This is how I felt about Dubai. It had become a traveling buzz-word destination, perhaps even a tourist’s cliché. I saw it on every IG page and read it in every traveling magazine. What was this lure of gargantuan malls, indoor ski facilities, imported penguins, and high-end shopping all in the middle of the desert that was so attracting? My best friend and I packed up our backpacks and decided on a 7 day stint to hit just the ‘knowns’ and see how we’d like it.
About my best friend and I. As traveling companions go, I could not ask for a better partner. Our challenge, however, is choosing a place for our annual escape. As a tropical person, my compass always points beach, while she’d prefer rainy days in London, dipping and diving between European architecture. But having grown up together since the age of four, we are plenty used to the compromise, and this is why Dubai was a perfect match for us. I got to lay by the Arabian Sea and bronze myself under the desert sun while capturing sunsets like no other, while she was able to shop in Plymouth-size malls, watch water fountains that dance, and gape under the height of what is the world's tallest building. Not failing to mention how safe we both felt as female travelers alone in the middle-east, we both whole-heartedly agree that we found our perfect destination, you might say, an Arabian Heaven.
Just as I was returning from Dubai, my grandmother sent me a 36 Hours article written by Seth Sherwood from the New York Times on Dubai. I actually read the article as I was unpacking my sandy laundry load, and nodded a resounding ‘yes’ while reading. It consisted of a top ten list of things to do on the weekend. I will highlight two things from his list, and do a couple of additional ‘Tiff’ add-ons.
Al Mamzar Beach Park
Dubai has beach parks which are really impressive to me. With the equivalent of $3.00 USD (about 10 dirham) you can lay out on the beach, have access to cafes, cook out, view beautiful botanical gardens, and enjoy a few rides. Most of the local hotels have free shuttles to and from the parks on any given day and several have ‘women’s day’ so as a female, you can go and enjoy the kiss of the sun without the voyeuristic spying of men.
Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR)
Imagine the sexiest city walk or boardwalk in your favorite beach town, then add a little Arabian swag with a camel ride down the strip. Very touristy, and where most of the expats hang out, but some of the best people watching you’ll do in the city.
Tip: The Arabian weeknd is Friday, Saturday, not Saturday, Sunday, so if you want to avoid crowds, Sunday is a great day to have more beach to yourself. And of course seashell pick by the sea’s shore.
Yes! The tallest building in the world. If the concept of soaring almost 3,000 feet in the air in a glass elevator frightens you just a tad, you don’t have to go to the very top. There are options when purchasing your tickets. Actually using www.viator.com will work out cheaper for you. It comes as a package tour which includes a visit to the famous Dubai Mall. From there you will get your tickets and go straight to the Burj Khalifa. If you are more of a spontaneous traveler, still book your tickets in advance because time slots fill up fast. I would suggest a good 2 days beforehand. You can buy them online and pick them up at a kiosk inside Dubai Mall or you can go right up to the counter and purchase them directly. Just know there are differing opinions on when is the best time to escalate to the top of the Burj. There are non-peak hours which are cheaper, but your view may be obstructed by cloud cover or darkness, if you choose to go early morning or late in the evening. Your choice will depend on if you want to see the city lit up from high above at night, or see it in all its glory beneath the bright sun.
Tip: The Burj Khalifa is equally impressive from the outside. Be sure to capture it lit up at night.
Since we’re mentioning the Dubai Mall, let’s just jump right into it. Please don’t roll your eyes and sigh, “a mall?”. You’re gonna make me clutch my pearls, and I’m not even wearing any. To say that it’s just a mall, is to say that The Empire State building is just a building. See what I mean? Did you just clutch your pearls?
Four floors, over 13 million square feet (equivalent to about 50 American football fields), ice rink, aquarium and under water zoo, and over 1,200 shops, this is no ordinary mall. And while I’ll let you wiki all of the glorious retail business you can do in the mall, I’ll tell you about my favorite part, the Dubai Fountain. Sitting right on the 30-acre Burj Khalifa Lake, it is probably the most exciting part. We sat outside on a cool evening in a Sushi restaurant right at the foot of the man-made lake and watched the Fountain light up and groove to a pre-selected musical harmony. Daily, from 6:00-11:00 p.m. the Fountain performs a synchronized dance of splash movements set to the back drop of Arabian music, all the way to M.J.’s most popular hits every half hour. You should see the crowd when Thriller comes on.
Tip: It’s always crowded. Just kind of squeeze your way politely through the crowd and you’ll get some great flicks. Don’t forget to look up. The Burj Khalifa will be right there looking over your shoulder, shining all bright-like. Those are the shots you want.
This is a must. I didn’t see it in the 36 Hours article, but come on folks, I know the allure of Dubai as: Miami meets NYC and has a love-child in the middle east, is captivating, but we are after all in the middle of the desert. A safari seems not only apropos but, logical. I’ve grown up in and around the city my entire life, so although I love how it is always booming and thriving with activities and personalities, nothing beats nature. The vastness of the desert is ridiculously mesmerizing. And for that matter, where else can you ride camels, cheer on belly dancers, sand board, and get henna tattoos? Totally rhetorical. Just do the Safari, no question. You can book a group tour if you are traveling alone or arrange for a private pick up from your hotel or apartment. You will more than likely be shuffled into a group once you have finished your 4x4 off-roading experience. But hey, you’re always up for making more international friends, right?
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi
Dubai Gold Souk (Gold Market)