The definition of a desert is: an excessively dry region of extreme temperatures with little or no life. The definition of Dubai is: a fully air-conditioned region of ultimate comfort, overflowing with life. But isn’t Dubai a desert? It is, but an unconventional one. Let us try and define it in more detail.

Dry and Developed

A few decades were sufficient to replace the Bedouin villages, camels and endless dunes from Dubai’s horizon with a shimmering skyline of palms, hi-tech skyscrapers and artificial islands. With the discovery of oil in the 1950s, the United Arab Emirates underwent a fairy-tale makeover. The ruling sheiks shared the riches with the population thus creating a cosmopolitan business and tourist hub with no VAT, zero crime rate and petrol cheaper than water.

Unique and Unbeatable

The uniqueness of Dubai lies in its contrasting nature – a modern Western façade covering the solid Muslim building blocks. Its most striking feature is the matchless desire for primacy: the tallest building in the world – the Burj Khalifa with its 828m; the most luxurious hotel in the world – the ‘seven star’ Burj Al-Arab; the most expansive man-made islands in the world – the Palm Islands; and the biggest amusement park in the world – Dubailand (to be completed by 2020). Undoubtedly, Dubai wants to compete with the entire planet and so far it has always won by creating attractions beyond imagination.

For instance, can you ski in the middle of a desert? In Dubai you can. Inside the Mall of the Emirates, you can find Ski Dubai – an indoor snow mountain with 5 slopes that will make you forget the 45°C outside. Another human-made wonder is the underwater hotel, the Hydropolis, soon to be completed at 20m below the surface of the Persian Gulf. For an explicit example of Dubai’s opulence, think of the 2000 square metre surface of 22-carat gold used for the construction of the iconic Burj Al-Arab hotel, now a symbol of Dubai.

Brilliant but… Beware of camels

Despite its urge for modernity, Dubai’s traditions have remained intact. Visitors will notice many signs (such as the “Beware of camels crossing” street sign) that will lead them beyond the emirate’s diamond-encrusted surface to its priceless Arabian soul.

Instead of lingering in the mall, why not explore the colourful souks, or traditional outdoor markets, brimming with dried fruits, bright fabrics, sweet incense, hookahs and souvenirs. Get lost in the Dubai Gold Souk among the kilos of 24 carat gold (no price tags there: it’s all up to your negotiating skills!). The Deira Spice Souk will enchant your senses as you pass by the piles of cinnamon, yellow saffron and aniseed.

Why not ignore the Formula 1 and rather see a camel race or get to know the sheik’s favourite hobby, the falconry. If you are tired of Western comfort, head for a more adventurous accommodation at the Bedouin villages in the desert. Sleeping in tents, going on camel safaris, drinking tea with the Bedouins and covering your hands with henna tattoos will make you live a true Arabian tale.

Arabian days and Arabian nights

Those who are genetically socialite will fall in love with Dubai. There is no better place for high-class entertainment and shopping all year long. Here, spending money is as natural as breathing..

Relatively low prices, no VAT and mind-blowing malls attract thousands of shopaholics, especially during the Dubai Shopping Festival.

After an intense shopping marathon you can relax (showing off your new golf sweater) at one of Dubai’s exclusive golf courses. Other sports will keep you busy at the Dubai Sports City, whereas bolder athletes can try sandsurfing and micro lighting.

A long day of activities requires an equally long night of fun in Dubai’s restaurants and clubs. As always, the best way to get acquainted with a new culture is through its cuisine. Although Dubai offers an impressive selection of menus, choose a typical Arabian dinner. You can climb up a skyscraper for a dinner with a breathtaking view on the side or enjoy Oriental delicacies with live music and belly dancers on a boat sailing down the beautiful Dubai Creek.

Naturally, after an arduous night of clubbing, the best place to recover in the morning is the fashionable Jumeirah Beach adored by the Dubai society.

Intriguing and Intercultural

An interesting fact about Dubai’s society is that about 85% of it is made up of expatriates. The many immigrants from Asia and Europe have imported their corresponding cultures resulting in a true melting pot. Yet, Dubai remains a traditionally Muslim state, where strict religious rules are respected by its entire multi-ethnic population.

