Dubai is located on the Eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, in the south west corner of the Arabian Gulf. It is extremely well known for its warm hospitality and rich cultural heritage, and the Emirati people are welcoming and generous in their approach to visitors. With year-round sunshine, intriguing deserts, beautiful beaches, luxurious hotels and shopping malls, fascinating heritage attractions and a thriving business community, Dubai receives millions of leisure and business visitors each year from around the world.
The local currency is the dirham, which is pegged at AED 3.67 to 1 US dollar. Dubai is tolerant and cosmopolitan and all visitors are welcome. However, Islam is a way of life in the city, and therefore tourists should adopt a certain level of cultural and religious sensitivity for the duration of their stay.
Since 1833 the reigning Al Maktoum family have ruled Dubai. Under their wise and progressive leadership Dubai has prospered and it is now the business and tourism hub for a region that stretches from Egypt to the Indian sub-continent, and from South Africa to the CIS countries.
The eighth ruler from the Al Maktoum family, the late His Highness Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai from 1958 – 1990, guided the Emirate with compassion and understanding. He realized what was necessary to transform Dubai into the cosmopolitan, prosperous city it is today. Sheikh Rashid along with Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, is credited with playing a key role in establishing the federation of the United Arab Emirates.
Following the death of Sheikh Rashid in November 1990, Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum became Ruler of Dubai and Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, positions he held until he passed away in January 2006.
On January 4th 2006, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum became the Ruler of Dubai following the death of Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Under his leadership Dubai is fast becoming one of the major cities in the world. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed is also the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE.
On 1st February, 2008, HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum was proclaimed Crown Prince of Dubai. He is also Chairman of Dubai’s Executive Council. The Deputy Rulers of Dubai are HH Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum. HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum is also the UAE’s Minister of Finance.
Some 800 members of the Bani Yas tribe, led by the Maktoum Family, settled at the mouth of the creek in 1833. The creek was a natural harbour and Dubai soon became a center for the fishing, pearling and sea trade.
By the turn of the 20th century Dubai was a successful port. The souk (Arabic for market) on the Deira side of the creek was the largest on the coast with 350 shops and a steady throng of visitors and businessmen. By the 1930s Dubai’s population was nearly 20,000, a quarter of whom were expatriates.
In the 1950s the creek began to silt, a result perhaps of the increasing number of ships that used it. The late Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, decided to have the waterway dredged. It was an ambitious, costly, and visionary project. The move resulted in increased volumes of cargo handling in Dubai. Ultimately it strengthened Dubai’s position as a major trading and re-export hub.
When oil was discovered in 1966, Sheikh Rashid utilized the oil revenues to spur infrastructure development in Dubai. Schools, hospitals, roads, a modern telecommunications network … the pace of development was frenetic. A new port and terminal building were built at Dubai International Airport. A runway extension that could accommodate any type of aircraft was implemented. The largest man-made harbor in the world was constructed at Jebel Ali, and a free zone was created around the port.
Dubai’s formula for development was becoming evident to everyone – visionary leadership, high-quality infrastructure, an expatriate-friendly environment, zero tax on personal and corporate income and low import duties. The result was that Dubai quickly became a business and tourism hub for a region that stretches from Egypt to the Indian sub-continent and from South Africa to what are now called the CIS countries.
Since the 1960s, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, then ruler of Abu Dhabi, and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum had dreamed of creating a federation of the Emirates in the region. Their dreams were realized in 1971 when Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Fujairah and (in 1972) Ras Al Khaimah, joined to create the United Arab Emirates.
Under the late Sheikh Zayed, the first President of UAE, the UAE has developed into one of the richest countries in the world with a per capita GDP in excess of US$17,000 per annum.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, Dubai took a strategic decision to emerge as a major international-quality tourism destination. Investments in tourism infrastructure have paid off handsomely over the years.
Dubai is now a city that boasts unmatchable hotels, remarkable architecture and world-class entertainment and sporting events. The beautiful Burj Al Arab hotel presiding over the coastline of Jumeira beach is the world’s only hotel with a seven star rating. The Emirates Towers are one of the many structures that remind us of the commercial confidence in a city that expands at a remarkable rate. Standing 350 meters high, the office tower is the tallest building in the Middle East and Europe.
Dubai also hosts major international sporting events. The Dubai Desert Classic is a major stop on the Professional Golf Association tour. The Dubai Open, an ATP tennis tournament, and the Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest horse race, draw thousands every year.
From the timeless tranquillity of the desert to the lively bustle of the souk, Dubai offers a kaleidoscope of attractions for visitors.
The emirate embraces a wide variety of scenery in a very small area. In a single day, the tourist can experience everything from rugged mountains and awe-inspiring sand dunes to sandy beaches and lush green parks, from dusty villages to luxurious residential districts and from ancient houses with wind towers to ultra-modern shopping malls.
Having expanded along both banks of the Creek, Dubai’s central business district is divided into two parts — Deira on the northern side and Bur Dubai to the south — connected by a tunnel and two bridges. Each has its share of fine mosques and busy souks, of public buildings, shopping malls, hotels, office towers, banks, hospitals, schools, apartments and villas.
The Creek, a natural sea-water inlet which cuts through the centre of the city, is the historic focal point of life in Dubai. A stroll along its banks evokes the city’s centuries-old trading traditions.
Visitors will be captivated by the colour and bustle of the loading and unloading of dhows which still ply ancient trade routes to places as distant as India and East Africa. An attractive way to view the Creek and the dhows is from an abra, one of the small water taxis which criss-cross the Creek from the souks of Deira to those on the Bur Dubai side.
Boatmen will also take visitors on a fascinating hour-long trip from the abra embarkation points to the mouth of the Creek and inland to the Maktoum Bridge, passing on the way many of the city’s historic and modern landmarks.
