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Travellers stopping over in Dubai should definitely not hang around the airport or hotel. Only a few hours or half a day can suffice to enjoy a bit of desert air or cast a glance at the magnitude of the mega malls. We have six tips for a perfect stopover.
Dubai has been collecting one record after another for years. Among other things, the emirate can already boast the highest building, the tallest hotel, the largest ski hall and the biggest fountain in the world. 2014 saw another superlative being added: no other city saw so many flight passengers stop over on their way to another country. The small emirate on the Persian Gulf is conveniently located between Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Accordingly, Dubai International Airport has overtaken London-Heathrow as the most important international airport.
Between all the skyscrapers of glass and steel, there's no longer much evidence of the fact that Dubai City was once built on sand. Anyone planning an excursion to the origins of the emirate does not have far to travel: after only an hour on the highway, golden and red sand amasses as dunes and an occasional camel driver can be seen accompanying his herd along the edge of the road.
Speeding across these dunes in a jeep, quad or buggy is better than any roller-coaster ride. Vehicles with howling engines struggle up the 20-metre sand mountains and, on reaching the top, tip forwards and lurch back down again. On the way up, passengers are pressed into their seats only to be rocked from side to side on the way down. Brilliant fun!
Treks across the dunes are firm components of most desert tours. But be careful, it's easy to lose track of time! Attractions also include falcon shows, camel rides, belly dancing, water pipe, henna painting …
Dubai's Sheik Muhammad bin Raschid Al Maktum has a vision: he hopes to make his small emirate the most exciting travel destination in the world. Everything here is to be bigger and more spectacular than anywhere else.
The "Aquaventure" water park, for example: a unique water slide, the heartpiece of the complex, lets bathers slide into a tunnel which goes through a shark pool. Secured to a rope, you can zip across the park – or take off into the air at "Poseidon’s Revenge" when a flap suddenly opens to literally hurl you down into the depths. The "Lazy River" is somewhat more relaxed: on inflatable rings, you can gently drift along a three-kilometre channel, past artificial lagoons with artificial waves – until you're suddenly brought back to reality by the integrated wild water rapids.
Had enough water? Chill out in the VIP marquees where you can enjoy luxury sun loungers, huge fluffy towels and a fruit basket whose fruit is stored on ice before serving. And if you wish, you can stroke the sea lions before you leave!
During the months of May to September, when the thermometer in Dubai reaches 40 degrees, people take refuge in the pool, in air-conditioned cars – or in one of the many shopping malls the city has to offer. Natives of Dubai are proud of their more than 70 shopping oases in the city. After all, they combine everything the emirate attaches importance to: internationalism, elegant atmosphere, spacious architecture, cleanliness and safety.
The Dubai Mall is one of the largest and most attractive in the world. Offering not only all major fashion brands such as Gucci, Versace and Louis Vuitton, but also 1200 shops of all sizes as well as around 200 eateries. There is also an indoor amusement park with a roller-coaster, an A-380 flight simulator, an eight-metre high dinosaur skeleton and an ice rink for spinning a few twirls in between.
The tallest building in the world – the Burj Khalifa – towers over the mall. And those who leave the building just before the sun sets are treated to the world's largest water feature: the "Dubai Fountain" is a 275-metre long fountain spraying water up to 150 metres into the air to the tunes of Arab pop music. You can even have a song of your choice played – but it takes two months for the water choreography to be completed for the respective song. A perfect setting for marriage proposal.
Dubai stands for megalomania, spectacular construction projects and unadulterated luxury. But this is only one side of the city, i.e. the one which has evolved since striking oil in the 1960s. The other face of the city – the original part of Dubai – is to the north-east of the centre where the Dubai Creek meanders from the sea into the heartland, separating the two oldest quarters of Bur Dubai and Deira. The Dubai Museum in Bur Dubai is worth seeing. It is located in a former fortress and provides an overview of the city's history.
Deira can only be reached by crossing the Creek – the best way is by abra. These small chugging ferry boats are usually occupied entirely by locals and the crossing costs one Dirham which is around 20 cents.
Deira has two souks which are worth visiting: in the narrow and covered alleyways of the "Spice Souk", the air is filled with the fragrance of spices such as frankincense, saffron, cardamom and cinnamon which are sold out of big sacks. At the "Gold Souk", dealers offer huge volumes of pure gold. As counterfeits are impossible (quality is monitored by the government), you can in fact strike a bargain here – as long as you remember a golden rule of the souk: haggling is a must.
Souk opening hours: Monday to Thursday from 10 am to 1 pm and 4 pm to 10 pm, Friday only open from 4 pm to 10 pm
It only takes 55 seconds for the elevator to zoom up to the 124th floor. At 828 metres, the Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world, spectacularly dwarfing the Empire State Building, Taipei 101 and CN Tower. The view from the observation platform extends as far as the light blue sea with its artificial island landscapes in the form of The Palm and The World on one side to golden skyscrapers on the other. It is only up here that the city's island status becomes apparent: Dubai is an oasis surrounded by wasteland and desert sand.
Those who wish to enjoy the trip to the top in peace and quiet can buy a VIP ticket, dispensing with the queues to sit in a reception lounge enjoying dates and tea until you travel to the 125th floor in small groups – and then even higher, as far as the 148th. This remains the highest viewing platform in the world. But in only a few years' time, this superlative will be claimed by Saudi Arabia whose Kingdom Tower in Jeddah will reach a height of 1,000 metres.
We recommend buying tickets in advance and online: burjkhalifa.ae
What Dubai does not have, it copies or imports: a real dinosaur skeleton from America, for example, as an attraction for a shopping mall. The legendary British cruise ship Queen Elizabeth 2 is currently being transformed into a hotel and shopping centre. And even winter is soon due in the emirate – with the aid of outside air-conditioning units, there are plans to have it snow on the artificial island of "The World".
Nor is it necessary to dispense with culinary attractions from all over the world. Some chefs have already opened branches of their top restaurants here, several of them under the roof of the Atlantis Hotel which crowns the tip of the artificial island of Palm Jumeirah.
One of these is the Ossiano, the first restaurant of the late Spanish three-star chef Santi Santamaria to be opened outside Europe. Delicious fish dishes and seafood shimmer in the glint of the blue-tinged aquarium throughout the entire hotel complex.
Only a few steps away, in the branch of the New York restaurant Nobu (co-owned by Robert de Niro), there is modern Japanese gourmet cuisine prepared by the sushi master Nobu Matsuhisa. And in Rostang, owned by the French chef Michel Rostang, you can enjoy brasserie specialities such as those which can be found on the menu of his award-winning restaurant in Paris.
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