The Jakarta Post
Look down from the world’s tallest building, ski down a snowy mountain in the middle of the desert, swim with sharks in the world’s largest mall, marvel at sparkling jewels in the souks and feel the breeze from a yacht cruise. You can do all of this in Dubai.
After reading this article, check out J+ by The Jakarta Post’s Hyperlocal: Dubai interview with Arva Ahmed, Dubai’s foodie queen.
For all the futuristic appeal, abundant entertainment and simple pleasures of Middle-Eastern culture on offer in Dubai; shopping remains an enormous thing. To say that Dubai takes shopping malls seriously is an understatement. Dubai Mall, for example, has a total retail floor area of 1.1 million square meters and is visited by more than 80 million people a year. And it's only one of dozens of malls in Dubai.
Global brands flock to this retail capital–as do shoppers from throughout the Middle East and beyond, to appreciate the grandiosity and beauty of its shopping centers. These mega-complexes are filled with entertainments for all ages, offering the savvy traveler options to keep everyone happy and to avoid family feuds emerging while you get your retail fix. Might we suggest a few choose-your-own adventures below?
Shopping in the sun or shade
If you want to put your shades on, the outdoors lifestyle destination City Walk is reminiscent of European-style streets where you can stroll down 350 meters of boulevards lined with designer stores and restaurants. It’s a chance to appreciate a striking vista of the city’s skyscrapers, including the Burj Khalifa.
Covering more than 13,000 square meters, City Walk boasts world-class brands such as Level Kids, LE66 and Coach, and a wide selection of eateries, including Farzi Cafe, Lima and Dragonfly. Play areas for children and plenty of air-conditioned al-fresco seating add to the appeal.
If you want to escape the sun, be ready to lose yourselves inside Dubai Mall, an exceptionally vast retail, leisure and entertainment space right in the heart of downtown. It’s home to more than 1,200 retail stores, including flagship brands such as Alexander McQueen, Valentino, Gucci, Chanel and Ralph Lauren.
For the family, Dubai Mall also offers the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, one of the world's largest and offering a 270-degree walk-through tunnel for a truly immersive experience of the deep sea. There’s also DubaiDino, a 155-million-year-old, 24-meter-high fossilized Diplodicus longus to thrill kids and adults alike.
Read also: What makes Dubai, Dubai
Take five: Rainforest vs. desert
Yes, you can go enjoy a slice of tropical paradise in Dubai. Just a short stroll from City Walk, you can get up close with butterflies, reptiles and the resident sloth at The Green Planet–the world's largest self- supporting tropical rainforest bio-dome.
Designed as an enclosed ecosystem, The Green Planet recreates the wild world of the tropical forest with over 3,000 species of plants and animals. Set to raise awareness about the delicate balance of nature and the preciousness of one of our world’s oldest living ecosystems, it's an ideal educational destination for the entire family.
Alternatively, you can set course to the sand dunes, because no trip to Dubai is complete without experiencing its engaging desert. There's Dubai's most famous dune, Big Red, where you can hop on a quad bike and navigate the sandy landscape yourself. Or you can strap a snowboard-like contraption to your feet and glide down the dunes just like you would at the slopes of Ski Dubai. Or just take a backseat and hold on tight as an experienced driver whips you around the sand dunes, teetering on the edge of seemingly sheer drops, before dipping down sandy slopes and back up again.
Shopping in the souks
While the city has a reputation as a thriving modern metropolis, traditional Arabian markets are still a crucial part of daily life and trade. Wander through Dubai's bustling souks and discover for yourself lavish gold jewelry, hand-woven fabrics, traditional oud fragrances and inexpensive knickknacks. Start from the Gold Souk in Deira, then head to the Spice Souk or the nearby Perfume Souk.
Strolling the narrow paths of the souks, it’s clear that, like other internationally minded global metropolises, Dubai is a city where you quickly meet people from as many countries as you can name. Dishdasha-clad Omani traders from over the border can be seen chatting with Pakistanis in salwar kameez, while Nigerians in agbada might be selling leather goods or carrying boxes of dates.
For those who want to skip the haggling but enjoy the thrill of shopping souk style, Souk Madinat Jumeirah is the place to go, as it offers traditional shopping with modern amentities, along with dozens of excellent restaurants.
If you’d rather deepen your knowledge of Emirati culture and customs, be sure to visit the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding. It’s a quick abra boat ride from the souks. Located in a beautifully restored wind tower house in the historic Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood in Bur Dubai, the center offers a range of activities, from traditional cuisine to conversations with local residents. With its motto of “Open Doors, Open Minds”, all of your questions – no matter how sensitive – are welcome and will be answered.
Read also: New openings to watch out for in Dubai
Swimming with sharks
You’ll need a second visit to see all that Dubai Mall has to offer. Go under the water at the 10-million-liter tank of the Dubai Aquarium, which contains more than 33,000 aquatic animals and the largest collection of sand tiger sharks anywhere.
Rising to the third floor of The Dubai Mall, the aquarium is home to 140 species and has several ways to experience underwater life: a stroll through a 48-meter walk-through tunnel with sand tiger sharks and stingrays swimming overhead, a glass-bottom boat tour or a diving session to go swimming with the sharks.
Starred chefs or starlight dining?
While Dubai's most impressive restaurants have yet to claim the recognition they deserve by the world-renowned Michelin Guide, acclaimed chefs and celebrity cooks come from all across the globe to set up restaurants here. Among them are Social by Heinz Beck at the Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeriah, where the three-Michelin-starred chef brings familiar flavors from Italy to Dubai, and Indego by Vineet Bhatia, who became the first Indian chef to earn a Michelin star for his restaurants in London and Geneva.
For an under-the-stars experience, enjoy an evening of luxurious and authentic desert dining at Al Hadheerah, which features a extensive line-up of live entertainment and an exquisite buffet with 14 live Middle-Eastern cooking stations. You can also head for Plaj Restaurant at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray to take in breath-taking views of the Dubai skyline and the sea while discovering Mediterranean culinary offerings.
If getting wet is not your thing, maybe get outside again and go aboard a speed boat or luxury yacht and see the highlights of the new Dubai on a voyage around the World Islands and to see the Palm Jumeirah. Sporty people can arrange for jet-skis and enjoy the open sea giving unobstructed space to rev up your ride.
As the sun sets, ask the captain to loop back towards the shore and admire the vivid Arabian sunset reflecting off the city. In the middle of Dubai, seeing the city’s ubiquitous megastructures makes one feel small, while inside the skyscrapers, there is no sense of grandeur. Of course, looking at the emirate and the desert from the top of Burj Khalifa evokes a sense of awe. But at sea, looking at the cityscape from afar, with a tint of teal from the setting sun, you get a panoramic view of Dubai–and a feeling of the numinous.