Dubai

Experience the mystery and magic of Arab culture and haute cuisine in glamorous, iconic Dubai Pearl of the Gulf

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Dubai, the Pearl of the Gulf, a city of contrasts. Here you can find people of all cultures, nationalities and religions living side by side. You can visit the worlds tallest building (Burj Khalifa), the world’s only 7 star hotel (Burj Al Arab), the Gold Souk, the Spice Market, swim with Dolphins, the list is endless. For entertainment there are fine dining restaurants, bars, nightclubs and hotels of all standards, Dubai has everything, don't forget the beach and the Desert.

Dubai – Pearl of the Gulf

Also known as the Pearl of the Middle East, Dubai is today the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates. For its international significance, Dubai has special rights and privileges within the UAE. Even though, the city is a major economic power in Asia and a world’s leading centre of trade, art and tourism, its past wasn’t so glamorous. Early history doesn’t speak much of the area or its inhabitants. The name of the city is first listed in a Geography book much later, at around 11-12th century. In 16th century it became famous for its pearling industry. But apart from that the Pearl of the Gulf had a pretty inauspicious past.

Bani Yas Tribe

The beginning of the 18th century also marks the official establishment of Dubai as a fishing village and its population grew quite quickly. Comprising mainly of the Baniyas tribe, ruled by Sheikh Tahnoon of Abu Dhabi. Bani Yas is one of the more famous UAE tribe names. One of the nomadic tribes of Arabian peninsula. In late 19th century, after a signed peace treaty, the United Kingdom took responsibility for the safety of the Emirate. Due to its strategic geographic location and the relaxed trade taxes, Dubai became a busy trading centre. Attracting many Persian and other Arab merchants. Until the Great Depression in the 1930s the city was famous for its booming pearling industry. Unfortunately, as a result of the recession, much of the population then moved to other parts of the Persian Gulf.

Dubai: Progress and Modernisation

The modernisation of Dubai began after the Second World War, when much of its infrastructure was built. Electricity and phone service were introduced and early tourism began, with the establishment of the first airport and hotels. The oil industry began in 1969 and in just over 5 years the population of Dubai increased by a mind-blowing 300%. After some tragic events from the more recent history like the Gulf War, the city’s economy suffered  and so did the oil industry. However the Pearl of the Gulf was able to quickly recover and concentrate more on tourism and free trade. Often through the many free zones in Dubai.

Dubai Today

When we talk about Dubai today in the 21st century, the first thing that comes to mind is incredible luxury, mixed with the exotica of the Middle East. It is a top destination for the rich and famous. No wonder it is known as the Pearl of the Gulf. Although it can also be affordable for the ordinary tourist who wants to dip into the mystic pleasures of the Middle East. There is however still an old side and traditional side of this iconic city on Deira side you can still see traditional markets and trading Dhows.

Dubai – Pearl of the Gulf - Spice Market in Dubai Creek
Dubai spice market, amazing odours!

The city’s original territory was not more than 3,900 km2, however, after the in-sea expansion its new size is 4,110 km2. The surrounding landscape consists mainly of desert. The average summer temperatures in Dubai are over 40°C with moderate to high humidity. Of course in your perfectly air-conditioned hotel, car or shopping mall you will remain comfortable.

Traditional Dhows in Dubai Creek
Dhows on Dubai Creek

Dubai a city of tolerance

This is true, however one must respect local Islamic values. An important thing to remember is that, although the city is one of the most liberal and tolerant, Sharia law prevails. There are certain rules, which even tourists must obey. For example, showing physical affection in public is forbidden. Additionally, women and men should cover up appropriately in most places in the city. There are exceptions however such as on the beaches, clubs and waterparks also one must not consume alcohol, unless in an licenced venue.

