Dubai: A City of Contrasts

The phrase “go big or go home” really comes to life when you visit Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. A city of superlatives (if it is the largest, biggest, or longest in the world, it likely is in Dubai!) and contrasts, it makes for an exciting and exotic visit. My recent visit taught me how truly diverse Dubai is and how much more there is to offer than simply the glitz and glam you see on TV (although that really does exist!). Many flights to Africa include a layover in Dubai, so consider adding this on to an Africa vacation or African wildlife safari. To visit, one should allow enough time to enjoy both sides of this unique city.

Dubai things to do

New Dubai

There is no shortage of glitz and glam in New Dubai, and it’s here you will find a long list of superlatives, such as the most luxurious hotel in the world, the tallest building in the world, the largest man-made marina in the world… and the list goes on! Business Bay, the Dubai Marina, and the famous Palm Jumierah Island are great areas to stay in to enjoy New Dubai, but the location should be carefully matched to your interests and style, as each is quite different.

Some of my favorite highlights of this area include an “All that Glitters is Gold” New Year’s Eve gala overlooking the Burj Khalifa fireworks, a visit to the Dubai Marina, a ride on the monorail on Palm Jumierah, visiting the top of the Burj Khalifa (148 floors up!), and visiting the Dubai Mall with a stroll to the famous Dubai fountains.

Dubai Burj Khalifa tallest building
At the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world

Dubai New Year's Eve
Glitz and glam at an “All That Glitters Is Gold” NYE gala

Old Dubai

The proximity and juxtaposition of Old Dubai—just across the Dubai Creek that you can cross via abra (traditional boat)—make it all the more magical. The famous spice souk and gold souk are not to be missed, and you can easily find yourself losing track of time as you meander down these narrow alleyways bartering with the friendly locals.

Depending on your style, a dhow dinner cruise is also a great way to see the sights. Also, if you don’t have enough time to visit Abu Dhabi, then a mosque visit while in Old Dubai is highly recommended. I also enjoyed a Heritage Desert Safari in a vintage 1950s Land Rover and loved learning about the Emirati culture, seeing a falcon show, getting a henna tattoo, and smoking some shisha under the desert sky. A desert safari is a must-do and there are many variations you can choose from depending on your interests.

Dubai spice souk
The spice souk (traditional market)

Dubai dhow cruise
Dhow cruise

Dubai desert safari
Desert safari in a 1950s Land Rover

Dubai henna tattoo
Getting a traditional henna tattoo

If you are interested in visiting Dubai or another Emirate in the UAE, please let me know, as I would love to help plan your trip!