Dubai is a paradise of man-made wonders in the desert filled with glittering ultra-modern architecture, luxury shopping, and a nightlife scene that legends are made of. From the shimmering skyscrapers that create its unique skyline to the Dubai Fountain, whose sparkling water show is choreographed to music, everything seems designed to blow the mind and dazzle the senses. Citizens are outnumbered by foreigners in this cosmopolitan oasis by six to one. Throughout the globe, Dubai is known as a one of a kind destination for travelers, along with the cultural and financial center of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It’s located on the coast of the Arabian Peninsula and was first settled around 1833 by the Bani Yas tribe, led by the Al Maktoum Family who still rule the city today. Dubai’s growth spurt is relatively recent, however, which is why everything in the sparkling city seems so shiny and new.
To say that there’s a lot of money in Dubai is a gross understatement. With oil prices dropping over the last few years, it actually makes up a smaller and smaller percentage of Dubai’s state revenues. More and more, it’s about charges for government services, licensing fees and tolls that take advantage of the more than 1.4 million vehicles registered in the city and the horrendous traffic congestion they create. The Dubai Mall, which sees about 80 million visitors a year, is another huge cash cow for government coffers. Tourism is the latest growth area, with over 14 million foreign visitors in 2015. Whatever the source, the influx of money has resulted in an explosion of creative excess, forging a new round of projects on the kind of unparalleled scale that has made Dubai into a place like none other in the world. Check out our list of the 15 outrageous things that could only happen in Dubai, and see all the unique experiences that come from this magical city in the desert.
15. Helicopter Kids
Of course, not everyone in Dubai is super rich. Recent immigrants often earn salaries of only a few hundred dollars a month, and even many government employees see minimal earnings. However, there’s no sales or income tax, and a financial climate that has obviously resulted in a high concentration of wealthy people and their kids. RichKidsofDubai is an Instagram account that gives the general public a glimpse into the lives of the rich and spoiled teens of Dubai. They take the Ferrari (or Land Rover or Porsche) to the drive-thru and when traffic’s too inconvenient, they fly around town on private helicopters. It’s not unheard of to see a helicopter transporting a luxury car across town to leapfrog over the congested streets. After all, who wants to get caught up in the working class drudgery of traffic when your only goal in life is to be fabulous?
14. Cops In Lamborghinis And Bugattis
Many cities all over the world have a problem with street racing teens and tweens. In Dubai, though, the stakes are higher when so many of those teens have access to supercars and they can take their street racing to professional levels in Ferraris and Porsches. Naturally, your average Ford Crown Victoria that police departments in the United States seem to prefer just isn’t going to cut it when the car in pursuit is clocking up to 186 miles per hour (a true to life speed that Dubai police released to the media this summer). Dubai’s supercar force is undoubtedly the envy of every street cop in the world, with a fleet that includes a 1,000 horsepower Bugatti Veyron, an Aston Martin, a Lamborghini Aventador, and a few Ferrari FFs, which for some reason are only driven by the women on the force. When they catch Dubai’s errant teens, the fines can run to nearly $30,000 for the drivers, which is yet another source of revenue for Dubai’s already fat coffers.
13. A Man And His Cheetah, Or Tiger, Or Lion…
Somehow, his robes are impeccably white and neatly pressed, and the luxurious leather interior of his vehicle seem unscratched and free of hair. Yet, the cheetah in the passenger seat seems a little bored with the excursion through downtown Dubai, and the driver looks a little distracted by his texting. In the United States and most of what we dub the Western world, there are laws and several layers of legislation that prevent humans and big cat predators from living their lives together in such casual freedom. However, this doesn’t seem to be a problem in Dubai. In fact, there isn’t a problem with monkeys, tigers, or even lions. The rule is basically, anything goes. Up untill now, the residents of Dubai have been known to keep any and all sorts of animals as pets, with the only stipulations being municipal registration and up-to-date vaccinations. New legislation proposed in the summer of 2016 would institute licensing and leash laws with a hefty fine and even jail time for offenders. There’s also some talk of a total ban on so-called exotic pets, so the clock may be ticking on this particular “only-in-Dubai” phenomenon.
12. A Night At The Most Luxurious Hotel In The World (Burj Al Arab)
Billed as the “world’s only seven-star hotel” when it opened, the Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai may have lost its exclusive hold on seven-star status in the years since, but it doesn’t diminish the exclusive, over the top amenities or singular experience visitors enjoy. To begin with, the hotel features a stunning design that looks like a sail billowing out and rising over 600 feet over the waters of the Arabian Gulf. Every single room is a two-floor luxury suite equipped with an iMac, several widescreen HDTVs, private printers and fax machines, as well as 170 square meters of space with views of the Gulf waters. If you can tear yourself away from your room, you can swim in your choice of five swimming pools, or use a private beach. There are nine in-house restaurants, including the world-renowned Nathan Outlaw at Al Mahara. You’ll be able to access a personal butler who’s at your beckon call and a fleet of chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royces await your pleasure. There’s a heliport for your private helicopter landings that was used as a tennis court in 2005 as a media stunt featuring Andre Agassi and Roger Federer right before the Dubai Duty-Free Men’s Open. All that luxury can be yours starting at about $2,500 USD per night.
