You know you’ve arrived in dazzling Dubai, when you can’t stop marveling at the panoramic view of skyscrapers as you zoom past them. One of the wealthiest of the seven emirates that constitute the federation of the United Arab Emirates, created in 1971 post independence from Great Britain, Dubai spells opulence from the word go. From being one of the most futuristic hotposts in the world with stunning architectural delights, Dubai still retains parts where you can find the old-world charm. From adrenaline junkies to teleporting to a world of AI (artificial intelligence), VR (virtual reality) and Augmented Reality (AR) to those looking to immerse themselves in a world of art and culture, Dubai truly has it all to quench your thirst for wanderlust.
While we drive past these iconic structures and listen to one of our favourite retro songs, Big in Japan by Alphaville on the radio, I tell myself, there should probably be a song called Big in Dubai. Why not? Everything that Dubai does is big. Infact it makes me feel no less than an oligarch every time I strut around all the gold, the glitz, the glitter and the glamour here. From creating the world’s tallest building, the tallest hotel to the tallest photo frame, the largest artificial Palm islands and booming construction that continues everywhere, this city is clearly one of the fastest evolving cities in the world. The skyline continues to transform and there’s always a new added tourist attraction every time you visit.
I’ve been fortunate to have visited this pearl of the Gulf several times, but every single time I’m here, I feel like a kid in a candy store. The sights never cease to amaze me. Just like the Museum of the Future conveys a message of hope with Arabic calligraphy incised on the entire facade and on its inside walls, the entire city of Dubai fills you up with renewed vigour, hope and zest. It is a perfect destination for a family holiday, where kids can bring their wildest fantasies to life and adults can get back their renewed energy. This time around was an added blessing as it was the Ramadan month of zakat, prayers, forgiveness and giving. After a smooth check in at the Taj Jumeirah Lakes Towers, our home for the Dubai sojourn that has spacious and luxurious rooms, with stunning rooftop views, were all set to explore the world famous iconic attractions.
Museum of the Future
An epitome of everything futuristic with a seamless blend of the latest in science and technology, Museum of the Future stands proud along the city’s superhighway, Sheikh Zayed Road. Founded by the Dubai Future Foundation, the museum is your window to the best in innovative architecture.
Termed a ‘living museum’, it incorporates elements of traditional exhibitions, immersive theatre and themed attractions, so you can look beyond the present and towards the future’s limitless possibilities. Furthering a global intellectual movement, it is also the headquarters for the city’s ‘Great Arab Minds’ initiative. Designed as an asymmetric torus clad in steel and glass by architect Shaun Killa, the Museum of the Future is one of 14 most beautiful museums in the world. You can’t miss the Arabic calligraphy all over it representing hope, innovation and Dubai’s vision of the future. The words in Arabic calligraphy are quotes from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates: We won’t live for hundreds of years, but we can create something that will last for hundreds of years.
One of the city’s most famous recent attractions, much like the Burj Khalifa and Burj Al Arab’s iconic structures, The Dubai Frame in Zabeel Park is where you can get your fix of an adrenaline rush as you walk on a glass bridge 48 storeys above ground with panoramic views of Dubai’s skyline all around and right under your feet. The 93m wide frame has a bridge connecting the two towers. Dubai Frame is designed with a unique concept of a picture frame from where you can get breathtaking vistas of the cityscape of Dubai’s historic district. Besides the stunning views, experience the past, present and future from the ground to the sky. The story of the city’s past is told using the latest technology, combining animations and holographic effects with traditional music and aromatic scents. Don’t miss the Future Zone, where an immersive time tunnel reveals what Dubai is expected to look like in 50 years, complete with flying taxis, underwater life and incredible missions to space. We also spotted the mansion of Dubai’s Crown Prince Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum besides other hotspots, as we stood tall 150 m above ground.
You can’t leave Dubai without ticking the Burj Khalifa off your bucket list. It is after all one of the Top 10 landmarks in the world. The tallest building in the world, a global icon and truly a feat of engineering, the iconic marvel not just offers unparalleled views from top and all around it, but represents the conceptual heart and soul of Dubai. At 828m tall, this magnificent structure is located next to Dubai Mall and has drawn visitors from across the world ever since it was erected. The unmatched Burj Khalifa view can be taken in from not one but two observations decks – the two-storey At the Top on the 124th and 125th floors, as well as one of the world’s highest observation decks (555m) on the 148th floor.
