Suggestions on what to do when on holiday in Dubai and Abu Dhabi
Chris Smart gets out and explores Dubai and Abu Dhabi
One of the perks of working for Beachcomber Tours and selling such an exclusive range of destinations is that we are fortunate enough to both holiday and visit these countries fairly regularly.
Having been out to Dubai on numerous occasions over the last 14 years, (most recently in September 2016) I have seen not just the well documented fast development of buildings and services, but also the number of things to do increase providing for a wide range of ways to get the most from your precious holiday.
Below are my own thoughts regarding some of the excursions and places to visit when on holiday in Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
Abra’s, The Gold Souk & Dubai Museum
The creek has been the traditional heartbeat of Dubai for generations where the locals lived and worked. Only since the discovery of oil midway through the last century has development taken place away from this area. An abra is the traditional form of transport still used by people crossing from one side of the creek to the other. For tourists it is a great and cheap method of seeing a little of Dubai from the water. Just turn up, join the queue and hand over a tiny amount of Dirhams and you get to spend 5 minutes on the water.
Once across the creek many people take the opportunity to visit the gold souk. After leaving the abra it is just a short 3 or 4 minute walk past some of the markets selling spices and a plethora of products. At one end you will likely see tourists having their photographs taken outside the jewelers selling what is reputed to be the world’s largest gold ring with an enormous Swarovski stone set inside. The souk is a covered street with bling on both sides and worth a quick look, or if you have a hankering to splash out spend time browsing the windows or negotiating with the owners inside.
On the opposite side of the creek is Dubai Museum. The museum is located inside one of the oldest buildings left in Dubai and while it is starting to date, for example there is a film talking about a future project to build an enormous palm in the sea it only costs a few dirhams to go in. Not much has changed in the museum that I can spot within the past 14 years, but for first timers going to Dubai there are some interesting displays and photographs showing the astonishing rise of Dubai from being a tiny fishing and trading post to a world player and quite unique holiday destination within 60 years.
Sheikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding
One of the least heralded, but for me interesting places I have visited is the Sheikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding. The centre is not far from Dubai Museum and offers the opportunity to join a local speaker in a relaxed environment while they explain how life functions in Dubai. They actively wish for attendees to ask any question they can think of no matter how obvious, rude or deep to which they will answer as truthfully as possible. While listening and learning a delicious traditional meal is served along with Arabic coffee.
Dubai Water Taxi
If spending 5 minutes on an abra isn’t enough time on the water then a fantastic way of getting from the creek to Dubai Marina is to hire a water taxi. This isn’t a cheap option, but if you have 4+ people it works out quite well and you get the chance to spend roughly an hour in a leather seated water taxi heading parallel with Jumeirah Beach enjoying sensational views of the Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah Beach Hotel, The Palm, maybe the royal yacht and Dubai’s incredible skyline. There is a seating area out the back from which you will get some great photos.
Dubai has two fantastic water parks: Aquaventure & Wild Wadi. Wild Wadi was the first of these to open and located next to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel (Residents of the hotel have complimentary entry as often as they like). Aquaventure is attached to The Atlantis The Palm Hotel, on the far end of the palm. Home to an incredible array of rides including rapids, lazy river, children’s play area and the awesome “Drop” where you hurtle down an almost direct drop - scary but amazing.
Downtown – Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall and the fountains
No trip to Dubai is complete these days without a visit to the world’s largest shopping mall, home to an enormous aquarium, ice rink, Kidzania, numerous restaurants and some of the world’s leading luxury brands. Depending upon your love of shopping it is possible to spend days and a fortune inside, plus as is always the way with Dubai they are never satisfied with having the largest mall in the world, they are now extending it even further!
Outside the mall is the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, opened in 2010 and measuring 829.8 metres at the top. The ride in the lift is extraordinarily smooth and takes you roughly ¾ of the way up with the option of dining in Altitude restaurant on the floor above. Views and photos are as you would imagine amazing across to the Burj Al Arab or out to the desert.
Outside Dubai Mall and playing every evening are the Dubai Fountain’s. These are the largest fountain in the world and offer a spectacular show played out to music. Each half an hour the lights drop, some music starts to play and for roughly ten minutes the hoards of people stand back and enjoy. I have seen people moved to tears by the experience. If I can offer a piece of advice, leave the Mall and turn right for 50 metres, from here you will escape the crowds and get a perfect side on view of the entire experience. Another option is to purchase a ticket for one of the little abra’s that circle the fountains for a real up close and personal experience.
Abu Dhabi holiday suggestions
While Abu Dhabi is not as developed as Dubai in terms of tourism it is catching up and already has some interesting places to note.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is possibly the most well known point of interest in Abu Dhabi. Having opened in 2007 it is quite stunning and the largest and most important mosque in the UAE. Visitors are welcome to enter at no charge during times when prayers are not taking place although I suggest reading about the dress code prior to arrival so as to avoid disappointment.
As many motor racing fans will know Abu Dhabi is host to a Formula 1 Grand Prix each year and as part of the development surrounding the circuit Ferrari World is a theme park paying homage to the Ferrari brand. It has the world’s fastest rollercoaster for which you are given safety goggles just to ride it due to the speed. There are numerous Ferraris to enjoy looking at and a wide range of rides for all ages.
If guests wish to leave their hotel then an evening in the Corniche area on the water front, not far from the famous Emirates Palace is a place where there are some attractions and restaurants in a lovely setting.