There are three main excavation sites in Dubai, at Al Ghusais, Al Sufooh and Jumeirah. The first two are graveyards dating back more than 2,000 years. The Jumeirah site reveals artefacts from the 7th to 15th centuries. Though not yet open to the public, tourists or tour operators may obtain a permit from Dubai Museum to visit the digs.
The old Bastakiya district with its narrow lanes and tall wind-towers gives a tantalizing glimpse of old Dubai. Immediately to the east of Al Fahidi Fort is the largest concentration of traditional courtyard houses with wind towers. In the past, the city was famous for a mass of wind towers which lined the Creek on either side. These were not merely decorative; they were the only means of cooling houses in the days before mains electricity. The Bastakiya district has become a small ‘tourist village’ with a museum, a cultural centre, restaurants and an art gallery.
Sheikh Saeed’s House
Dating from the late 1800s, Sheikh Saeed’s House was built in a commanding position near the sea so the Ruler could observe shipping activity from its balconies. With its wind towers and layers of rooms built around a central courtyard, it is a fine example of regional architecture.
The city has many fine mosques. One of the largest and most beautiful — Jumeirah Mosque — is a spectacular example of modern Islamic architecture. Built of stone in medieval Fatimid tradition, the mosque with its twin minarets and majestic dome is a city landmark. It is particularly attractive at night when subtle lighting throws its artistry into relief. The elaborate Jumeirah Mosque is Dubai’s most admired mosque from the outside and one of Dubai’s most photographed sights.
Situated on the Bur Dubai side of the Creek near the Ruler’s Court, Grand Mosque was re-built in 1998 and now has, at 70 metres, the city’s tallest minaret. It has 45 small domes in addition to nine large ones boasting stained glass panels, making it a distinguished landmark and important place of worship.
Built around 1870 the Nahar tower was one in line of defences to the east and north of the city. One of three watchtowers guarding the old city, the restored Burj Nahar in its picturesque gardens in Deira is popular with photographers.
Bait Al Wakeel
Built in 1934 by the late Sheikh Rashid, Bait Al Wakeel was Dubai’s first office building. At the edge of the Creek near the abra landing, the building has been completely restored and now houses a museum devoted to Dubai’s fishing and maritime traditions.
The souks on both sides of the Creek are attractive not just for their shopping bargains but also as places for sightseeing and photography. A huddle of narrow alleyways has survived on the Deira side despite intensive building in recent years. In the tiny lanes of the spice souk, the atmosphere and the scents of the past can be savoured. Bags of spices, incense, rose petals and traditional medicinal products are stacked outside each stall.
Al Fahidi Fort, which houses the Dubai Museum, is another imposing building. It once guarded the city’s landward approaches. Built around 1799, it has served variously as palace, garrison and prison. It was renovated in 1970 for use as a museum; further restoration and the addition of galleries was completed in 1995. Colourful and evocative dioramas, complete with life-size figures and sound and lighting effects, vividly depict everyday life in pre-oil days.
Dominating Bani Yas Square in the heart of Deira is Deira Tower with its distinctive circular ‘cap’. An early example of the effort to blend modern architecture with the older surroundings, Deira Tower incorporates features designed to soften the impact of the harsh summer climate on the occupants of shops, offices and apartments within. Nearby on the Creekside, strong vertical lines ending in arches on the skyline identify Al Owais Tower.
Located in Jumeirah, the Dubai Zoo is a popular attraction, especially for families. Featured in its large aviary are regional birds of prey. Nine species of large cats and seven species of primates are on show, along with many Arabian mammals.
Situated around Dubai are numerous public parks and gardens offering a peaceful respite from urban life. Particularly popular with families, they offer attractive picnic spots and children’s play areas with a variety of entertainment facilities. The largest of the city’s parks are Jumeirah Beach Park, Dubai Creekside Park, Mushrif Park, Al Mamzar Park and Safa Park, while many smaller ones throughout the city provide a pleasant green oasis.
Even for the non-golfer, Dubai’s golf clubs are worth a visit, both for the spectacular architecture of their clubhouses and as examples of the successful greening and landscaping of the desert. Full details of the courses are given in the Sporting sections. A nine-hole ‘country’ course is also available at the Hatta Fort Hotel where golfers have a unique fun experience of playing in craggy mountain scenery.
From seashore to mountain peaks, Dubai is a land of great natural beauty and variety. The desert, that accounts for much of the emirate’s almost 4,000 sq km area, encompasses rocky plains, high dunes and, between these two extremes, countless combinations of sand, stone and sparse vegetation.
The annual Dubai Shopping Festival extravaganza has rapidly become an internationally-known event, with thousands of bargains, draws, shows, promotions and some of the world’s lowest prices. In addition, the hotels and furnished apartment complexes offer reduced accommodation rates, while Emirates offers great deals on tickets.
Dubai Summer Surprises is a government initiative begun in 1998 that attracted thousands of tourists during the summer months. Extremely competitive hotel rates, combined with lots of activities, especially for children, meant the first event was a big success.
DUBAI CULTURE AND HERITAGE
Courtesy and hospitality are among the most highly prized of virtues in the Arab world, and visitors will be charmed by the warmth and friendliness of the people. Dubai ’s culture is rooted in Islam, providing a strength and inspiration that touches all aspects of everyday life. Virtually every neighbourhood has its own mosque, where the faithful congregate for prayer five times every day. One of the largest and most beautiful mosques is Jumeirah Mosque- a spectacular example of modern Islamic architecture.
Dubai enjoys an arid subtropical climate, with blue skies and sunshine all year round. The hottest months are between June and September whereas the coolest time is between December and March. There is very little rainfall in Dubai, but when showers do fall it is mainly in the cooler months.