Top 10 Dubai Attractions–No.10, Mall of the Emirates & Ski Dubai

Mall of the Emirates & Ski Dubai

The final place of interest on my list of Top 10 Dubai Attractions is yet another mall, though this is special as it contains a 22,500 square metre indoor ski slope covered with real snow all year round.

Ski DubaiSki Dubai

Here you can ski, snowboard, encounter penguins or just mess around in the frigid conditions. For snow-starved Emiratis this place is quite a novelty. No doubt some of the locals are becoming accomplished skiers and snowboarders though I note there is no UAE team competing in the Sochi Winter Olympics which get under way today.

Ski Dubai

Elsewhere in the mall, apart from the usual shops (about 560 of them!) there are two adjoining 5 star hotels, 14 cinema screens, kiddies indoor amusement park and the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (DUCTAC). Worth a visit.

Mall of the EmiratesCollectors World was once located here.

Top 10 Dubai Attractions – No.9, Atlantis, The Palm

Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai

The luxurious Atlantis hotel draws coachloads of day-trippers who come to gawp at its striking design and use its facilities, even if most cannot afford to stay there.

It is special for 3 reasons:

1. Location. It is situated on the outer rim of Dubai’s famous Palm Island (Palm Jumeirah), the artificial island in the shape of a palm tree. Tourists who are not on a coach tour can reach the Atlantis via the Palm Island monorail which provides an elevated view of the expensive villas and apartments which are crammed onto the individual fronds making up the island. There are some nice looking villas but they are rather close together. and while they all have their own beachfront access, there must always be the concern that the island might one day slip back under the sea.

Palm Island monorail. Trains depart every 23 minutes.Villas on Palm Jumeirah

Palm Jumeirah Monorail Tracks

2. Rooms. The Atlantis’ normal rooms have all the standard 5 star amenities but the hotel does offer some extra special suites. There are two Underwater Suites with floor to ceiling glass windows into the lagoon aquarium allowing passing fish to get a good look of you in your bath. Even more decadent, for the sheikh who has everything, is the Royal Bridge Suite which occupies the entire bridge spanning the two wings above the arch in the top photo. This 3 bedroom suite is a massive 924 sq. metres and the master bedroom comes with his and hers ensuite bathrooms. The hotel’s website does not quote the room rate for this suite but, as they say, ‘if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it’. (That’s a silly expression really. Rich people not only ask the price, they also ask for a discount – that’s how they got rich in the first place!)

The Lost Chambers Aquarium, Atlantis, DubaiCeiling at Atlantis, The Palm

3. Marine & Waterpark. The main attractions at Atlantis are its water theme park facilities and you don’t have to stay at the hotel to use them.

  • The Lost Chambers Aquarium is the top aquarium attraction in Dubai and is said to be home to 65,000 marine animals.
  • Dolphin Bay and Sea Lion Point provide guests the chance to swim with dolphins and get kissed by the hairy muzzle of a fishy-smelling sea lion.
  • Aquaventure Waterpark includes a giant waterslide where adrenaline addicts can plummet 9 storeys into a clear acrylic tube inside a shark infested lagoon.

Swim with Dolphins, Atlantis, DubaiAquaventure Waterpark, Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai

Yes, at Atlantis there is no shortage of ways to separate tourists from their money. Typically my daughter wants us to stay at this hotel on our next holiday but I don’t think they cater for thrifty travellers like me.

Next Post: Top Dubai Attraction No.10, Mall of the Emirates & Ski Dubai

Top 10 Dubai Attractions – No.8, Madinat Jumeirah

Gateway to Madinat JumeirahMadinat Jumeirah, Dubai

Madinat Jumeirah Resort describes itself as ‘an authentic recreation of ancient Arabia, capturing the natural beauty of the region’. I’m not sure about the ‘authentic’ part – it’s more like an Arabian themed Disneyland – but the owners, Jumeirah Group, have certainly created an outstanding resort which deserves to be included among Dubai’s top attractions.

Traditional Souq at Madinat JumeirahSyrian inlaid wooden handicrafts at Souq Madinat Jumeirah

The resort comprises two first class hotels, a traditional souq, some 40 restaurants and bars, a mini-waterway complete with abras, a private beach and a number of beachside luxury holiday villas all designed in stunning Arabian style architecture incorporating Dubai’s trademark wind-towers.

Electric powered abra at Madinat Jumeirah with Burj Al Arab behind.

