Is Dubai worth visiting? Well that all depends if you’re impressed by UFO-like cities that rise from the heart of the Arabian Desert, if you like world-class shopping malls, soaring skyscrapers, some of the most cutting-edge haute cuisine in the world, and beaches that are virtually always bathed in sunshine.
We’re guessing that at least a part of the above intro tickled the wanderlust. To learn more about this incredible destination and the biggest city in the UAE, be sure to read on…
This guide delves deep into the metropolis, revealing seven reasons why we think it might deserve a place on the bucket list this year. We’ll focus in on the shimmering coastline, the ridiculously luxuriant hotels, the amazing desert adventures that await on the outskirts, plus a whole load more. So, without further ado…is Dubai worth visiting?
To climb the tallest building in the world
Ask 10 people what amazed them most about Dubai and something like nine will tell you it was the Burj Khalifa. The structure is part of a unique crew that includes the likes of the Empire State Building, the Petronas Towers, and the Great Pyramid of Giza. Like those before it, it’s reigned as the single tallest building on planet Earth, this one since its completion in 2010.
You really can’t miss it, folks. It strikes up through the city and the cloudless skies of the UAE to reach a whopping 828 meters. Inside, that equates to a vertigo-inducing 163 floors up, all connected by a web of 57 elevators and 8 escalators.
One thing to know is that the very pinnacle of the skyscraper isn’t actually open to the public. Instead, the highest it’s possible to go is to the observation decks that sit on floors 125 and 148. They are cloud-busting in their own right, offering sweeping views of the great metropolis and the Arabian Desert in the distance.
For the glorious beaches
Just look at where Dubai is on the map. The city sprawls across a long run of the Persian Gulf coast and fragments into the water in a series of manmade archipelagos. The upshot? There are beaches, beaches, and more beaches to get through. Combine that with virtually endless sunshine and temperatures in the 100s F for most months of the year and you start to see how this could be the perfect winter escape.
The bad news is that many of the best beaches in Dubai are privately owned and managed, either as the property of villas on the Palm Jumeirah or as part of luxury hotels up and down the mainland shoreline. But there are also plenty of public beach spaces to enjoy. The crème-de-la-crème of those includes…
- JBR Open Beach – The most iconic run of sand in the whole UAE, JBR Open Beach, this one has soft sands and loads of amenities.
- Umm Suqeim Beach – There’s a bit more swell off the Indian Ocean at Umm Suqeim Beach, which has wide sands and loads of space.
- Al Mamzar Beach Park – Our pick for families would be the Al Mamzar Beach Park, which does cost about $2 to enter but has manicured sands and protected waters for all levels of swimmer.
For the luxurious hotels
There’s hardly a place on the planet with the same overload of high-class hotels as Dubai. If all you want is to be pampered from check-in to check-out, enjoy gorgeous spa facilities, infinity swimming pools, and suites with panoramic city views, this is surely the destination for you. To illustrate another way: Dubai is the ONLY city in the world with a certified seven-star hotel, at the Burj Al Arab!
Here are a few of the other top-class stays that we can recommend to luxury lovers hitting this desert megalopolis…
- Golden Sands-Dubai Creek ($$$) – One of the highest rated hotels in the city, the Golden Sands is opulent from tip to toe. Expect mirrored breakfast rooms, an infinity pool on the roof, and designer meeting spaces for corporate travelers.
- Waldorf Astoria Dubai International Financial Centre ($$$) – This is a prime pick for business travelers heading to Dubai. It’s right in the heart of the city’s financial center and has plus suites, a spa, and outdoor pools to help balance out the stress of a working trip.
- The St Regis Downtown Dubai ($$$) – Staying true to the St Regis name, this big chain hotel has a seriously lovely rooftop pool, a range of spacious suite types, and views across Dubai Water Canal.
For the shopping
Dubai has firmly established itself as one of the shopping havens of the Middle East. A series of some of the world’s largest malls make their home here, and there are always new projects in the pipeline to add to the range of high-street names and designer outlets. On top of all that, you also get the age-old souks and bazaars that have been here for centuries, which are great for buying everything from silks to spices to jewelry.
Perhaps the most famous shopping complex of the lot is the iconic Mall of the Emirates. It hosts over 630 individual shops across 2.5 million square foot of retail space. And it’s home to the audacious Ski Dubai slope – yep, a ski slope in the desert – IMAX cinema screens, and all manner of gastronomy.
The most dedicated shoppers out there should also know about The Dubai Mall, which is the second-largest of its kind on the planet, and the old spice souks of Al Sabkha, which showcase something a bit more authentic on the northern side of Dubai Creek.
It’s not just shopping and sleek hotels that have turned Dubai into a bit of a hub for high-class travelers. There’s also haute gastronomy here to excite even the most discerning of foodies. Hey, there aren’t that many cities that can count a mega 11 individual Michelin-star restaurants to their name.
Here’s a look at just a few of the very best places to eat while in the town:
- Il Ristorante – Two Michelin stars help this one stand out from the crowd. Housed in a five-star hotel, it’s all about luxury Italian dining that still has its roots in the simple and earthy cooking of the boot.
- 11 Woodfire – Meat eaters will be in heaven in this all-new cooking space, which focuses in on flame-grilled meats. It’s now got a Michelin star to its name.
- Hōseki – Another of the top-class restaurants that comes courtesy of the Bulgari hotel chain, Hōseki serves up some of the best sushi in the world, courtesy of maestro Masahiro Sugiyama.
For the day trips into the desert
Dubai isn’t just a bucket-list city in its own right. It’s also the gateway to the shifting sand dunes of the Arabian Desert and the wilds of the Arabian Peninsula. There are all sorts of unforgettable experiences to be had if you’re willing to venture away from the shadow of the skyscrapers for a spell, ranging from high-octane rides in 4X4s to ziplines through craggy canyons.
Here are just a few that we think stand out from the crowd…
- A day in Abu Dhabi – If Dubai is the glitzy shopping and dining hub of the UAE, Abu Dhabi is its cultural heart. Be sure to plan a trip here to explore vast mosques and amazing museums.
- Desert 4X4 rides – There’s no more exciting a way to see the undulating dunes of the deserts around Dubai than in a 4X4, totally offroad and accelerator to the ground.
- Jebel Jais – Dubai isn’t all sand dunes. There are wild mountain ranges in the northern part of the country. They host the longest zipline in the world and have oodles of hardcore hiking paths to boot.
Because it’s a stepping stone to Asia
Finally, we think it’s also worth noting how Dubai is now among the favored stopover destinations for the millions of travelers who hop east from Europe to Asia every year, and the other way around. It’s a major hub for both Emirates and the relatively new low-coster FlyDubai, which means it’s easier to get to than ever before and there are oodles of onward journeys to uber-exciting destinations to pick from.
Mhmm…flights out of Dubai International Airport (DXB) could be your ticket to all sorts of places. There are links to the bustling megacity of Hong Kong. There are hops to the sizzling street-food markets of Bangkok. There are connections that go to see the pandas of Chengdu, the surf breaks of Colombo, the chowks of Mumbai – the list goes on.
To put it another way, once you’re done exploring the towering skyscrapers and pearly beaches of Dubai itself, there are umpteen travel options on the menu.
Is Dubai worth visiting? Our conclusion
Is Dubai worth visiting? Uber-lux hotels, gleaming beaches on the bath-warm Persian Gulf, some of the biggest and best shopping malls in the world, and a whole array of Michelin-starred restaurants surely make the answer to that question a firm yes. We’d say that the city in the UAE deserts is a great place for travelers who like urban sights and luxury especially, but also a fantastic stopover destination on the way east or west.