Dubai: “If you build it, they will come.”

Today’s post was written by James Rathmell. James is a Geography graduate currently working in Manchester as a Transport Planner. He can often be found city-hopping across Europe or gigging with his band at a venue near you.

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Dubai was a place I’d come across every now and again in magazines or on TV, either showcasing its latest tourist draw or providing an exotic setting for some exclusive event or other. While it had certainly caught my eye in this way, I was more accustomed to backpacking around Europe and for that reason it never felt like the sort of the place I’d ever visit. However, in the sort of twist of fortune you don’t expect on a cold, grey Tuesday morning, an opportunity arose to go there for a couple of days as part of my work. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance!

The aspect of Dubai that intrigued me most was the number of times I had heard about a new iconic building or construction project in the city – there seemed to be a growing list of these man-made modern marvels and I was looking forward to seeing some up-close on my sight-seeing forays around the city.

Here are some of the highlights…

(Khalifa Tower)

Like a giant at a midget convention, the Burj Khalifa towers above Dubai’s cityscape. Bearing in mind that Dubai actually has more skyscrapers than any other city on the planet, this is all the more impressive. In fact, at a staggering 828m tall, the Burj Khalifa currently holds the accolade of being the world’s tallest building. While I appreciate the budget-conscious reader may baulk at the cost, a visit to the observation platform is surely not to be missed. Tickets start at around £16 for adults and allow you to be whisked up to the 124th floor via the world’s fastest elevator (spotting a ‘record breaking’ theme here…look out for the Dubai chapter in next years ‘Guinness book’) to sample the vertigo-inducing view. Apparently, it is possible to see into 10 other countries from the top!

Burj Al Arab (Tower of the Arabs)

“Never heard of it!” I hear you cry. Well, possibly, but you may be more familiar with the Burj Al Arab than you think. Frequently taking centre stage in glossy photos of the city, this iconic building has become symbolic of modern Dubai. To jog your memory, it resembles the sail of a boat and stands on an artificial island which juts out 280m from the mainland. The building actually houses a luxury hotel, which claims to be the world’s only ‘7 star’ facility. Now, while I’m sure the rooms are lovely and the service top-notch, the 5-star system has a maximum award of, wait for it, 5 stars, so they’ll just have to make do with that. Otherwise, what’s to stop me opening up my own Bed & Breakfast somewhere in the north of England tomorrow and awarding myself 8 stars, just to outdo them?! Anyway, from the outside, the Burj Al Arab is a spectacular structure and well worth a gander.

The Palm Jumeirah / The World

Before you read this paragraph, pay a quick visit to Google Earth and take a look at Dubai’s coastline from the air. See that weird palm tree shape sticking out of from the mainland? That’s The Palm Jumeirah, a man-made archipelago with a total area larger than 800 football pitches. The plan is to develop the Palm into one of the world’s premier resorts and it has already declared itself the ‘8th Wonder of the World’ (they do seem to enjoy awarding fictional titles to their creations!).

Further along the coast, about 4km from the mainland, ‘The World’ consists of a number of islands, positioned to create the shape of a map of the world. While currently only one of these mega-expensive islands is occupied, it is not too much of a stretch of the imagination to think that one day, owning the equivalent island of your country of birth will become the must-have status symbol for the rich and famous (providing the whole lot doesn’t sink first, as has been alleged…)

Ski Dubai

Brief mention should also go to ‘Ski Dubai’, an indoor ski resort which opened in 2005 in the Mall of the Emirates (one of the largest shopping malls in the world, naturally), allowing visitors to move from the searing desert heat outside to a penguin-friendly -2°C, strap on their skis or snowboard and tackle one of the 5 slopes or 90m long quarter pipe.

While my brief trip did trigger some personal concerns about the way the city seems so willing to throw large piles of cash around in order to create the perfect millionaires’ playground, especially in these testing economic times, it is hard not be impressed by the sheer ambition and execution of some of its projects. I recommend that if you ever get the chance to visit, you should take it and see for yourself. For lots of useful info on how to get there, where to stay, plus some essential advice on topics such as dress code and etiquette, take a look at MyDubaiInfo.com.

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