Dubai is divided into multiple districts or municipalities:
- Jumeirah — A diverse district whose residents are the Europeans to the Filipinos to the Pakistanis; a mixed Little Europe, Karachi and Manila. Jumeirah is much favoured by Europeans due to the ease of access of the beach, Beautiful villas are seen here. Jumeirah Beach, Jumeirah Beach Residence’s the Walk and Jumeirah Mosque are the top attractions.
- Downtown Dubai — While Bur Dubai and Deira are traditionally considered “Downtown”, the Downtown Dubai development is smack in the centre of the “New Dubai,” between Dubai Marina on the south end and the border with the city of Sharjah to the north. It includes the Burj Khalifa (tallest building in the world), the Dubai Mall (world’s biggest), Dubai Fountain, and lots of other skyscrapers and hotels.
- Dubai Marina — is a mega-development that borders Jebel Ali (the world’s largest man-made port). It is full of skyscrapers and hosts the “Jumeirah Beach Walk” with a number of restaurants, hotels an open-air market when the weather permits, and frequent shows. Dubai Marina houses one of the highest concentrations of Westerns in Dubai.
- Satwa — One of Dubai’s Little India and Little Manila, due to the presence of Filipinos and Indians, a rise in Filipino and Indian restaurants, shops, supermarkets are seen here. Gold and textiles is what people come here for, Gold Souk might be your top destination but Satwa too has gold shops and is hassle free, not so crowded.
- Karama — More of like a mixed commercial residential district, one of Dubai’s Little Indias and Little Manilas, cheap eats and cheap buys are the top things here.
- Bur Dubai — A historical district and Bur Dubai is usual term for the area from Jumeirah to the creek, the creek separates Bur Dubai from Deira. Tourist attractions from abras to souks to floating restaurants to the famous creek are found here.
- Deira — Dubai’s old Financial centre, today Deira is a bustling commercial-residential district with some old souks, including one specializing in spices.
- Arabian Ranches and Emirates Hills — These are two separate places, residential rents here are expensive due to the land value, just like the whole of Dubai, these two are Man-made.
- Mirdiff/Mirdif — A commercial-residential district which is somewhat newly built and lies directly under the flight path to Dubai International Airport. City Centre Mirdif is one of the attractions. This is another residence for the well-to-do.
- International City — Just a simple residential area in the middle of the desert, what’s special about it is its architectural design, the residential rents here are cheap and is somewhat the next Chinatown as many Chinese businessmen and women reside here.
- Jebel Ali — Once isolated from the main bulk of Dubai back in the 70’s, Jebel Ali is now a major residential and industrial hub encompassing the southern portions of the city. The main attraction popular with locals and tourists alike is the easily recognizable Ibn Battuta Mall, styled on the countries visited by the famous explorers. The mall is built adjacent to the Ibn Battuta Gate Hotel that’s large archway can be seen from far. Surrounding the mall is the Garden’s apartment, an ethnically diverse district with a strong Indian community. Jebel Ali village, a 35 year old community built on the side of Jebel Ali (Ali Mountain) for the European builders of Jebel Ali Port is still popular with western experts. The coastal side of the Sheikh Zayed Road in Jebel Ali consists of many unattractive power and desanitation plants that somewhat ruin the view. The port was the 9th busiest port in the world in 2011.
Especially after the launch of the metro, Dubai’s public transport system is probably the best in the Middle East, but it’s still a very car-oriented city and most visitors end up taking taxis quite often. The Wojhati journey planner can suggest the best way to travel.
A day pass valid for unlimited rides on the metro and buses costs Dh14, while the Nol Silver stored-value card costs Dh25 (including Dh19 worth of balance) and gives a 10% discount on both metro and bus fares. Both are available at metro stations and major bus stations. The Silver card is useful for public transport users who stay in Dubai for more than a day.
