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Dubai & Abu Dhabi’s Highlights

  The Arabian emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the most rich and powerful of the  seven city-states that make up the United Arab Emirates, offer the best of East and  West Arab culture, Bedouin heritage and Islamic architecture, alongside excellent shopping, sophisticated dining and luxurious hotels. Dubai is divided by its bustling Creek and skirted with white sand beaches, while Abu Dhabi is situated on a splendid Corniche.

Dubai Museum 

  A visit to Dubai would be incomplete without a tour of this cleverly planned museum. It offers a vivid picture of how Dubai has crammed into a third of a century what most cities achieve in several. Located near the creekside historic Bastakiya district, the museum is housed within and beneath one of the city’s oldest buildings, Al Fahidi Fort. It traces the city’s meteoric development from small desert settlement to centre of the Arabian world for commerce, finance and tourism. Visit here to gain a sensory insight into traditions past and present.

Dubai Creek 

  Dubai Creek, fed by the waters of the Arabian Gulf, is the lifeblood of old and new Dubai a vibrant mix of the past and the present. The contrast of traditional wooden dhows being unloaded at the wharf side against stunning modern architecture, such as the glass dome fronted Bank of Dubai and the giant ball topped Etisalat building, is fascinating. The two sides of the Creek are Deira (north) and Bur Dubai (south) and a walk along either is an enjoyable way to discover this multi faceted city. Getting across the Creek is easy the nearest bridge for cars is Maktoum Bridge but the cheapest  and most authentic crossing has to be by abra.


  The old and atmospheric Bastakiya conservation area has benefited from extensive renovation work in recent years by Dubai Municipality It gives a picturesque glimpse into the city’s past in sharp contrast to the futuristic architecture and construction boom elsewhere. Traditional sandcoloured windtower houses, often built from coral stone, with elegant courtyards, can be explored as you wander the maze of shady narrow streets and alleys. The facades have been restored to their original state, with Arabesque windows, decorative gypsum panels and screens. This area is now home to art galleries, museums and stylish cafés.

Jumeirah Mosque 

  Dubai’s culture is rooted in Islam, a fact that touches all aspects of everyday life. Virtually every neighbourhood has its own mosque, but the jewel in the crown is undoubtedly Jumeirah Mosque. This fine example of modern Islamic architecture was built in 1998. It is a dramatic sight set against blue skies and especially breathtaking at night, when it is lit up and its artistry is thrown into relief. Built of smooth white stone, the mosque, with its elaborately decorated twin minarets and majestic dome, is a city landmark and an important place of worship.

Burj Al Arab 

  So iconic that it instantly became an international symbol for modern Dubai, the Burj Al Arab (meaning “Arabian tower”), completed in 1999, is an exclusive all suite “seven star hotel” and also the world’s tallest hotel. With its helipad on the 28th floor and a restaurant seemingly suspended in mid air, at a soaring 321 m (1,053 ft), it takes the trophy for being the world’s tallest hotel. It is set on its own artificial island against the backdrop of the turquoise waters of the Gulf and is dazzling white by day and rainbow coloured by night when its façade is used as a canvas for spectacular light displays.

Madinat Jumeirah 

  The spirit of old Arabia is the inspiration for Madinat Jumeirah, an extravagant resort located on the beachfront comprising two luxury hotels, Al Qasr and Mina A’Salam, and the exclusive Dar Al Masyaf, 29 traditional courtyard summer houses. The charm of the place lies in its detailed Arabian architectural styling sand coloured windtowers, arches, columns and terraces as well as its ingenious construction around a series of man made waterways. As a result, navigation around the resort is Venetian style, in oldfashioned abras. This extensive resort also has an Arabian style souq.

Dubai Souqs 

  Shopping in Dubai is a shopaholic’s dream there’s almost nothing you can’t buy here but away from the air conditioned marble floored shopping malls is another experience the souqs. Many of these, such as the gold, textile and spice souqs clustered beside the Creek, date back to Dubai’s beginnings as a palm fringed trading port. Exploring these through their warren like alleyways is a delight and a visit to the UAE would be incomplete without spending time in at least some of these fascinating bazaars. Generally, each type of stall, be it spices, crafts, perfumes or clothing, are located close together, making it easy to spot a good deal. Bring cash and keep in mind that bargaining is expected.

Emirates Palace 

  Abu Dhabi’s stupendous Emirates Palace hotel dominates the horizon. While its staggering size is impressive, the lavish interior is breathtaking, with gold, marble and crystal throughout. Owned by Abu Dhabi government and operated by Kempinski hotels, Emirates Palace was built over three years by the architects responsible for London’s Claridge. While the Burj Al Arab is touted as a “7 star” hotel, a rating that doesn’t exist, Emirates Palace classifies itself as just that, a “Palace”, with the opulent furnishings of a royal palace, regal service and a palatial experience like no other.

Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation & Al Hosn Palace 

  Emiratis proudly refer to Abu Dhabi as the New York of the UAE and Dubai as its LA. They see the city as an intellectual and cultural centre (whereas Dubai is all about the glitz and glam). No two buildings exemplify this more than the Cultural Foundation and Qasr Al Hosn. The Cultural Foundation aims to make the UAE heritage and culture accessible to the city’s residents and visitors the historic Qasr Al Hosn is being converted into a museum.

Desert Escapes 

  The Emirates’ desert is sublime in parts and a trip here is incomplete without experiencing its myriad textures and colours. Not far out of the cities, camels graze on desert grass. If you don’t have a 4WD and off road driving skills, the best way to experience the desert is at the magical desert resorts Al Maha or Bab Al Shams, or on a popular desert safari. While desert safaris are touristy, they’re lots of fun and allow you to tick off a range of experiences you otherwise wouldn’t get a chance to do. If you have time, stay overnight, sleep under the stars and enjoy the silence.