Hotspots in Dubai Part 1

Preserving the past in exemplary fashion and shaping the future in visionary fashion. 


Alongside Shanghai (see my April blog), Dubai also embodies the future. This is where the vibrant world of tomorrow lives, works and meets. Did you know that the name Dubai means meeting place? 

The desert emirate (just like Shanghai) experienced a gigantic rise in recent years and the hunt for superlatives continues breathlessly. Unimaginably, just 200 years ago, Dubai was a small fishing village with a population of about 1,000. Normally, I present you a multi-day sightseeing program for visiting a city. Unfortunately, I have to deviate from this usual concept – as far as Dubai is concerned – because hardly any other city with millions of inhabitants is as multifaceted as Dubai and always outdoes itself. In addition, the pompous and dazzling desert metropolis embodies two faces: Dubai starts today in tuned turbo speed into tomorrow and yet preserves its traditions of yesterday. Let me take you, dear readers, to Dubai! 

Although Dubai has been my “home away from home” for over 15 years, this city of millions still fascinates me anew on each visit. As you have surely noticed, I have already introduced you to some very different luxury hotels in the category Hotel Portrait and have also mentioned a five-star hotel in this report. In the month of October, more luxury hotels as well as sights will follow. So be curious about the upcoming highlights! 

Tradition, heritage and nostalgia paired with modernity, cultural assets and innovation have never been opposites in Dubai. On the contrary, Dubai sets an example for this successful symbiosis. The government is making sustained and intensive efforts to preserve and restore traditional mud houses, as well as to restore the ancient villages as museum villages, such as “Heritage Village”, the folklore village, or “Diving Village”. 

The cultural heritage has a priceless value in the Arabian Gulf States. The ancient artists’ district of Bastakiya in Bur Dubai, with its wind tower houses made of mud and coral stones, is a special example to show the traditional heritage to visitors from all over the world and to the descendants of the locals who are closely connected to their roots and traditions. Fortunately, this historic district is now a protected monument. Sheikh Saeed Al-Maktoum House, a museum, also contains historical treasures that should not be missed. 

Furthermore, the oldest building of the city, the “Al Fahidi Fort”, is located in the district of Bur Dubai. It is a fortress that was built in 1787 to protect the city from enemy attacks. Today, the National Museum offers an informative overview of the history of the city’s development and the evolution of traditions in today’s desert metropolis. 

In the opposite district of Deira, on the right side of the Creek, there is another interesting heritage site: the first school of Dubai, the “Al-Ahmadiya” school, which was founded in 1912 and today houses a museum. Furthermore, the numerous mosques (there are more than 500 in Dubai – every inhabitant will find an Islamic place of worship within a kilometer of his or her neighborhood) with their towering minarets and domes convey vernacular history. 

The lively, intricate souks with their airy covered narrow alleys in the shape of a historic Arab market enchant every visitor and take him from the present back to the past of Bedouin life and traditional markets with their smells of thick clouds of incense and oriental spices. I recommend you a visit of the small, fine and authentic Dubai Spice Souk (also called The Old Souk), as well as the Gold Souk, which is located right nearby and is a sparkling counterpoint – in an absolutely Arabic quarter with oriental charm. While I only marvel at the gold displays in the cluttered windows of local merchants, I regularly buy my spices at the Spice Souk. Cardamom, cinnamon and especially saffron refine the dishes later at home. Insider tip: Don’t forget to haggle! Haggling is as much a part of an oriental market as the gondolas in Venice. 

The two souks are not far from the Sheraton Dubai Creek, a 5-star hotel right on the creek with an Arabian touch and a fantastic view from the hotel room. 

I recommend this hotel for a stopover, as you can easily reach the traditional spice and gold markets on foot. Furthermore, a walk along the creek gives interesting insights into the daily hardscrabble life of the foreign workers – far from the luxurious side of Dubai. Look along the quay walls at how tires, packed kitchen utensils of all kinds are piled up. In the blazing midday sun, the workers are loading this cargo onto antique wooden cargo ships called dhows, which stand in several rows along the shore. Listen to the singing of the muezzin, who calls to prayer several times a day. You can learn about this extremely interesting older side of the city and appreciate Arab culture and tradition while strolling around the creek. For those who are not so fond of walking along Dubai Creek, you should take a traditional wooden water cab, called an abra. 

After this excursion into the essence of Arab culture, I would not want to deprive you of the luxurious residential district of Dubai Marina, the symbol of modern Dubai. Afterwards you can decide whether you prefer to take an authentic wooden water cab across the Dubai Creek or cruise luxuriously on a yacht along the four-kilometer-long artificial water channel. Take a look at the photos and decide for yourself: Stroll along the lively ancient Creek or the vibrant ostentatious promenade of Dubai Marina. I like both neighborhoods and can never decide! 

To conclude our very personal experiences in this 1st part (the 2nd will follow in a month), I would now like to introduce you to the magnificent Burj Khalifa. The highest building in the world houses 160 habitable floors and rises proudly 828 meters into the desert sky. This unique icon with a breathtaking glass and aluminum facade shapes the silhouette of this spectacular city like no other building. 

I recommend you to buy the ticket “At the Top Sky”, because it gives you the possibility to go up without queueing. All visitors who have booked such a ticket for a fixed time (preferably at sunset) will be gathered in a room for a few minutes before boarding the high-speed elevator in a small group. Thanks to this ticket, you will have access to an exclusive lounge on the 125th floor and you will have the unique opportunity to reach the 148th floor. There you will find the world’s highest viewing platform at 555 meters. It’s an outstanding feeling to stand there and watch the water spectacle down at the Burj Khalifa from a bird’s eye view. For those who want to marvel at the 150 meter- high water fountains of the Dubai Fountain Show including music and light spectacle several times a day, I suggest booking a suite at least one night at either the Palace Downtown or the Address Downtown. More details can be found in the category Hotel Portrait. 

Versatile Dubai is definitely a destination for the world traveler! Those who like it authentic, lively and traditional should definitely visit the historic core of the city and also stay there. The districts of Deira and Bur Dubai are a contrast to the gigantic skyscrapers at the Dubai Marina and the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. 

Have fun in this unique desert metropolis, 

your Amal