Dubai is now known as a bustling cosmopolitan center in the Persian Gulf, and it doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon. With a metropolitan area of almost six million people, most of Dubai’s population is made of foreigners. That along with its reputation as a top travel destination, there is bound to be a lot of diversity and cultural contrasts found in the emirate. Things that go on in Dubai are sure to astound you. While there is a lot of misinformation about the Middle East these days, Dubai is just one of those places that doesn’t fit the stereotype. Here’s a look at Dubai as you’ve likely never seen it before, and it might just make you want to pack your bags and check it out for yourself.
1. A Fashion Capital
Move over Paris and Milan, Dubai is quickly becoming a world player in the fashion world. Already serving as an oasis of fashion in the Middle East, Dubai has recently taken that one step further, making itself known on the world stage.
Dubai’s fashion scene is propelled by its numerous fashion shows, creative local designers and an entire district of the UAE city devoted to fashion. Garments from Dubai designers can frequently be seen traipsing the cat walks in Paris and New York City. Some of the designs are certainly more conservative than those found in the West, but hey, even conservative people like to look nice.
2. Elite Female Forces
The city of Dubai also surprisingly has an elite all-female police force squad. The squad was put together to combat theft and fraud in and around Dubai. The all-female squad also deals with gender sensitive issues that according to the emirate’s culture is not appropriate for a male officer to address.
The elite team was chosen out of “policewomen appointed at various police stations, with experience in protecting VIPs and guarding the convicts.” They are also required to be fluent in Arabic and English. The appointment of female officers has been praised as a huge step forward for women in the Muslim world.
3. Big-Name Celebrities
Dubai has made a huge name for itself in the past few years, even to the point of attracting big A-list celebrities such as George Clooney. That’s pretty amazing for a place that was one big desert not so long ago — its first skyscraper was only built in 1979. One celebrity who has made a high-profile visit to Dubai is Kim Kardashian, where she was photographed in traditional garb getting ready for a camel ride.
The reality TV star was in the UAE, along with several family members and fellow cast members of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, to give a makeup masterclass. While in Dubai she, of course, went shopping at Dubai’s amazing malls. In addition, she went on a desert adventure and visited a center for children with special needs.
4. Patrols With Swag
Dubai loves to keep things luxurious, and that includes their police vehicles. It’s not uncommon to find top-of-the line patrol cars such as Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Ashton Martins. Hey, if you’re going to be arrested it might as well be in style.
Each police car in Dubai costs about as much as college tuition for one person in the United States, just to give you some context. But fortunately, they don’t have to be used very often seeing as Dubai has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Mostly due to their strict laws, violating any law can easily result in imprisonment and/or deportation. Dubai hails as the 9th safest city in the world currently, according to the Numbeo website’s Crime Index Rate list.
5. Diversity In The Desert
There are few places in the world that you will see such a diverse population and culture like you will in Dubai. The contrasts that you’re able to find in Dubai is perfectly demonstrated in this photo, featuring two women relaxing on a beach in Dubai — one fully covered in traditional Islamic garb and the other sunbathing in a green bikini.
Bikinis are acceptable attire at certain non-family beaches around Dubai, however, outside of a beach or pool area, covering up is appreciated. That being said, while its always smart to be respectful of other people’s culture, Dubai is surprisingly tolerant and open to foreigners.
6. Dress Codes
It might surprise you to hear, but Dubai, in comparison to the rest of the Islamic countries, has a very loose dress code. Western clothing is acceptable for foreigners to wear in public and women are not required to cover their head unless they choose to do so out of religious belief.
It is, however, recommended not to show too much skin in Dubai, otherwise, you might attract some raised brows from locals. Should they complain to the police, you could be forced to change at worst. That being said, however, there are different rules when visiting mosques, where conservative dress and headscarves are required.
7. The World’s Fastest-Growing City
This picture really explains itself. The top photo was taken in 2005 and it shows a barren desert with only a few tall towers seemingly looming out of place. In all honesty is probably originally seemed like a wasted effort to try to build a city in such an are, but boy would that assumption prove wrong.