Iconic Dubai - Burj Khalifa

Undisputedly, there is an iconic Dubai catalogue covering Dubai’s architecture thought to be the most iconic throughout the world. It is a fine mixture of traditional Islamic and modern international styles. Many local and foreign investors put money on the development of various buildings and landmarks in the city. Dubai is the city with the highest skyscrapers in the world. The King of Kings in the skyscraper world is the Burj Khalifa, built in 2010. It is currently the tallest building on the planet at 829.8 m. The building's design incorporates some Islamic motifs, mixed with modern technologies and structures. The main eye-catching feature of the building is actually its base. It represents an endemic desert flower species called hymenocallis. Near the Top of the Burj Khalifa, there is an observatory, offering a stunning view of the whole of Dubai city and the surrounding desert.

Dubai – Pearl of the Gulf The view from the top of the Burj Khalifa
The View from the Burj Khalifa

Iconic Dubai - Burj Al Arab

The iconic Dubai hotel the Burj Al Arab is probably the most luxurious place you can stay and it is often referred to as the ‘world’s only 7-star hotel’. However it should be pointed out that the official top hotel star rating is 5, therefore this is just hearsay! The hotel stands on an artificial island located 280 metres from the Jumeirah beach road, linked by its own private bridge. It was cited in 2012 that the Royal Suite, offered at USD24k per night was in the top 15 most expensive places in the world to stay. However, for those apparently less well off, a visit to the Burj Al Arab is not totally out of reach. One can partake in a Burj Al Arab high tea or take cocktails at the Burj Al Arab Skyview bar. Furthermore there is an array of Burj Al Arab tour packages to choose from.

Dubai’s Economy

To give a Dubai economy overview: Dubai's economy was once described in the International Herald Tribune as "centrally-planned free-market capitalism." Where can you find the official Dubai Economy Statistics? - Here at the Dubai Statistics Centre  It comes as no surprise that a lot of money is invested into the tourism industry and also the revenue that comes back from it is very lucrative. The Emirate’s capital is the 7th most visited city in the world, with over 15 million tourists a year. Dubai is also a popular destination for its shopping facilities. More than 70 shopping centres, but it also offers various cultural and modern sources of entertainment and sightseeing. In addition there is of course the Dubai climate to help it along! The city is also putting a lot of effort into developing other industries such as IT, Fashion and Design. In addition, Dubai has been approved for Expo 2020 promising to boost Dubai's economy by billions and create thousands of jobs. Dubai’s economy trading partners are China (the biggest and most valuable trading partner), followed by India, USA, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Switzerland, Japan and the UK.

Dubai's Ruling Family

For almost 2 centuries Dubai has been an absolute monarchy, ruled by the Al Maktoum family. There are no elections with the exception of voting for the Federal National Council of the UAE. The Emir, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum holds a few other governing positions such as Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, he commands the federal police and is a member of the Supreme Council of the Union. The Dubai royal family tree is extensive and far reaching. The Dubai Municipality is an institution established by one of the previous rulers from the Al Maktoum family in 1954. It has 4 departments - Environment and Public Health, Financial Affairs, Planning and Survey and Roads Department. Over 40 city services are now available on the Government’s website at WWW.Dubai.ae. An interesting fact is that UAE has a Minister of Happiness. Ensuring the quality of life of the local residents is always at high levels. Another position, the Minister of Tolerance. Taking care of the peaceful and respectful co-habitance of various religious and cultural groups within the UAE. Both Ministers are appointed by the UAE ruler.

Dubai Culture and Lifestyle

As an Arab city there are Dubai culture rules and as expected the local culture revolves around Islamic traditions and art. That includes Arabic music, architecture, clothing, cuisine and of course lifestyle. However, Dubai is more than just an Arabic city. Millions of people from all over the world are welcomed each year. Although Islam and its values have a very strong presence, the West also influences ways of living of local people. For example, they are now used to a more lavish, full of luxury and entertaining lifestyle. Many of the UAE citizens express a keen interest and take part in some of the major entertainment events such as the Dubai Shopping Festival and Dubai Summer Surprises.

