Dubai is a stirring alchemy of profound traditions and ambitious futuristic vision wrapped into starkly evocative desert splendour.Catch a show at the Dubai Opera, see downtown from atop the Burj Khalifa and spend an afternoon along Dubai Creek exploring the gold, textile and spice souks. If you’re looking for thrills, you can float above the desert dunes in a hot air balloon, climb aboard a high-speed ride at IMG Worlds of Adventure or skydive over the Palm Jumeirah.
It's hard not to admire Dubai for its indefatigable verve, ambition and ability to dream up and realise projects that elsewhere would never get off the drawing board. This is a superlative-craving society that has birthed audaciously high buildings and palm-shaped islands. Sci-fi concepts such as flying taxis, a lightning-fast hyperloop train and an army of robocops are all reflections of a mindset that fearlessly embraces the future. And with many more grand projects in the pipeline for World Expo 2020, it's clear that Dubai is a city firmly in charge of writing its own narrative.
Dubai is a top retail haunt that hosts not one but two huge annual shopping festivals. Shopping is a leisure activity here and malls are much more than just mere collections of stores. Some look like an Italian palazzo or a Persian palace and lure visitors with surreal attractions such as an indoor ski slope or a giant aquarium. Traditional souqs, too, are beehives of activity humming with timeless bargaining banter. Meanwhile, a new crop of urban-style outdoor malls has expanded the shopping spectrum yet again.
After dark, Dubai sometimes seems like a city filled with lotus eaters, forever on the lookout for a good time. Its shape-shifting party spectrum caters for just about every taste, budget and age group. From flashy dance temples, sleek rooftop terraces and sizzling beach clubs to fancy cocktail caverns and concerts under the stars, Dubai delivers hot-stepping odysseys. Most of the nightlife centres on the fancy hotels, but there’s no shortage of more wholesome diversions either, including shisha lounges, community theatre, live-music venues and the sparkling new Dubai Opera.
With Emiratis making up only a fraction of the population, Dubai is a bustling microcosm peacefully shared by cultures from all corners of the world. This diversity expresses itself in the culinary landscape, fashion, music and performance. Although rooted in Islamic tradition, this is an open society where it’s easy for newcomers and visitors to connect with myriad experiences, be it eating like a Bedouin, dancing on the beach, shopping for local art or riding a camel in the desert. Dubai is a fertile environment conducive to breaking down cultural barriers and preconceptions.
10:00am-2:30pm : The Dubai Mall
Enjoy the fruits of a famous shopping area at The Dubai Mall, a large retail and entertainment center. Opened in 2009, the complex contains more than 1,200 shops, with brands, chains, and boutiques from all around the world, across a floorspace equivalent to more than 50 football fields. Wander the streets of the modern gold souk area, designed to have the shimmering look and atmosphere of a traditional Middle Eastern market. If shopping isn't for you, then there's always the ice rink, indoor theme park, and aquarium to explore during your visit.
3:00pm-6:00pm : Burj Khalifa
Marvel at Burj Khalifa, the 829.8 m (2,722 ft) high futuristic centerpiece of the modern downtown area. Upon construction in 2010, the mega skyscraper ranked as the world's tallest manmade structure. Designed by architect Adrian Smith, it incorporates patterns from Islamic art and architecture, with its tapering tiers reminiscent of traditional spiral minarets. Enjoy the view from the outdoor observation deck on the 124th floor: at 452 m (1,483 ft) above the city, you'll gain a true bird's-eye perspective on the developing metropolis below. Afterwards, stroll around the palm-lined pathways of the 11 hectare (27 acre) landscaped park, featuring flowering trees, gardens, benches, and water features. Don't miss the massive fountains at entrance to the building.
11:30am-12:30pm : Qasr Al Hosn
The oldest stone building in Abu Dhabi, Qasr Al Hosn, hosts an 11-day cultural festival by the same name. Known as the White Fort, this attraction was originally constructed in 1761 as a watchtower and wasn't painted white until the 20th century, when it was renovated. The fort was expanded in the late 1700s when it became the residence of the ruling Sheikh. Today you can visit the fort and tour the museum to discover the history of the city of Abu Dhabi through a permanent exhibition, or see live performances during the fort's annual festival.
1:00pm-2:00pm : Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Visit Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to see a key place of worship and center for Islamic culture. Completed in 2007, the center houses the largest mosque in the country--a sprawling structure of many spherical domes and four tall minarets--and an enormous library showcasing classic books and publications related to the Islamic world. Inside the main prayer hall, admire the numerous ornamental features of the atmospheric place of worship, including the largest carpet in the world and seven chandeliers incorporating millions of crystals. Take a guided tour of the library to learn more about Islamic faith, history, and art.
