Dubai: So much more than the highest and fastest

What attractions does Dubai have to offer other than tall buildings and the fanciest hotels?

 ROMAN THE BUTLER at the royal suite in the Burj al-Arab.  (photo credit: MarkDavidPod)
ROMAN THE BUTLER at the royal suite in the Burj al-Arab.
(photo credit: MarkDavidPod)

If you’re planning a trip to Dubai, you probably know it is home to the world’s tallest building, the first “seven-star” hotel and a multi-award-winning ski slope in the desert. What you might not know is that you can cross its main waterway for less than one shekel, eat arguably the best authentic Indian food in the world and people-watch a population that comprises more than 200 nationalities.

The emirate offers certain must-see attractions – perhaps first among them today is the just-opened Museum of the Future. It’s worth visiting just to see the remarkable architecture: The stunning façade is a canvas for the poetry of Dubai’s leader Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, rendered in the calligraphy of Mattar bin Lahej. Inside, you will be whisked to outer space and the Amazon, while getting up close to near-future technologies in the Tomorrow Today exhibit. There’s even an entire floor where you can leave your under-10s as you explore – but chances are, the kids will want to see the marvels that await.

For a totally different but fascinating exhibition, try Al Shindagha Museum. It presents Emirati culture in the calm surroundings of historic homes that were once the modest residences of Dubai’s leaders. It’s totally interactive without being gimmicky. 

There’s glamour aplenty across the city, with all the top brands on offer at the mammoth Dubai Mall. Its parking lots are filled with the latest and snazziest of sports cars. 

Towering above the mall at 829 meters stands the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper in the world. One can head for the top floor and breathtaking views, or one can appreciate the grandeur of the structure from terra firma.

 A FOUNTAIN spectacular under the world’s tallest building. (credit: MarkDavidPod) A FOUNTAIN spectacular under the world’s tallest building. (credit: MarkDavidPod)

Beneath the Burj is an artificial lake, surrounded by hotels and restaurants. We recommend sitting on the far side of the water from the Burj, not only to take in the building, but also the wonderful fountain show that runs every half an hour at night – each performance to a different song.

Thai restaurant Thiptara is a great viewing location with an excellent menu. You can also watch while on the lake from an abra, a traditional wooden boat, or for free from the waterfront promenade.

Dubai’s glitz is amplified at the newly opened tour of the royal suite at the Burj Al Arab hotel. This is the iconic shaped-like-a-sail hotel, which was the image of Dubai before the completion of the Burj Khalifa. Within the last year, the suite was turned into a museum, with butlers-turned-tour guides. Some would describe the rich colors throughout as resembling the harlequin dress of a medieval court jester, while for others they may resemble the decorations of a Bedouin tent.

 PREPARING A sugar cane drink during the Indian food tour of Bur Dubai. (credit: MarkDavidPod) PREPARING A sugar cane drink during the Indian food tour of Bur Dubai. (credit: MarkDavidPod)

Either way, visitors simultaneously take a sharp intake of breath as the doors of the 50th and 51st floor suite are opened. The colors, the panoramic views, the splendor of the imperial bifurcated stairs, the revolving bed, the golden taps and television and more are almost too much to take in, but so well worth viewing to see how the other half lived for a whopping $25,000 a night.

But good to excellent accommodation is aplenty without the need to take a second mortgage. Indeed, one gets a far better bang for one’s shekel in Dubai, than just about anywhere in Israel. The Address Hotel Downtown is an excellent spot for the discerning visitor. A little pricier than many five-star hotels, this excellently located tower’s deluxe rooms are excellent with spacious bedrooms, double sinks and a bedside tablet that operates all the electronics in the room. Breakfast is sumptuous. Our tip is to eat on the balcony with its superb view of the pool and beyond, including the Burj Khalifa.

One of the world’s greatest performance shows is staged twice nightly within the V Hotel in Al Habtoor City. As La Perle’s marketing team accurately put it: “La Perle is influenced by Dubai’s rich culture, vibrant present and aspirational future, which is brought to life by awe-inspiring stunts and special effects that will leave viewers speechless. Feel embedded with the artists as the 270-degree seating provides a different perspective of the action unfolding in the tailor-made aqua theater. Witness the stage flood with water and drain in a matter of seconds as the artists perform mind-blowing aquatic and aerial feats, such as diving from 25 meters high.”

Of course, you don’t have to be a mere spectator in Dubai.

The 30-knot Yellow Boats tour offers passengers terrific views of the Burj Al Arab, neighboring Jumeirah Beach Hotel (which has excellent dining options) and vistas of many of the other classic Dubai buildings. A word of warning: You may want to skip eating immediately prior to sailing – it can get somewhat bouncy. 

If 30 knots is a little on the slow side for you, you can always ramp that up to 215 kph on the Formula 1-sanctioned Autodrome race circuit at Motor City. Drive on the same circuit as some of the world’s top drivers, with an instructor at your side. Take your pick from Ferraris, BMWs and even – though seriously expensive – an actual F1 racing car.

But it’s one of the less touristy parts of town, Bur Dubai, that perhaps brings the greatest pleasure. Frying Pan Adventures, run by the Indian Ahmed sisters, offers food-based walking tours of the area and a scavenger hunt. As big fans of the cuisine of the Subcontinent, it was the Little India on a Plate tour that won the day – and boy, was it worthwhile.

It’s a three- to four-hour journey through the regional delicacies of India but all accomplished within a few streets in an area dominated by families who made the journey across the Arabian Sea and now call Dubai home. Packing puris with savory and sweet, spicy and mild, tucking into crispy samosas and entering a kitchen to watch as chefs make the perfect dosas are just a part of the experience. But it’s the guide who makes this such a special tour. She is knowledgeable about history, agriculture, gastronomy and so much more, but guide Farida Ahmed readily admits much of her passion for food comes from hanging around her mom’s kitchen as a child.

Talking of food – Dubai offers everything. The Le Rosé in the Address Fountain Views hotel offers beautiful décor, terrific Instagramable vistas of the skyline and, of course, great food. Highlights from the broad menu include salmon carpaccio, wild mushroom risotto and to-die-for lemon meringue. Service is impeccable.

Fika at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel is a great Swedish-inspired lunchtime restaurant with a focus on taking your time to savor each morsel. Featured dishes include keto breakfasts, antioxidant shots and seared organic salmon.

Dubai offers so much – there are beaches, zip lines, restaurants of every type, camel and horse racing, the 150 meter-high glass-bottomed Frame, desert safaris, the Topgolf Dubai experience, river cruises, the world’s largest Ferris wheel. Just take your pick.

The writers were guests of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing and the Address Hotel Downtown. They host The Jerusalem Post Podcast – Travel Edition Coming soon: A podcast and feature on kosher Dubai.