The famous Burj Al Arab hotel overlooks the resort which is also next door to the excellent Wild Wadi Waterpark. If I had money to burn I would probably have chosen to stay in one of their exquisite private villas. Since I don’t, I had to make do with a meal at one of the nice restaurants and watched the world go by.

Terrace at Toscana Italian restaurant, Madinat Jumeirah.

Perhaps the Jumeirah Group would like to invite me and my family back for a complimentary stay in exchange for this extremely flattering write-up!

Turkish glass lamps and hookahs at Madinat Jumeirah.

Next Post: Top Dubai Attraction No.9, Atlantis & Palm Island

Top 10 Dubai Attractions – No.7, Burj Khalifa & Dubai Mall

Burj Khalifa, Dubai

Few people could fail to be impressed by Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Naturally its height is enormous – at 828m, it dwarfs the second tallest building in the world, Taipei 101 (509m).

Its design is clean and elegant and it is very photogenic, provided you can manage to squeeze it all into your camera’s viewfinder.

I have a theory that when any city announces it is starting to build the world’s tallest building, that is usually a signal to get out of the property market because a crash is coming. It certainly was the case in Dubai. There is some logic behind this assertion. Such towers are so phenomenally expensive to build that the only way their construction costs can be financially justified is to assume that completed units can be sold for staggering amounts and that is a sign of an over-heated property market. When property prices in Dubai took a tumble, this project, and many others, started to look in peril.

Of course there was no way Dubai would allow this flagship venture to fail and fortunately for Dubai, its oil-rich big brother down the road, Abu Dhabi, has some of the world’s deepest pockets and was willing to give whatever support was necessary. In recognition of Abu Dhabi’s help, the tower was renamed Burj Khalifa (in honour of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, Abu Dhabi’s Ruler and President of the UAE) – originally it was to have been called Burj Dubai.

Window Cleaners at Burj Khalifa, Dubai

Window Cleaners at Burj Khalifa, Dubai

The Burj has 1,292,500 square feet of glass and employs a team of 36 intrepid window cleaners who brave high winds, blinding glare, dust storms and searing heat to keep the tower spanking clean. I hope they get well paid! It’s a long way down to retrieve their squeegees if they drop them.

Visitors can buy tickets to the observatory called At the Top on the 124th floor. The cost is Dh125 per adult and Dh95 for kids. It was all sold out on the day of my visit so best to book online in advance to avoid disappointment.  Immediate Entry tickets for Dh400 are possible subject to availability which avoid the queues.

Man-made 30 acre lake at Burj Khalifa, Dubai

Burj Khalifa forms the centrepiece of a much larger development which includes Dubai Mall, a few hotels, apartments and office blocks and an attractive 30 acre lake where the impressive Dubai Fountain display, the world’s largest dancing fountain, is staged nightly.

Dubai Mall

Dubai Mall has all the famous brands and up–market stores that you would expect. Some expansion work is in progress as the Mall tries to hang on to the coveted title of … you guessed it, the ‘world’s largest shopping mall’.

The Souk at Dubai Mall

The Mall has its own Gold Souq which  in summer, is far more comfortable than the traditional outdoor Gold Souq in Deira.

Level Shoe District at Dubai Mall

Interior of Dubai Mall

The Mall is also home to Dubai Aquarium which includes a walkthrough tunnel, underwater zoo and glass bottom boat ride. If you don’t fancy splashing out Dh110 on the tickets you can get a free sneak preview through the viewing panel in the Mall.

Viewing Panel, Dubai Aquarium, Dubai Mall

I suppose if I had to rank my Top 10 Dubai Attractions, Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall would have to come top.

Next Post: Top Dubai Attraction No.8, Madinat Jumeirah

Top 10 Dubai Attractions – No.6, Beaches

Beach near Mercato in Dubai

No holiday in Dubai would be complete without spending time on one of the emirate’s lovely sandy beaches. Sea temperatures range from bracingly cool in winter to hot bath-like in summer. A trip to the beach is definitely one of the Top 10 Dubai Attractions, but which beach?

Dubai’s coastline is fairly short – measuring just 75km from the border with Sharjah up to the border with Abu Dhabi. Not only that, but long stretches of coastline are used for industrial purposes such as Port Rashid, Dubai Dry Dock, the electricity and desalination plants, Dubai Aluminium and Jebel Ali Port and Free Zone. This strategic industrial infrastructure was put in place at a time when it was never envisaged that tourism would become so important to Dubai.

Fortunately there are enough attractive beaches left over to accommodate the city’s 10 million tourist arrivals per year and 2 million residents.

