By Harry Bedford
Take an Airbus A380 from London Heathrow to Dubai International Airport and you will be flying in the largest passenger jet ever built from the second busiest to the busiest airport in the world.
Largest, longest, tallest, highest, busiest – these are all adjectives that epitomise Dubai. The once desert filled emirate is now a city of modern wonders and the sand dunes are rapidly turning into concrete.
It is easy to dismiss Dubai as a soulless collection of tall buildings and chain shops with nothing much else to offer a visitor. And, while this may be partly true – Dubai is home to the largest mall in the world – to really make the most of its concrete charm, you must embrace the experiences that are on offer, even if authenticity isn’t Dubai’s top priority.
The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building and man-made structure on the planet. At a staggering 830 metres, it was designed by architect Adrian Smith and is based on ancient Islamic architecture. It was finally completed in 2009 after five long years of construction at a jaw-dropping cost of £980 million.
Towering high in the Arab skies, the Burj invites visitors to enjoy the unique ‘At The Top’ experience where a state-of-the-art elevator whisks you smoothly to the 124th floor in approximately 60 seconds. The doors open to reveal a 360 degree view of Dubai from the world’s highest outdoor observation deck.
From this vista you begin to gain a perspective of the rapid development of the emirate. Look down and examine the patches of desert being excavated, buildings mid-construction and fully-formed towers. Telescopes take you back in time, revealing parts of the city as they were before the rapid modernisation, and highlighting the extensive development that has arisen in a few short years. The Burj Khalifa is certainly the jewel in the crown of Dubai and a trip to the top will set you back approximately £23. It is certainly worth the cost, but be sure to book ahead as its popularity can guarantee a long queue.
If one modern wonder of the world isn’t enough, head west along the coast until you reach the man-made, palm tree-shaped island of Palm Jumeirah. Construction began in June 2001 using cutting-edge land reclamation technology that compacts rocks and sand on the seabed until the new land is created. Now, hundreds of flash holiday homes and hotels line the branches of the palm, leading to the grand Atlantis Resort, situated majestically at the top. Although you may need to acquire a small fortune in order to stay here, the monorail service delivers a tour of the most fascinating parts of the island for only a pound or two.
Palm Jumeirah isn’t the only man-made island off the coast of Dubai; The World is an ambitious project of 300 islands that together form a colossal world map in the Persian Gulf. This fascinating venture lead by the Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, should have attracted the enthusiasm of numerous developers however, as a direct result of the financial crisis of 2008, the vast majority of the islands remain unused. In order to see The World in all its glory, a boat trip offers a spectacular tour around the islands or, for the affluent among you, a helicopter provides a stunning way to experience the man-made archipelago. For the time being, the champagne remains very much on ice for this attraction, but watch this space as exciting development is just beginning to take place.
Another superb attraction of Dubai is the harbour. This sleepy dock, with its luxurious yachts and trendy restaurants can feel surreal, surrounded by countless sky-scrappers where some of the tallest buildings in the world gather round the waterside as if they were no more than a scenic backdrop. As alcohol is a rare commodity in this part of the world, the waterfront is a great place to enjoy a hookah full of shisha and relax for a few hours in this most futuristic of settings.
Dubai truly is the city of the 21st century. Its post-modern architecture is grand, surreal and unapologetically arrogant. As the emirate continues to develop, as will our fascination with it. If you’re curious as to what the world may be like in the future, head to the concrete dunes of Dubai now – although unless you have an unlimited supply of cash to keep you entertained indefinitely, Dubai is probably best seen on a stop-over for a few days en-route to other destinations.