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About Dubai

From the tallest building in the world to an indoor ski slope in the middle of the desert and an iconic seven-star hotel – Dubai pretty much has it all. But it's not all about glitz, glamour and tax-free shopping. Those who aren't so into all that bling can escape on a desert safari or spend a lazy day on one of the city's sunny, white beaches. For the more adventurous there's always the option of quad-biking or a kayak trip, so read on to find out where to go, what to do and all the information you'll need for your Arabian adventure...

Where on earth is Dubai?

Dubai is one of seven regions or emirates that make up the country known as the United Arab Emirates. Established in 1971, the UAE borders the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the west, Oman to the east and both the Arabian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, boasting a coastline of over 1000 km. Dubai is the second largest emirate, after Abu Dhabi, which is the capital.

Useful information:

  • Money - The unit of currency is the Dirham which is made up of 100 Fils. The exchange rate is approximately 1 US$ = Dhs 3.67. All major credit cards are accepted at most hotels and malls.
  • Time zone - GMT/UTC +4
  • Electricity - 220/240V 50Hz - three-pronged square plugs (the same as those used in Britain and Ireland)
  • Language - Arabic (official) and English (widely used)
  • Country telephone code - +971
  • Religion - Islam (although other faiths are freely practised)
  • Water - tap water in Dubai is desalinated but generally safe to drink. Bottled water is usually very reasonable to buy though (around Dh 1 a bottle) and probably your best bet.

History:

According to the Government of Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing: "The earliest recorded mention of Dubai was in 1095, in the Book of Geography by the Spanish-Arab geographer Abu Abdullah al-Bakri. The Venetian pearl merchant, Gaspero Balbi, visited the area in 1580 and mentioned Dubai for its pearling industry.

In the early 18th century, the Al Abu Falasa clan of Bani Yas tribe established Dubai, which remained a dependent of Abu Dhabi until 1833. On January 8, 1820, the Sheikh of Dubai and other Sheikhs in the region signed the 'General Maritime Peace Treaty' with the British government. However, in 1833, the Al Maktoum dynasty of the Bani Yas tribe took over Dubai from the Abu Falasa clan without resistance.

Later Dubai came under the protection of the United Kingdom by the 'Exclusive Agreement' of 1892, with the latter agreeing to protect Dubai against any attacks form the Ottoman empire.

Dubai's geographical proximity to India gave it a strategic location. The town of Dubai was an important port of call for foreign tradesmen, chiefly those from India, many of whom eventually settled in the town.

Oil was discovered in Dubai in 1966, after which the emirate granted concessions to international oil companies. The discovery of oil led to a massive influx of foreign workers, initially mainly Indians and Pakistanis, into the city. In 1968 Britain announced its withdrawal from the region when first attempts to create a single state comprised of Bahrain, Qatar and the Trucial States (as the UAE was formally known) began. Talks ended when Bahrain and Qatar decided to remain independent, paving the way for the seven-emirate alliance and the formation of the Federation of the United Arab Emirates in 1971.

Oil revenue provided funds for the rapid development of the city's social and economic structures, much of which form the basis for the city as we know it today. Much of the credit can be given to the visionary leadership of the late ruler, His Highness Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum. This was continued by his eldest son, the late Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and is continued today by the present ruler, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and whose energy and foresight is responsible for much of the city's meteoric growth."

Weather:

November to April is the best time of year to be in Dubai. It's not nearly as hot as the steamy summer months that reach 50 degrees C but also not too chilly. The average high for the month is around 26 degrees C while the low is around the 16 degree mark.

Accommodation:

Dubai is famous for its luxury hotels and resorts and there are certainly plenty to choose from. There is also a good range of other hotels and bed and breakfasts available for the more budget-conscious. To find yourself a place to stay, check out some of the links below and make sure to book well in advance as the cooler months (November to April) are the busiest in this part of the world.