There are over 600 hotels in Dubai, most of which are not located on a beach. Many of them offer a free shuttle bus to the beach and nearly always drop off guests at Jumeirah Beach Park. This is probably one of the best stretches of beach in Dubai with trees for shade, chairs and umbrellas to rent, food stalls, toilets, showers and a park but it gets pretty busy so this is probably not the best beach to go to unless you enjoy crowded places.

Dubai Open Beach

Dubai Open Beach (or Jumeirah Open Beach) is an alternative beach near the Jumeirah Mosque. They have cute changing cabins, lockers, showers, toilets, drinks stalls and a life guard. They also have policemen to enforce the ‘Strictly no Photography on the Beach’ rule which I didn’t realise until I had been merrily snapping away.

Changing Cabins, Dubai Open BeachJumeirah Mosque

Other good beaches can be found at Umm Suqeim Public Beach (probably my favourite with nice views of the Burj Al Arab hotel) and another stretch in front of the Dubai Marina area.

But actually you don’t need to go to one of the recognised public beach areas since the whole coastline from the Open Beach up until Umm Suqeim Public Beach is more or less one continuous beach and you can sit and swim anywhere, especially now that beach reclamation work has restored many of the previously eroded beaches.

This beach for example is in front of Mercato Mall and as you can see it is not too busy.

Beach in front of Mercato Mall, Dubai

Dubai has made up for its lack of natural coastline by creating its own artificial coast. At the peak of Dubai’s exuberant property bubble, around 2005-2007, there were plans to increase its coastline by more than tenfold through its hugely ambitious Palm Jumeirah, Palm Jebel Ali, Palm Deira, The World, Dubai Waterfront and Arabian Canal mega-projects.

Dubai's ambitious reclamation projects

Map of Dubai's reclamation projects

Of these projects, only Palm Jumeirah has more or less been completed. The others were shelved or scrapped from mid-2008 following Dubai’s property price collapse and financial crisis.  The basic reclamation work for Palm Jebel Ali is done but the project is on hold. Only the stump of Palm Deira was reclaimed before work stopped. The 300 man-made islands of The World were created and mostly sold off but only two have so far been developed. Dubai Waterfront and Arabian Canal are on hold.

Now that Dubai’s economy has recovered and the property market is hotting up again we should not be surprised to see some of these plans revived.

The World, Dubai (looks less than 300 islands)

Next Post: Top Dubai Attraction No.7, Burj Khalifa & Dubai Mall

Top 10 Dubai Attractions – No. 5, Ibn Battuta Mall

Andulusia Court entrance to Ibn Battuta Mall

Ibn Battuta the manIbn Battuta Shopping Mall claims to be the world’s largest themed shopping mall. It is named after the famed Moroccan traveller and scholar Ibn Battuta who, over a 30 year period starting in 1325, toured extensively throughout the Islamic world and beyond. He wrote up his odyssey in an account called Rihla (The Journey), which perhaps makes him the first ever travel blogger!

India Court, Ibn Battuta Mall, Dubai

The mall is divided into six themed courts reflecting regions visited by Ibn Battuta – China, India, Persia, Egypt, Tunisia and Andalusia with decor and architecture to match. Dotted around the mall are various exhibits detailing Ibn Battuta’s travels and achievements. Of course 99.9% of shoppers completely ignore these and focus entirely on the shops but at least the management have made a good effort to differentiate this mall from all the others in Dubai.  I think it has been very nicely done.

Dome of Persia Court, Ibn Battuta Mall

The Mall is built on one level and is a massive 1.3km long. If you walk from one end to the other you’ll probably be in need of some refreshment. Adjacent to the Mall is the Mövenpick Hotel whose cavernous interior contains 8 watering holes and restaurants to choose from.

Movenpick Hotel Ibn Battuta Mall

The Mövenpick  has been designed and decorated, inside and out, to fit in with the Mall’s concept and very smart it looks too.

Ibn Battuta Mall is definitely worth a visit and easily accessible by Metro.

Interior of Movenpick Hotel, Ibn Battuta Mall

Next Post: Top Dubai Attraction No.6, The Beach

Top 10 Dubai Attractions – No.4, Dubai Metro

Ibn Battuta Metro station, Dubai

I was keen to try out the Metro on my recent visit to Dubai as it was still under construction when I left there in 2009. I have included it as a Top Attraction since it was the first train network to be completed in the Arabian Peninsula since the Ottoman-built  Hejaz railway which was blown up by Lawrence of Arabia a century ago.

