Dubai is a place I’ve transited through several times, in 2006, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Although it’s the hottest stopover spot on the Kangaroo Route, many newcomers are perplexed about what to see and do. This guide is a quick introduction to the city that has risen from the desert over the past twenty years.
For a tourist, Dubai comprises three main regions; Deira in the north (adjacent to the Dubai International Airport), Jumeirah and Sheikh Zayed Road, and Jebel Ali in the far south (near the new Dubai World Central Airport). Nearly all flights still arrive at the Dubai International Airport near Deira – Dubai World Central isn’t expected to be fully operational for some years yet.
Deira is one of the older parts of Dubai, and home to many expatriate workers, mostly from the Subcontinent, Central Asia and Africa. This has given rise to something of a bazaar atmosphere, where the streetscape is dominated by Indian spice shops, African clothing stores, import-export offices and cheap travel agencies. It’s the “dirtiest” part of Dubai, although it’s not really that bad. It’s also home to some important tourist attractions, including the gold souq (market) and Dubai Museum.
Even if neither of these interest you, you may well enjoy simply walking around the streets where the cultures of the world are served up on a platter.
Jumeirah is the area alongside the waters of the Gulf, and almost parallel to this runs Sheikh Zayed Road, home to modern Dubai’s ever-growing skyline. Jumeirah and Sheikh Zayed Road host some of Dubai’s most iconic attractions; Burj al-Arab, Burj Khalifa (in Dubai Mall), Ski Dubai (in Mall of the Emirates), Wild Wadi Water Park, the Palm Atlantis and Jumeriah Mosque, one of a handful of Emirati mosques which are open to non-Muslim tourists.
Jumeirah and Sheikh Zayed Road, although the centre of the ‘new Dubai’, are rather soulless at street level; alternating between dusty windswept highways, tourist ground-zero and expat enclave suburbia. This is not the place to get around on foot – and why should you? The Dubai Metro runs the length of Sheikh Zayed Road, and nearly everyone uses taxis to zip between the attractions. The main attractions on Sheikh Zayed Road are about 20 minutes in a taxi from central Deira; expect to pay around AED 40 for the trip, depending on traffic.
Jebel Ali is a free trade zone around 45 kilometre south of the centre of Sheikh Zayed Road. To be perfectly honest, Jebel Ali currently has almost nothing to attract the tourist except the odd flight landing at Dubai World Central Airport, very cheap hotels, and a handful of new developments (like The Palm Jebel Ali). However Jebel Ali has promise for the future – this will be the place developers look to once Sheikh Zayed Road is built out. Jebel Ali is also on the road towards Abu Dhabi, another hour further south.
Getting around Dubai is a snap, with the Dubai Metro going almost everywhere you might want to go, and taxis cheaply filling the gap between. Taxi fares are metered and air-conditioned, and all drivers speak passable English. If you’re using the metro, head to one of the air-conditioned stations and ask the person at the ticket booth what kind of ticket best suits you – it may vary, depending on how long you are staying.
I’ve only scratched the surface here of things to do in Dubai, but hopefully I’ve provided something of an overview to this exciting city. For more details on how to manage it on a stopover, see my Dubai in 24 hours stopover guide!