© Victor Beuren / Culture Trip

The Insider Guide

Rising out of the desert sands, the emirate of Dubai is the steely lovechild of ambition and tradition, drawing millions to its oft man-made shores for business and pleasure each year. Tick off the major attractions in the flower of the Arabian Gulf before you delve beneath its surface with our handy insider guide.

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The Main Attractions

You'll probably see Dubai's two biggest attractions before you even reach the runway. Standing at a whopping 829.8m (2,722ft), the Burj Khalifa has been the world's tallest building since 2009, and seeing it in the flesh (especially from the air) really packs a punch – while the Burj Al Arab, smaller at 321m (1,053ft) but no less iconic, stands proudly on the shore like the enormous full sail of a luxurious yacht. Balance out these modern feats with a stop at the Al Fahidi Historic District, where narrow lanes wind through a neighbourhood dating from the 1890s, now home to a collection of small museums, galleries and cafés. If filling your Insta feed is a top priority, you're in the right place. Head to the Dubai Mall to stock up on the latest designer togs, then prepare to get posing. Fancy a shot of Dubai's surreal skyline set within an enormous gilded structure? The towering 150m (492ft)-high Dubai Frame has you covered. Prefer selfies on the sand while turquoise waves lap at your feet? Jumeirah Beach might be more your speed – or, if you like your shoreline opulent, artificial and speckled with upmarket eateries, hotels and shops, opt for a spell on the breathtaking Palm Islands. If you'd rather fill your itinerary with history than hashtags, the Dubai Museum offers an excellent introduction to the emirate's culture through a series of galleries and exhibits, and – housed within the Al Fahidi Fort, Dubai's oldest existing building – is as fascinating outside as in. Likewise, a visit to the Jumeirah Mosque is a peaceful window into the city's Islamic traditions (though it's also the most photographed mosque in all of Dubai, so you might want to take a few snaps), while you'll be surrounded by 50 million flowers at the Dubai Miracle Garden – a fitting end to your time in a city which made the desert bloom.

Neighborhoods in Dubai