The bottom picture shows downtown Dubai as seen today, and the view is spectacular. With monstrous skyscrapers, ornate water fountains and lush gardens, they certainly turned this barren wasteland into a bustling cosmopolitan city in only a few short years! Now that is impressive by all standards.
8. Cool Waiting Conditions
One perk of living in such a city as wealthy as Dubai is that its quite well-equip to deal with the heat. Here, we have a standard bus stop in Dubai. However, by most standards it’s anything but ordinary, seeing as it has an enclosed area that is, get this: air-conditioned! These nifty little pods are guaranteed to keep you cool even in the most blistering Middle Eastern heat.
Dubai is located in a desert and temperatures can easily soar over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. With those type of temperatures, you can’t stay outside long before you start to melt. And who wants to get to work all hot and sticky. This seems like the perfect solution.
9. Gold Everything
The city of Dubai hosts the largest gold market in the world and those in the emirate aren’t shy about flaunting their gold, given the opportunity. There is so much gold in the city that gold-plating any number of personal belongings has become second nature almost.
The locals have learned how to craft with gold to an extreme level. If you have an item you want to be plated in gold, then Dubai is definitely the place for you. But be warned, just because there is an abundance of gold doesn’t mean that the prices are any lower. In fact, Dubai is one of the most expensive cities in the region.
10. Sky-High Sports
This tennis court is certainly not for the faint of heart. This wonder of modern engineering stands about 1,000 feet off the ground and is attached to Dubai’s Burj al Arab hotel. We imagine that quite a few balls would be lost trying to play a match way up there. Of course, that would be the only concern all the way up there. You definitely wouldn’t want to fall off that perch.
But not to worry. People don’t really play tennis here, anymore. The court was opened as a publicity stunt just ahead of the Dubai Duty-Free Men’s Open tournament in 2005. Although the court was only temporary, it certainly offered for a great photo op of this match between tennis legends Andre Agassi and Roger Federer. Afterward, the court was reverted back to its original purpose as a helipad.
11. Robot Camel Jockeys
The ancient tradition of camel racing got a new upgrade in Dubai back in 2004. Robots of all things were used to replace human jockeys. The reasoning behind this modern move had to do with accusations of human rights violations, as many Gulf countries used children as camel jockeys
Both Qatar and the UAE, of which Dubai is a member, have banned the use of human jockeys in favor of the robots. The UAE was the first country to implement the ban in an effort to thwart child slavery and abuse aimed at keeping child jockeys as light as possible. These days, camel racing is a multi-million dollar industry.
12. Everything Is Bigger In Dubai
We’ve all heard the saying “Everything’s bigger in Texas,” but what about Dubai? Well, they are certainly giving Texas for a run for its money. The city of Dubai holds no stops when it comes to building enormous structures just for the sake of displaying their sheer size.
Not only does the city boast the tallest tower in the world, the Burj Khalifa, standing at a massive 2,722 ft tall, it is also home to one of the largest malls in the world along with the largest indoor ski facility in the world. The Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq was used as inspiration for the design of Burj Khalifa.
13. Family Beaches
While this phenomenon doesn’t only exist in Dubai, many tourists might find it surprising to learn that there are specific beaches for women and families only. That means no single men are allowed in those areas. Beach-goers at those sites are also required to wear “respectful” beach attire at all times.
Women, in particular, are required to be fully covered. According to locals, it’s nice for them to have a few beaches where they don’t have to worry about being disturbed or disturbing others. They also feel that the dress code at these special beaches is more respectful to their cultural and religious beliefs. “It ensures there are areas of the beach where everyone can feel more comfortable and avoid large groups with loud music and smoking, especially when you have children,” one local woman said.
14. PDA Prohibited
Laws in Dubai and the rest of the United Arab Emirates are particularly strict when compared to western countries. Even seemingly harmless acts can result in trouble with the authorities, so it’s better to be in the know about what is and isn’t acceptable. One thing that might surprise you is that public displays of affection are generally not tolerated.