2:30pm-4:00pm : Marina Mall
Shop and enjoy a range of activities at Marina Mall, a popular shopping center and entertainment venue. Opened in 2001, the mall features four floors of retail space, with stores offering some of the leading names in the worlds of fashion, technology, and leisure. Aside from the shopping, you'll find an ice rink, bowling alley, multiplex cinema, and choreographed fountains. Head up to the 100 m (328 ft) observation deck for extensive views along the coast and of the marina.
10:00am-1:00pm : Food Tours
1:30pm-3:30pm : Dubai Creek
Stroll along Dubai Creek, a natural feature around which much of the city has sprung up. Follow the boardwalk to admire sights of some of the city's most iconic buildings, or take a ride across to the other side for a new perspective on the stretch of water and the developments that line its banks. Hop on a water taxi to access the more traditional side of Dubai on the opposite bank, featuring may popular souks (open-air markets) and other cultural attractions--you'll see how the creek that once divided the city now, in many ways, brings it together.
11:30am-12:30pm : Heritage Village
Gain insight into the country's traditional culture and folklore at Heritage Village, a life-size reconstruction of a desert village. Walk through the replica town, admiring the architecture of a bygone era, as well as the village's simple arrangement and separate living areas. Learn about traditional agricultural methods, and visit the mosque for a glimpse into the primary role that faith has played in the history of the country. Watch a demonstration of traditional artisanal techniques, such as pottery and glassblowing, and try your hand at making your own little memento to take home with you.
1:00pm-4:30pm : The Corniche
Take a gentle trip down The Corniche, an attractive stretch of manicured waterfront on the west side of the main island. Enjoy a swim at the public beach, or stroll along the 8 km (5 mi) public footpath, taking in the sights of the carefully designed coastline. Alternatively, consider exploring the area by bike--you can rent some wheels on site, with options including two- and three-seaters. The many children's play areas offer good diversions for little ones, and a solid set of restaurants and cafes lining the street gives you plenty of options for relaxing afterwards.
11:30am-4:30pm : Ferrari World Abu Dhabi
Strap yourself in and feel the Gs at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, an indoor theme park sprawling across 86,000 sq m (925,696 sq ft). Upon opening in 2010, it was the largest of its kind in the world. The park references the world of motor sports and its Italian heritage everywhere you look, with themed rides, driving experiences, and Italian dining. Dare yourself to get on the lightning-fast roller coaster, and fulfill your lifetime ambition to be behind the wheel of a Ferrari. A host of interactive shows, gentle rides, and go-karting challenges give the little ones more than enough to keep them going.
110:00am-5:30pm : Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark
Enjoy some excitement and relaxation at Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark. This sprawling beachfront theme park includes two enormous Ancient Greece-themed towers packed with water rides, 700 m (2,297 ft) of private beach, and numerous areas where you get to swim with marine animals. Adventure along the record-breaking water slide, taking in views of the coast as it winds and loops high above the ground. If you're worked up an appetite, head to one of the park's 15 restaurants, serving fresh, high-quality food from across the globe.
10:00am-11:00am : Bastakia Quarter
Step back into old Dubai at Bastakia Quarter, a preserved portion of town showcasing traditional architecture and an ancient way of life. Stroll through the neighborhood's narrow streets to admire the courtyard houses and their tall wind towers. Decorative and practical adornments, these towers were once the best way of cooling homes in the unforgiving heat of the desert. The area's scenic location by the creek offers a pleasant introduction to the city's heritage, with a museum and cultural center alongside the traditional homes.
11:30am-1:00pm : Al Fahidi Fort
See another side of Dubai at Al Fahidi Fort, detailing the history of the city and its people. Located within the grounds of a former fort--built in 1787, it is the oldest existing building in Dubai--the museum tells the story of trade and development in the city before the discovery of oil. Explore the main galleries for interesting exhibits and artifacts showing the local way of life, with particular focus on the 1800s and the independent traders and seafarers that lived in the port city at the time. Enjoy walking around the life-size replicas of family homes, a model mosque, and a recreated street market.
1:30pm-5:30pm : Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo
Discover the richness and diversity of the planet's marine life at Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo. Situated within an enormous shopping center, the aquarium features one of the world's largest aquarium viewing panels, with over 33,000 creatures swimming, floating, and diving beneath it. Plunge into the waters yourself to view sharks from a safe cage, and pay a visit to the enormous crocodiles, individually weighing as much as 14 and a half men. See the replica of the giant squid, one of the planet's most mysterious creatures, in the state of the art cephalopod area.