The emirate of Dubai is viewed by many as being the pearl of the Middle East. It is one of the world’s most luxurious destinations and every year, tourists from around the globe flock to the destination, eager to experience the magic of its endless, white beaches, sensational shopping malls and luxury hotels. Interestingly enough, the city of Dubai was originally a small fishing village which was known for being a source of pearls. It was not until the late 19th century under the rule of Sheikh Maktoum that the city really began to emerge as the commercial heart of the east. The discovery of oil and continued trade saw Dubai developing into the business and tourism giant that it is today.
Dubai is fast gaining a new reputation – for affordable holidays. Travellers to Dubai are finding that there are now plenty of chances to enjoy this Emirate’s glamour and excitement without paying the earth. The sun, sand, sea and fabulous skyline are, of course, free to all. Anyone can stare at the breathtaking sight of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa at 2,722ft, and anyone can enjoy public beaches, such as the renowned Jumeirah sands. This clean, white-sand beach stretches down to a crystal-clear sea that is calm and beautifully warm. But alongside is a 12-acre ‘beach park’ with volleyball courts, playground, showers and changing rooms, all completely free. Indeed, none of Dubai’s parks charges – and that includes great holiday spots like Mushrif Park, which offers swimming pools, play areas and camel rides. Creek Park has a 1,200-seat amphitheatre for open-air performances and Safa Park has three lakes, more than 200 species of birds and a sports complex with football pitches and jogging tracks.
There’s also the amazing new Dubai Fountain, which sits in a 30-acre lake and blasts water 500ft into the air. Anybody can watch the fountain’s remarkable displays, which are synchronised with music and accompanied by light shows so impressive they can be seen from space. Horse races are a major part of Dubai’s winter social calendar – and the great news for budget travellers is that entry to these is also free. There are even free prize competitions for visitors to pick winners. Better still, the new Meydan racecourse is due to open later this month and will attract the world’s top jockeys.
However, an even more exotic free experience is camel-racing. The best place to go is probably Nad Al Sheba track, which hosts morning races.
Dubai may have some of the world’s most expensive luxury hotels but it also has a whole range of more affordable places to stay, including four Ibis hotels, two Holiday Inn Expresses and a Premier Inn (with a rooftop pool and rooms from under £50).
Dubai has always been renowned as a trading centre, and businessmen in the souks (traditional Arabian markets) compete to sell exotic Eastern produce to Westerners.
With its growing reputation as a tax-free shopping capital, the Emirate is one of the best retail destinations in the world.
The souks showcase products ranging from gold, spices and textiles to fruit and fish and are great places to haggle. There are more bargains in the luxury shops.
Dubai Outlet Mall, the only discount mall in the Middle East, is home to more than 800 of the world’s top fashion brands, such as Calvin Klein and Guess. The 240 stores feature classic outlet mall discounts of up to 90 per cent.
During the Dubai Shopping Festival, from January 28 to February 28, there are extra festivities with free entertainment, prize raffles and special cut-price travel, hotel and shopping offers. The malls offer cheap food all year round to attract customers.
Everyone has heard of Dubai’s Michelin-starred gourmet chefs, but the humble street stalls and bistros give visitors a colourful chance to sample local specialities cheaply.
It has never been easier to reach Dubai. There are now more than 100 flights between the UK and Dubai every week and the Al Maktoum International Airport is due to open later this year.