Globally, Dubai is perfectly located for stopover programs but also delivers impeccably well with shiny and new world class hotels, action-packed activities and some of the most unique experiences you’ll ever have. No doubt there’s plenty of bling in the City of Gold, but Totem Group’s Tanya Wick goes a step further in unearthing plenty of gems ‘beyond the bling’. There are some incredible opportunities for groups, conferences and incentive trips.
The transformation of Dubai from a fishing and trade port to the thriving city it is today is absolutely phenomenal.
With all the superlatives of the biggest, tallest, first of and much more, these hold great appeal for travellers, but it is what is also beyond the bling which elevates an experience to Dubai. So let’s take a peek at beyond the bling as well as a bit of bling and discover why this is a compelling combination.
Beyond the bling
The cultural, historical and nature based experiences are all beyond the bling. For many travellers this is what sets Dubai apart and is the most appealing aspect of the destination.
Bastakia Quarter is a heritage site built in the late 19th century as a home of wealthy Persian merchants. Bastakia is on the eastern portion of Bur Dubai along the creek. Fully restored and persevered, it is a glimpse of authentic Arabian architecture and a place you can walk the narrow lanes to discover the best of old world Dubai, galleries and cafes.
Dubai Creek (pictured above) was once the lifeblood of the city and separates Dubai into two towns with Deira to the north and Bur Dubai to the south. Some of the dhows (boats) anchored here are over 100 years old and trade still continues from Dubai Creek to surrounding cities and countries.
Crossing the Creek was one of my first visits to Dubai in 1999. My strongest memory was crossing the creek on a small motorised wooden boat called an abra. At the bustling shoreline I stepped onto the abra and was whisked from Dera near the Spice Souk to Bur Dubai with locals and tourist alike for just 1 dirham and today it is still 1 dirham. I remember feeling the energy of Dubai and taking a short journey that has been taken for hundreds years of crossing the creek.
Dubai Museum and Al Fahidi Fort. The museum encapsulates the Emirate’s history and the building itself is a significant piece of history as it is located in the Al Fahidi Fort, built in 1787 to defend the Dubai Creek. The fort has been the residence of the ruling family, a seat of government, garrison and a prison. The exhibition takes you on a journey from a fishing village to the expansion post oil boom and the city it is today. A visit to the museum is a great way to introduce new visitors to the history and culture of the Emirates and it works well into a half day tour with the Souks and the Creek.
Iranian Mosque is one of the more colourful of the mosques in Dubai with a highly decorative façade of azure blue and intricate floral motifs. The only Iranian mosque in Dubai, it is one of the hidden jewels to discover.
Creekside Restaurant & Cafe is the hidden gem of Dubai, where there you won’t find bling nor white table cloths and gold cutlery. This is a down to earth, humble and tasty restaurant that will not blow your budget, but will blow your mind with the atmosphere and stunning views overlooking the creek. Enjoy a simple meal complete with shisha, a great local experience.
A bit of bling…
These man-made feats of architecture and big ideas have put Dubai on the map.
Burj Khalifa: this 160-storey behemoth (above) is truly amazing. This landmark is the tallest building in the world and the most famous of the city’s attractions. A must see on the 124th floor is the observation deck with views across the city skyline.
Dubai Aquarium: located on the ground floor of the Dubai Mall is 140 species of sea life in a suspended tank. Viewing can be from the mall, or via the Underwater Zoo, where you can walk through the aquarium tunnels. You can do glass bottom boat tours, cage snorkelling and even shark diving.
Dubai Mall: the entrance to the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Aquarium is a mall like no other. Multiple forms of entertainment present via an ice-skating rink, games zone, cinema and endless dining options.
Mall of the Emirates: where else can you go for a ski inside a mall in a city by the desert? Here you will find chairlifts, ski slope and a penguin enclosure as well all the other entertainment of cinemas, dining and, of course, shopping.
Burj Al-Arab: one of the most iconic buildings in Dubai resembling a billowing dhow sail, the Burj Al-Arab is a luxurious and opulent hotel. You can experience the decadence of dinner in the underwater restaurant Al-Mahara or a luxurious afternoon in the Skyview Bar with panoramic views of the coastline and the city.
Dubai Marina: a destination within itself, the region’s largest lifestyle waterfront development offers a residential complex, al fresco dining, stretches of sandy beach, shops, cafes, malls, luxury fashion and more. From yachting to jet skiing to skydiving, it has it all. A great place to take a walk along the marina wall and check out the local bling.
Hotels with the lot
Think of all the luxury hotel brands and you can bet they are in Dubai. They are opulent, lavish, Michelin starred and oh-so-much more. Whether it’s the beachfront, the city or the desert, Dubai really does have it all. With so much to choose from it is hard to know where to start, so here are a few top favourites that are beachfront, desert and city.
Madinat Jumeriah Resort: a tribute to age old Arabian architecture and life along the Dubai Creek, the Madinat (pictured above) is a modern oasis complete with waterways, abras, wind towers and a bustling souk. With its own pristine private beach the resort comprises of three hotels as well as summerhouses and villas. The opulent Jumeirah Al Qasr is the jewel hotel of the three.
Al Maha Desert Resort: this spectacular resort showcases the heritage of the Bedouins and provides guests a sense of adventure in the heart of the desert.
JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai: located on Sheikh Zayed Road, right by the creek and not far from Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall, this city hotel is great for leisure and business travellers.
A travel incentives and conferences hub
Dubai presents a special mix of easy access with direct flights from around Australia on Emirates Airlines, an immense number of luxury hotels from the city to the beach to the desert and all the old and the new attractions which make up the identity of the city. It is more than a stopover destination and with the right balance of experiences it is ideal for travel incentives and conferences.
I am barely scratching the surface of the great hotels and attractions that Dubai has to offer. One thing is for sure, when you combine the bling and with the authenticity beyond the bling, Dubai is one of those special destinations that is ideal for travel incentives and conferences.