In any short list of the world’s most luxurious cities, Dubai must surely be mentioned. In recent years, Dubai has emerged as a global cosmopolitan city and is a major economic and cultural hub for the entire Middle East. It is a city of superlatives, because everything that is bigger, taller, richer, newer, more ostentatious, or over-the-top is to be found in Dubai. In 2011, American consulting firm Mercer rated Dubai as the best place to live in all of the Middle East. What else can you expect from a city that has been called the shopping capital of the region and is known internationally as “the City of Gold”?
The emirate of Dubai is economically distinctive within the United Arab Emirates because less than 7% of its revenue is generated from oil or natural gas. When studies showed that Dubai’s oil reserves will run out in less than 10 years from now, a conscious decision was made to transform the city of Dubai into a shining jewel that would bring in international visitors and commerce. That decision seems to have been a rousing success, because as of 2010 Dubai was the seventh most visited city in the world, with more than 7 million tourist visitors. That number is expected to more than double by 2015 to more than 15 million.
Upon arrival, the first thing to strike you is the mesmerizing view of Dubai’s cityscape. Most people with even a very casual knowledge of Dubai know that it is the site of the world’s tallest building, indeed the tallest man-made structure of any sort, the Burj Khalifa. Translated as Khalifa Tower, the building contains 163 floors and reaches a height of 2722 feet. For comparison purposes, the tallest building in the United States is the One World Trade Center in Manhattan, which tops out at 1776 feet.
What most of those casual observers will probably not know, however, is the fact that the city of Dubai has more skyscrapers that are taller than the size categories of 800, 1100, or 2200 feet than any other city in the world. There is so much high-rise construction going on in Dubai that it currently contains one quarter of the world’s construction cranes. And it’s not just about size—there is artistic vision as well. The architectural footprint of the Burj Khalifa has three lobes because it is an abstract representation of a desert flower native to the region.
For accommodations, there is perhaps no finer hotel in the world than the Burj al Arab, which some people call the only “seven star” luxury hotel on earth. Translated as Tower of the Arabs, the hotel is built on an artificial island and is designed to imitate a sail on a ship. The rooms are palatial in scale and grandeur, with the smallest suite occupying over 1800 square feet, while the largest takes up over 8000. For those who wish to be treated as kings and queens, visitors can rent the Royal Suite for just under $19,000 a night.
On-site are eight world-class restaurants, two indoor and two outdoor swimming pools, a private beach and a water park. Your stay could include personalized butlers, helicopter service and even a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce. One restaurant, Al Muntaha, is located over 650 feet directly above the Persian Gulf. Another restaurant, Al Mahara, is only accessible through a simulated trip via submarine. Once inside, patrons can marvel at a seawater fish tank containing over a quarter of a million gallons of water. For other underwater wonders, check out our article on Underwater Hotels.
Shopping and Leisure
For those more inclined to retail pursuits, Dubai has plenty to offer. In keeping with their title of “shopping capital of the Middle East” Dubai is home to the Dubai Mall, which, of course, is the world’s largest shopping mall, with almost 5.5 million square feet of total area. Opened in 2008, the Mall is part of a $20 billion project titled Downtown Dubai. Offering over 1,200 separate shops, the Dubai Mall holds the title of the world’s most visited shopping and leisure destination, attracting more than 65 million visitors in 2012. By comparison, New York City as a destination attracted 52 million visitors, and Los Angeles attracted 41 million that same year.
Everything at the Dubai Mall is designed to overwhelm in its opulence and sheer size. There are 14,000 parking spaces, complete with valet service and a special ticket that will help you locate your car. The complex boasts of 22 separate movie screens, over 120 restaurants and even a hotel with 250 suites. The 900-foot long Dubai Fountain, listed as the largest choreographed fountain in the world, presents elaborate water shows with over 6,000 lights and 25 colored projectors capable of shooting jets of water 500 feet into the air.
One of the Mall’s attractions is the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, which showcases over 30,000 marine animals behind what the Guinness Book of World Records calls “the Largest Acrylic Panel”. This viewing panel weighs over half a million pounds and is designed to withstand the pressure from almost 3 million gallons of water.
Children will enjoy Sega Republic, an indoor amusement park with over 250 games and attractions spread out over 76,000 square feet, and Candylicious, which at over 10,000 square feet is called “the World’s Largest Candy Store”.
Not to be outdone, along with the expected variety of shops and services, the Mall of the Emirates also is home to Ski Dubai, the Middle East’s first indoor ski attraction, suitable for skiing, sledding and snowboarding. Ski Dubai includes a 279-foot tall indoor mountain with five distinctive slopes, including a 1300-foot long run, with a drop of 200 feet. This makes it the world’s first indoor black run. The entire ski park comprises over a quarter of a million square feet and is adjacent to a 32,000 square foot interactive Snow Park, listed as the largest in the world. At the Snow Park, whole families can frolic in the snow, go rock climbing, explore an ice cave or even play with real live penguins.
For any visitor to Dubai, with every step they take they face the next monumental human achievement. From arrival to accommodations to dining to shopping to recreation to future economic development, everything in this city is designed to attract and celebrate incredible achievement and innovation.
In fact, the only downside to all this wonderment is the temptation they may face to actually take up residence in Dubai. When the urge strikes, a person considering such a move should make a point to visit one of the properties on Palm Jumeirah, a group of man-made artificial residential islands constructed in an elaborate artistic pattern that is actually visible from space. A small two-bedroom apartment can be bought for anywhere between $750,000 and $2,500,000, while a mid-sized villa could be yours for the sum of $6-$10 million, on average.