Tallest, largest, biggest and more
It’s big, it’s brash, it’s sometimes over the top, but it’s great. A few days in Dubai can give you a lot of ground to cover if you don’t want to just lay by the pool or on the beach. It’s quite an expensive destination too, so a little prior planning will help you get the most out of you time, plus reduce the impact on your pocket. Here are a few thoughts from our experience.
It’s a big place and walking between the key attractions isn’t practical. We solved this by using the Big Bus Hop On Hop Of service. At the time of booking they were offering an on-line 25% discount on the 48 hour pass and night tour, the discount meant it was cheaper than the straight 48 hour pass. Many other extras are included, see later. They operate 3 routes and the pass includes them all, the city, beach and marina tour, which together covers most of Dubai. We supplemented this with the excellent public transport system, primarily the metro and the tram, but there was also a bus and water bus service. All can be accessed by using a Nol card (similar to an Oyster Card) which you can pick up at the Airport Metro Station. We chose the Silver Nol card which is easily topped up and journeys are cheaper than the Red Card. Even if the metro isn’t close to your hotel, you can save money on your transfer from the airport by taking the metro the closest stop and hailing the reasonably priced taxis from there. In our case the taxi from the airport to our hotel in Dubai Marina would have been 100-110 Dirhams (Ds) but the metro was 15Ds, plus 12Ds for the taxi. Although the metro is clean and simple to use, be aware that there is more than one class of travel and some carriages are reserved for women and children only. The good news is that they are spotlessly clean and very accessible, with lifts from street level and flat platform access at each station we visited.
Human beings can do some wondrous things when they put their minds to it and there are some amazing examples here. There seems to be and endless supply of biggest, tallest, largest etc. and here is some of the ones we took in. The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world, has the highest occupied floor and the fastest lift. It’s a truly awesome sight to see it towering over otherwise tall buildings in the area and there are some great views to be had from the observation floors on 124/125th (but often there is a heat haze that limits the view). Be amazed that 40 years ago Dubai wasn’t much more than desert, look at it now! Understandably it’s very popular, so book Burj tickets on line at least a month in advance to ensure you get the date and time of your choice. Should all slots be taken that coincide with your visit, the only option is to pay for the much more expensive VIP experience that takes you to the 148th floor. The entrance to the Burj Khalifa is in the Dubai Mall, which with 1200 stores and 400 places to eat, the largest in the world. As well as being an amazing spectacle in its own right (get the map provided at the information point, it’s easy to get lost) there is some scope for some free entertainment or money saving opportunities. There is a great aquarium inside, said to have the largest single sheet of glass in the world, that’s free to view from the mall. You can pay to go inside the aquarium for a more in depth experience. There is a great waterfall to see, indoor fairground, the Discovery Channel shop has a ship on the top and plenty of other jaw dropping examples of things done large.
The food court offers a vast number of options where you can eat cheaply by Dubai standards, but it’s good quality. Outside the mall you have the Dubai fountains (also free). Get yourself a good spot alongside the lake and the show starts at 6pm. It’s a great choreography of fountains and music, lasts 2 to 4 mins and happens every half hour. We watched two before heading for the Big Bus Night Tour and both displays were different (see video below). You can pay to take a dhow onto the lake for a close up view of the performance or have dinner at one of the many restaurants lining the lake.
Other malls offer interesting things to look at or just people watch. For example The Mall of the Emirates has a huge indoor ski run to admire or you can pay to go in and swap 30C outside for the minus 4C inside (appropriate clothing provided within the fee).
For a taste of ‘Old Dubai’ we went out to the area around the mouth of the Dubai Creek. Here you can pick up a dhow cruise, see the trading dhows being loaded, as well as enjoying the scenery alongside the creek. Dubai Museum charts the progress of Dubai from pre oil days to its present magnificence. It’s underground labyrinth of passages and displays are a wealth of information, you could spend hours within its air conditioned confines. Both the cruise and museum entry were free with our Big Bus pass.
Outside of Dubai ‘Dune Bashing’ is very popular. We arranged our tour on line with OceanAir for a very reasonable price, which included collection from our hotel, careering up and down the dunes in the red desert, sand boarding, camel ride, a Bedouin dinner plus show and more. It’s a great thrill to be sliding sideways down a steep dune in a 4×4 with a skilled driver behind the wheel.
Like most major cities, Dubai is an expensive place to visit but with a little bit of research you should be able to enjoy a visit that will fit your budget. In my opinion it joins London, Paris, New York and others as one of the must see cities of the world.
Steve stayed at the InterContinental Dubai Marina. Read his review.