So my parents have just got back from the most amazing holiday in the Maldives. The hotel just looks incredible and unreal! I am extremely jealous and it’s definitely on my bucket list for the future. But the reason I’m writing this blog post is because on the way out they did a 3 night stopover in Dubai and hearing their stories and seeing their pictures reminded me of the many amazing times we spent in the Middle East on family holidays.
Dubai is one of the most unique places I have ever visited. With its amazing skyline, the tallest buildings and some of the most extravagant hotels in the world, all with the beautiful sandy desert as its backdrop, there is so much to do and see.
One of the best memories I have is on our first holiday there when we took a day trip into the desert. We spent the day riding camels, picnicking in the bottom of a sand valley, sand-boarding down vertical dunes and driving over them on a 4×4 Jeep safari.
It was incredible to see the great expanse of desert and strange to know that that was all Dubai was before it became such a tourist holiday destination. It felt like a completely different world to our luxurious hotel surrounded by hundreds of other high-rise buildings.
Visiting the local souks – the gold souk, the spice souk, fish, meat, vegetable, electronics, textiles and perfume souks – was also amazing . They all offer an amazing insight into the local culture and good natured bartering, and the locals are very used to Western foreigners.
Other attractions there include Ski Dubai, an indoor ski slope which is great fun, although it’s the weirdest feeling being in a ski jumpsuit and freezing cold in the middle of Dubai when you’ve just come out of the scorching desert heat outside! You’ll find it in the Mall of the Emirates, where you can also spend a great evening browsing the designer stores and sitting in the coffee shops and people watching (my favourite sport)! But our favourite is the Dubai Mall with much better shopping – and is apparently the world’s biggest shopping mall!
The malls themselves are amazing – the entire outside wall of one of the malls is lined with giant pictures of all the UAE Sheikhs, there are beautiful indoor fountains with hanging silver divers, a giant indoor aquarium, the most amazing outdoor fountain display in the evenings, and of course if you’re missing home, there is a Waitrose and a Starbucks (which is about 3 times its normal price)!
Depending how much time you have there, this is even more to see and do! We spent one afternoon visiting the Burj Al Arab, one of the most expensive hotels in Dubai. It was incredible and one of the most extravagant places I’d ever been – but way too over the top and ridiculous! We had afternoon tea there though which was a great experience – but make sure you book in advance!
Another interesting sight is the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world! We didn’t actually do this but you can climb up to the top for amazing panoramic views of the entire city.
So you definitely won’t be stuck for things to do here! But the main aspect which struck me as so unique and intriguing was the dramatic mix of two cultures: the old and the new. The strict rules regarding alcohol, the behaviour of women and couples in public and the wearing of hijabs and burqas are typical of its traditional Muslim culture. But at the same time, there is the most incredible glamour and extravagance and Western tourism, so much so that I think it must be hard to lead such a strict life following the Qur’an and Islam.
From its shopping to its skyline to its desert scenes, Dubai is bursting with its unique culture and for me is incomparable to anywhere else in the world!
Abu Dhabi | Oman
I’ve also been lucky enough to be able to compare Dubai to its neighbouring states, Abu Dhabi and Oman. Compared to Dubai, these are less well known and a lot less extravagant and brash. I learnt from working in travel that a lot of people hate what Dubai has become – and I can understand it. The beaches are man-made, not naturally beautiful and backed by a massive cityscape of high-rise buildings and the rise in tourism means that a lot of the culture has been ruined.
So if you want to experience the Middle East in a more ‘authentic’ way, Abu Dhabi and Oman are better options. They still have the beautiful luxury hotels and the same goes for the beaches – but it is less ‘fake’ and a quieter pace in a way.
Abu Dhabi is actually the capital of the United Arab Emirates and its main attraction is the beautiful Sheikh Zayed Mosque, where you’ll probably be able to hear the calls to prayer from four times a day (and through the night) from wherever you are in the city! Take a guided tour here – but be prepared to be taken into separate changing rooms for men and women and be dressed head to toe in a long black burqa – we couldn’t stop laughing when we saw each other! The tour guide was great and we learnt so much, and the place was absolutely beautiful.