Married couples are permitted to hold hands in public, but apart from that, any physical contact between two people of the opposite sex can become problematic. Kissing in public is a big no-no. It’s also not recommended to shake a woman’s hand unless she extends her hand first.
15. Exotic Pets
With a GDP of more than $105 billion in 2015, it’s undeniable that Dubai is a very rich city and its residents are known to love to flaunt their wealth and status. As the saying goes, “if you’ve got it, flaunt it.” That has gone for pets as well. There was a popular trend in the Middle Eastern city/Emirate of having exotic pets such as chimps, baboons, lions and cheetahs.
Exotic animals have been considered a status symbol in the UAE. It has been understood that the more expensive and exotic the animal, the more wealth and power its owner has. The trend proliferate so much, in fact, that the government outlawed the practice in 2017. Nowadays owning an exotic animal can get you either a $136,000 fine or a six-month stay in jail.
16. Massive Construction
Construction in Dubai is booming like never before. And all that construction requires lots of money, man-power and of course, infrastructure. Dubai is home to more construction cranes than any other city in the world. Estimates show that the city is home to around 25% of all construction cranes in the world. Now that’s impressive.
The city with the second most construction cranes in the world is a surprising one — it’s actually Sydney, Australia. The city with the highest number of cranes in the Unites States is also a surprising one. No, it’s neither New York City nor Los Angeles, it’s actually Seattle, Washington.
17. Indoor Ski Resort
Yes, Dubai is located in a desert but when you have enough money, anything is possible. Even going for a brisk ski in the snow. Conveniently located in the Mall of the Emirates is Ski Dubai, an indoor mountain-themed attraction, replete with snow and all.
The park boasts of multiple slopes with varying degrees of difficulty, as well as a snow park and a penguin exhibit. Seems like a great way to escape the simmering Dubai heat for a few hours, or even an entire day. A two-hour ski pass costs around $55, while a day pass costs about $83. Multiple visitor packages are also available including lessons, snow gear, and even meals.
18. Gold Machines
These days you can get just about anything in a vending machine. While the Japanese may have perfected the art of vending everything you need (and lots you don’t need) there are a few machines that Dubai has that Japan doesn’t. And one of them is the gold-dispensing machine!
Using either cash or a credit card, you can purchase pure 24 carat gold from this machine. You can also buy in different sizes, anything from a 2.5 gram piece to an entire bar of gold. A computer inside the machine updates the prices every 10 minutes to ensure that it is up to date on current gold prices.
19. VIP Camels
It wouldn’t be the Middle East without a few camels. And these iconic animals are an integral part of life in Dubai, whether that be for a good relaxing camel race, or foods made from camel milk and/or meat. While you won’t find many restaurants serving camel meat, they do indeed exist.
You can also buy some great camel milk chocolate as a souvenir for friends back home. For true adventurers, you can go for a camel desert safari just outside of the city and experience how the Bedouins live life out in the desert. Most of the camel desert safaris also offer enriching cultural experiences such as henna, sheesha and bread making.
20. Artificial Islands
One of the unique and mesmerizing parts of Dubai are its artificial islands. Two of the artificial islands, the Palm Jebel Ali and the Palm Jumeirah, were built in the shape of palm trees. Meanwhile another more ambitious project still in the works is the illustrious World Islands Project.
The World Islands are a series of 300 of small islands formed to make a map of the world with each island representing a country, landmark or region. Overall cost estimates for the project were projected at $13 billion back in 2005. Construction of the project was halted due to the 2008 financial crisis. And to date, only a few of the islands have been developed.
21. Traffic Jams
If you were wondering what a traffic jam in Dubai looks like, here you go. This many luxury cars all piled up and honking their horns at each other look more like a luxury car show than a traffic jam. OK, so not everyone in the city owns a Ferrari, but this is certainly a sight to be seen.