The Dubai Fountain
Plan your visit to the Burj Khalifa in the evening, so you can also soak in the sights of the tallest performing fountain in the world, while you’re in Downtown Dubai. Immerse yourself in a captivating water, music and light experience as The Dubai Fountain comes alive with magical shows every half an hour from 6pm daily. Grab a coveted seat at any of the restaurants or the Time Out Market that flank the area for uninterrupted views of the colourful, illuminated powerful water jets as they sway in time to a range of melodies. The fountain springs from within the 30-acre Burj Lake, at the foot of Dubai Mall.
Desert Safari Dubai
Ya habibi! Bring it on. The adventure travel junkie in me was eagerly waiting for the Dubai Desert Safari experience. Sand dune bashing through the spectacular UAE desert with stunning views of the magical sunset can be extremely addictive and for someone like me, who loves to delve straight into adventurous activities, this has always been the highlight of my Dubai trip. And this time too, it did not disappoint. Every time I get on the 4×4 to go dune bashing, the child in me comes alive. You can reach your peak of exhilaration on one of these Land Cruisers bashing through some of Dubai’s tallest sand dunes like the Big Red, named after its picturesque colour.
Sahib, our driver and tour guide was very considerate towards our other travel companions, who wanted to take it slow. So if you’re someone who likes to play safe, just keep your driver informed and they will manoeuvre through the sand dunes accordingly, but don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime experience. You can sign up for either the morning safari that includes sandboarding and taking in the amazing sunrise over the impressive landscape or the evening desert safari that encompasses a thrilling ride over the sand dunes before stopping in at the desert camp to enjoy a traditional Arabian feast. At the camp you can also smoke sheesha, apply henna, hold a falcon, go camel riding and feast on some delicious Arabian delicacies while you indulge in a cultural dance and music show.
Dubai is always one step ahead when it comes to immersive experiences for tourists. With this latest attraction at Wafi City Mall, you can now transport into AYA’s vibrant universe, as you glide through different rooms, starting from Aurora – which is the heart of the whole experience with touch technology that responds to you – before you interact with other virtual worlds named the blooming Flora, Tides and The River. The audio-responsive Falls feature droplets that seem to defy gravity, drifting upwards, and reveal doorways that let you step inside and be surrounded by water. There’s never a dull moment, with so many experiential spots to amuse the senses.
To capture these breathtaking moments from the 40,000-square-foot entertainment zone for your Instagram reels, ask for Adil Shah, the inhouse staff. An out and out family fun only-in-Dubai experience with extraordinary light shows, mind blowing graphics that transport you to luminous galaxies, certainly ticks that box of must-do things in Dubai. Once you’ve set your pulses racing, sit back and relax on a sloped space in the Drift room, gazing at the overhead projection with gentle vibrations making you feel like you’re floating on air.
The View at The Palm
You know that moment when you’re spellbound and awestruck and just want to gape at the view around you to capture it for eternity? The View at The Palm is just that place for that very moment. Incomparable views from the 240m tall observation deck is where you can feast on never seen before 360-degree panoramas of Palm Jumeirah alongside the sparkling waters of the Arabian Gulf and Dubai skyline in the distance. 52 floors above ground with another added level of barrier-free viewing space has clinched this place the title as Palm Jumeirah’s highest vantage point. These are sights that you can never get tired of, but once it’s time capturing these extremely Instagrammable one-of-a-kind views, you can indulge in some retail therapy at the Nakheel Mall in the same building.
The Green Planet
You will feel you’re in a tropical rainforest as you stroll around more than 3,000 species of plants, animals and birds at this green oasis. A sanctuary of exotic flora and fauna, The Green Planet exposes Dubai to another world within its glass dome – all of which is responsibly sourced. The bio-dome here is made up of four levels: the Canopy, the Midstory, the Forest Floor and the Flooded Rainforest. Interact with rainforest creatures roaming around and waterfalls running strong.