- Al Ahmadiya School, Deira. Built in 1912, this was Dubai’s first school and has now been nicely restored. It would be a stretch to call the exhibits of old reed pens and diplomas fascinating, but they’ve tried pretty hard, and if nothing else, the air-con and clean toilets may come in handy. Free entry.
- Bastakiya District. One of the last remaining pockets of Old Dubai, home to many reconstructed buildings in the traditional style. While information on the structures is slim here (see the museum in preference), the atmosphere is very evocative and there are plenty of delightful art galleries and cafes to explore.
- Dubai Museum, Al Ibn Abi Talib Road, ph: +971 (4) 353-1862. A must-see for anyone interested in the social history of the Emirate (and indeed the country). A visit starts at the al-Fahidi fort, which has a few examples of the traditional reed houses and other artefacts, but isn’t much to look at. The more interesting part is the modern extension built underneath the fort, showcasing Dubai’s history using the latest technology and culminating in a reconstructed souq from the pearling days, complete with authentic sights and sounds. It is quite fascinating to see the speed at which the transition from poor pearling village to modern metropolis occurred. Admission AED3.
- Jumeirah Mosque, Jumeirah Road, Jumeirah 1 (opposite Palm Strip Mall). Is the largest in the city, and a wonderful example of Islamic architecture. Built in the medieval Fatimid tradition with the interior decorated with elaborate Arabic calligraphy. It is one of few mosques in the city open for visits by non-Muslims, the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding conducts special tours for non-Muslims to help promote understanding of Islam. Guided tours are available on Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday beginning at 10AM, followed by a question-and-answer session. Located on Jumeirah Road, the mosque is an especially great place to visit in the evening when it’s dramatically illuminated by floodlights.
- Shindagha District — Home to the open museums of the Heritage Village, and has the home of former Sheikh Rashid Al-Maktoum.
- Souks — There are a number of nice souks, or markets, on both sides of the creek that are worth exploring. They sell everything from spices to crafts to very inexpensive tourist t-shirts.
- Burj Khalifa. Until recently called Burj Dubai, at 828 metres and 160 floors this is the world’s tallest structure by a long shot, over 300m taller than the previous contender in Taipei. The observation deck at the 124th floor is the 2nd highest in the world after the Shanghai World Financial centre. Already dominating the Dubai skyline, the newly opened tower houses nine hotels and a Las Vegas-inspired fountain system. The visitors’ entrance is located at the lower ground floor of Dubai Mall. Although the tour is called At the Top be aware that it isn’t! Although the observation deck is the highest open deck in the world, at 452m it’s just over halfway up the tower itself. Console yourself with the knowledge that most of the rest of the tower consists of service areas and the view below looks suitably ant-like. Tickets cost Dhs 125 for a timed entry ticket, usually later the same day, or Dhs 400 if you do not want to wait. Tickets can sell out several days in advance, and it is advisable to book them online ahead of your visit.
- The Dubai Fountain. At 270m (900ft) in length and sporting a jet that shoots water up to 150m (500 ft), the Dubai Fountain is indeed the world’s largest dancing fountain and one with a very enticing display – a definite must see. The show starts every evening at the Burj Dubai Lake. Easy way to approach it is via the Dubai Mall. Shows are every 30 minutes from 6pm to 10pm on weekdays and from 6pm to 11pm on weekends. It’s the world’s largest dancing fountain with classical, Arabic and world music. About 1.5 million lumens of projected light and the spray heights of up to 150m/500 ft (22,000 gallons of airborne water).
- Burj al-Arab hotel. For a real glimpse into “how the other half lives”, (self-proclaimed as the only 7 star hotel in the world), afternoon tea, or cocktails, may be an interesting experience. Entry to the hotel requires a reservation which will be confirmed at the entry gate, although residents of adjacent Jumeirah hotels may be able to visit by arrangement. Other tourists may occasionally be able to book tours of the hotel itself, however these will not run when the hotel is full. A “very smart casual” dress code applies. Reservations are usually required about a month in advance for a room, but a few days will generally suffice for a meal.
