Within less than 300 years, Dubai has grown from small pearl fishing village into a modern metropolis with a skyline studded with skyscrapers. The story begins with the current rulers, the Al Maktoum family.
In 1833, they led 800 members of the Bani Yas tribe to what is now Dubai Creek, where they set up home. The creek was a natural harbour and during the 19th century, it served as Dubai’s commercial engine, establishing itself as a centre for fishing, pearling and maritime trade. Old dhows (traditional sailing boats) still ply the routes between Dubai, India and beyond.
By the turn of the 20th century, Dubai had established itself as a successful port. The souk on the Deira side of the Creek was the largest on the coast with 350 shops, attracting a steady stream of visitors and businessmen. By the 1930s, the city’s population was nearly 20,000, a quarter of whom were expatriates.
In the 1950s the creek began to silt, so ruler Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum decided to have the waterway dredged. It was ambitious and costly project but one that proved visionary thanks to the vast increase of cargo traffic as a result.
When oil was discovered in 1966, Sheikh Rashid turned the petro-dollars into building projects, and also used it to kick-start the tourist industry. In 1971, Dubai became part of the United Arab Emirates following the British withdrawal. In 1972, the project was completed when the final emirate, Ras Al Khaimah, joined the fledgling country.
Even though the visionary Sheikh Rashid died in 2006, and was succeeded by his son Sheikh Mohammed, Dubai and the United Arab Emirates have continued to flourish.
The city state suffered a setback in 2008 when recession hit and it had to be bailed out by Abu Dhabi, but today Dubai is back on track and the cranes that dot its skyline are as busy as ever.
Did you know?
• Before the discovery of oil, the pearl trade was Dubai’s major source of wealth.
• The oldest reference to Dubai is by the Venetian Gasparo Balbi in 1580.
• In 2001, Dubai became the home of the world’s largest artificial island, the Palm Jumeirah, which can be seen from space.
Emirati people are ethnically diverse, with ancestries from the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Baluchistan and East Africa. Bani Yas, Al Nahyan and Al Maktoum in Dubai, respectively, represent the Emirati leaderships. Al Qawasim have also played a vital role in the history of the United Arab Emirates. Some Emiratis in Dubai are of Persian ancestry. Emirati culture is based on Arabian culture and has been heavily influenced by Persian culture. Arabian and Persian inspired architecture is part of the expression of the local Emirati identity. Persian influence on Emirati culture is noticeably visible in traditional Emirati architecture and folk arts. For example, the “barjeel” has become an identifying mark of traditional Emirati architecture and is attributed to Persian influence. Certain folk dances, such as “al-habban”, are originally Persian. Local Emirati culture has also been influenced by the cultures of East Africa and India.
Due to growth in trade, many expatriates from Arab countries, the Indian subcontinent, and Europe came to the UAE seeking better lives and higher-income jobs.
The population as a whole is estimated by the U.S. State Department to be at 4.4 million people, with only 15–20% of these being citizens. The population growth rate is 4% per year. The primary religion in the United Arab Emirates is Islam, with the population estimated to be 96% Muslim. Hinduism and Christianity are minorities as stated by the United States State Department. The official language is Arabic. Other languages such as English, Persian, Hindi and Urdu are spoken among the different peoples. The U.S. State Department estimates the people of the UAE to have an average life expectancy of seventy-seven years.
Dubai is located on the Persian Gulf, in the northeast of the United Arab Emirates. Dubai is the second largest emirate with an urban area of 3885 sq km and the city is roughly 35 sq km. However it will expand to twice that size with the addition of the man-made islands; the Waterfront, the three Palms, the World, the Universe, Dubailand, as well as the construction in the desert.
One of the most fascinating geographical aspects of Dubai, is its Creek, which divides the city into two regions. Dubai Creek is made up of a natural 9.5 mile inlet in the Persian Gulf, around which the city’s trade developed. North of the Creek is called Deira, and Bur Dubai refers to the south where it joins the tourist and residential developments of Jumeirah along the coast.
Dubai also has the highest population, sharing its borders with Abu Dhabi in the south, Sharjah in the northeast and the Sultanate of Oman in the southeast.
Due to the city’s unique geographical location it enjoys a strategic position which allows it to connect to all local Gulf States, as well as to East Africa and South Asia.
There are a lot of known dishes in UAE. For example: Harees, Machboos and Luqemat. Whether you’re searching for sashimi, Italian, fish and chips or a nine-course degustation journey at a fancy French restaurant, you will find it in the UAE. Visitors to the country really are spoiled for choice, with a wide range of cuisines available and many celebrity chefs have launched their namesake branches in the UAE, including Nobu Matisuya, Gary Rhodes and Giorgio Locatelli. Supermarkets and grocery stores stock home comforts and nearly everything that is available in Australia, USA and the UK, while hotels serve both Arab and European food. There is also a fantastic range of Arabic, Persian, Indian, Pakistani restaurants – especially in areas like Satwa, Deira and Bur Dubai.
The culture of Dubai is ingrained in Islam, but increasing globalisation and immigration of various nationalities have transformed the emirate into a melting pot of diverse sensibilities.
However, the influence of traditional Arab culture is prominently seen on its museums, festivals, music and attire. Generosity and hospitality are the most highly prized virtues of in the Arab world, and tourists are welcomed with utmost affection and friendliness. Since 2006, the weekend in Dubai has been shifted to Friday – Saturday, as a token of respect for Friday’s holiness to Muslims and Western weekend of Saturday and Sunday. Although Dubai’s Arab society is open to all cultures, it is important for tourists to respect the Muslim traditions.