Traffic congestion is a big problem in the rapidly growing city and the government spends billions of dollars each year to develop transportation infrastructure. One example of such efforts was the Dubai Metro, which, became operative in 2009 after a mere 18 months of construction. Traffic congestion costs the city’s economy an estimated $790 million each year.
22. Gold-Plated Everything
Is your multi-million dollar house, yacht, Ferrari and pet lion making you feel poor? Well, not to worry, because now you can also have your car dipped in gold. Just in case anyone was wondering whether you had money or not, they won’t now.
And not to worry, gold-plated cars aren’t tacky or gaudy at all. People are sure to be impressed by your wealth, or perhaps they will just run themselves off the road when the sun reflects off your car and into their faces. Hopefully the other drivers are all wearing sunglasses or else they might not live to tell the tale of this golden car.
23. People of Dubai
Dubai is a very diverse city and amazingly most of its residents are foreigners. Only 17% of the population of Dubai are citizens of the United Arab Emirates. In case you were wondering how all of those skyscrapers get built, well, they are built by foreign workers.
The city’s population is currently made of about 83% immigrants, mostly from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The locals are called Emirates (People of emirates), and other people who reside in Dubai are referred to as Expats. In fact, anyone from seven of the Emirates (Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Umm al-Qaiwain, and Sharjah) are called Emirates.
24. Free Food
Giving charity is a staple of Dubai’s culture, this is especially true during the holy month of Ramadan. It’s not unusual to see sights like these placed in malls around the city providing free food to the poor and unemployed people of the city. That’s just something you won’t find in many places around the world.
“We keep everything from Laban Up to fresh yogurt. Then there are juices and water besides Arabic breads and ready-to-eat tuna meat or pre-cooked macaroni for anyone to come and take it for free,” one mall manager told reporters. Read on to find out what other surprises the amazing city of Dubai has to offer.
25. Mall Of The World
Slated to be the largest mall in the world, Dubai has plans for the justly-named Mall of the World. This won’t be any old shopping complex as the complex will house a massive indoor temperature-controlled city in Dubai and span around 8 million square feet. The mall will include over 100 hotel facilities to accommodate around 80 million visitors a year. The complex is also due to include a massive park larger than London’s Hyde Park.
The plans for the Mall of the World were announced in July of 2014 and it is reportedly due to take at least ten years to complete. But when it gets built, it will be just one more reason to visit Dubai.
26. Flag Skydiving
Bet you never imagined this Guinness World Record exists — but then again, the competition is endless to see in what creative ways people across the planet can set the bar. While Dubai is known for its massive buildings, what happened in the air is also record-breaking.
Over the manmade Palm Jumeirah Island, skydivers set out to bring some pride for the United Arab Emirates up into the heavens. To ensure that they would make a record that much harder for other countries to break, the 4,886 square meter flag that they unfurled was 2,000 square meters bigger than the previous record holder.
27. Glamorous Starbucks
Dubai’s Ibn Battuta Mall holds inside its bounds the coffee shop to end all coffee shops. Starbucks has become such a fixture across the globe that we’ve grown accustomed to that quaint setup with the green signage. Dubai, however, being what it is, just had to take it to the next level.
This is probably one of the most unbelievable coffee shops out there. It’s almost as if the coffee itself is just a side note — here is a dazzling display of colors and geometric patterns typical of traditional Persian architecture, fit for a palace. Come for the frappuccino, stay for the vividly-colorful domed ceiling and its gorgeous chandelier.
28. Gold Phones
The debate rages on: you’re in the market for a new phone, and you ask all your friends their opinion as to what brand you ought to check out. You want to know how much data it can hold, what quality the camera has, but ultimately, the deciding factor is bound to be the price tag itself.
These phones were spotted for sale in Dubai, and chances are, you won’t be buying one like this any time soon. Check out those six-numeral figures underneath the phone. Yes, that’s the actual price of this solid gold phone, written in American dollars. Just don’t drop it!
