Dubai is a place I’ve wanted to spend more time in to have a proper look around, so I got that chance in November 2021. I have been to Dubai twice before on brief stopovers. Both of those visits were in the summer when the city is practically uninhabitable (45c days), and a one day visit is not enough.
This time I spent three weeks here in what is probably the best month of the year to visit. Here are some of the places I visited during this time.
Expo 2020 Dubai
Even though it was late in 2021, Expo 2020 Dubai was now technically Expo 2021-2022 Dubai due to the pandemic. I went to the 2010 Expo in Shanghai by chance, and it was the same happy coincidence here.
The expo site is at the far end of the Dubai Metro, and it took about an hour to get there from Deira. I got a free pass with my flydubai ticket, so I went for a day to decide if I needed a multi-day ticket.
One of the first pavilions I checked out was my own homeland of Australia. I found it interesting to see how we project ourselves on the world stage.
The front entrance was sponsored by the state of Victoria, and I was pleased to see that they leaned into the cafe theme.
Visiting the expo is like going to a giant travel fair, and I found myself visiting countries that I am familiar with and stopping by to places I want to visit soon.
It was fun to go to the Solomon Islands and be able to show the manager some photos on my phone from my visit in 2018.
The country displays haven’t seemed to have changed at all since my previous expo visit in 2010. It was not as crowded here either, obviously due to the lack of travellers in these pandemic times.
The main reason to go is to see the designs of each pavilion.
I was here for three weeks so I was considering getting a multi-day pass. I was satisfied with a long single day so I didn’t get another ticket.
I stayed for most of the time in Deira, mainly because it’s the best area to stay in Dubai. It is also the most walkable area, and I think more interesting than anywhere else.
Deira is the old part of Dubai, and it is only a few stops on the metro from the airport.
Union Station is the main interchange station of the metro, so it makes for a good base to
[Red Line at Union Station.]
I like the global feel of Deira as well. It is a mix of workers from the Philippines, South Asia, and Africa. Deira especially feels like the city of Metro Manila with so many Filipinos working here.
Deira includes the old spice market and gold souk.
I enjoyed being able to walk along Dubai Creek.
And in a city that is famous for not having many trees, Al Muteena Park is one of the nicest urban parks I have seen anywhere. This is a park that runs down the middle of a road, and in the evening it is always with people walking around.
Food of Deira
The highlight of Deira is the food. There is a big representation of South Asia restaurants, serving the tastes of the workers from the region. I started most days with idly vada from one of the many Indian restaurants.
Masala dosa is my quick and cheap lunch of choice.
I saw this Nepalese restaurant, and I had to stop there.
I had the Veg Khana Set.
Continuing my tour of South Asia, I went to Qasar Al Afghan.
I went veg here, and I enjoyed the ambience of sitting cross-legged eating my meal.
I found a Pakistani restaurant with amazing chicken biryani.
I visited Dubai Marina when it was under construction in 2007, so this was my first visit in its completed form. The canals of the marina are artificial, and it is amazing to see how quickly it became a fully-formed city compared to my visit when it was just a construction site.
Dubai Marina has become a neighbourhood of the international well-to-do, and it is a stark contrast to the international working class living in dorm rooms in Deira. I considered staying here but it is too expensive for my taste.
The Marina area is the first area in Dubai with a tram system, even though there are more areas that would be better served by a tram.
The main appeal of the marina is the beach.
There is a long stretch of beach here, and in the background is the 40 towers of the Jumeirah Beach Residence.
The Ain Dubai observation wheel had recently opened when I visited, and it is located near here.
There is also a small airfield nearby where you can go skydiving.
Food is also expensive here. I didn’t find any cheap restaurants that can be found all over Deira. Thankfully there are these South Asian snack kiosks everywhere, so you can get samosas and chai for a cheap lunch.
One of the things Dubai is most famous for are the artificial islands off the coast. While The World is sinking and losing its shape, Palm Jumeirah is now a fully functioning palm tree-shaped neighbourhood.
There is a monorail that travels down the trunk of the palm tree. I showed my metro card only to find out that it is a private monorail and not part of the transit system.
At the top of the palm tree is the Atlantis The Palm resort and Atlantis Waterpark.
More buildings are being built around the road that rings the crown of the tree, including the Royal Residences. The building reminds me of The Interlace in Singapore with its stacked blocks.
To see what else is happening on the palm tree, on the way back I got off the monorail halfway down the trunk and walked back. The trunk turned out to be an urban design win, with a garden walking path following the monorail line.
This would be a good model for any future urban rail system, where you could have the option to walk in greenery or catch the train. Unfortunately, the monorail is useless for urban transit because it is priced like a theme park.
I knew it was going to be problematic to get off the palm tree, but I figured I will cross that bridge when I get to it. The bridge turned out to be a pedestrian-hostile overpass that connected to another freeway. I walked along a narrow ledge on the road to the nearest offramp, where I was met with more road hell. The monorail whizzed by as I navigated this hellscape for walkers.
I stayed for a week in Barsha Heights, which is next to the Dubai Internet City station. I picked this area mainly because it is further down the line on the metro, giving me a base to explore different areas. I also picked it because Dubai Internet City sounded like a cool cyberpunk/metaverse neighbourhood. The reality though was this area is another pocket of bad urban design, where the street layout seems to have been designed by someone who thought it looked nice when viewed on a computer. Walking around here enraged me so much that I will save this for another article.
Burj al Arab
The Burj al Arab has become the symbol of Dubai like the Opera House is for Sydney (though Burj Khalifa may say otherwise). There is a beach near the hotel where you can take a photo that makes it look like it’s just sitting on the beach by itself. That view has now been blocked by a new hotel and residential development.
The beach is surprisingly good, and there is a surf break here with surfboards for rent.
Mall of the Emirates
I visited the Mall of the Emirates last time I was here because I wanted to see the indoor skiing at Ski Dubai.
I was impressed that Borders still exists here.
And if you’re feeling middle class fancy, there is a Chili’s.
I was here to visit a cafe called Common Grounds. They are an Australian-style cafe that also has another Dubai cafe called The Sum Of Us.
Also at the mall is the specialty cafe, Arabica.
Spend any amount of time in Dubai and you will probably end up at the Dubai Mall. This is near the Burj Khalifa and it shares the same metro stop.
The mall is connected to the metro by a step-free air-conditioned walkway that takes 10 minutes to get there.
I came here to see a movie, so I got here early to have a walk around one of the largest malls in the world.
I also came here to work out of the Caribou or Starbucks.
The last time I was here it was too hot to go outside, so I only went outside to take a photo of the Burj Khalifa before going back inside.
This time I got to comfortably walk around the base of the 829.8 m tower to find the perfect photo angle and admire the view.
Dubai is filled with architectural wonders that would be more famous if they were in another city. The Museum of the Future was on the verge of opening when I was there.
The Dubai Frame appears to have been built with Instagrammers in mind.
To be a true city of modern architectural wonder you have to have a Zaha Hadid (even if she is no longer with us). Here is the Opus by Zaha Hadid Architects.
The twisty Cayan Tower at Dubai Marina is another highlight.
I enjoyed my time here, even though the urban planning made me crazy at times. There are so many illogical roads that make it hard to walk, that I will save that for another post.
No doubt I will pass through here again on the way to somewhere else, and if it is the right time of year I will stop over again for another look around.