Heritage walk in Old Dubai
Minus the skyscrapers from Dubai and you can visualise how Dubai was in the olden days in Old Dubai. With traditional markets and souks, this is peek into the rich history and culture into the life of Emiratis as they were. Take an immersive walk and explore some of the hidden cultural gems as you meander through the winding alleys with mud and gypsum walls with corals and sea shells that keep the Al Fahidi historical neighbourhood cool even during the summer months. Some of the interesting ones to take you down the nostalgia lane are the Dubai museum, coin museum, dagger museum, coffee museum and the traditional Emirati house. In the earlier days, the Sheikhs families crushed the mother of pearls as the sunlight would reflect on them, making it easy for fishermen to find their way back to the harbour. You can also book a Cultural lunch or dinner with the local people here, while you interact with them and know about their Bedouin roots. End your walk with the Bur Dubai Spice market and a stroll through the Old Souk where you can unearth some real treasures and souvenirs at throwaway prices to take back home.
Wild Paint House
Here you can unleash the inner artist inside of you. Making art accessible to everyone, at Wild Paint House you can take the stress out of painting and replace it with fun. Go with the flow if you want a memorable experience as you get your hands dirty with six unique concepts. Splash all hues you love and more for a colourful and vibrant experience that you can take back home with you in the form of a canvas. Created by the founders of Splat Paint House Singapore and Spin Paint House Singapore, Wild Paint House Dubai is touted to be the wildest art studio in the world. Don’t believe me? Go try yourself.
The Yellow Boats
The best was saved for the last. You’ve done the hop on hop off or the regular scenic route before. How about experiencing sightseeing in Dubai with a twist aboard The Yellow Boats? Don a life jacket and cruise along the coast in an inflatable boat, with the skyline behind you and Palm Jumeirah ahead. Sail past Atlantis, The Palm, Ain Dubai and marvel at the iconic Burj Al Arab Jumeirah before setting your eyes on the beautiful palaces that line the beach. If you’re feeling the need for speed, book the Dubai Ultimate Thrill Ride. You’ll be in for an exciting 30-minute race, jetting across the open water. There are five picture-worthy tours to choose from.
You can expect modern, innovative menus and vibrant flavours at most of the restaurants and night clubs in Dubai. With our sunnies on, we headed out to explore some of the most uber chic dining destinations. First on our gastronomic trail was the Forever Rose Café. As we stepped into this monochrome space, it almost felt like we were walking into the pages of a book. Adorning every table in the Boxpark eatery is a single red Forever Rose, which adds to the fairytale vibes. Many of the dishes on the menu take inspiration from the floral name, with edible flowers in the dishes. You can even get lattes and ice teas infused with rose extract. If you’re looking for some Indian fusion, do try the Tandoor Tina, for its bold palate-pleasing flavours that hit the right note. For those chic beachside vibes, Wavehouse is your best bet. The dishes here are wholesome and delicious and the ambience is relaxed and inviting. Do spare a few hours on your itinerary to hang out here over cocktails, great grub and some beach bumming too.
If you’re looking for varied cuisines under one roof, then a visit to the Time Out Market that houses 18 star homegrown eateries like 21 Grams, MASTI, BB Social Dining, Vietnamese Foodies, Pickl, Pitfire, Brix by 3fils, Nightjar, Reif Japanese Kushiyaki, Little Erth, Scoopi Café, Long Teng, and Al Fanar is a must. The best part, the pride of place at Souk Al Bahar is the Market’s wraparound outdoor terrace from where you can get stunning views of the Burj Khalifa and The Dubai Fountain while you tuck in some delicious food. But even if you’re not lucky to find a spot in this area, as it gets filled fast, you will still love sitting inside, as it’s always buzzing with local chefs serving up signature dishes. Also, try Din Tai Fung, a world-class Taiwanese restaurant known for its handmade dumplings, authentic taste and exquisite service located inside the Nakheel Mall.
Since it was the holy month of Ramadan we were blessed to indulge in an Iftar feast at Nonya at Taj JLT. The chefs pulled all the stops as they laid down a delicious and lavish buffet that we tucked in on our last night in Dubai with expansive night views of the Dubai skyline from the 44th floor.
As we bid maasalaamah to the city that never sleeps, we know that the lure of Dubai will bring us back soon to some newer and even more iconic sights and sounds.
Image credits: Dubai Economy & Tourism