the mosques and wind towers of Old Dubai.
The audacity of the city's rulers is breathtaking. Running out of coastline to build hotels? Build vast artificial islands with 120km of new beachfront. Need better connections with the world? Build up an award-winning international airline in 15 years. Need some publicity? Stage the world's richest horse race, million-dollar lotteries, international tennis and golf tournaments, and a month-long shopping festival. Need a few landmarks for people to recognise? Up goes the world's tallest and most lavish hotel, perched on an artificial platform, and a city skyline to boggle the eye.
Dubai is really two towns merged into one and divided by Dubai Creek (Khor Dubai), an inlet of the Gulf. Deira lies to the north and Bur Dubai to the south. Both districts are home to traditional architecture and bustling souqs, but the old city centre is in Deira. Glittering new office buildings along Sheikh Zayed Road (known as Trade Centre Road) in Bur Dubai threaten to supplant it as the city's real centre of gravity.
There aren't really any street addresses in Dubai. People refer to the main roads by name, but the smaller, numbered streets remain largely anonymous. If someone offers you directions like 'It's in the white villa, next to the big tree, across from the Avari Hotel, don't fret. Your taxi driver will know the way.
The Deira covered souk has more of an Indian flavour than an Arabic one. It sells just about everything, but notably textiles, clothes, kitchenware, walking sticks, and all the henna you'll ever need.
Dubai's waterfront epitomizes the city's personality. If you do only one touristy thing in Dubai, make sure to visit Dubai Creek. The best way to see the grand trading port is from the water. You can book a pricey cruise or hire an abra (small boat) for an hour or so; ask the captain to take you to Al-Maktoum Bridge and back. Also take some time to walk around the dhow wharfage on the Deira side of Dubai Creek, to the west of the abra dock. Dhows bound for ports from Kuwait to Mumbai (Bombay) dock here to unload everything, including kitchen sinks.
The Dubai Museum is housed inside the Al-Fahidi Fort, which was built in the late 1790s, and is believed to be the city's oldest building. The museum has collections of everything from Arabian sailing boats to the curved daggers known as khanjars. There are multimedia and interactive displays, and all the exhibits have captions in Arabic and English.
Dubai Souq is in Bur Dubai, on the other side of Dubai Creek from Deira, where the Diera Covered, Spice and Electronic Souqs are. Dubai Souq has been beautifully rebuilt to appeal to tourists, but mostly caters to the Indian and Pakistani expat community. It does not sell many Arabian things, but is certainly the place to purchase a custom-made sari.
The Electronics Souq is the place to get all the televisions, calculators, stereos, digital cameras, video games, DVD players and karaoke machines you've ever wanted. It's all almost tax free, and once the haggling is done, can be got for rock bottom prices.
Deira's celebrated Gold Souq attracts buyers from all over the world. Pass through its wooden lattice archways and you'll find great dazzling heaps of gold chains, rings, earrings, bracelets and every other kind of jewellery. Once you've haggled for all the gold, you can haggle for the silver jewellery also in the Gold Souq.
After you cover yourself in gold at the Gold Souq, the Perfume Souq awaits right next door. You'll find European perfumes - designer originals and clever imitations - and Arabian perfumes, which are much, much stronger than the European.
The Diera Old Souq is a wonderful place to wander round and take in the scents of spices and fruits. In the eastern part of the market you'll find sacks brimming with frankincense, dried lemons, ginger root, chilli and cardamom. The rest of the market is full of rugs, shoes, kitchenware, glassware and trinkets.
Plenty of watersports, including jet-skiing, water-skiing, scuba diving, snorkelling and deep-sea fishing are offered by dozens of operators. It costs a fortune to maintain the greens, but golfing is a huge draw and Dubai has most of the Arabian Peninsula's courses. If it's too hot to don the requisite collared shirt and slacks, consider a visit to the slides at Wild Wadi Waterpark or one of the city's two indoor ice skating rinks. Dozens of health clubs make working out a breeze.
Dubai has a reputation for its bold and innovative architectural wonders. To meet the anticipated future demand for travel to Dubai, several hotel and leisure developments are underway across the United Arab Emirates. Disruption is to be kept to a minimum but please note that the developments are not under the control of the tour operator, and they may not be made aware of them in advance.