Dubai is one of the must-visit destinations in the world. It offers a cocktail of attractions to pick from, ranging from dream theme parks, gorgeous shopping malls, to out of this world architectural wonders.
When one arrives either through the humongous and busiest Dubai International Airport or Sharjah International Airport, one is quickly struck by the allure of a clean city with gleaming amenities and working systems that define the modern metropolis.
Before I arrived in Dubai city a few weeks ago, there are a number of things I didn’t know. First, Dubai and Sharjah are two of the seven ‘emirates’ of the United Arab Emirates and the two cities, Dubai and Sharjah, are separated by a road such that visitor can hardly make out the difference between the two.
However, while Dubai is a top dollar commercial and tourism destination, Sharjah is a fairly affordable cultural city of the Arabian Gulf. Most workers stay in Sharjah and use a bus or train to travel to work in Dubai using world-class automated and driverless metro trains.
Ordinarily, I was staying at the fairly affordable Ramada Hotel and Suites in Sharjah, opposite the mega Sahara Mall where hundreds of customers stream in day and night. Ramada is a popular destination for tourists, especially from Europe because it’s strategically positioned from the airport.
So, it’s from here that I sampled both Dubai and Sharjah metropolis, the two cities in the Arabian Gulf that have transformed themselves from desert outposts to commercial and tourism destination, where millions of visitors flock for shopping experience, fun and summer sunshine.
For a first time visitor, the legendary Burj Khalifa, world tallest building rising 829.8 metres, was in top of my mind. As my guide drove me there, I didn’t know it’s next to Dubai Mall, the biggest mall in the world by total area. The mall offers another out of this world sightseeing experience, with people travelling from all over the world to marvel at it.
To get inside Burj Khalifa, people pay around Sh3,300, especially to access the 124th floor to have a 360-degree view of the city’s skyline. However, it costs Sh13,500 to scale to the 125th and 148th floors. They are the only two other floors open to the public.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to make a trip inside the landmark building, but decided to instead sample the Dubai Mall, another magnificent piece of architecture that offers visitors and shoppers infinite retail therapy. In the more than 1,200 shops, the mall has everything one can dream of.
Talk of children theme parks, cafes and restaurants. But it’s the Dubai Aquarium (the largest suspended aquarium in the world) and underwater zoo that takes the crown! For Sh3,200, one enters a world of refreshing fantasy.
The aquarium houses 140 species of sea life in the huge suspended tank on the ground floor of the mall, while the underwater zoo has a tunnel where entrants walk through tunnels for a closer connection with sea life.
Then there is the Dubai Marina Walk with outdoor and indoor eateries serving different meals and drinks, boutiques and markets. This waterfront improvement has it all in its three-kilometre stretch on the Persian shoreline.
While visiting Dubai, another thing a visitor ought not to miss is the Dubai Creek. It is lined with winding streets, housing a melting pot of different nationalities.
While Kenyans take pride in the Thika Superhighway, Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road defines and highlights in its wake the Dubai’s modern downtown business district.
The wide, eight-lane highway is rimmed with towering glass, chrome and steel along its entire length. But the highlight of Dubai’s innovation and architecture is the Palm Jumeirah Beach, a man-made archipelago.
The island has one of the finest up-market shopping malls, hotels and luxury beach resorts lying in its entire stretch. For instance, while Nairobi’s Kempinski Hotel stretches about 70 metres, the Kempinski in Palm Jumeirah stretches about 400 metres.
And as you drive down the strip of sandy white bliss, one gets an amazing view of the Arabian Gulf and hundreds of people engaging in jet skiing and kite surfing.
Dubai city has literally mastered the art of making anything ordinary appear spectacular. The city planners have excelled in creating a balance between culture and urbanisation that attracts a melting pot of nationalities out to find something new in life. It’s worth visiting again and again.