Dubai Ethnic Mix

The original Arab or Dubaite people are actually quite a small ethnic group in the city forming only 15% of its population. The rest is formed of expatriates with various ethnic and national backgrounds. The main groups are Indians, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Filipino, Somali and British. Although Arabic is the official language in the Emirate, the diversity of people explains the variety of spoken languages. Many of which are Russian, Bengali, Urdu, Tamil, Persian and Chinese. English is used as a second official adopted language. Furthermore the Dubai attitude towards tourists is quite relaxed. However it is expected that Dubai tourists be respectful of the Dubai culture and lifestyle.

Dubai Religious tolerance

Apart from Islam, which is the official state religion, there are other religious minorities - Christians, Buddhist, Sikh and Hindu, none are discriminated against and live in peace with Muslims. In fact, religious tolerance is extremely important in Dubai. Anyone who preaches hateful, racist or extremist messages faces prosecution, jail and deportation. Religious minorities are allowed to have their own places of worship, practice their faith freely, promote events and distribute related literature. Two of the most significant holidays in Dubai are Eid al Fitr - the end of Ramadan and National Day on the 2nd December, celebrating the establishment of the UAE.

Dubai's Districts and Areas

There are five main districts in Dubai City - Deira, Bur Dubai, Jumeira, Sheikh Zayed Road & Downtown and Dubai Marina &; The Palm. Each of them is unique and is definitely worth a visit. There are many more Districts in the wider Dubai Emirate

Dubai pearl of the gulf - Dubai Skyline at Night
Dubai Skyline at night

Deira

Deira is a bustling, beautiful and colourful area of Dubai. A place to truly feel like you are in Arabia. Most of the city’s history and heritage lies exactly here. Visiting Deira may help you better understand the Dubai culture and lifestyle. Enjoy an Abra (water taxi) trip or walk to the fish market and the fishermans’ museum. On the same street you can also find the Heritage House of a prominent local pearl merchant from the past. Dying to experience the mystic scents of the Orienta? Deira is the place. From the exotic spice market, gold souk and compelling perfumes, here you can buy anything typical for the Arabian Gulf.
Dubai - Pearl of the Gulf - Gold in Dubai Gold Souk
Dubai Gold Souk

Bur Dubai

Bur Dubai is a mixture of small districts in the south. That’s where the city’s oldest area is and where many historical landmarks can be explored. Many say that this is actually the soul of the city. In Bur Dubai you can dip in the raw culture of the Gulf city through authentic music, storytelling, dancing and crafts.

Jumeirah

Jumeirah: In case you are wondering where all the European expats and tourists reside, Jumeira is the answer. This is a posh and luxurious area with lush beaches, numerous spa centres and spacious houses, as if taken straight from Hollywood. Some of the best Dubai Hotels are situated here. Fancy catching a tan on a beautiful sandy beach? Welcome to Jumeira’s Open Beach - Dubai biggest and finest. Also in the area you can find the city’s architectural symbol, the Burj Al Arab - all the luxury your eyes can handle.

Downtown Dubai

Downtown Dubai and Sheikh Zayed Road shows you the business face of the city. This district is where the stock exchange and most financial services are concentrated. Parts of it are residential area with massive shopping and classy entertainment facilities, as well as many art galleries. Also here you can find  Dubai's iconic Burj Khalifa the world's tallest building and the new Dubai Opera House. Want to shop? Then there is the world's largest shopping mall, Dubai Mall. Want to know what to do in Downtown Dubai? There is a plethora of Downtown Dubai restaurants, Downtown Dubai bars and Downtown Dubai cafes also a myriad of things to see and do.

Dubai Marina and the Palm

The Dubai Marina and The Palm Jumeirah is a district, out of this world. Peaceful yacht marinas with architectural masterpieces of residential accommodation and office spaces built on water. Not far from here is the Mall of Emirates, featuring more than 500 stores and an indoor ski pist! A peaceful night walk in the Dubai Marina area is probably just as romantic as a gondola ride on the canals of Venice. Or walk toward the Arabian Gulf to Jumeirah Beach Walk to find hundreds of the walk Dubai restaurants, Jumeirah Beach residence hotels and bars.

