Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be moving to a foreign country to live, let alone a country in the Middle East. Over the 2009 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, my husband Roger and I discussed what we wanted the next part of our life to be like. He thought that before retiring, he would like to do one more airport project but only if he could find something very interesting. I half-jokingly agreed that would be fine but could he try for an exotic location? As usual, Roger came through and soon we were headed to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This blog is a recap of our "leap-of- faith" wanderings around the Middle East and beyond. We joyfully share these expat experiences.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

36 HOURS in DUBAI . . . Top 10 Things to Do and See in Dubai!

Jon & Elaine & the Burj Al Arab
Expats living in Dubai are delighted to have friends and family visit their adopted city. The lucky ones get to stay for an extended period but in many cases it is simply a pass through on the way to/from other travels.  So in a limited amount of time, what are the “must do/see” places in Dubai?

I had to make this decision recently when good friends Jon and Elaine Krupnick stopped by on their way home from an extensive trip to Sri Lanka and India, immediately followed by my sister Paty Barr and her friend Kathryn Brandt who were stopping by to pick up me and Jani Diedam on their way to our excursion to India (more on that later).
Paty & Kathryn's first trip to the desert

It is a daunting task to entertain these two disparate types of travelers. Jon and Elaine are world travelers (I think that Dubai was country number 160). Paty and Kathryn have each made an international trip but never to the Middle East. What was I going to show them so they would appreciate the intriguing beauty of my adopted home? Things they had never seen or done!

I had to think hard and long to pair the list down to my top 10 “must dos” and then figure out how to fit them into the time frame allowed. Not everyone got to see all 10 but you could with the right timing.

1.       The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Krupnicks & Fosters in appropriate attire
to visit the mosque
There is no question what is number one. While not technically in Dubai The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is only 40 minutes from our apartment and is perennially at the top of the list. Its sheer beauty is jaw dropping, the engineering is amazing and the craftsmanship is exquisite. Think a combination of Istanbul’s Blue Mosque and India’s Taj Mahal.

Paty with beautiful 
semi-precious stone inlay
The Mosque is a very interesting and informative experience for gaining an understanding of the Islam faith.  Mosques are rarely open to non-Muslims but, in the case of the Grand Mosque it has been made available to the public reflecting Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s, the first President of the UAE and father of the country, desire "to educate others on the true essence and meaning of the Islamic faith which promotes freedom, justice, equality, understanding while simultaneously embracing diversity and progress."

Open 9AM – 10PM it is important that you go when the tours are given: Saturday - Thursday: 10am, 11am and 5PM; Friday: 5PM, 7:30PM; Double check times as they change periodically. Admission is free. 

2.       Burj Khalifa

Kathryn & Paty overlooking Dubai
from the Burj Khalifa
Second on my list has to be a trip to the Burj Khlaifa – Dubai is the ONLY place you can visit the world’s tallest building. Best place to get a bird’s eye view of the city.

Better go quick as Saudi Arabia has announced that its KingdomTower will be completed in  2017 and it will be the tallest!

Best to order tickets online ahead of time as they do sell out – sunset is a prime time. Onlnine adults AED 100, children AED 75; at the door all tickets are AED 400.  

3.       Dubai Fountains
If you get the Burj Khalifa sunset tickets, complete your evening with a walk over to the Souq Al Behar and have dinner overlooking the DubaiFountains

This entrancing $218 million performance of light, music and water was choreographed by WET Design. The same company that did the Bellagio Hotel fountain in Las Vegas – but as is the style in Dubai – Dubai’s is more spectacular – 6,600 light and 25 colored projectors accompanied by classical, contemporary and Arabic music.

Many restaurants offer a perfect place for a romantic dinner overlooking the fountain’s nightly show. Dinner reservations are a must. The show goes off every 30 minutes beginning at sunset.   

4.       Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding
Paty assists SMCCU Director Nasif Kayed
Most visitors are wildly curious about Emiratis – the natives in Dubai. The best place to get up close and personal with them is at the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding

The Center is dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding among the different cultures in Dubai.  It offers informative free visits to the Jumeirah Mosque every Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 10AM; cultural breakfasts every Monday and Wednesday at 10 AM for AED 60 and luncheons Sunday and Tuesday at 1 PM for AED 70. Especially nice is the Iftar dinner during Ramadan. 