- Dubai Marina. One of the newer and more popular areas of Modern Dubai, both with residents and tourists. It offers numerous features such as a phenomenal skyline, world class hotels, a fabulous beach, a mall, and 2 different walkways (The Walk and Marina Walk) with coffee shops, restaurants, and shops. Marina Walk is right on the “Marina water”, and there are many yachts there. You can rent a yacht for a cruise around the area. The Walk has a nice open market run from October till May, every Fridays and Saturdays at daylight.
- Palm Islands. The three largest artificial islands in the world are located just off the coast of Dubai; a major urban development to add a significant amount of upscale beachfront property to the area. Each of the islands is shaped like a palm leaf, with a trunk connected to the mainland, fronds extending from the trunk, and a crescent (a breakwater encircling the trunk and fronds). Of the three planned, the Palm Jumeirah, at 5km square and near Dubai Marina, is the only one yet open, connected to the mainland by a freeway bridge and a monorail and sporting marinas, luxury resorts, and upscale shopping areas.
Beaches and sea
There are endless water-sport opportunities as Dubai has some of the whitest and sandiest beaches in the world. Ocean temperatures range from 22°C in winter up to 35°C in summer. Try a Banana boat or and parasailing or other watersport activity.
However there are few wave breaks and the strong winds can make swimming difficult. The water is also very salty so many prefer to use their hotel swimming pool.
Diving activities have been severely affected by offshore construction work for the Palms and The World; consequently, long boat trips are necessary to reach wreck sites. Alternatively, one can make the 90 minute road journey to the East coast Emirate of Fujairah or the Sharjah enclave, Khor Fakkan, for top class diving on coral reefs supporting extensive marine life.
- Dubai Creek Cruise. The Dubai creek is the foundation from which Dubai grew. It originally served as a port for trading vessels plying to and from India, Africa and the Middle East. Today a bit of the old shipping culture still remains. In and around the creek you can see some of the original buildings that have served as customs houses and defensive structures. You can book a ride on the creek with a dinner cruise or even rent a private boat to take you on a hour long ride up and down the creek.
- Fishing. Bottom fishing uses bait such as squid by stopping the boat in the middle of the sea. Trolling is done to catch big fish by using trolling lures or plastic fish as bait. Fish caught include queen fish, snappers, tuna, cobia, emperor, Spanish mackerel and barracuda. There are large numbers of companies offering fishing boats like the Dubai Dhow. Some advanced and modern fishing boats have been upgraded to luxury vessels that have accommodation rooms along with the requisites to make the stay comfortable and convenient.
Some boats are well equipped with life jackets, flares, first aid facilities and all precautionary measures with fully trained staff.
- Hire a Yacht in Dubai, Party Cruise Dubai P.O. Box 80622 (Port Saeed), ☎ 97142394760. 24h. Celebrate love the way songs and movies do with a romantic sail across the tranquil waters with the gentle sea breeze and the refreshing ocean waves all around you, you get all the loving tenderness that will surely melt the heart of your sweetheart. AED600.
- Nalora dinner cruise while visiting the modern Dubai Skyscraper around Dubai Marina.
- Yacht Charter. Chartering on the Arabian Sea in Dubai has become a lure for a huge range of tourists from all over the world. You can choose from multiple options like luxury yachts, speed racing yachts and many more. Each yacht differs from others with different features. For water sport activities, yacht charters are equipped with all needed modern technology and safety measures.
Although at first glance the outdoors may seem dull and uninteresting, and even dangerous due to the desert conditions, there are actually amazing natural destinations in the emirate of Dubai, which extends into Hatta – the difficulty is in knowing where to find them! There are pristine waterfalls, cliffs lined with fossils, even freshwater lakes.
Weekenduae is a blog that freely shares ideas, routes and plans for weekend adventures with all trip details including description, GPS track, interactive map, and photos.
