Excess all areas personifies Dubai’s contemporary spirit. From the alligator-skinned Rolls Royces’ to the edible gold cupcakes coveted by those who flaunt their wealth, Dubai is a big, brash show-off. Skyscraper spectating can be a particularly hallucinogenic pursuit in Dubai.
Proudly home to ten of the world’s fifty tallest buildings, some of which are taller than classified mountains, the flashy adolescent of the Arabian Gulf is like one trippy receptacle of architectural fantasy. But the world’s tallest tower, cloud-piercing Burj Khalifa, lords over them all.
I’ve been lucky enough to scale many of the world’s iconic observation towers, but Dubai’s “At the Top” experience is so profoundly high, it can literally feel over the top – as if you’ve been thrust and suspended in low-orbit. Needless to say, the horizon-wide views stretch into infinity, notwithstanding the pesky intrusion of desert dust and urban smog. For a fun diversion, 122 floors up, At.mosphere is one of the coolest cocktail venues in town.
Book a table by the window so you can also take in the dancing fountain show from the magnificence of this mahogany-clad lounge. Drinks are on the stiff side, be if you’re up for a splurge, be daring and order up a signature cocktail, infused with frankincense. Burj Khalifa springs from the loins of Dubai Mall, an audacious shopping colossus, with over 1200 stores sprawling over 500,000 square metres of retail real estate.
An hour inside this mall monster was quite sufficient for me, but I do know people who venerate this mall as the glittering pinnacle in destination shopping. Home to Candylicious, the world’s biggest confectionary shop, balance up your gluttony by virtuously perusing the shelves of what claims to be the world’s biggest book shop, Book World by Kinokuniya, a Japanese giant with over half a million books in-store, in multiple languages.
Amongst the slew of leisure activities -ice skating, anyone? – a major crowd-puller is the Dubai Aquarium; its 10 million-litre tank is one of the largest in the world, naturally. Soak up the splashy delight of the dancing Dubai Fountains, designed by the same wizards behind the Bellagio waterworks, which burst into soundtracked, choreographed glory, every 30 minutes from 6pm. The illuminated water jets shoot 500ft into the air, and it goes without saying – it’s the world’s biggest dancing fountain show.
Now 17 years old, the 321 metre-high Burj Al Arab remains a compelling totem of raw luxury. Inspired by the shape of a billowing sail on traditional Arabian dhow, if you’re up for one serious splurge in Dubai, make a date with this masterpiece, to swoon over the bold theatrics of its interior. Blue patterned carpets, acres of gold leaf and Statutario marble, mesmerising mosaics, soaring golden columns and mood lighting, imitating the deep blue sky, all set the tone.
The towering atrium slopes like the hull of a giant ship, studded with a frenzy of art works and cascading fountains. You can swoon over this interior by making a booking for High Tea, either in the Atrium at Sahn Eddar, or push the boat out even further for a Sky Tea at Skyview Bar, located on the 56th floor of Burj Al Arab. Packages range from NZ$100-200 per person and you must book in advance, given the insatiable popularity. Go on, treat yourself to the unabashed decadence.
Featuring a ravishing parade of glittering tall towers, strung around the largest man-made marina in the world, with super-yachts tethered to moorings, the Dubai Marina district is a relatively recent and evolving development, proving immensely attractive to visitors. One of the best ways to see Dubai Marina is simply to stroll around the promenade, on the beautifully landscaped boardwalks.
Take a moonlight walk after a romantic meal to marvel at the spangled head-swirl above! On the western side of the marina, I feasted my eyes on what is considered the “tallest block in the world”, a tightly-bound cluster of towering skyscrapers with grandiose architectural flourishes. Along the 7km walking path, you’ll stumble upon many delightful enticements, from swish restaurants and boutiques, to the boat and dhow trips that set sail from the Dubai Marina Yacht Club. The Red Line of the Dubai Metro effortlessly connects the marina with Downtown Dubai.
Take a jaunt to the audacious man-made islands that form Palm Jumeirah. From above, this extension of humanity into the Arabian Gulf is shaped like a giant palm tree with 17 fronds, encircled by a crescent-shaped island. The pioneering offshore development is home to the equally audacious Atlantis The Palm resort, which boasts its own water park, private beach and Dolphin Bay. Slavishly subscribing to Dubai’s “bigger is better” mantra, the 1500-roomed mega-resort, lauded by Kim Kardashian, but a little too gaudy for my tastes, is worth a visit for its underwater attractions.
The Lost Chambers Aquarium is a whimsical watery wonderland, home to 65,000 marine creatures, and lustily themed as The Lost City of Atlantis. The magnificent aquariums throng with marine life from all over the planet, from absurdly pretty reef fish to mighty sharks and rays. The easiest way to get to Atlantis is to hop aboard the Palm Monorail, which will also provide you with an elevated perspective over the Royal Family’s palace and the swathe of exquisitely beautiful villas springing up all over Palm Jumeirah.
Where to stay? I plumped for Amwaj Rotana Hotel, just minutes from Dubai Marina in the recently developed Jumeirah Beach Residence district. The beautiful new property features 301 tastefully furnished sea view rooms and suites, and three award-winning restaurants offering Italian, Japanese and international cuisine. You’ll love the on-site Bodylines Fitness & Wellness Club that comprises temperature-controlled adults’ and kids’ swimming pools, a fully-equipped gymnasium, jacuzzi, steam rooms, sauna and spa. Complimentary WiFi is available.
Dubai is never bereft of new fantastical ideas and extravagant constructions. Here’s a taste of some notable new head-turners in the works. Emaar Properties is constructing an ever taller tower than the Burj Khalifa. The US$1 billion Dubai Tower will aim to emulate Gustave Eiffel’s construction for the 1889 Paris World Fair.Emaar wants their new project to serve as Dubai’s enduring landmark, coinciding with the Dubai Expo in 2020.
Billed as the world’s tallest ferris wheel, Dubai Eye will be the centrepiece of Bluewaters Island, jutting off the shoreline of Jumeirah Beach Residence. The 210 metre wheel, inspired by the 135 metre-tall London Eye, is the crowning glory of this new beachfront entertainment hub.
Dubai Frame, an iconic new landmark taking shaping in Zabeel Park, comprises two 150-metre towers 93 metres wide, connected with a 100 square metre bridge. Set against the picturesque Dubai skyline, it will give visitors the perfect vantage point to snap all of Dubai’s dazzling landmarks. www.duabaitourism.ae