11. Shopping At The World’s Largest Shopping Mall
The Dubai Mall is every shopaholic and fashionista’s dream, covering over 12 million square feet with the ultimate in retail therapy that includes more than 1,200 retail outlets and over 200 food and drink options. Fashion Avenue features more than 70 stores and 440,000 square feet of clothing, along with Level Shoe District, which comprises more than 96,000 square feet of footwear. There’s a Bloomingdale’s and Galeries Lafayette, which are both the only outlets in the Middle East. Whatever you are looking for, it’s bound to be there, along with some unique amenities. The world’s first ever gold dispensing ATM was installed at the Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace Hotel in the Dubai Mall in 2010. The machine itself is covered with a thin veneer of gold and naturally is under armed guard 24/7. The Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo is also located in the Mall, along with the Dubai Dino (a genuine Diplodocus longus dinosaur skeleton from the Late Jurassic Period) and much more. It’s easy to grasp why it’s the most visited mall in the world, with 80 million or more visitors every year.
10. Dune Bashing In The Lahbab Desert
Just outside the glass, metal, and luxury sports car jungle that is downtown Dubai lies a vast expanse of sand and a singularly upscale experience of the desert. Lahbab is a secluded area of the desert known for its red dunes, located about 30 miles south of the city and a popular site for a Dubai Desert Safari. A good Dubai Desert Safari takes about six hours and will get you to the Lahbab Desert for an adventurous bout of dune bashing, which is like crashing through a roller coaster over the sand dunes, except you’re inside a luxury Land Cruiser 4 x 4. You can also try sand boarding, where you essentially surf down a sand dune. A truly complete Dubai Desert Safari will also include a sumptuous barbecue by Bedouin locals. It’s not just the experience that makes it worthwhile since the 45-minute ride there provides an unforgettable view of Dubai rising like a jewel out of the sands.
9. Checking The View From The World’s Tallest Building
The 2,717 foot Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building, and still remains a remarkable sight in this city of man-made miracles. At about twice the height of New York City’s, Empire State Building, its sleek towers rise to the skies above a city characterized by a postmodernist’s dream of geometric skyscrapers in gleaming glass and steel. Even against this futuristic skyline, the Burj Khalifa stands out with a triple tower design in the shape of an abstract Hymenocallis flower. At more than 160 stories, it’s the tallest free-standing structure in the world along with the tallest building. Likewise, it contains the highest occupied floor and observation deck in the world. You can take the elevator with the longest travel distance to the 148th-floor observation deck, which is a staggering 1820-plus feet or 555 meters in the air, with luxury lounges available for cocktails to sip on as you ponder the view from way up above.
8. Chilling In The World’s Biggest Flower Garden
Like Las Vegas in the Nevada desert, Dubai is a virtual monument to ignoring the inherent limitations of an arid climate. Rainfall in Dubai amounts to about just under six inches per year as compared to an average of more than 45 inches in New York City, but that didn’t stop the ingenious spirit of the city. The Dubai Miracle Garden is the world’s largest natural flower garden, sprawling over 72,000 square meters or over 775,000 square feet. It’s located in the Dubailand district of the city and incorporates the Dubai Butterfly Garden, which is home to more than 15,000 species in a controlled indoor climate. Floral displays include a series of Flower Houses, or homes covered in blooms, along with more than 45 million flowers in various shapes and configurations. Naturally, maintaining any kind of flower garden is a challenge in the desert, and the Dubai Miracle Garden operates with a custom designed irrigation system that works to conserve water by recycling waste waters and helping to prevent evaporation.
7. Skiing In The Desert
In a few short years, Dubai has gone from being a relatively insignificant regional port and fishing village to an oil-driven city to a tourism mecca with its extravagant ethos: If it can be done, we will do it here in the hot, dry Middle East. There are other indoor skiing facilities elsewhere in the world, but Ski Dubai is the first full-service indoor ski resort in the region. It covers 22,500 square feet at a comfortable climate controlled at minus 4 degrees Celsius. This is a giant resort within the Mall of the Emirates on the Sheikh Zayed Road. Skiing, tobogganing, and snowboarding are all on offer, along with real snow, ski lifts, and the other usual resort amenities. Everything you’ll need from boards to boots and jackets is available for rent just in case winter gear didn’t make it into your suitcase. To make the Dubai skiing experience even more unique, the facility even hosts intimate encounters with a flock of penguins.
