Imagine you’re a pinpoint on a map and think of where you would like to travel to. Our armchair travels now take us from Turkey to the United Arab Emirates or the UAE. Sometimes known as just Emirates. This country is a federal absolute monarchy in Western Asia at the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula on the Persian Gulf. The UAE borders with Oman to the east, Saudi Arabia to the south and shares maritime borders with Qatar to the west and Iran to the north.
Our first stop is the ultramodern city of Dubai which is known for impressive architecture, luxury shopping and a lively nightlife.
The Dubai Museum is the city’s best museum. It has found its home in the Al Fahidi Fort dating from around 1800. This is considered to be the oldest structure in the city. Exhibits show the emirate’s turbo-evolution from fishing and pearling village to global centre of commerce, finance and tourism. There are walk-through mock souk, exhibits on Bedouin life in the desert and a room that highlights the importance fo the sea in the days before the discovery of oil. The last room highlights archaeological finds from nearby excavation sites.
Al Fahidi Fort was once the residence of local rulers until 1896. It has been used as a prison and a garrison and became a museum in 1971. A teak gate leads into a central courtyard with bronze cannons, traditional boats and an areesh (a palm-frond hut which served as a summer home for most locals until the middle of the 20th century). Around the courtyard are rooms displaying instruments and weapons.
An impressive architectural creation is the Burj Khalifa. It has two observation decks on the 124th and 148th floors and a restaurant-bar on the 122nd floor. This counts as the world’s tallest building rising high into the sky at 828m.
The At the Top observation deck on the 124th fl. has high-powered telescopes to put the city into focus on clear days and they simulate the same view at night and 35 years back in time. Heading up to the deck you’ll pass by various multimedia exhibits.
On the 148th fl. you find the world’s highest observation platform At the Top Sky. Here you experience a VIP experience with refreshments, a guided tour and an interactive screen where you experience “flying” to different city landmarks by just hovering your hands over the high-tech sensors.
The Dubai Fountain is a spectacular dancing fountain in the middle of a giant lake against the backdrop of the awesome Buri Khalifa. The water from the fountain rises up as high as 150m, all syncopated to classical Arabic and world-music soundtracks.
It is visible from many different vantage point including some of the restaurants at Souk Al Bahar, the bridge that links Souk Al Bahar with the Dubai Mall and its waterfront terrace. For a real close-up view you can book a cruise on a wooden abra (a traditional boat) that sails between 5:45 PM and 11 PM.
Madinat Jumeirah is one of Dubai’s most impressive and attractive developments. This is an interpretation of a traditional Arab village including a souq, palm-lined waterways and desert-colored hotels and villas complete with wind towers.
It is particularly lovely at night with the gardens lit up and the Burj Al Arab shimmering in the background. You’ll delight in bougainvillea, banana trees and soaring palms.
In the center of it all is Souk Madinat Jumeirah, a maze-like bazaar with wood-framed walkways and shops. Made to give the feel of an authentic Arabian market where you’ll find crafts, art and souvenirs or take a look at what you can see at the Madinat Theater.
The Burj Al Arab luxury hotel was built to reflect the sails of a dhow (traditional wooden cargo vessel). It has become an iconic landmark that sits on an artificial island. It has its own helipad and a fleet of chauffer-driven Rolls Royce limousines. In the lobby you’ll see a most attractive fountain. The lobby is decorated in red, blue and green with pillars draped in gold leaf. If you make a reservation you can enjoy yourself at the Skyview Bar.
Impressive in snowy white is Jumeirah, Dubai’s most beautiful mosque. It is open to non-Muslims for the one-hour guided tours. Cameras aren’t allowed.
The Etihad Museum is where you can find out the story of the formation of the UAE in 1971, the discovery of oil in the 1950s and the withdrawal of the British in 1968. There are interactive displays, photos, artifacts and personal accounts. All displays are in English and Arabic.