Overall, once those simple rules are understood, everyone, not necessarily shamelessly rich, or posh or important, can find their own, Dazzling, Unforgettable, Brimming, Alluring, Inspiring definition of Dubai!

A guest post by Nazeli K. Kyuregyan.

14 Responses

  • Keith you are such an amazing writer. The thoughts you have expressed about Dubai is impressive.

  • Nazeli thank you for the beautiful post i find it to be extremely interesting and very much similar to my own experience in Dubai. I was there for 3 weeks and your article helped me relive those wonderful times once again. An amazing place, delicious cuisines, beautiful western buildings and the unforgettable moments at the Bedouin villages make me want to drop everything and head to Dubai again:).

    P.S. I as well did spot some of those ‘beware of camel’ signs, wicked!

  • Thank you for your comment Lara! I am sure the readers will appreciate your clarifications.

    What I try to convey in an article is the right balance between factual information and notions concerning the spirit of the place. Too many facts (or scientific truth) would make an article boring; their complete lack would make it superficial. When I try to describe the ‘soul’ of a place (as opposed to a simple list of places to see, easily found on the Internet), generalisation is inevitable. That’s because I can’t say everything about a place – in a single article, I can’t allow myself a detailed description of Dubai’s architecture, for example. So I filter, and filtering, you will agree, is a subjective process. I am sure that you, who have been living in Dubai for many years now, would write a very different piece about it, just as I, who have been living in Italy since 2003, might see Venice in a completely different light than you do.

    I don’t mean to be polemical, that’s just how I see it! Thank you again for having taken the time to read and comment! Cheers

  • Nazeli, interesting post, though a few errors I can’t resist pointing out, sorry (Dubai’s been my home since 1998):
    * Dubai, the city (in contrast to Dubai, the emirate/state) isn’t actually in the desert and as a coastal town, it never was, though it only takes 15 minutes (in good traffic; longer of course during peak hour) to get out of the city and into the desert. That’s a myth that seems to be continually perpetuated.
    * Deserts do actually have an abundance of life – wildlife, plantlife – it’s just difficult for the untrained eye to find it – but stay overnight in the UAE desert and you’ll wake up to see the sand covered in all kinds of tracks belonging to overnight visitors!
    * The ‘facade’ by which I assume you mean the architecture isn’t all that Western either; in fact it’s very Middle Eastern/Asian, even the modern apartment blocks – there are typical flourishes and shapes that are quintessential Arab/Eastern – I’ve just spent 4 months in SE Asia and I’ve been noticing a lot of similarities between the architecture of Thailand/Cambodia/Laos/Vietnam and the cities in the Arabian peninsula/Levant/North Africa, details you just don’t find in the Europe, UK, USA or Australia.
    * There are no ‘beware of camel’ signs on the city road; you have to drive a fair way along the road to Al Ain to find them.

    Debbie – Dubai (and the rest of the country) is home to some extraordinarily ‘real’ people – locals and expats, rich/poor, upper/middle/working class, of all nationalities – some people just have greater difficulty meeting people than they do in other places, and I’ve never been able to figure out exactly why that is. I don’t think the UAE government cares less than any other government about its poor – I’ve seen far greater poverty and discrimination in other countries, the USA for instance.

  • Thanks Sarah! It is a tough job trying to sum up your home town in 400 words. I know I would need many more words for Amsterdam. Haha!


  • I live in Dubai, and blog about the region. It’s always a treat reading an outsider’s view. How do you sum up your home town in 400 words? I probably couldn’t to save my life. Fairly comprehensive capture though. Cheers.

  • Great Post by Nazeli K. Kyuregyan, she has Concluded some of the best spots in Dubai and Its specialties like Dubai deserts, Dubai creek and souks.

  • Dubai is interesting in its quest for dominance to have the “biggest”. The beaches and hotels all look wonderful and intriguing. That said I haven’t decided how I really feel about Dubai. The “real” people of Dubai are poorer than poor and the government doesn’t seem to really care. Interesting post though!

  • Thank you Marco. Dubai is certainly a land of contrasts. The idea of skiing in the desert just blows my mind. 🙂


  • Very nice post Keith, showing black and white in a land with such dissimilar elements!

Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Appeared In