Oil rich United Arab Emirates, consisting of 7 emirates, is one of the richest countries in the Middle East. Since we often use UAE as a transit country, we’ve visited this fascinating region numerous times over the past decade. The emirate of Dubai is constantly in a state of transformation, impressing us to no end with its daring architectural visions brought to life. The tiny emirate of Ajman beckoned us to explore its museum, which is located in an 18th Century fort. Sharjah is an emirate known as the cultural heart of the UAE, and we had a chance to check out the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization, King Faisal’s Mosque, and the Al Majaz waterfront (corniche). The east coast emirate of Fujairah lured us to take a dip in the Gulf of Oman, and the capital emirate of Abu Dhabi warranted a quick visit when one of our flights was diverted there. Overall, we find the UAE to be a convenient hub and an intriguing (albeit pricey) destination.
What to do with limited time? Read on and see what you can accomplish with only 12 hours in Dubai.
We stayed in the heart of Deira, at the San Marco Hotel. This budget option met all our needs, including easy access to the city’s main sights. After our breakfast buffet, we set out to explore the city after requesting a late checkout (which the friendly staff had no problem arranging).
Word of warning…there is a reason why all Dubai hotels slash their prices in half during the summer months. The weather is absolutely unbearable outdoors, with the heat index soaring to outrageous levels and the humidity serving as the final nail in the proverbial coffin. Seriously, we were drenched with sweat our every walking moment outside of AC-blasted rooms. We were told that everyone tackles this problem by bringing an extra set of clothes on the way to work so they can change into something dry once they reach the confines of a reasonable temperature. Little did we know that the heat would be so overbearing, but hey…we wanted to see Dubai so we suffered through it and are glad we did.
First stop? The very chaotic, lively and colorful fish market. We walked there from our hotel, and our surroundings were immediately transformed into a section of Dubai that truly reminded us of the Middle East. Finally! We were wondering if there were any nooks or crannies that would reveal that we were in this section of the world, versus a sanitized city that could be located anywhere in Europe. The fish market did not disappoint, and we were beckoned in to see the museum that gave us a bit of history of Dubai’s fishing past. Inside the bustling market, we first walked through the butcher shops, where we were jokingly offered pieces of cow’s brains, balls, and tongue! The butchers absolutely loved us wandering through their stalls, and kept urging us to take their photos. In the fish market area, we were astounded at the vast selection of fresh seafood: shark, crab, shrimp, muscles, barracuda, tuna, red snapper, eels, and sting rays to name a few. Most of the vendors were Pakistani, and they beckoned us to take photos of them, proudly displaying their wares.
Afterwards, we grabbed fresh coconut juice from the fruit/vegetable market, and then strolled over to eye the world famous Gold Souk. Dubai’s Gold Souk is amazing, and contains more gold than you would ever dream was possible. Row after row of 24 carat gold necklaces, bracelets, rings, and pendants dazzled and amazed us (although we aren’t too keen on the yellowish 24 carat gold look…Becky is more into white gold, platinum or silver). In any case, the Gold Souk is a must, if only to marvel at the vast selection, quantity and quality of wares for sale. There is nothing comparable to the Gold Souk in the world…we have never seen more tantalizing displays of pompous wealth before our eyes!
Afterwards, we cooled our heels at the Heritage house, which is a 5 minute walk from the Gold Souk. The house was built in the 1890s, and is probably the best example of a traditional Emirate family house in Dubai. What is even better is that its free! We were welcomed to wander around and take note of the traditional fabrics, materials, and furniture dispersed throughout the large house. Wax displays of the family wearing traditional garb were also strewn throughout. After watching the informative video on various Emirate children’s games, we decided to take our beating back in the sun and wandered down towards the creek.
Our jaunt on the Dubai creek was very easy to organize. In fact, we had no sooner walked towards the creek when we were approached by a dhow river boat captain who agreed to ferry us up and down the creek in our very own dhow. After negotiating a rate for an hour long ride, we relaxed on the creek and admired the many mosques and modern buildings competing for waterfront views. Many of the more fanciful hotels have been built right up on the riverbanks, and they command magnificent views of the creek and beyond. We asked to get dropped off at the Heritage and Diving village located at the mouth of the creek at the culmination of the trip and wandered around the empty village. Apparently the village is a great place to see potters and weavers display their handiwork, but today the village was a ghost town (maybe it was the heat?)
No visit to Dubai would be complete without a trip to see the world famous Burj al Arab, one of the only 7 star hotels in the world (cheapest room is $1000 a night!!!). So we duly hopped into a taxi and made our way out there. Security is fairly tight, and without signing up for a guided tour or booking a room at the hotel ourselves, we were stuck admiring the hotel from beyond the security fence. And we weren’t the only ones! Burj al Arab lures in a ton of tourists who gaze longingly from a distance at this amazing building. The medina mall adjacent to Burj al Arab offers magnificent views over this section of Dubai, and is full of fanciful stores selling even more fanciful wares. We window shopped (the only thing we could afford) and then decided to head over towards the City Center complex to catch a movie and relax in AC surroundings.
Overall, Dubai is a fascinating city that definitely warrants a few days. Since we will be traveling here many times over the course of our future vacations (Dubai is the international hub for the Middle East), we will explore more of this vibrant city in due time. Until then, explore this shopper’s paradise for yourselves! But be careful of sticker shock…the affordable prices of Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan are non-existent here! High rollers and smartly dressed attire is a must if you want to hang out with the big-whigs of this up and coming destination.