Paty, Kathryn and I went on my personal favorite - the walking tour of Bastakiya, the oldest Emirati neighborhood in Bur Dubai. The tour includes a Q&A session in the Bastakiya Mosque where Director Nasif insists you can ask any question you want about Islam. Tour cost AED 55. Contact the Center for a schedule of these tours.

5.       The Desert
Jon checks out the red dunes
Uniquely Dubai is the desert and everyone really must have a desert experience during their visit. There are many offerings for tourist desert safaris but I have resisted any these as I think they are  “bad Disney” and too gimmicky.

There are a number of great desert resorts – my favorite being Banyan Tree but we took Jon and Elaine to the highly rated AlQasr Al Sarab Desert Resort west Abu Dhabi to see the unique massive red dunes in the Empty Quarter desert. While we were disappointed with the hotel, the experiences of riding the dunes and learning about flacons was exceptional. We also arranged a private desert experience when our son Russell came.   

6.       Dubai Souq Shopping
Jon & Elaine enjoy the abra ride
Each of Dubai’s souqs is an authentic, unique shopping experience located in the Deira and Burj Dubai areas of Dubai. On one side of the Dubai Creek you can visit the Spice Souq, don’ forget to stop and see my personal spice merchant Yousef, and the Gold Souq and then ride an abra across the Dubai Creek to visit the Textile Souq.

Meena Bazaar , one of the last thriving authentic outdoor shopping experiences with open streets and narrow alleyways, is located on the Burj Dubai side of the Creek. Here you will find a virtual cacophony of men’s and women’s fashions, jewelry, restaurants and takeaway stands.  Don’t try and find this one on your own.  Any taxi driver will know where this is.

The Fish andVegetable Souq is an experience all on its own. Just remember that, as is the tradition in old Dubai, these souqs pretty much close down in the middle of the day. Best to go early morning around 9AM or after 4 PM – note the Fish Souq does not reopen until 5 PM.

                 7.   Burj Al Arab 

      Reportedly the world’s most luxurious and expensive hotel, the Burj Al Arab is rumored to claim 7 stars! Don’t even think about dinner here unless you are really, really, really flush! More affordable option is “Sky High Tea” at sunset. This magnificent afternoon tea takes place on the top floor in the Skyview Bar with its stunning views of the man-made islands of The Palm Jumeirah and the World Islands. Champagne is also offered and enjoyed! We celebrated Kathryn’s birthday here is royal style. Reservations are a must – you can’t get through the security check point without one - cost AED 425, a whopping $116 per person. Champagne extra.

8.       Camels
You just can’t send anyone home without meeting a camel.

UAE camels are such lovable, cuddly animals with beautiful expressive faces. Not the nasty spitting ones I have heard about.

While, from my apartment I can see camel rides on the Jumeirah Beach, I prefer to go into the desert and find some less domesticated ones.

Three good options: 1) around the Dubai Camel Racing Track off E66 just beyond the Sevens Rugby Stadium, turn off first road after Rugby Stadium and go past grandstand. Drive around any of the dirt roads - camel corrals are everywhere; 2) the road between Abu Dhabi and Hamin. From Sheikh Zayed Road (E11) just beyond Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa Bin Zayed City take exit 306 towards Hamin. When you pass the Emirates National Car Museum you know you are headed in the right direction; and 3) the road between 311 and the coastal area of Ras Al Khamiah. Travel 311 towards Ras Al Khaimah and take exit 86 towards the coast. If you don’t have any luck when you reach E11 go north. Even if you don’t see camels you can stop at Barracudas Beach Resort for lunch.

Be sure to take a bag of apples with you and you are certain to attract a caravan of hungry camels. Elaine even managed to attract a black camel the first one we have seen in the UAE.

And, the Dubai Camel Racing Club offer camel races from November to March at the track next to the Sevens Rugby Stadium. There are other camel racing tracks throughout the Emirates.   

