The sandbox.

Dubai is the Las Vegas of the Middle East. Both are found in the desert and are filled with equally glamorous hotels, designer boutiques and flashy cars. You could be fooled into thinking you’re in one when you’re in the other! The vast difference between the two is the lifestyle, the local cuisine and attire. Dubai has a reputation to uphold as the Gulf region that has the vast selection of the worlds biggest…everything! Many of these record-breaking sights are breath-taking it has to be said…which leads me to the first port-of-call.

The magnificent Burj Khalifa. The world’s tallest building. It is hard not to be mesmerised by such a splendour! It towers above the city skyline, making nearby skyscrapers appear inadequate in comparison. If you don’t fancy facing the incredible sights and height at the top of the building, you can admire it from a wide range of locations. The Burj can be seen vividly from the highway, and makes a decent picture too. It can be seen from the Metro, nearby restaurants and cafés. Most importantly, it can be viewed at the base from the Dubai Mall Fountains. These fountains, on the hour, perform an elaborate water display to music and add to the magical atmosphere as they sit under the shadow of the Burj. This is a great spot to catch a great snap, yet be there early to avoid large crowds at busy times. You can even catch a boat around them, with the Burj in view. For those craving the sights of the city, you can buy your ticket either online or at the desk inside the Dubai Mall which takes you up to the observatory on the 124th floor in less than a minute! Or you can choose to go even further up to the 125th and even 148th floor to enjoy a more unique experience. Personally, the 124th floor is more than thrilling enough, as you can snap breath-taking 360 degree views and take a cheeky selfie or four!

Another famous Burj is the Burj Al Arab, which is the world’s only 7 star hotel. Its iconic sail shape has become a landmark for Dubai. The hotel can only be accessed if you have a reservation made in any of the restaurants or lounges or the rooms obviously…if you’re lucky enough to splash the cash on its lavish accommodation! Once you cross the private bridge to the hotel, the hotel is far more spectacular up close. Built on a man-made island in the sea, with beaches on either side of it, the convoy of white Rolls Royces awaits you when you pull up. Saved for the lucky guests only. Stepping into the reception feels like you have entered another world, particularly at Christmas time, as the amazing decorations are a sight to see! The centrepiece is the jumping water fountains which were filled with nutcrackers in between each shoot of water. Giant Christmas trees clustered with baubles and decorations lined each side of the escalators and along the walls were the tall glass fish tanks, which were being hand cleaned by people in scuba suits! Revel in the sights of the amazing décor, wandering up to the 27th floor, passing the Cartier boutique amongst others and you are greeted with the Arabic interior of one of the many lounges. Afternoon tea here is a worthwhile experience as you soak up the sea and land views and wine and dine on champagne, cucumber sandwiches, strawberry sorbet and berry shortcake to name a few. A drinks menu with a wide selection of hot and cold beverages is at your disposal also. Along with the final and most impressive course: The sail shaped cake tier which is filled with scones, jams and various pastries and desserts. Insanely good….worth the splurge, if for nothing but to say you have stepped foot inside the hotel!

Shopping in Dubai is dangerous. The selection of malls and shops in general is incomprehensible. All the high street stores to choose from along with some of the less popular American chains like Abercrombie and Fitch, American Eagle and Aeropostale. If designer boutiques like Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Gucci are more appealing (to window shop purely!!) than these are all there too! Even department stores such as Macys and Galleries Lafayette! There is no shortage of places to find what you are looking for. Richard Branson’s Virgin Megastore is worth a peep for electronics and just for a general gaze in awe! The food courts are fully stocked with all sorts of international cuisine, both sweet and savoury to suit all taste buds. The Dubai Mall is the world’s largest shopping centre and it is a total and utter maze! Its numerous floors feature an impressive ice rink, several food courts, an arab-style souk, a ginormous floor to ceiling aquarium which you can pay to explore and even go underwater and swim with the sea life, an A380 airline simulator and indoor children’s theme park…not to mention the neighbouring Burj Khalifa and Dubai Fountains. The Mall of the Emirates is equally impressive and as much of a maze as the latter, yet it features the world’s first and largest indoor ski area and the soon-to-be-completed UAE’s largest cinema! Only in the desert! All in all, you won’t come back home with space in your suitcase after a trip to Dubai!

On that note, if you fancy some designer handbags and clothing in general, or even electronics but don’t fancy paying the price for them…than look no further than the Al Karama market of Dubai! It feels like you have stepped into India or Pakistan, as you are beckoned at every moment to go into their shops offering the best prices and best quality! This is the beginning of the haggling fun as you are now going to bluff your way into becoming a master of bartering like you were born to do it! From my own experience, you can literally get whatever ‘fakes’ you want at less than a fraction of the cost! Michael Kors handbags and Beats MiniPill speakers have been my purchases…and you really cannot fault the quality of them! At less than the equivalent of €50 for either a large Michael bag or a Pill speaker it’s impossible to say no! Have a good look at their quality and shop around as all shops stock similar things and if you are satisfied, do not accept asking price. You can normally get a good €10 or €20 at least off the original price (bargain!). Be blunt and if you don’t see what you want on the shop floor, ask! Normally they have stuff in the back…’new arrivals’ or ‘limited edition’ as they will tell you. It’s worth a wander down to that part of town if you don’t feel like spending!

And what is Dubai without the desert! Book an organised full day guided tour which takes you dune bashing, sand boarding, and an evening traditional banquet which includes traditional food, camel rides, falcon holding, trying on traditional clothing, sampling shisha and quading (at an extra cost!). It’s a day well spent as you get to experience life as an Arab in a tourist friendly setting. Or if you’re fortunate enough to know somebody living there with a jeep and even better, quads or ‘boys toys’ in general, then take a spin out to the desert first thing in the morning as the sun is setting and do your own thing! Be careful quading on the sandy terrain as it has a lot less grip than you would think!! The thrill of ramming sand dunes at speed is exhilarating!

Given that there is so so much to do in Dubai, than I am going to dedicate two blog posts to this! One simply isn’t enough…!

Thanks for reading,
To be continued,

Nicola

Nicola

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