Three Things Thursday; UAE top three

Happy 2017 readers! And with a short crimbo holiday under my belt to aid in the recovery from finally completing my studies (huzzah), I brought in the new year with three…

…fun things to do on a trip to the United Arab Emirates.

Thing 1 ~ Burj Khalifa and dancing fountains, Dubai

Of course it’s top of the list. In order of anticipated questions, my brief answers are:

– yes, it’s impressive

– yes, you can see it from a long way away

– no, I didn’t go up it

Day one of my holiday dawned somewhat hazy and the misty spire of the Burj Khalifa – still currently the world’s tallest tower – beckoned. Also beckoning was the world’s biggest shopping mall, Dubai Mall, which sits at the base of the tower and holds numerous other superlative titles. I would add to the list my award for ‘world’s most gobsmackingly opulent mall shopping experience’. Even the supermarket is fancy. Feeling peckish, we followed the signs to the supermarket expecting a Lulu or Carrefour, and ended up in Waitrose.



I love tall buildings. I don’t know why as they definitely sit at odds with my live-on-a-carbon-neutral farm made of egg-boxes, recycle everything, bike everywhere (ideally on a bike made of bamboo and hemp) general attitude to life. The Burj Khalifa is definitely one of the most beautiful very tall buildings I’ve seen, with Malaysia’s Petronas Towers a close second. From the petal shaped lower levels the building recedes from the eye to a needle-thin point 830 metres above. The tapering effect means it doesn’t have the same massive impressiveness of the skyscrapers of Manhattan which seem to close in over your head, despite being less than half the size, but if fairy tales had immense glass-and-steel megastructures in them, they would look like this.

The best spot to see it from is definitely from the Souq Al Bahar, a small, laid-back mall just across from the Dubai Mall by the lake and fountains. From 6pm onwards, pick a spot by the lake and watch the dancing fountains – another superlative as “the world’s largest choreographed fountain system” (Wikipedia). They’re definitely going on my list as the quest to find more magical water systems continues, although the splendour of the Lima fountains remains undiminished. Be prepared to use your elbows to get a good view!

Get there: the Metro red line goes straight to Burj Khalifa / Dubai Mall station and an 850 metre covered walkway transports you straight to the mall. The metro is clean, quick, cheap, and busy but not crazy-busy. Recommended!

Thing 2 Dubai creek and around, Dubai


Deira waterfront at dusk

Dubai marina

Dubai marina

There are two great marine areas in Dubai, excluding the spectacular beaches. Wikipedia reliably cites another raft of ‘-ests’ for the Dubai marina area in the south of the city; world’s largest artificial marina and world’s tallest block (of residential skyscrapers) among them. While it’s very pretty, and a nice area to walk in the pleasant winter temperatures, I preferred the more hectic Dubai Creek in the north of the city.

Unlike the glitzier developments above, Dubai Creek is a natural feature, although helpfully augmented for trade in the mid-20th century. It also has a great mix of real life alongside the extravagance the city is known for. A broad park and walkway runs along much of the north bank in the district of Deira. Hotels like the Marriot and Hyatt line the road, but behind them are regular buildings housing regular folk going about regular lives. The other end of the creek has been extended all the way into the downtown area (near the Khalifa Tower), but the Deira / Shindaga end hosts the historic heart of Dubai. A visit to the gold and spice souqs on the north bank are a great introduction to middle-eastern culture. Relax with an evening cruise on a dhow. Take an abra, or traditional wooden ferry boat across the creek for 1 dirham (25¢) to explore further at Dubai Museum. Housed in an historical fort, this is a great walk-through overview of the last hundred years or so of the emirate’s development.

A little further down the road is the beautifully preserved Al Bastikiya district. A stroll through the cool, narrow alleyways will bring you to cafes and trinket shops for some great traditional mementos. Pass all the way through and back to the waterfront to walk past the grand mosque and back to the Old Souq and the water taxis. Or continue past these towards the docks to reach the Heritage Village, a further ten minutes walk. Here again there are well-preserved traditional buildings and winding alleys of craft shops and artisan’s workshops.

an 'abra'

an ‘abra’

Get there: the metro green line runs to Ras station on the north bank, closest to the gold and spice souqs. If you’re coming from downtown or the south of the city, get the metro red line in the direction of Rashidiya and change at Union station to the green line heading for Creek.

To cross to the south for the Dubai Museum, old souq etc. take an abra (water taxi) from the waterfront in front of the souqs. If you want to cross to the Heritage Village, walk past all the souqs towards the Shindaga tunnel. There is a pedestrian tunnel close to the main road tunnel under the creek which brings you out a five minute walk from the Heritage Village.

If you’re going directly to the south side of the creek, take the metro green line for Creek and get off at Al Ghubaiba station.

Thing 3 Masdar City, Abu Dhabi

The main draw in Abu Dhabi is probably Yas Island, the glitzy, beautiful home of more shops and also Ferrari World, a theme park based around Ferrari.

Fancying a quieter sort of trip, and having got myself glitzed-out in Dubai, I decided instead to go for the cultural attraction of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque and the peculiar Masdar City development, both one handy bus-ride from the centre.

I had read about Masdar City in the blogoshpere. However, in the true spirit of ‘everything I know about life, I learned in TEFL,’ Wonderboy reliably informed me it also features in one of our coursebooks at work. And it’s the subject of an ageing Time article. Conceived as the first zero-carbon, purpose-built green city in the mid-noughties, Masdar is a fascinating, self-contained well of cool air, quiet streets and a superbly well put-together blend of futuristic and traditional Arab architecture. Sadly, as the Time article points out, the project has not gone as planned, so the development is much smaller and less populated than it should be by now.

A couple of hours is plenty of time to spend looking around. Enjoy the cool breezes channelled through the narrow, shaded streets. Have a coffee near a water fountain quietly cooling the air. Enjoy the plants, cats, and architecture, the function of which is handily explained on plaques around the streets. Place your own eco-pledge on the ‘tree of promise’. Then jump on the bus back to the city.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Handily, the same bus that goes to Masdar (the 163, every two hours) also stops outside the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, another Abu Dhabi must-see. If you time your trip well, you can make it back, jump off the bus, and race around to the east side entrance in time for the 5pm free guided tour. I failed in my time planning and so missed out on the tour, but still took in a glorious sunset over this quite spectacular structure.

Get there: The 163 bus runs from the downtown and waterfront area of the city directly to Masdar, where it terminates. You can also stop there if you get a ‘Big Bus’ tour ticket. However, with bus travel in the city being cheap and easy, it’s a good thing to do under your own steam.

There’s a handy bus map and downloadable bus timetables on the Department of Transport’s website. This includes information on the regular E100 express bus between Abu Dhabi and neighbouring Dubai, running every 10 minutes and costing around $5 each way.

Covered walkways

Covered walkways

The links

Time magazine article about Masdar City:,8599,2043934,00.html

The 163 bus timetable, Abu Dhabi:

All Abu Dhabi bus timetables:

The Abu Dhabi bus route map (PDF):

Mosque at dusk

Mosque at dusk


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. nikki
    Apr 14, 2017 @ 18:06:49

    Hola Chica! Not heard from you for a while. How’s it running. Hope you still working, loving, sleeping waking and watching sunsets mi amiga salsa sister nikki



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