6. Rocking The World’s Largest Theme Park
The summer’s wicked heat in Dubai can top 40 degrees Celsius or more than 105 degrees Fahrenheit, but that isn’t a problem for tourists or locals that know where to go. The IMG Worlds Adventure Park is the world’s largest indoor theme park, covering the equivalent of 28 footballs fields and costing about $1 billion to build. Just opened in summer 2016, the park expects to host about 20,000 visitors a day and offers movies and live entertainment along with the usual rides in a sleek, temperature controlled structure. Some of the most popular spots include the Marvel hero themed rides, one of the largest roller coasters in the region, a haunted hotel, and a variety of other attractions. With oil prices remaining at the low end of the scale, the theme park is part of a new push on tourism to fill in the gaps. Where else but Dubai could anyone find 1.5 million square feet of empty land near a major city and $1 billion to invest?
5. Take An Ancient Abra In An Ultramodern City
The abrupt juxtaposition of ultra modern 21st-century society and technology on an ancient and traditional desert culture results in some inimitable opportunities. An abra is a traditional wooden boat that operates as a water taxi on the Dubai Creek, a saltwater flow that links the port area of the city with its older center. It’s a glimpse into Dubai’s history, or what remains of it. The Dubai Creek was a vital part of the small fishing village that was early Dubai, including the pearling industry that supported the region until the 1930s. Today, an abra water taxi is a sure way to slow down the pace of this fast-moving metropolis, with a water station at Shindagha/Al Ghubaiba on the Bur Dubai side, and a corresponding station at Al Sabkha on the Deira side. There are shopping opportunities galore along the Creek at traditional marketplaces, including one of the largest gold collections in the world. Perhaps best of all, the basic cost of a crossing via abra amounts to about $0.25 USD.
4. Lattes At The Most Extravagant Starbucks In The World
Even a regular visit to get a humdrum coffee drink at Starbucks is transformed into an extraordinary experience when partaking in a Dubai location. Located just off of the Sheikh Zayed Road, the Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai features six travel-themed sections representing China, India, Egypt, Tunisia, Persia and Andalusia, each decorated with a sumptuous eye for detail. Inside, at the very center under the domed ceiling, lies what is surely the most fabulous Starbucks in the universe. Located within the Persia court, the design is lavish and includes dazzlingly intricate Persian-style motifs in blue and gold mosaic tiles from floor to domed ceiling, complete with archways. It’s the perfect place to chill with a favorite brew, listen to your tunes, and just stare at the walls. A massive chandelier exudes a golden glow over the usual assortment of pastries, coffee brews and teas. The ambiance comes free along with the Wifi at this “only-in-Dubai” Starbucks location.
3. Stay On The World’s Largest Artificial Island And Sleep With The Fishes
Dubai is a city of fantasies, most particularly when it comes to spectacular tourist experiences. The Palm Islands in Dubai are the largest man-made islands on the globe, and include Palm Jumeirah, Deira Island, and Palm Jebel Ali, along with The World and The Universe archipelagos. As the name implies, The Palm was designed in the shape of a palm tree. Atlantis: The Palm Hotel in Dubai is just one of the many examples of stunning modern architecture in the City of Gold. Starting at about $12,250 per night, you can sleep with the fishes as you enjoy the amenities of a luxury 5-star hotel and water-themed resort on the world’s single largest man-made island. The underwater Signature Suites feature a floor to ceiling view into the Dubai aquarium and the more than 65,000 marine species that inhabit it. Along with watery dreams, the Atlantis resort experience includes the interactive Dolphin Bay where guests can swim with the fishes too.
2. Take In The Show At The World’s Largest Dancing Fountain
While many of the treasures to be found in Dubai will require a hefty bank account to enjoy, there are still some pleasures to be had for free. The Dubai Fountain and its performances are among that admittedly short list. It being the City of Gold, as Dubai is often and accurately called, it is the self-proclaimed world’s largest dancing fountain that features 1.5 million lumens in 6,500 lights and 22,000 gallons of water that spray as high as 500 feet. Yet, it doesn’t stop with lights and jets of water. The show is precisely choreographed to music, including both Western and Arabic/Middle Eastern tracks. The Dubai Fountain is set on Burj Khalifa Lake, a man-made body of water covering about 30 acres in the Downtown Dubai district. It was officially opened in 2009 along with the Dubai Mall as part of the radical re-imagining of Dubai’s central core as a global center for tourism.
1. Eat A $1,000 Gold Cupcake
Your average bakery in your average shopping mall might offer donuts and coffee to suburban shoppers, or even buttery pastries and gourmet organic blends if it’s located in an upscale downtown neighborhood. Naturally, even the most neighborhoods can’t exactly compare to the sheer extravagance that is Dubai. Dubai has definitely set the bar at an impossibly high level, as well as set the record for mall bakery excess. Bloomsbury’s Cafe has its HQ in Abu Dhabi, but they created their gold-infused cupcake recipe for exclusive initial release at their location in the Dubai Mall. This is where visitors can eat the world’s most expensive cupcake, retailing at over $1,000 USD, in the world’s largest shopping mall. Along with flour, butter, Italian cocoa beans, vanilla beans from Uganda, and the other usual ingredients, the cupcakes are encased in a sheet of edible 23-carat gold. The pricey confection is said to be a favorite of the super-rich sheiks who make up the UAE’s ruling elite, with deliveries available all over the region.