29. World’s Largest Urban Zipline
You have to be of a certain character to want to attempt this next Dubai superlative, but if you’re in the mood for some serious adventure, it’s nothing short of awe-inspiring. High in the Arabian sky, the world’s largest urban zipline has been strung.
Because of the incline of the zipline, its riders zoom down through the sky at about 50 miles per hour. And don’t worry, the company managing the zipline has your social media needs already taken care of: the helmets come armed with cameras to document the epic plunge as you careen past the massive buildings that make up Dubai’s famous skyline.
30. World’s Largest Natural Gardens
This Dubai spectacle truly boggles the mind. Somehow, despite the unimaginably oppressive heat of the Arabian Peninsula’s desert climate, amidst the steel towers of the futuristic city lies the sprawling, aptly-named Miracle Garden. Its brilliantly-colored expanses coat 72,000 square meters with gorgeous greenery and flower blooms.
The Miracle Garden is the world’s largest natural flower garden, and its grounds are reported to hold tens of millions of individual flowers and plants, a gardening and watering operation befitting of an entire army. If for any reason at all that’s not impressive enough, the grounds also hold the world’s largest indoor butterfly garden.
31. World’s Largest Indoor Aquarium
So let’s say you only have limited time to take a spin around Dubai, and you want to get some serious Emirate-style shopping done while still visiting some of the local attractions. Say no more: inside the Dubai Mall is one of the city’s most jawdropping sights.
While the Dubai Aquarium is not the largest aquarium on the planet, it does hold the record for the world’s largest aquarium that is located entirely indoors. What’s more, its acrylic panel holds a Guinness World Record for being the world’s longest. Able to hold 10 million liters of water, it’s a sight to behold.
32. World’s Largest Dancing Fountain
Surely the enormous buildings piercing the heavens, the aquarium that lets you feel like you’re truly under the sea, and the enormous malls must be enough. But no, Dubai is just aching to be the best at what it does — in any category possible. Observe, the world’s largest dancing fountain, just outside the Dubai Mall.
If you think of an enormous fountain, the first one that would likely come to mind would be the Bellagio in Las Vegas. And while that one certainly is impressive, it can’t hold a candle to this behemoth (well, it couldn’t hold a candle anyway, as it would get wet). These fountains measure 900 feet in length, and the jets of water they shoot are blasted up to 500 feet in the air!
33. King-Size Jeeps
It sure is useful having some of the largest oil reserves in the world at your fingertips, within the bounds of your nation’s territory. For the UAE, gasoline is not the expensive commodity it is across much of the world. That means locals enjoy some unique perks.
Driving cars around the immense sand dunes in the desert is a popular pastime, but with what ride will you venture out into nature? Get a load of this double Jeep, stretched out so that the whole extended crew can pile in nicely. When gas funds aren’t a big consideration, it would appear anything goes!
34. Gold Cupcakes
Having a sweet tooth is one thing, but how do you describe the need to buy a cupcake with an astronomical price tag? At Dubai’s Bloomsbury’s cafe, the cupcakes are delicious, but one flavor in particular is nothing short of dazzling.
Called the Golden Phoenix Cupcake, this classy confectionery starts off with some fancy ingredients: the vanilla beans are grown in Uganda, the cocoa is Italian. But then the bakery takes things way up a notch, adding 23-carat gold to the blend. Want it? It’s yours, provided you’ve got $1,007 to fork over. Apparently, local sheikhs enjoy Bloomsbury’s for their catered desserts.
35. Drone Taxis
Stay tuned. As Dubai’s appearance suggests everything futuristic, so too are its technological developments. Plans for the future are absolutely incredible, as Dubai is looking into solving its luxury car traffic jams by implementing a unique form of transportation found nowhere else.
While the capsule pictured is not in Dubai, it will be flying through the Emirate skies soon enough. The city hopes to introduce a line of taxis attached to a drone, enough to carry a passenger with light baggage to their destination. Once they come into play, the drones are bound to become a tourist attraction in their own right.
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