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Dubai – the most versatile city in the Middle East

A travel story by Bibi van der Linden 

Big, bigger, biggest in Dubai. Dubai is attracting more and more tourists and building everything you can think of. Dubai has grown from a desert into a metropolis with the huge buildings as skyline and the artificial islands in front of the coastline. 

Dubai is located in the Middle East and is one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates. Dubai has about 3.1 million inhabitants. Due to its location and desert climate, it can be very hot in Dubai. The average temperature is around 25 degrees. You would say that it is a nice temperature, but in the summer months (mid-May to late October) the temperature can reach almost 50 degrees. The best travel period to Dubai is therefore in the winter months (November to April). During these months, the average temperature is 24 degrees.

Tourism in Dubai

Dubai is one of the most popular destinations and has become a must-see. In 2007, Dubai was visited by around 7 million tourists. In 2018, 15.9 million tourists visited the Emirate, which means it has more than doubled in 10 years. Consequently, hundreds of hotels have been build in Dubai in recent years. This brought the number of hotel rooms in 2018 to a total of 91,085 rooms to stay in.


Culture in Dubai

Even though there are many Western influences in Dubai, Islam is inseparable from Dubai’s culture. Every Muslim lives by its guidelines and the Quran is sacred. All over Dubai, Muslims walk in their traditional garb, and mosques can be heard five times a day at prayer times. Islam is a major occupation in daily life for many, which means no alcohol in many of the restaurants, no nudity, and no drugs. The Arab culture is different than other religions: understanding and respecting this is essential. The tourists should adapt to the local norms and values. During Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, almost all eating establishments are closed during the day, except for some fast-food chains where you can only take the food with you. Again, a sign of respect towards the local population is important.

Sights in Dubai

Literally and figuratively the highlight of Dubai is the Burj Khalifa. The Burj Khalifa is 828 meters high and is the tallest building in the world. The tower is visible throughout Dubai. You can visit the viewing platform on the 124th or 148th floor via the high-speed elevator. From there you can look around 360 degrees in the open air. The view is breath-taking! The name Burj Khalifa is the reference to the President of the United Arab Emirates Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahayan. In the pond in front of the Burj Khalifa is the best free attraction in Dubai, namely the Dubai Fountain. The Dubai Fountain is the tallest and largest fountain show in the world. The combination of the spraying fountains, music, and lights, is very impressive to see.


Next to the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Fountain is the mall with the largest aquarium in the world. In 2008, the largest mall in the world namely The Dubai Mall opened its doors with over 1,300 stores. The mall has four floors and just visiting the mall is quite an experience. In addition to all the stores, the mall also has plenty of restaurants and hotels. In the middle of the mall is the largest aquarium in the world, a large part you can see for free. For the rest of the aquarium, you have to buy a ticket. 


Jeep safari

Besides all the sights, there is also plenty to do in Dubai. The coolest thing I did was a jeep safari through the desert. We were picked up from our hotel late in the afternoon and after a bit of driving on the highway, we ended up in the desert. Just before we entered the desert our tour guide deflated the tires of the car a little, so we had more grip in the desert and then we drove into the desert in a 4×4 jeep. After a very fun trip through the desert, we were dropped off in the middle of the desert at a traditional Bedouin camp. Besides taking beautiful pictures we could also sandboard, ride a quad and ride a camel. In the evening we enjoyed a traditional buffet/barbecue. We all sat at long tables on the ground to eat. While eating we could enjoy shows such as the Tanoura dance, belly dance shows, and many more. Finally, the tour ended with a beautiful sunset in the desert. I thought the jeep safari was the most fun of my trip to Dubai, so I definitely recommend it!


Boat tour

Another activity in Dubai that still sticks with me is the speedboat tour. There was quite some wind that day, so the sea was a bit choppy. We left from the Dubai Marina, where we could admire the luxury yachts. During the boat tour, we got to see amazing views and hear fun facts about all the hotels on the coast, beaches, and sights. The sights we got to see from the boat included: Dubai Eye wheel, Atlantis, Burj Al Arab, the palm islands, and Jumeriah beach. It was an unforgettable boat tour of all the highlights from the water. 


Excursion to Abu Dhabi

We went to Abu Dhabi for one day, this is another emirate. Here we visited the Sheikh Zayed mosque. A beautiful and large mosque, with room for 40,000 people. Inside the mosque is the largest hand-woven carpet in the world. The mosque also has the largest chandelier in the world. The chandelier is over 10 meters in diameter and 40 meters high. The mosque is known as the most expensive mosque on earth. There is a dress code while visiting the mosque. If you do not meet the dress code, there are several abayas (black/red dress with headscarf) available on site. A visit to Abu Dhabi and the mosque is beautiful and worthwhile! 


Dubai is in full development so I am very curious to see what it looks like when I return in a few years. I found it very interesting to get to know the culture better. Hospitality is central to the daily culture of the Emirates. The unprecedented hospitality and service was also very noticeable during my stay in Dubai. In the hotel but also during activities and in the stores etc. they were there to help me in a friendly way, which certainly did not come across as intrusive. There is a lot to do in Dubai and therefore definitely worth a visit.

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