The official language of the country is Arabic, however most people in and out of the workplace communicate in English. There are so many different nationalities in Dubai and therefore English finds common ground with most people. The majority of road, shop signs, and restaurant menus etc. are in both English and Arabic.
Dubai has an excellent nightlife scene with a large choice of bars and nightclubs to be enjoyed. Most of the licensed bars are in hotels but there are some exceptions.
Dubai also has some interesting laws when it comes to nightclubs. They all must close at 3.00am, 21 is the official minimum age allowed to purchase alcohol though some clubs can also refuse entry to anyone under 25.
At some of the most prestigious clubs in the city, doormen tend to be a little strict, but as long as you have at least one girl in your party, you should be fine.
Dubai is one of those cities that must be seen to be believed. Record-breaking architecture stands alongside traditional quarters, while exclusive man-made islands jut out of the coastline. Here are the top places to tick of your sightseeing list when you’re in town.
Burj Khalifa | A sky-high experience
Standing at an eye-watering 828 metres high, the Burj Khalifa is hard to miss. The tallest building on the planet naturally dominates the Dubai skyline, but the true majesty of the building is best appreciated up close – or, even better, from inside. On a clear day, the view from the observation deck on level 125 is absolutely stunning, bettered only by that of the view from the luxurious At The Top Sky Lounge on the 148th floor. And for those who would like to linger for a meal in the clouds, At.mosphere lounge on level 122 is the place to be.
The Dubai Mall | A mini metropolis
Just a hop, skip and a jump from Burj Khalifa is The Dubai Mall. To call the sprawling development merely a shopping mall is doing it a massive disservice. Even an entire day spent here isn’t enough to see it all. As well as its more than 1,200 shops and 150 restaurants, the venue is also home to: an indoor theme park; an ice rink; a 155-million-year-old dinosaur skeleton; a huge indoor waterfall; a luxury hotel; a choreographed fountain bigger than the one at Las Vegas’ Bellagio; and a giant aquarium and underwater zoo, featuring sharks, stingrays, penguins and many more exotic animals.
Palm Jumeirah | The impossible island
A man-made island in the shape of a palm tree – only in Dubai would such an idea even be considered, let alone come to fruition despite naysayers declaring such a concept wouldn’t be possible. But here it stands, one of the largest artificial islands in the world and a triumph of human ingenuity. Boasting a vast array of high-end hotels – including the Waldorf Astoria, Fairmont, One & Only, Jumeirah Zabeel Saray and, perhaps most notably, the iconic Atlantis – the development is a hotbed for luxurious beachside accommodation. And getting there couldn’t be easier, with a monorail running up and down the ‘trunk’, which connects to the mainland’s tram system.
Dubai Creek | Step back in time
Dubai may be famous for the glitz and glamour of its sky-high towers, but the real heart of the city is, and always will be, the Creek. The saltwater estuary is the original site where the Bani Yas tribe settled in the 19th century, and its waters were vital for what used to be Dubai’s main forms of economy: pearl diving and fishing. Today, the area is awash with the history of the emirate, as it is home to the Dubai Museum, as well as the labyrinthine alleyways of the gold, spice and textile souks in Deira. While at the Creek, a ride across the water on a traditional abra is a must – and at an unbelievably cheap one dirham per person for a one-way ticket, it’s easily the best-value tourist attraction in the city.
Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) | Walk The Walk
For lovers of sun, sea and sand, a visit to Jumeirah Beach Residence is a must when stopping through Dubai. An almost two-kilometre-long stretch of pure white sands with The Walk – a row of cafes, restaurants and shops – running perpendicular to it, it’s no surprise that JBR is always buzzing with activity. The area was made even better recently, as new development, The Beach, was completed. With 45 cafes and restaurants set across four distinct plazas, as well as a purpose-built running track, kids’ water park and even an open-air beach cinema, JBR now has something for everyone.
The Emirates states are all Muslim, therefore alcohol is not served except in hotels. It is an offence to drink or be drunk in public and penalties are severe. Some prescribed and over the counter medicines from outside the country may be considered to be a controlled substance within the UAE and will not be allowed into the UAE without prior permission from the UAE Ministry of Health Drug Control Department (DCD). A passenger arriving with such medication without permission may be subject to prosecution. Dress and behaviour should be modest, particularly during the month of Ramadan when it is disrespectful to smoke, drink or eat in public between sunrise and sunset. Women’s clothes should cover the tops of the arms and legs. Cohabiting, adultery and homosexual behaviour are illegal in the UAE, and it is an offence to swear or make rude gestures, or show a public display of affection. In general, the country has a tolerant approach to Western visitors, but local laws and sensitivities should be respected.
Most visits to the UAE are trouble free. Crime is not a problem, but there is deemed to be a threat of terrorism against Western interests and gathering points, particularly entertainment venues. It is therefore wise to be vigilant when frequenting these. It is also wise to avoid political gatherings and demonstrations. Al Qaeda continues to issue statements threatening to carry out attacks in the Gulf region, including references to attack Western interests, such as residential compounds, military, oil, transport and aviation interests.
Passport and Visa
All visitors to the United Arab Emirates must hold a passport that is valid for six months. Visitors must hold documents and confirmed tickets for their next destination and have a sponsor in the UAE to cover their stay. Holders of passports containing an Israeli visa or stamps need to obtain a clearance issued by the C.I.D. (Crime Investigation Department) before arrival. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Note: Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.