9.       Meydan Race Track
Photo courtesy of
AHLAN! live .com
 Frequented by the world’s horseracing elite and considered one of the most beautiful tracks in the world, the Meydan prides itself on being a world-class breeding and training facility.

Cool hat Diane!
It is the home of the richest, most illustrious horse race – the Dubai World Cup held in late March.  It is one of the most sought after, and expensive, tickets in Dubai – it ranks right up there with The Ascot Races in England.

And as with the Ascot, when you have had your fill of the races, you can always “hat watch” as the ladies pull out all stops in the millinery department for the race.

Thankfully, Paty and Kathryn turned down my timorous offer to get us tickets (cheapest ones I found were $1000 each) so we had to enjoy it vicariously through our friends Diane and Steve's experience. Track open January – March.

Want to see where the equine stars of the world’s racing scene spend their time? Meydan offers a Stable Tour & Breakfast package from November thru April. Cost is AED 250 for adults and AED 220 for children. Call the concierge at the Meydan Hotel 04 381 3375 or 050 107 8980.

10.   My favorite places to shop . . .
Rashad enjoys explaining the intricacies of carpets.
Carpets  - the Blue Souk, also known as the Central Souq, in Sharjah, just 30 minutes from downtown Dubai, offers a variety of carpet shops.

My favorite is Sheba Iranian Carpets and & Antiques Store where Rashaad is very helpful and prices are reasonable for good quality carpets.

Take the Sheikh Zayed Road (E11) north towards Sharjah, after passing the Safeer Mall look for a large Carrefour on your right and take the next exit - King Faisal Street - toward the water (east). As you come across an overpass you will see the blue roofs of the souq on your left. Go pass the Souk to a very large confusing roundabout, staying to the left pass under the overpass twice coming back around to the souq – you want to park in the building on your right down at the far end.   

BFFs Jani & Carmen make friends at the Antique Museum
Antique Museum Buy Gifts . .Do Charity.  A unique warehouse with a maze of shoulder-wide passageways offering gifts, handicrafts and antiques imported from around the world. It is located in the Al Quoz industrial area.

Do yourself a favor and do not miss this experience. He has all the souvenirs you would ever hope to take home!

Owners maintain factories in impoverished countries that employ the unskilled and handicapped providing them with the means for self-sufficiency. 

For those living in Dubai this is the best place in town for framing. Affordable and beautiful workmanship.


  1. What a fascinating part of the world you live in. I hope to see it one day.

  2. Elaine and Jon KrupnickThu May 03, 03:53:00 PM 2012

    Well! You did a great job entertaining us, Katie and Roger. What great guides and such wonderful experiences. Never did feed a camel apples before and we were so amazed at Roger turning around on the highway to share this experience with one small request from his bride.. You two found gems in each other and we are so happy we got to know your both better.
    Anxious to have you home and entertain you in the Keys and Colorado.
    Elaine and Jon

  3. Good one, Katie! Thanks esp for the info about the Dubai fountains. I look at them every day but did not know about the designer.Have a good weekend! Waiting for the India blog!!

  4. Wonderful Katie! Loved this piece, the advice, the information and the photos.

  5. I really enjoy your blogs they are always so interesting. How about one on the airport Roger is working on. It is taking a long time so I am going to guess it will be spectacular

  6. A blog on the $3.2 billion Abu Dhabi airport? That is a good idea. I see what I can do about it. However, it hasn't even come out of the ground yet and is not scheduled to be completed until 2017! Here is a link to the large article about it that appeared in The National newspaper yesterday.

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  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  9. It's easy to set a story anywhere if you get a good guidebook and get some basic street names, and some descriptions, but, for me, yes, I am indebted to my travels to India for several of the stories.
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  14. I have spend 7 days in Dubai and that was very nice experience for me. I also recommend to the people to visit top 10 places that are mentioned in above article. Those all are really very nice places to see and so many activities to do.

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  15. Well! You did a great job entertaining us. I have spend one weekin Dubai and that was very nice experience for me

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  17. However there are a lot of great destinations to visit in Dubai like Marsa Dubai, Mina Al Salam, Shaikh Rashid's House and Emirates Mall. But Marsa Dubai is the best destination to visit in my wishlist during a trip to Dubai. Here are all places i wish too go:

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