Transport:

Getting to and from The Sevens will not be a problem as there are plenty of taxis to take you there and a free bus service to return you safely to a variety of convenient locations across Dubai. If you're looking to travel anywhere else during your stay in Dubai, the best option may be to hire a car, which is usually not too expensive, and the roads are excellent.

There is a local bus service available, but figuring out the timetable can be tricky so travelling around the city itself is best done in a taxi, which compared to some places in Europe is not too expensive. It's usually fairly easy to catch a cab in the busy parts of the city, otherwise you can call (04) 2080808 and have one come and collect you.

During the day, if you catch a taxi in the street, the starting rate on the meter should be 3 dirhams, while at night this increases to 3.50 dirhams. If you call for a cab, the starting rate is 6 (day) and 6.50 (night) dirhams. If you take a taxi from the airport (which if you're not being met by a driver from your hotel is the best option) the starting rate is 20 dirhams.

Another form of transport that shouldn't be missed is the local 'abra' – a small, water taxi that charges just 1 dirham to ferry you across the famous Dubai creek, from Bur Dubai to Deira and vice versa. These are especially useful when visiting the older part of the city and the various souks (markets).

Tourist attractions:

While watching rugby will, of course, be top of your to-do list in Dubai, if you have a few extra days to spare, there is plenty you could be seeing and doing.

Bastakiya

This is the historic district of Dubai, characterised by narrow lanes and tall wind-towers – the pre-air conditioning form of cooling buildings down in the sizzling summer months. This area gives visitors a glimpse of what old Dubai would have looked like.

Dubai Museum

Housed in one of the city's oldest structures, the historic Al Fahidi fort, the Dubai museum offers fascinating insight into the history of the area, documenting its progress from pre-oil days to the bustling metropolis it is today. It's both interactive and informative – a great way to spend a morning.

Souks (markets)

Dubai's souks offer a unique shopping experience and wondering through them could take an entire day, depending on how dedicated you are to the shopping cause. Bargaining is an accepted form of doing business. There are various souks including: Gold souk (near St George's Hotel, Deira), Spice souk (creekside, Deira), Textile souks (Bur Dubai and Satwa), Electronics souk (Al Fahidi Street, Bur Dubai), Fish souk (Deira) and Fruit and vegetable souk. Most souks are open from 9am to 1pm and 4-10pm. On Fridays they are open from 4-10pm only.

The Madinat souk is a little different and is located in Jumeirah. It is an indoor, more upmarket (and more expensive) replica of a souk which includes several restaurants and coffee shops and is open all day.

Jumeirah Mosque

This place of worship is an impressive example of modern Islamic architecture and unlike many of the other mosques in the area is open to visitors on certain days of the week. Tours are held every Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 10am. Make sure you're properly dressed for a visit though. Women need to cover their heads and wear loose-fitting trousers/long skirts and a long-sleeved top while men must also wear long trousers.

Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House

Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum was the grandfather of the present ruler of Dubai and his house, built in the late 1800s, has been restored as a museum. It was built in a strategic position near the sea so the ruler could keep an eye on all the shipping activity at the time from the comfort of his balconies.

Beaches

Many of the city's beaches are owned by hotels but there are several public beaches (if you happen not to be staying at one of those hotels), the most popular of which is probably Jumeirah Beach Park. Alternatively, many of the hotels offer daily rates to make use of their beaches and facilities.

Wild Wadi water park

Located right at the base of the famous Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach Hotels, Wild Wadi always provides a great day out and there's nothing like the adrenaline rush provided by the thrilling 80km per hour Jumeirah Sceirah… (www.wildwadi.com)

Impressive buildings

No visit to Dubai would be complete without catching a glimpse of the famous seven-star Burj al Arab hotel. Located on the Jumeirah Beach Road, the best way to see it (if you're not willing to pay for a pricey meal or afternoon tea there as you can't simply wander in free of charge) is from the Madinat complex or from the beach just next to it.

Also hard to miss will be the Burj Dubai, now officially the world’s tallest tower, which is due to open on UAE National Day, December 2, this year.