Dubai - Pearl of the Gulf - Palm Jumeirah Dubai
Palm Jumeirah

Food Specialties

Arabic food is popular all over the world and in Dubai you can taste its authenticity. Traditional dishes like shawarma and kebabs can be found absolutely anywhere, from small unpretentious diners to high profile hotel restaurants. Other widely preferred choices are fast food, Chinese and Indian cuisines. In Dubai, you can actually buy a pork dish, but only if you are not a Muslim. Same applies to all alcohol beverages as well. No restrictions, however, on smoking the famous shisha, available in specialised boutique venues and mainstream restaurants or bars. Dubai is home to cheap and cheerful local and various ethnic food as well as several restaurants from Michelin Star Chefs. Want to see some of the best restaurants in Dubai? The citizens of Dubai are foodies indeed. They organise an entire Food Festival every three years between February and March to celebrate the diversity of cuisines offered in the city, which represent more than 200 different nationalities and position the Gulf State as the gastronomic capital of the area.

Dubai things to do and see before you die!

As a global city Dubai offers plenty of things to see and do while in town. There's literally something for each and every person. If you are visiting the Arab Pearl with your children there is great choice of theme parks you could explore. For example, the IMG World Adventures in the City of Arabia. It offers over 20 exciting rides for children and adults, all indoors to protect you from the desert heat outside. Another amusement centre is Dubai Parks and Resorts. Actually, this is a combination of several theme parks serving various interests and ages - Legoland, Water Park, Motiongate Park and Bollywood Park. Plenty of options available also for those who are looking for thrilling and adrenaline boosting experiences. Get a ride down the W1 Dubai Tower with Dubai XLine. 3 minutes, extremely high speed and stunning views. What about being a Desert Rider? Slide down the massive dunes with over 50km/h and get your adrenaline pumping. If all that sounds like a kids’ play to you, then just go and jump off a plane! No, we are not trying to be rude, Skydive Dubai  is the Emirate’s biggest skydiving company completing over 200,000 jumps at 4,000m height every year. You'd be in great and experienced hands and will get the chance to see the beauty of Dubai through bird’s eyes.

Dubai - Pearl of the gulf - Skydive Dubai
Skydive Dubai

You could also go karting and sports car testing at the Dubai Autodrome. You can sign up for a championship or endurance challenge and give your driver ego a boost as well.

Dubai things to do, but a little more tranquil!

A bit calmer, but certainly no less exciting is the Falcon experience, part of the traditions of Bedouins even today. Watch how wild and vicious birds submit to their masters 0r if you dare have one come to your own arm. If you prefer a little bit more relaxed time out you won't be disappointed in Dubai either. For the connoisseurs of classical music and fine arts, the Dubai Opera is now open. It is a world class architectural masterpiece, launched recently with the star appearance of one of the greatest, Placido Domingo. The 2000-seat venue hosts international acts, ballet performances and theatre plays. In other venues across the city various superstars of the world pop, hip hop and rock scene entertain Dubai’s citizens and visitors frequently. Some of the names include Shakira, Justin Bieber, Roxette, Pink, Rick Ross, Aerosmith, Jennifer Lopez and many others. Dubai Creek Park in Dubai Creek also plays a vital role in Dubai tourism as it showcase some of the most famous tourist attractions in Dubai such as Dolphinarium, Cable Car, Camel Ride, Horse Carriage and Exotic Birds Shows. If you are a fan of movies and love going to the cinema, Dubai, again, has a lot to offer. The largest cinema in the country is situated in the Dubai Mall with a capacity of 2,800 seats and offering numerous luxuries to its guests.

Iconic Dubai sporting events

Last but not least, sports enthusiasts will also be taken a good care of. The most popular games in Dubai are football and cricket, however several other high profile tournaments are held in the city - Dubai Tennis Championship, Dubai Desert Classic Golf, Dubai Horse Race World Cup, Auto Racing and The Dubai Sevens (rugby tournament).