Dubai Rail Network map

The network comprises two lines – the Red line from Jebel Ali to Rashidiya (via the Airport) and the Green line from Creek to Etisalat in Al Qusais. The route runs partly underground but mostly on elevated tracks above ground, providing travellers with a fresh view of the city.

Dubai Metro train approaching Karama station. 

The Red line stops at the Airport (terminals 1 and 3) so in theory tourists could take the Metro on arrival if their hotel is located near a station though probably not if they have a lot of baggage.

Burjuman Metro Station, Dubai

As you would expect from Dubai, the stations are very clean, smart and glitzy. The above-ground ones are shaped like golden armadillos.

When construction of the Metro first began many thought that it would be a white elephant knowing that Arabs are so devoted to their cars that they would never use a train. Once again, Dubai has proved the doubters wrong. The trains seem to be very busy and on my three trips I was unable to get a seat in the crowded carriages. True I didn’t see many UAE Nationals on the trains but in a country where foreigners make up over 80% of the total population there are plenty of potential Metro customers.

Al Karama Metro Station, Dubai

Next Post: Top Attraction No.5, Ibn Battuta Mall

Top 10 Dubai Attractions – No.3, Spice Souq and Gold Souq

Entrance to Dubai Gold Souq

 Perhaps a bit too showy to wear to the supermarket.

Need a modest little gold necklace for everyday use like this one?

Look no further than Dubai’s ever popular gold souk, located a short walk from the abra station.

For decades this place has been where local resident ladies come to buy their gold as well as being one of Dubai’s top tourist attractions.

Most of the gold sold here is solid 22 or 24 karat although imported Italian 18k red, yellow and white gold has become common in recent years.

There are over 275 shops in the Dubai Gold Souq and it is estimated that over 10 tons of gold is on display in their shop windows at any one time. Apparently 95% of all tourists to Dubai buy gold. Unluckily for my wife, I was one of the thrifty 5% who didn’t, on this occasion at least.

Gold necklaces at Dubai Gold SouqGold rings and bracelets at Dubai Gold Souq

Not content with being a major gold market, Dubai has also built up a reputation as a centre for diamonds and these have added sparkle to the shop windows of the gold souq.

Gold is sold by weight plus a mark-up for labour charges. Diamond  jewellery (and other precious stones) is more difficult for the amateur shopper to value and there is more scope for being overcharged. Extended haggling is expected and required before buying anything here.

Dubai Spice Souq

The Spice Souq is a short walk from the Gold Souq. It comprises a couple of narrow alleys with shops selling a wide range of colourful and pungent spices such as saffron, dried chillies, cinnamon sticks, nuts, dates, tea and shisha tobacco. Resinous frankincense and myrrh are popular with tourists who may not have seen them before, as are camel sticks, pottery incense burners and hubble bubbles. The spice souk cannot really compare with the fantastic spice bazaars in Istanbul but they are worth a quick look.

Spice shop at Deira Spice Market

In the area surrounding the gold souk are streets with concentrations of perfume shops, wholesale shops, shoes, clothing and household items and if you are in the mood for shopping you are sure to find some bargains and unusual purchases.

Next Post: Top Attraction No. 4, Dubai Metro

Top 10 Dubai Attractions – No.2, Crossing the Creek by Abra

Abra hugging the Dubai side bank of the creek in front of the Ruler's Office

The 2nd on my list of Top 10 Dubai Attractions is an abra ride on the creek.

Hong Kong has the Star Ferry. Dubai has the abrathe cheapest and, in my view, most enjoyable way of crossing the creek from Dubai to Deira, especially in the refreshingly cool winter months.

Abras reversing out from the Bur Dubai abra station.

These traditional wooden boats, unique to Dubai, ferry up to twenty passengers at a time across the creek for the modest fee of Dh1 per person. There are two routes. One departs from the Bur Dubai abra station in front of the Bank of Baroda building and drops you off close to the Spice Souq on Deira side. The other route runs between Bur Dubai Textile Souq abra station and the Al Sabkha abra station on Deira side, not far from Baniyas Square.

I worked in this building back in the 1980s

The drivers do not go in for small talk and concentrate on collecting the fares while skilfully negotiating the currents and marine traffic on the creek before smoothly docking at the purpose built jetties which have made embarking and disembarking much safer than it used to be in the old days.

Abra Driver with his money box.