Bus and boat tours

There are numerous city tours available, either by bus or along the creek by boat, which are a good way of taking in some of the city's top tourist attractions. Check out the websites below to find out more information of how to book these.

Further afield

f you're looking to venture outside of Dubai, a desert safari can be quite an experience. Other options include quad biking, desert balloon rides and 'wadi bashing' (driving in 4x4s through dried up river beds in the scenic Hajar mountains).

If you have a bit more time, you could fit a trip to the historic fort town of Hatta or to one of the other six emirates that make up the UAE. Check out some of the website links below for more details.    

Religion and Culture:

Religion

Islam is the official religion of the UAE and forms an extremely important part of culture and daily life. The government of Dubai practises a policy of tolerance towards other religions, however, and the emirate is the only one to house churches and Hindu temples. It's important to remember local culture and beliefs when in Dubai, however, and while visitors are not expected to cover up completely when it comes to clothing, some respect should be shown in terms of not dressing in too revealing a manner when not on the beach or at the pool.

Alcohol is served in the hotels (and at the rugby ground) but cannot be consumed in public outside of these venues and only residents who hold an official alcohol license may purchase it in shops.

Also important to remember is that there is a zero tolerance policy when it comes to driving so if you have had even one drink, don't get behind the wheel of a car.

UAE culture

For older women the home remains the sphere of activity while younger women, benefiting from their access to modern education, are playing an ever-wider role in the society. An estimated 13 per cent of the UAE's labour force is female, and women are increasingly represented in government posts.

Reflecting the mix of modern and traditional influences, clothing styles in the UAE are both Western and indigenous. Most Emirati men wear the dishdasha, a white, loose-fitting garment that is comfortable in hot weather. Most women wear the enveloping black abaya and a face mask called the burka, although this tradition is beginning to be abandoned by younger, educated women.

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 in UAE.

Visa regulations:

There are several types of visas for visitors to Dubai. Some visitors need to obtain a visa prior to traveling to the UAE while others can obtain a visit visa, valid for 30 days, upon arrival.

Nationals of the following countries can obtain a visit visa on arrival in the UAE:

Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States of America, Vatican.

AGCC country passport and certain visa holders also do not need to obtain a visa prior to travelling to the UAE. These countries include: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Please Note: It is important to consult the UAE Embassy or High Commission in your own country for the latest visa information before setting off on your travels as visa regulations may change.

Entertainment:

Dubai boasts an incredible array of restaurants with cuisine from across the globe. Your best bet is to pick up a copy of one of the city's weekly entertainment magazines which have extensive lists of restaurants, bars, coffee shops and clubs to choose from.

Another of many visitors' priorities is to fit in some shopping while in Dubai and again there are plenty of malls to choose from (see below).

Most of the malls also offer entertainment areas, which include cinemas and other attractions.

For the more adventurous shoppers, there are the traditional souks (markets) along the creek where you can go bargain-hunting (see Tourist Attractions section for more info). The Karama district also offers plenty of bargains, and a plethora of brand-name knock-offs.

Some of the city's malls:

  • Bur Juman Centre – located in Bur Dubai (04) 352 0222
  • Deira City Centre – plenty of popular high street shops and family entertainment centre
  • Dragon Mart – on the Dubai-Hatta road, sells inexpensive Chinese goods (04) 368 7205
  • Dubai Mall – reportedly the largest shopping mall in the world, with an impressive aquarium (04) 362 7084
  • Festival Centre – plenty of shops, waterside restaurants and cafes and a 12-screen cinema complex (04) 232 5666
  • Ibn Battuta Mall – largest themed mall in the Middle East, impressive decor and plenty of shops (04) 362 1900
  • Lamcy Plaza – 150 retail outlets (04) 335 9999
  • Mercato Mall – Mediterranean-themed mall situated on Jumeirah Beach Road (04) 344 4161
  • Mall of the Emirates – largest mall outside North America with 350 shops and the famous indoor ski slope (04) 341 4747
  • Wafi City Mall – distinctive pyramid-shaped roof (04) 324 4555

Useful links: