Dubai has recently emerged as one of the most modern cities in the world, impressing onlookers with its superlatives: the world’s largest shopping mall, the world’s tallest skyscraper, the highest restaurant in the world, and the only certified 7 star hotel on Earth. But despite its glossy, ultra-modern developments, Dubai is still home to sweeping deserts, and quiet quarters that harken back to the city's more modest Middle Eastern origins.
Start your Dubai tour by getting a panoramic view of the city below from the Burj Khalifa. This 160-story tower holds six world records (including tallest building in the world, tallest free-standing structure, and tallest service elevator in the world) thanks to its staggering 2,716.5-foot distance from the ground. You can see views of Dubai that extend more than 60 miles from your promontory on the 124th or 148th floor, or the restaurant on the 122nd floor. Fun things to do in Dubai for view-seekers also include skydiving over the man-made palm-shaped island, and having a drink at the 27th floor Skyview Bar at the Burj Al Arab hotel.
Come back down to Earth and visit Old Dubai. Though the city is young, just 44 years old, the Bastikya Quarter will transport you to the traditional Middle East, with classic architecture and winding, narrow pathways. Even though it’s only 15 minutes from central Dubai, you’ll feel eons away from the skyscrapers and bustling attractions.
Head a bit farther out of town to Abu Dhabi to see the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a work of art that can accommodate 41,000 worshippers at a time. It’s opulent in every way imaginable: all Greek and Italian white marble, and (of course) the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet. This wool masterpiece required the handiwork of 12,000 artisans and is estimated at $30 million.
What to do in Dubai if you’re a thrill seeker? Head to the mall. No, really. Sure, you can browse the 1,200 shops inside, but the Dubai Mall is also home to an Olympic-sized ice-skating rink, and the world’s largest indoor aquarium. At the latter, you swim with the world’s largest collection of Sand Tiger sharks anywhere in the world. For a more quintessential, Middle Eastern-mall activity, you can haggle at the gold souk.
There are plenty of reasons to love Dubai right now (beach clubs and bio domes, to name two) and if you’re planning your trip to Dubai now, consider these 11 other incredible experiences you can only have in town.