Growing from a small village centered around pearl fishing to one of the world’s most famous cities, Dubai is bursting with sparkling, modern buildings, tall record-breaking buildings, and enchanting engineering projects. From its hundreds of skyscrapers to its man-made archipelagoes, there’s a lot about this city to impress visitors from across the globe.
Add to this its luxury credentials, its buzzing nightlife, the city’s international population, its traditional culture, and history, as well as being simply an incredible place to shop, and Dubai certainly has a lot of things to its name that keep it famed throughout the world.
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Table of Contents
What is Dubai Known For?
Being part of the UAE
Dubai is one of the six nations that make up the United Arab Emirates. This Asian nation is made up of the capital Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah, Umm Al Quwain as well as Dubai.
Although part of the same nation, each of the emirates is different. Dubai is the most populated of them all, attracting international visitors and businesses from around the world. In total, the UAE is just a little bit smaller than Portugal and is home to over 9 million people.
The second-largest mall in the world, Dubai Mall is the place to go for pretty much everything in this futuristic city by the sea. Here you’ll find not only shops — over 1,200 of them, in fact — but also ample entertainment options. Oh, and food galore.
This center of commerce in the heart of the city is where you’ll find art galleries, an amusement park, sports facilities, a haunted house, a VR experience, its very own enormous fossil of a diplodocus, and is also where you’ll find the Burj Khalifa — the world’s tallest building.
Its giant aquarium
Dubai lays claim to being home to many of the biggest things in the world. One of those show-stopper attractions is located in the equally record-breaking Dubai Mall where the Dubai Aquarium is located.
The aquarium boasts one of the world’s largest suspended aquarium tanks, a pretty impressive feat considering this is a nation that was once in the desert. Visitors to the aquarium can be amazed by the 10-million-litre tank which is home to an array of marine life.
One of the show-stopping features of the aquarium is the immersive 48-meter-long tunnel where you can walk through the center of the tank and see the sharks, manta rays, and other interesting sea creatures up close.
Being a fishing village
Despite the shiny, contemporary credentials of the wealthy city that visitors see today, Dubai’s heritage as a fishing village surprisingly doesn’t get lost amid all the clamor of the tourists and the energy of its modern malls.
Stretching to the 18th century, Dubai was specifically known for its pearl divers, who risked their lives diving (without equipment, of course) to scour the seabed for these precious stones. One example of this heritage being recognized is at the Human Waterfall in Dubai Mall, an art installation that mixes gushing water with statues of figures who seem to be eternally diving.
Getting rich on oil
The UAE has been able to fund much of its development off the back of oil. While most of the oil in the region is to be found in neighboring Abu Dhabi, Dubai has been able to profit from the trade of the oil. Money from the discovery of oil in the region started to pour into Dubai from the late 1960s onwards, and the Emirate embarked on an era of building infrastructure and trading networks.
The newly generated money from the oil trade pushed the city into a speedy development phase which catapulted an already important commercial hub into the glittering modern city it is today.
Dubai and luxury go hand in hand. It’s no surprise, then, that you’ll find a whole host of luxury hotels in the city. In fact, some of the hotels have been described as “seven-star” — the Burj Al Arab, for example — while Atlantis The Royal Hotel is sometimes cited as a “six-star” hotel.
But when it comes to actual 5-star hotels, Dubai has dozens and dozens of these. Branches of high-end international chains are represented here, such as Hilton, Park Hyatt, Marriott, Shangri-La, and Sofitel, among many others. All of them ooze myriad luxuries.
Bastions of Dubai’s past as an old mercantile port can still be seen, even though much of the city has grown up around it. Aside from trade that was brought to the port from the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, many of the locals would rely on fishing and diving for pearls to make a living.
The Old Dubai neighborhood is a heritage district that offers an insight into what life was like in the region. Located on the shore of Dubai Creek, here is where the traditional dhow boats would arrive with items for trade or the day’s catch.
Centered around the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, Old Dubai is an intriguing slice of the city where carefully restored buildings are built out of gypsum and coral. The neighborhood is also dotted with the silhouettes of wind towers, the ingenious creations were used to keep the inside of buildings cool in the high desert temperates.
Being the modern miracle of a city that it is, Dubai is no stranger to skyscrapers. Its skyline is regularly featured in Instagram feeds of impressed visitors from around the world, gleaming by day or twinkling with countless lights.
