It’s the city of sand or the city of clouds, depending on which floor you’re on. Dubai has captured the world’s interest as one of the most international cities in the Middle East. It combines Arabic traditions with modern innovations, especially in architecture (and with the cars in its police force). The city has become a tourist hub, thanks to the many Dubai sites you need to see to believe. And yet a lot of people still don’t know the major Dubai points of interest.
1. Burj Khalifa
The perfect starting point among Dubai points of interest? The Burj Khalifa. Yes, that’s the big tower that shows up in every photo of Dubai. Just shy of 830 meters, the Burj Khalifa is at the moment the tallest building in the entire world. As the most famous of the Dubai points of interest, the Burj Khalifa is a lot like Dubai’s Eiffel Tower, except much taller.
If you feel more comfortable with imperial measurements versus metric, you should know that the tower measures 2,717 feet, or more than half a mile high. The building’s exact height was kept a secret until opening day. (And fortunately, nobody measured the shadow to steal the architect’s thunder.) In addition to ranking as the tallest building in the world, the Burj also features the highest observation deck, swimming pool, elevator, restaurant, and fountain.
You can enjoy the observation deck on the 124th floor. In fact, the sightseeing platform ranks as one of the most popular of the Dubai tourist attractions. Just make sure to buy your “At the Top” entrance ticket early to avoid the long lines. But if you’re acrophobic, you might want to avoid the elevator. It travels at about 40 miles per hour — which allows it to reach the observation deck in about two minutes.
If heights really make you squeamish and you decide that elevator ride isn’t for you, you can still enjoy yourself on the ground. The base of the Burj Khalifa is surrounded by beautiful garden walkways and the Dubai fountains, another of the Dubai points of interest you can check out in the coming pages.
2. Old Dubai
The Bastakia Quarter, or the Al-Fahidi neighborhood, is the place to go if you want a glimpse of Dubai without its futuristic 21st century flair. Located between the Dubai Creek and the Bur Dubai district, this neighborhood recalls the quiet village Dubai once was.
Does that episode of Dubai’s history sound unfamiliar? It doesn’t seem obvious when you check out the more modern Dubai points of interest. But in the Bastakia Quarter, you’ll get a glimpse of the communities that made up Dubai before skyscrapers dominated the horizon. Textile and pearl traders from Bastak, Iran established the district at the end of the 19th century. They were drawn there by Dubai’s relaxed trade tariffs.
They left behind picturesque buildings of limestone and coral. Those buildings include restored merchants’ houses and buildings that now hold art galleries, cafes, and even boutique hotels. You can’t help but be reminded of Iranian architecture when you admire the Bastakia Quarter’s buildings. Many even have a traditional Persian architectural feature called a windcatcher or wind tower. They create natural ventilation to direct airflow and cool the buildings.
Some notable Dubai points of interest in the area? Stroll by the Old City Wall, which was constructed in 1800 from gypsum and coral. Check out Emirati, Iranian, and Middle Eastern art at the XVA Gallery, Ave Gallery, or Majlis Gallery. And enjoy a refreshing drink at one of the courtyard house cafes.
3. Burj al-Arab
Next on the itinerary? The Burj al-Arab Hotel. Yes, that’s the other building in the all the Dubai pictures. When the Burj al-Arab was designed in the late 1990s, those involved intended for it to become an icon in Dubai. And it has — even though on several counts, it differs from many of the other most famous Dubai points of interest.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president of the United Arab Emirates, had requested a grandiose luxury hotel. He wanted such a hotel to assist the economic transition from oil into tourism and grant Dubai global attention. And it worked — at least until 2008, when the Burj Khalifa overshadowed it (figuratively and literally).
Still, the Burj al-Arab remains one of the the most prominent Dubai points of interest. It also ranks as the fourth-largest hotel in the world. In a way, that makes it the black sheep among the Dubai tourist attractions because it hasn’t broken any world records. Still, it heralds itself as “the world’s most luxurious hotel.”
Does it live up to that tagline? Forbes reports that it does. At least “if you believe that what determines the degree of luxury is unapologetic opulence and indulgent personal service that spoils you rotten 24/7.” The Burj al-Arab has also been crowned the most powerful hotel on social media. (There’s its world record.)
4. Dubai Fountain
At the base of the Burj Khalifa you’ll find another of the popular Dubai tourist attractions, the Dubai Fountain. The city always wants to have the biggest and best of everything. And the origin story of the Dubai Fountain doesn’t sound like a departure from that strategy. The chairman of Emaar Properties, the developer behind the Burj Khalifa, wanted a water feature that would dwarf the renowned Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas. And that’s what he got.
The Dubai Fountain was actually designed by the creators of the water and light show at the Bellagio Casino Hotel. It sits on the Burj Khalifa Lake, a 12-hectare attraction adjacent to the Dubai Mall. It ranks as the world’s largest “dancing fountain,” at more than 275 meters in length.
5. Dubai Mall
The Dubai Mall serves as the commercial center of a city built on commerce. Aside from all the shopping options you’d expect from a modern-day marketplace — the compound houses some 1,200 shops — the mall also offers events and activities like an ice-skating rink, cinema complex, and an aquarium.
The mall, the biggest one in the world, cost $20 billion to build. And it employs about 20,000 people. It also attracts a whopping 75 million visitors a year. And it gets more foot traffic than the Eiffel Tower, Niagara Falls, and Disney World combined. In addition to those 1,200 shops, the Dubai Mall houses 200 food and beverage outlets — and has 14,000 parking spaces.