A Dream Destination: Dubai

Burj al Arab

The majestic Burj al Arab.

Last year I fulfilled one of my ultimate dream destinations: Dubai. I was having a hard time accepting the fact that I was turning thirty-one that year and so I decided my trips from then on would have to be bigger and better. Not that anyone cared. It was all on me and my wanderlust mind to make-up any excuse to travel. But Dubai was the perfect destination to cure a fake ailment.

Lucky for me, my best friend is a former UAE resident and Middle East expert. She invited me to visit when she was still living in Kuwait but it just didn’t happen because of our schedules. She eventually moved to Chicago but her mother and sister remained in UAE. I took advantage of this connection and I was very fortunate to experience Dubai beyond the tourist traps and also see it as a local.

My Dubai Top Five:

1. The Desert – I’m a beach girl and I am obsessed with islands and coastal towns. Pretty much anywhere with water in sight. But when in the Middle East, one MUST see the beauty of an Arabian desert and I’m glad I did because this was the moment I fell in love with Dubai. My first real desert. It was everything I expected and more.

Arabian desert sunset.

Arabian desert sunset.

This is freakin’ amaaaazing! -Me

The highlight of this trip was the fun desert safari which included dune bashing, riding a camel, dining in a camp and being entertained by cultural dancers.

The desert safari was my favorite experience.

The desert safari was my favorite experience.

2. The Landmarks– Every great city usually has an iconic landmark or famous structure. London has Big Ben, Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Greece has the Parthenon, to name a few. For me, Dubai has Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa. These images have been all over social media, from tourists to celebrities to travel bloggers.

  • Burj Al Arab –  I loved this structure not only because of how cool and unique the building is (and expensive) but also because it is situated on Jumeirah beach! Another way to view it is from the popular tourist spot, Souk Madinat Jumeirah. I’m usually not a big fan of tourist traps, but I wouldn’t mind being trapped in this awesome place! I didn’t even mind overspending. It was one of those ‘I feel like I’m in a movie’ moment. So go ahead, make sure you visit Souk Madinat Jumeriah, overrated or not, it’s definitely worth it.

Burj Al Arab

This view is from my favorite place, Souk Madinat Jumeriah.

This view was from my favorite place, Souk Madinat Jumeriah.

  • Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. Talk about world-class! I cannot even put into words the grandeur of it and no photograph can give it justice. The best time to view this building is at night when it is all lit up. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go up the observation deck since you need to purchase tickets in advance. Tickets were already sold out during my ten-day stay. I definitely will have to do this on my next visit. However, my favorite part of this tour was the Dubai Fountain. This fountain is located just outside of Burj Khalifa. It is by far the best fountain I’ve ever seen and I am a big fan of the classical and contemporary Arabic music that accompanies the dancing waters.

And you thought the Bellagio Fountain was awesome.

3. The Culture – The best part of traveling is discovering new things and meeting new people. I’ve read a lot about Dubai and the Middle East, and watched countless movies and documentaries about the people and culture. But nothing beats experiencing it. Traveling around Dubai does require some knowledge of their culture. It is important to respect the rules and abide by them. Lucky for me, I had local friends and I was able to prepare myself especially when visiting certain places with a strict dress code. Dubai is a pretty modern city but there are still some local areas where the old traditions are still very strong. Below are some of the important things to be mindful about when visiting Dubai and the UAE:

  • Call to Prayer
  • Dress Code
  • Alcohol restrictions
  • Curfew
  • Being loud
  • Public display of affection
  • No swearing
  • Be mindful of your photography (especially of the people)
  • LGBT – UAE is still a pretty conservative country.

4. The Miracle Garden is another one of Dubai’s word-class tourist attractions. Not only was it created to attract tourists but to also create a positive impact on the environment. Its AMAZING flower garden is one of a kind and truly spectacular. During my February visit, the garden’s theme was clearly about Valentines Day and all I can think of was that this must be what the Queen of Hearts’ palace would look like.

The entrance to the Miracle Garden.

The entrance to the Miracle Garden.

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For more information please visit Dubai Miracle Garden.

5. Festivals, Fairs & Food – Surprise, surprise, a three-way tie. Dubai is full of many great things and I cannot possibly fit them all in my top five. But I think these three go hand in hand. There are many festivals and fairs all throughout the year but my favorite one has got to be the Global Village!

  • The Global Village is a cultural attraction that opens in November and ends in April. This was everything I wanted in one place. And I mean EVERYTHING. The Global Village has more than 30 pavilions representing a different country. It is open to all and provides cultural entertainment, local cuisine, shopping, and so much more! Although, be mindful of certain days like family day where you cannot enter if you’re by yourself. Also, you are not allowed to wear short skirts and shorts inside the village.

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No matter how long I stay in one place, there’s just never enough time to fully immerse in the culture and savor every thing this beautiful city offers. I still have a lot of stories and memories to share but that will have to wait for another post. Dubai  is definitely a dream destination fulfilled and one heck of a travel memory. One for the books. Shukran, Dubai. And shukran to my Dubai friends and family for being such gracious hosts.

 

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Jen is a Chicago-based traveler and a full-time Director of Development for an arts & culture organization. Originally from Connecticut, she created Angel of Wanderlust as a place to share her travel stories and photos with friends and family. Now, it is a place for adventurers, explorers and dreamers. Its purpose is to inspire and encourage people to see the world and achieve a better work-life balance.