In fact, Dubai boasts well over 100 skyscrapers over 200 meters tall, many of which are home not only to offices and hotels but also apartments, malls, and entertainment. The city has the fourth-highest number of skyscrapers in the world (after Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and New York City).
Known the world over, the Burj Khalifa made headlines when it first opened in 2010. This enormous skyscraper takes the title of being the tallest building in the world. Taking five years to make, its height reaches 829.8 meters into the air. When measuring it in feet that’s 2,717 ft — almost half a mile long.
The now iconic structure is the center point of a large modern development that includes thousands of residential properties, multiple luxury hotels, the gleaming Dubai Mall, and its eponymous lake. Much about the landmark is groundbreaking, the list of impressive firsts is almost unending and includes the highest nightclub in the world, the highest restaurant, and the highest display of fireworks anywhere in the world to mark the new year.
Being a city in the desert
Dubai is definitely famed for rising out of its desert surroundings to become an international giant in just a few decades. Photos of this city from the 1980s and ‘90s show lonely roads cutting through the sand, with just a few tall buildings dotting the scene.
Even with all the development, the desert is never too far away. Of course, for one thing, there’s the desert heat to contend with (thank goodness for all that air-con), but there are also tours taking visitors out into the dunes to race around on buggies, go camel trekking or visit a Bedouin settlement.
Local customs and culture
Even though much of the everyday life in Dubai is focused on modern practices and influenced by the international communities who call it home, Dubai remains rooted in the traditional Arab and Islamic culture of the region.
This cultural heritage can be seen throughout Dubai in its gastronomic offerings, traditional clothing, architecture, and music. The call to prayer echoes out from the city’s minarets and Friday is observed as a holy day.
Dubai Creek was once the lifeline of Dubai. It was here in the 19th century that the Bani Yas tribe first settled, eventually establishing the current ruling Maktoum emirate of Dubai. The creek was also the focal point for Dubai’s pearling industry, which was once the primary commercial activity in the area.
Today, Dubai Creek is known to visitors not only as a place to get some incredible views of the city’s skyline but also as somewhere to experience a slice of Dubai’s long past — mainly in the form of catching one of its traditional abras (water taxis) and exploring Old Dubai.
Palm Jumeirah Dubai
Palm Jumeirah is perhaps one of the most famous engineering marvels in the world, let alone in Dubai. Construction on these man-made islands, designed to resemble the fronds of a palm tree, began in 2001, with the first residents moving in 2006.
Since its opening, the Palm Jumeirah has grown in importance for the city, hosting not only residential buildings but also hotels, of which there are more than 20 (including the iconic Atlantis Hotel), as well as bars, restaurants, and even its own monorail system — a first for the Middle East.
The World Islands
Like Palm Jumeirah, The World Islands are a feat of engineering and a big showcase of the creativity (and wealth) of Dubai and the United Arab Emirates as a whole. As the name suggests, these man-made islands have been created in the shape of the continents and islands of the Earth itself.
Made using sand dredged from the coastal waters, The World consists of seven sets of islands representing the continents, each with islands corresponding to world cities and countries, many of which have yet to be developed.
Dubai is known around the world for being a late-night city. Aside from its nightclubs and rooftop bars, many entertainment facilities, cafes, and restaurants are open until (at least) midnight, as locals and visitors come out to play to make the most of the cooler night temperatures.
One particularly good spot for nightlife is Dubai Marina. Here you’ll find places such as Barasti, a beach club complete with pools, loungers, and multiple bars that’s open from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. every single day. Elsewhere, skyscrapers play host to clubs like high-octane B018, set on the Media One Hotel’s 42nd floor, while The Penthouse, a sophisticated spot on Palm Jumeirah Dubai, is a special place to party the night away.
And its entertainment
Entertainment can be found just about everywhere in Dubai — you don’t have to look far to find something intriguing or exciting to watch or do. Not all of it is in the city; excursions and tours both inland to the desert and out onto the high seas themselves provide visitors with ample opportunity to keep busy.
But the city itself is packed with entertainment options. There’s its multi-screened cinemas, its many malls (themselves filled with things like ice rinks and amusement parks), or simply just watching the Dubai Fountain show as it wows people on a backdrop of the Burj Khalifa.