Take a walk in the Al Fahidi Historic District with its narrow walking lanes lined with sand-colored houses topped by wind towers. Altogether there are around 50 houses among them museums, craft shops, cultural exhibits, courtyard cafes, art galleries and two boutique hotels.
Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo has made its home in the Dubai Mall. The top attractions here are the sharks and rays. The is a walk-through tunnel for spectacular views.
Upstairs is the Underwater Zoo with its star attraction a 5.1m long Australian croc named King Croc. He’s 40 years old and weighs in at 750 kg and is joined by his female companion Queen Croc.
You’ll also see African lungfish, archerfish, spooky giant spider crabs and sea dragons.
Heritage House is a courtyard house dating from 1890 which once belonged to a wealthy pearl merchant. It was built from coral and gypsum and wraps around a central courtyard flanked by verandahs. Most of the rooms have audiovisual displays and make use of dioramas to recreate traditional daily life.
Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary let’s you enjoy pink flamingos here in the winter. There are over 170 species of birds among the salt flats, mudflats, mangroves and lagoons. This sanctuary borders Dubai Creek and is an important stopover on the east African – west Asian flyway. You’ll find two accessible hides or platforms with sharp binoculars.
The Flamingo hide is on the sanctuary’s western edge. On the southern edge the Mangrove Hide overlooks the mangrove forest.
For families traveling with children there is the museum Children’s City. This is an amazing cluster of colorful Lego-style buildings in Creek Park. There are dozens of interactive and inspiring learning stations for kids between the ages of two and fifteen. Among the most popular exhibits is a stimulator where kids can fly on a magic carpet or ride a camel. The signs are in English and Arabic.
Everyone no matter how young or old enjoy sending messages from the giant computer. Toddlers have a special play area. There are educational workshops and planetarium shows.
Creek Park is a large and lovely park with many attractions for families from playgrounds and carousels to pony and camel rides. You can explore and relax in the gardens and have a family barbeque. One popular feature is the 2.5km cable-car ride from which you can get great views of the park and the waterfront.
Ibn Battuta Mall is a mall worth taking a look at for its amazing architecture which follows the journeys of 14th century Arab explorer Ibn Battuta. It is built around six country-themed courts of which
the most impressive is the Persian Court, topped by a lovely hand-painted dome.
China Court has a full-sized Chinese junk, the India Court includes an 8m-high elephant.
The Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum is a grand courtyard house which was the residence of Sheikh Saeed, the grandfather of the current Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid. Here you can also see an excellent collection of pre-oil boom photos of Dubai. There are also some private images of the ruling Al Maktoum clan.
Za’abeel Park is a sprawling park that is popular with families. It has many activity zones among them a lovely lake with cascades. There are interactive themed areas like a Technology Zone, a Barcode Garden, an Alternative Energy Zone and a Space Maze. From the 45m-high Panoramic Tower you can get spectacular views.
Every Friday you can find a farmers’ market at the park and a flea market the first Saturday of the month from October to May.
Lost Chambers Aquarium offers visitors a look at rare albino alligators Ali and Blue. This is an awesome labyrinth of underwater halls, enclosures and fish tanks that all recreate the legend of the lost city of Atlantis. You’ll find some 65,000 exotic marine creatures making their home in 20 aquariums among them rays, jellyfish and giant groupers.
The highlight here is the Ambassador Lagoon and for an extra fee you can snorkel or dive with the fish in this 11.5 million liter tank.
Mailis Ghorfat Um Al Sheef this is a rare vestige of pre-oil times away from Dubai Creek and was built in 1955. At one time Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al Maktoum spent his summer here where the room were cooled by sea breezes. This is a traditional two-story structure built from gypsum and coral with a palm frond roof, a wind tower.
Emirates Towers was designed in an ultramodern style. You can see the twin, triangular, gunmetal-grey towers rise high up from an oval base. They are among the world’s tallest.
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