- Desert Safari or Dune Bashing for which Dubai is well known. Dune Bashing uses 4×4 safari jeeps, sand boards, quad bikes and dune buggies. There are several operators so look around and compare prices and offerings.
Another option would be renting or buying a 4×4 and joining the many growing 4×4 clubs in the UAE, which are varied and each have their own different flavour: ad4x4, uaeoffroaders, arabianoffroader, me4x4, emarat4x4, etc. They offer a free learning experience for all newcomers with scheduled weekly trips to suit all levels of driving skills with some of them having over 2,000 members of many nationalities.
You may want to stay clear of the dune-bashing if you know that you get carsick easily.
Parks & paid attractions
- Al Safa Park is one of the oldest in Dubai. It’s a favourite for sports enthusiasts, and many visitors enjoy playing tennis, volleyball, and soccer. Children love playing games in the video arcade, or riding the Ferris wheel and bumper cars. The park even has a maze to wander through. Barbecues and picnic areas are available for those who want to make a day of it.
- Camel Races. The Camel Race Track is one of the more unusual attractions, with races being held on Thursday and Friday in the winter. Not only can you watch the races, but you’ll have the opportunity to visit the paddocks. Vendors sell everything from beads to rugs and blankets, so you can purchase souvenirs. Madinat Jumeirah is also known as Jumeirah City, and is a complex of residential neighbourhoods, two luxury hotels, and a shopping mall.
- Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, located on the Ground Level of The Dubai Mall. 10:00-12:00. One of the largest suspended aquariums in the world, with a 10-million litre tank, hosting thousands of fish and other underwater wildlife for visitors and residents to watch. Tickets are available online. AED70.
- Dubai Miracle Garden, Located in Dubailand near the Arabian Ranches. Dubai Miracle Garden contains over 45 million flowers over a 72,000 sq metre site and, as well as traditional flowerbeds, it features topiary-style displays with blooms fashioned into the shapes of hearts, stars, igloos, pyramids.
- Dubai Dolphinarium, (Near to Creek).
- Dubai Zoo, Jumeirah Road. An outdoor zoo near to the beach. Considering the extreme temperatures during the summer months, there are plans to bring the zoo indoors. The zoo is not worth visiting as the number and variety of animals are few, and housing conditions are also appalling. Animals are trapped in cages too small for them to take more than a few steps, and are frustrated and bored. Admission 3AED.
- Global Village. Annually and operated by Dubai Land Co, this usually happens during winter; from Late November to late February. Countries around the world gather and set up a small village in the outskirts of Dubai, each country/region has its own pavilion with a unique replica of their famous landmark(s). This is usually like a flea market where you can get souvenirs from almost every corner of the earth for a bargained price and experience as if you’re in that certain country for at least 10 minutes of your life even if you’re 10,000km away. Raffles for cars and gold bars also happen. You’d see the hieroglyphics of Egypt, temples of Thailand, Forbidden city of Beijing, the Eiffel tower and many more. Admission is AED15 (Feb 2014).
- Golf. It may be a desert, but a lot of money and water is spent on irrigating opulent golf courses. Alternatively, for a more local flavour, try sand golf!
- Hot Air Balloon. Great fun seeing all the sand dunes and mountains early in the morning or during sunset.
- Ski. Dubai now has its own snow skiing centre. Located in the new Mall of the Emirates (MOE), on the Sheikh Zayed Road, it offers both skiing and snowboarding. The slope is quite large for an indoor area. All equipment is available for hire. Although it’s -4°C inside, you don’t need to bring a jacket because they supply pretty much everything except gloves and a hat (which you can buy right there). A 2 hour pass costs AED180 plus AED20 for a locker.
- Wild Wadi is the perfect place for the entire family to spend a day as well as being a great way to beat the heat and enjoy the day away from the bustle of the city. Located close to the hotels and resorts of Jumeriah Beach, the park has water rides, slides, and a lagoon that’s hidden away. You’ll enjoy waterfalls, out of the way swimming holes, and a tidal pool.