Dubai - Pearl of the gulf - Dubai World Cup Horse Race
Dubai World Cup

Dubai Shopping Malls

As we already mentioned, there are over 70 malls in Dubai and it will be hard to mention all of them in just one article. But some of the major ones are Deira City Centre, Mall of the Emirates, Mirdiff City Centre, BurJuman and of course, the world’s biggest, Dubai Mall. They even have a Dubai Shopping Festival! There's literally nothing that you can't find and buy in Dubai’s shopping centres. There's a wide range of picks to satisfy every taste and occasion. Jewellery, art pieces, homeware, fragrances, Swiss chocolate, latest fashion, you name it! Designer brands are present in almost all malls within the city, featuring names like Galliano, Michael Kors, Emporio Armani, BOSS, Dolce & Gabbana and Carolina Herrera.

Where to Stay in Dubai

Most of the hotels are international chain names such as Park Hyatt, Fairmont, Four Seasons, Waldorf Astoria and Marriott. This explains why Dubai’s hotel rooms were rated second most expensive in the world. The only place with higher prices is Geneva. There are however budget Hotels in places like Deira and Bur Dubai Needless to say, if you are looking for ultimate spoiling and you have the cash, Burj Al Arab in Jumeira must be the hotel of your choice.

Dubai - Pearl of the gulf - View of Burj Al Arab viewed from Madinat
A view of the Burj Al Arab from Souk Madinat

Some mid-class hotels would be available at Jumeira Beach. They are still very glamorous and lavish, but a little less expensive. Another location where you could find something similar would be Downtown Dubai, an area, extremely popular with tourists in the recent years, mainly because of the all famous Burj Khalifa and numerous shopping malls around. Your best shot at finding affordable accommodation offering quality service would be if you book for some of the not so popular times of the year, typically between April and September, because it is boiling hot outside. Many travel agents offer great holiday deals, inclusive of flights and accommodation. It’s worth looking into those.

Dubai Transport

Dubai's transportation systems are run and controlled by the RTA Roads and Transport Authority The first place you will set foot on in Dubai is likely the Dubai International Airport. It is one of the busiest passenger and cargo airports in the world, with more than 70 million travellers and 2 million tons of cargo per year.

Dubai Public Transport

Public transport is available in Dubai, the choices are numerous, taxi, limo, bus, Metro and the new tram system, which links to the Metro. There is even a Water Taxi system. All are very reliable and affordable, except private limo of course. If you decide to use the buses, you may find it useful to know that there are 140 bus routes available and most vehicles are air-conditioned, so at least you would be able to breathe if you get stuck in traffic.

Dubai Taxis

Taxi services are also regulated by the RTA.What’s interesting about the taxis is that the main body of the cars is always a cream colour and the roofs are painted in different colours representing the operators. There’s one operator, part of the RTA, Dubai Taxi Corporation, identified by red roofs and five private operators. Metro Taxis (orange roofs); Cars Taxis (blue roofs); City Taxis (purple roof); Network Taxis (yellow roofs) and Arabia Taxis (green roofs). There are also pink roofed taxis, which serve exclusively women and have female drivers.

Dubai Metro

Dubai also offers an overland Metro service - the Dubai Metro - which for now comprises of only two lines, green and red. They run all the way from Jebel Ali to the Airport and other areas. Two more lines have been planned and expected to be launched soon. All trains use automatic navigation and no drivers. Need a Dubai Metro map? You can also use water transport links to get from one place to another. For example, the most popular way of getting from Bur Dubai to Deira is by a small boat called an Abra.

Dubai - Pearl of the gulf - Abras in Dubai Creek
Abras on Dubai Creek

Another option would be the Water Bus System - fully air-conditioned, modern boats, serving specific destinations across the Creek. And if that’s not exciting enough, you can also call a Water Taxi. The widely prefered way of getting around by the people of Dubai is by private cars. With a population of just 2.6 million, there are over 1.5 million cars, meaning more than 1 in 2 people own and use their own car to move around. Want to see Appetti's Dubai related blogs?