Most passengers tend to spend the five minute journey in silence, admiring the view, contemplating the clear green water and trying not to inhale too much of the abra’s rather nasty exhaust fumes. (Tip: sit near the front of the boat for slightly fresher air). Occasionally locals throw crumbs to the seagulls who always seem to follow boats.

Seagulls following an abra

Dubai is not blessed with abundant natural resources. It is not rich in oil and gas unlike its neighbour Abu Dhabi. There are no rivers and its scorching summer temperatures and scant rainfall make agriculture next to impossible. In the past, apart from fishing and pearling, Dubai’s only economic activity of note was trade and at this they excelled. The creek was where it all took place and ocean-going dhows stocked up with all manner of goods destined for nearby countries. Today Dubai has massive modern container port facilities at Port Rashid and Jebel Ali but even so, the creek is still bustling with traditional wooden ships being loaded with cars, fridges, cooking oil, rice, tires and goodness knows what else for shipment to Iran, other Gulf countries, India, Pakistan, Somalia, Kenya, Yemen and elsewhere.

Note the tractor and cars being shipped on deck underneath a pile of boxes. Let's hope they do not encounter rough seas!

One can only admire what an amazing job Dubai has done in creating a thriving city, commercial hub and tourist destination out of almost nothing.

Note the 'thunderbox' toilets hanging over the side of this vessel.

Next Post : Top Dubai Attraction No.3, Spice Souq and Gold Souq

Top 10 Dubai Attractions


It was lovely to be back in Dubai again recently after a gap of several years.

Dubai is a city I know well having lived and worked there for ten years but this time I was travelling as a tourist and seeing it from a fresh perspective. I revisited some of my favourite haunts and explored a couple of new ones which are recent additions to the city’s long list of attractions.

There is plenty to see and do in Dubai. Actually some of the best activities are outside the city limits or in neighbouring Emirates, for example a trip to the sand dunes along the Hatta Road, a visit to Sharjah souq, or a tour of the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

For those tourists who are short of time and money here are my suggested Top 10 Dubai Attractions, all of which are conveniently located within the city limits and accessible by public transport/taxis:

NB. These are listed randomly, not ranked in order of preference.

No.1  – Old Dubai

Windtower house in Bastakiya, Dubai

Once upon a time Dubai was just a creek where fishing and pearling dhows could take shelter from the occasionally rough waves of the Persian Gulf (or Arabian Gulf depending on your politics). On the southern bank of the creek was Dubai and on the northern bank was Deira. There was often bitter rivalry between the neighbouring clans resulting in the odd skirmish. Then under the wise leadership of the ruling family they patched up their differences and have never looked back since as Dubai has gone from strength to strength. But the waterfronts of Dubai-side and Deira-side still retain their own distinct atmospheres. This attraction, Old Dubai,  refers to the Bastakiya area, the Bur Dubai Souq and the Dubai side of the creek up as far as Shindagah where the creek meets the sea.

Arabian Tea House, Bastakiya,Dubai

Until the 1960s nearly all the buildings in the small town of Dubai looked like this with mud and coral stone walls, topped with a wind tower designed to catch the sea breezes and funnel them down into the house below. For the sake of modernity, most of the old houses were demolished in the 1970s and replaced with concrete breeze block constructions cooled by air conditioning. Rather late in the day it was realised that it was a mistake to sweep away Dubai’s unique heritage buildings and efforts were made to salvage and restore what remained.  They have done a good job in making the most of what survived and these buildings are concentrated in Bastakiya alongside the Ruler’s Office. Many have been converted into galleries, studios, restaurants and museums.

Orient Guest House, Bastakiya, Dubai

Tourists wishing to experience a traditional style Arab courtyard home can stay at the Orient Guest House, a cosy hotel in the Bastakiya area.

Bur Dubai Souq 

There is a small souq running parallel to the creek. The shop-fronts have been given a makeover to make them look older and more authentic than they really are. It’s rather touristy so hard bargaining is required.

Veggie Samosas in Dubai

Look out for these delicious vegetable samosas on sale in this area. These spicy potato-filled snacks have to be the best veggie samosas in the world.

Dubai Museum

Nearby is the Dubai Museum housed in an ancient fort which is probably one of Dubai’s oldest structures.

Those with plenty of energy can continue to walk on the embankment of the creek all the way to the Shindagah area where the Heritage Village and the Diving Village are located. These are living museums where potters, weavers and other local crafts people practice their traditional arts for the benefit of tourists.

Mosque in Old Dubai

Next Post: No.2 – Abra Ride on the Creek