Dubai has more to offer than I ever imagined. While I expected the parade of architectural marvels competing as if in a skyscraper beauty contest, the dancing fountains, edgy art and old world alleys were just a few of the surprises Dubai held in store.
There is no better place to appreciate the scale and pace of development of the past two decades than from the heights of the Burj Khalifa – currently the tallest building in the world. There are two ways to avoid the endless lines: make a reservation for a meal, drinks or afternoon tea at At.mosphere located on the 122nd floor, or buy an At the Top VIP ticket which is pricey but includes extensive refreshments and access to the 145th floor.
Adjacent to the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Mall bills itself as the “largest and most-visited retail and entertainment destination.” Who am I to argue given its 5.9 million square feet of interior space and 80 million visitors per year. In addition to over 1200 shops including branches of just about every fashion name on the globe, there is an aquarium, ice rink, cinemas and even an Airbus 380 flight simulator. Truly something for everyone.
A full morning at the Burj and Dubai Mall was more than enough for my friend and me. We headed over to the Al Quoz neighborhood for a complete change of pace.
We were a little confused as we approached the Alserkal Avenue Arts Complex after a leisurely lunch at Tom and Serg (see Foodie Friday | Old and New Dubai). From the street, it more closely resembles a used car dealership or industrial park (its former self), than the thriving 50+ gallery and restaurant complex that it is. Our first clue manifested itself in one-half of Mary Ellen Carroll’s “Circle Game,” a two-part LED installation (above).
Venturing inside, we came upon an arts festival in full swing, one of many special events held throughout the year. There were concerts, poetry readings, dance performances and art projects. The entire area is vehicle free and provided a fabulous contrast to the hustle and bustle of Dubai’s business district.
A side note on the “Circle Game”: having lived overseas for several years, I appreciate the significance of these two questions that were part of any introductory conversation among expats.
Another day of contrasts, this time starting the day with breakfast at the Arabian Tea House in the historic district of Al Bastakiya, also known as Al Fahidi. Established in the 1890s, this neighborhood retains much of its original charm with lovely courtyards, wind towers as well as art galleries and museums. I recommend National Geographic’s self-guided walking tour .
We stopped in at the Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Centre for Cultural Understanding whose fabulous motto is Open Doors Open Minds. Unfortunately, we did not plan ahead and so were unable to participate in one of their cultural meals. That is at the top of my list for the next time.
Next stop was the metro station to enjoy a trip on Dubai’s RTA. In addition to spotless stations and trains, the RTA provides a super-efficient way to traverse the city.
The elevated tracks provide great views of the burgeoning skyline.
Last, but not least – in fact the #1 attraction in Dubai: the Dancing Fountains!
Five minutes on the half-hour every night – no need to worry about missing out! They are quite a spectacle and extremely popular. A word to the wise: they can be seen from many different points including the outdoor seating at several restaurants and the sky garden at the Dubai Opera. The further away from the Dubai Mall, the better the view and the fewer the people.
When planning a trip to Dubai (or anywhere), do as I say not as I do, or rather did. While I reached out to several friends whom I knew had spent time in Dubai, I did not do the full due diligence I could have/should have/would have done if I knew then what I know now. I underestimated this emirate and as a result was unable to fully appreciate all it has to offer. Fortunately, I was still able to take in a lot of the attractions, especially the burgeoning gallery and food scene.
Before you go, check out these two blogs for tips and up to date info: Dubai Confidential and Ishita Unblogged. Also, as mentioned above, make a reservation for a cultural meal at Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Centre for Cultural Understanding. If you can, book a food-centric tour with Frying Pan Adventures.
Check out Foodie Friday | Old and New Dubai for my favorite places to eat.