Dubai keeps rising like a mirage out of the desert, but it’s not all just for show – take a trip in a water taxi to the souqs and see for yourself.
Air-conditioned shopping malls symbolise Dubai to the rest of the world in much
the same way that pyramids represent Egypt.
more than 70 shopping malls, Dubai – the most populous of the seven emirates in
the UAE, with by far the largest number of tourists – is rightly considered to
be the shopping capital of the Middle East.
these facts relating to the emirate’s greatest palace of commerce, the Dubai
Mall: it is the world’s largest shopping centre by floor area, with 1,200 shops
and more than 160 food and drink outlets spread across 548,000 square metres;
it contains the Dubai Aquarium, where shoppers are separated from a giant tank
holding 33,000 marine creatures by the world’s largest viewing panel; and the
entire complex sits at the foot of the tallest building on Earth – about which
Mall’s Olympic-sized ice-skating rink is trumped by the indoor ski slope at the
rival Mall of the Emirates, although you are more likely to see Emirati men and
women in their dishdashas and abayas taking to the ice than swishing through
aside, the biggest draw of the year is the monthlong Dubai Shopping Festival,
from mid-January, thanks to that most traditional of attractions – big
information can be found online about the Dubai
and the Aquarium.
Tickets cost £10.
The malls of Dubai don’t exist in a vacuum. Behind their marbled precincts,
there lies a long tradition of merchants bringing exotica from around the Gulf
and beyond to be ogled and haggled over.
Jumeirah is the halfway point between old and new Dubai – a shopping
resort-restaurant-entertainment village that takes architectural inspiration
from the pre-1960s trading port, while everything else is very much in the
spirit of the 21st-century emirate.
however tastefully done the arcaded streets of Madinat Jumeirah’s souq may be,
the city’s merchant tradition is more palpable in the souqs of Deira and Bur
Dubai, on opposite sides of Dubai Creek. In Bur Dubai Souq, which sits between
the historic Bastakia and Shindagha quarters, it’s the clothing that stands
out, particularly the saris and other fabrics from India and beyond.
the creek in Deira’s dusty streets, traders come from as far afield as
Ethiopia, Iran, Pakistan and the Philippines. The Spice Souq offers saffron,
sumac, dried lemons and frankincense from the south of Oman. Next door, the
Gold Souq is piled with lustrous necklaces and bracelets for countless bridal
dowries, in a city where two in three people buy gold at least once a year.
souq shops close for a few hours in the afternoon and for most of Friday,
although many now open all day. In souqs, as in malls, Friday evenings after
the end of prayers are the busiest times.
Before 2009, the question ‘What is the tallest building in the world?’ had no
simple answer, what with a number of radio masts, offshore platforms and
observation towers making the very definition ambiguous. Happily, the Burj
Khalifa has ended the debate by surpassing the title holder in every record
category, reaching more than 828m high.
tower was topped out shortly before the global financial crisis hit Dubai’s
property market. Plans to build artificial islands in the shape of palm trees
and a world map were put on hold, with only one of these palm islands finished.
despite this setback in trying to raise new land from the waters of the Gulf,
it’s unlikely that the Burj Khalifa will mark the limit of Dubai’s ambitions.
tickets to the Burj Khalifa observation deck cost £18 and are valid
for a set date and time. Instant admission tickets for those in a hurry cost
The designers of the Burj Khalifa had to factor in something called the
‘chimney effect’ – the movement of air that results from temperature
differences at the top and bottom of very tall towers. However, Dubai’s
builders have a much longer history of designing buildings adapted to the
climate, as a stroll in the Bastakia Quarter shows.
area has become something of a hub for arty guesthouses, cultural centres and
eateries – the XVA gallery, hotel and café is a stand-out.
narrow lanes offer shade and a vision of the days before oil and globalisation.
In a city where Emiratis make up less than 10 per cent of the population,
heritage areas like this count for a lot.
The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural
Understanding, a not-for-profit group, offers tours of the Bastakia Quarter (from £6).
As Dubai spreads to the southwest, ever closer to its fellow emirate Abu Dhabi,
it moves further from its old centre of gravity and original raison d’être –
Dubai Creek, called Khor Dubai in Arabic.
days of pearl divers and Bedouin camps are long gone, but the nine-mile-long
inlet that gave Dubai its low-key start still offers a daily spectacle, not
least thanks to its fleet of abras. These jaunty wooden motorboats still ferry
local workers and curious visitors between the Deira and Bur Dubai sides of the
creek, even now that road bridges and Metro lines span the waterway.
water taxis take up to 20 passengers, leaving when full, on two routes that go
from Bur Dubai to stops near the Spice Souq and the less romantically monikered
is 20p, which you pay to the driver halfway across the creek. Chartering your
own abra costs £17 per hour.
The article 'Changing tides in Dubai' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.