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Danielle Berman
April 08, 2017

Dubai may boast the tallest building in the world (the Burj Khalifa at 2,717 feet), the world’s largest indoor theme park, and soon the world’s first rotating skyscraper, but most impressive are the city’s man-made archipelagos, all in various stages of completion: Palm Jumeirah, Deira Islands, Palm Jebel Ali, The World, and Bluewaters Island.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the United Arab Emirates’ prime minister and Emir of Dubai, is the mastermind behind these massive projects, which are meant to pique tourism and expand Dubai’s coastline.

So just how were the islands made? A process called land reclamation, which involves dredging sand from the Persian and Arabian Gulf’s floors. The sand was then sprayed and “vibro-compacted” into shape using GPS technology for precision and surrounded by millions of tons of rock for protection.

Courtesy of Visit Dubai

The Palm Islands: Palm Jumeirah and Palm Jebel Ali

Perhaps the most recognized of the bunch, Palm Jumeirah is aptly shaped like a palm tree, consisting of a trunk and 17 fronds, and surrounded by an almost 7-mile-long crescent-shaped island which is home to Atlantis, The Palm (just one of many luxury hotels and resorts that dot the archipelago). The project was kicked off by Nakheel Properties in 2001, and ultimately added 40 miles of much-needed beaches.

Today, travelers can access Palm Jumeirah from mainland Dubai via a monorail, and an underwater tunnel connects the topmost frond to the crescent. Upcoming debuts for Palm Jumeirah include The Palm Tower, with floors occupied by St. Regis Dubai and Nakheel Mall, which are set to open in 2018 and late 2017, respectively. No need to settle for Google Earth views: admire the handiwork while free-falling over it at 120 mph via a skydiving excursion.

Work on a second Palm island, Palm Jebel Ali, began in 2002, but due to the 2008 financial crisis, construction halted. Nakheel has since reassured reporters that Jebel Ali is not canceled, but a “long-term project." 

If and when the island is complete, it will be 50 percent larger than Palm Jumeirah and feature homes built on stilts, a water park, villas, six marinas, and sprawling boardwalks shaped into the words of a poem written by Sheikh Mohammed himself.

Courtesy of Nakheel Properties

Deira Islands

The idea of a third Palm Island, Palm Deira, set to dwarf the other two at eight times the size of Palm Jumeirah, was introduced in 2004. However, in 2013, Nakheel shifted gears, and renamed the project to Deira Islands, opting to create four smaller, man-made isles. Late 2018 will see the opening of Deira’s first large-scale debut, its Night Souk, the world’s largest (of course) night market with over 5,000 shops and almost 100 restaurants and cafes.

If shopping indoors during a UAE summer is more your style, Deira Mall, with its retractable roof atrium and over 1,000 stores, might just be paradise. The mall will serve as the centerpiece of Deira Islands Boulevard, which will feature retail space and at least 16 residential towers. By 2020, two of the four islands will hopefully be developed and completed, with 250,000 people living on them, to boot.

Motivate Publishing/Getty Images

The World

The World (another Nakheel project) kicked off in 2003, and consists of 300 small islands constructed into a world map. Another victim of the 2008 financial crisis, the World’s progress halted. By 2013, only Greenland and Lebanon had been developed, and unfortunately, NASA images suggested that the islands were sinking back into the ocean.

Despite this erosion issue, developer Kleindienst Group is hoping to revive The World in a big way, with the launch of The Heart of Europe by 2020. Six Kleindienst-owned islands round out the project, each providing visitors a slice of (very high-end) European life, complete with underwater villas (aka “Floating Seahorses”), five-star hotels, and even streets lined with manufactured snow. The St. Petersburg island, which is shaped like a heart, promises to be the world’s premiere honeymoon destination.

Courtesy of Meraas

Bluewaters

Giving Nakheel a run for its money is Meraas Holdings, with its Bluewaters project that began in 2013. Opening by late 2018 or early 2019 with an observation wheel, Ain Dubai, that will put the London Eye to shame — you’ve guessed it, it will be the world’s largest — Bluewaters is aiming to become Dubai’s family-friendly tourism hotspot. The island will be broken into zones, featuring over 200 retail and dining options, apartment complexes and townhouses, and hotels with prime beach access.

Jonathan Gainer/Getty Images

Burj Al Arab

Did you know that one of Dubai’s most iconic structures sits on its very own man-made isle? The Burj Al Arab Jumeirah, standing at 1,053 feet (just shy of the Empire State Building) is supported by 250 columns underwater, held together by sand. Completed in 1999, including two full years to reclaim its land, the Burj features a private beach for its guests, its own helipad, and a new outdoor terrace that juts out over the ocean, all perks of having an island all to itself.

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