Ten reasons to visit Dubai

01:49, May 24 2013
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The Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower at a height of 828 metres (2,717 feet), stands in Dubai.
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A camel trainer stands with his camels near the Dubai Marina.
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An aerial view of The Palm Jumeirah.
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The Burj Khalifa is seen from Al Qasr hotel in the Old Town in downtown Dubai.
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Construction cranes are seen near Burj Khalifa.
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Dubai's skyscrapers.
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Dusit hotel and residences on Sheikh Zayed road.
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Dubai city by night

With Qantas and Emirates joining forces for a new hub in Dubai, if you're heading to Europe anytime soon the chances of finding yourself in the second largest of the seven states that make up the United Arab Emirates have greatly increased.

Arriving can be a bit surreal, not just the sight of glass and steel shard buildings thrusting into the sky as the vast desert meets the sparkling Persian Gulf, but also the sheer scale and navigation of the dedicated A-380 terminal.

While it has a reputation for nightmarish queues, the president of Emirates Airlines Tim Clark promises they're working with officials to streamline the process.

Another slight downer is that it really is better if you are starting your trip from Australia - we still have that extra trans-Tasman hop - but the alliance does open up new options as the airlines will fly 14 times a day from Australia to Dubai which then has access to 65 destinations across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

Minor grumbles over, as I looked down from the 45th floor of the world's tallest hotel, I wondered what there was to do in Dubai. Here are 10 of the best suggestions from a whirlwind 48 hours.

1. The world's tallest building

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The Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, reaches 828 metres into the sky above downtown Dubai. The architecture is inspired by the Hymenocallis (or beach spiderlilly) desert flower and appears, in glass aluminium and steel, as three towers around a central core.

The At the Top visitor journey takes you to an open air (but fenced!) deck on level 124 with stunning 360 degree views of Dubai (what looks like smog is actually sand floating around). Queues can be long so book early and expect to wait. The world's highest restaurant is just below on level 122.

 2. Shopping

Dubai has dozens of malls, with the most famous being the Dubai Mall, the world's largest, covering 12 million square feet. If Bloomingdales, Armani or Chanel don't pique your interest, it also boasts the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, an ice skating rink (visit Mall of the Emirates for an indoor ski run), cinema and KidZania, a children's theme park.

Don't miss the Dubai fountain outside - the free water shows are world class. If your budget is more restrained, you can bag up to 90 per cent off the price tag at the Dubai Outlet Mall.

 3. Souks
Dubai's history is built on trade and the present day souks (markets) give a glimpse as to what might once have been. Selling food, spices, jewellery, gold, textiles, carpets and much more much more, you can wander unguided but be prepared to be bombarded with locals eager to peddle their wares.

The fish stalls require you to take a deep breath and hold on but it's worth it, especially if you follow it up with a trip to the spice souk. Buying anything requires haggling but it's good natured and polite.

 4. Old Dubai and Dubai Museum
For a more historic take on Dubai, you can wander unaided around the old district of Al Fahidi (Bastakiya). Exploring the narrow lanes, you will find traditional Gulf houses made of gypsum and coral stone with their large courtyards and tall wind towers (the earliest form of air conditioning and still reflected in the city's modern architecture).

End your leisurely walk (it will be hot) at the Dubai Museum which takes in the 1787 Al Fahidi Fort and contains 4000-year-old archaeological exhibits.

 5. Mosques
Jumeirah Mosque is Dubai's largest and one of a small number that non-Muslims can visit. It is built in the medieval Fatimid tradition and its interior is decorated with elaborate Arabic calligraphy. An after-dark visit is also an option when the mosque is lit up by floodlights.

As usual, conservative dress is required especially for women - including a head scarf. A stop at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding first is required, not only to learn about what you are visiting but because you must have a registered guide with you.

 6. Desert adventures
Less than an hour's drive away but world's apart in experience, there are several conservation areas near the city. The adventurous can go dune surfing, the curious can go camel riding and those who prefer their air conditioned comfort can take a four-wheel drive safari tour.

You will see onyx, gazelles and camels and realise that what may appear as harsh, barren desert is actually home to many animals and plants. A stunning contrast to the glitzy city. Stay and watch the sun set over the dunes and settle in for a desert bbq.

 7. Beaches and activities
Dubai has many kilometres of coastline boasting white sand beaches and sparkling clear water. With hot temperatures and high sunshine hours, the beach is always a good idea. The coastal hotels have private beaches and most also offer water sports.

For those not staying at a beach hotel, some let you visit for a fee and there are also public beaches - mainly along (the sometimes crowded) Jumeirah Road. Beach parks (with grass, shelter and amenities) are a safe and popular way to enjoy the sea and sand.

8. Art
Not what springs to mind when thinking of Dubai but the art scene is growing rapidly and, with a little homework and planning, there is plenty to see. Art Dubai is held each March and has grown into the largest art fair in the Middle East. The Dubai Culture and Arts Authority was set up in 2008 and has plenty of information and guides for art lovers.

Local galleries include the privately-owned, but open to the public, Al Serkal Avenue galleries in the edgy industrial area. A group of 39 galleries, each featuring a different artist, it's accessible but offers a contemporary view of Middle Eastern art.

9. Architecture
Yes really. Rising up from the desert, the sky scraping towers in Dubai are spectacular, each one trying to outdo the others. Getting an overall impression of the style of the city is difficult as each building does its own thing. So relax and appreciate each one for itself.

There is no such thing as a simple tower block, every building is individual with bling and wow a big part of the plan. But it works. Even the metro stations are stylish.

10. Luxury and glamour
Live like the other half for a day or two and abandon yourself to the luxury Dubai offers. You can stay in the world's only (albeit self-rated) seven-star hotel (the iconic Burj al Arab), the world's tallest hotel (JW Marriott Marquis), the grandiose Atlantis (standing proud at the end of the man-made island The Palm), near to shopping at the Palace or go for outback luxury at Al Maha.

Hire a chauffeured stretch limousine to deliver you to the racks of Gucci and Armani and end your day at one of the city's highly rated bars and restaurants. Celebrity spotting recommended and, if you read the glossy magazines, pretty damn easy.

Ellen Read visited Dubai courtesy of Qantas, Arabian Adventures and the JW Marriott Marquis.

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