Dubai City Guide

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Dubai, once a humble pearl-diving center, is now one of the fastest growing cities on earth and the dynamic nucleus of the Arabian Gulf region. As one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities, it's a destination for the 21st century, a place where well-heeled visitors flock to ultra-luxurious resorts.

But to fully understand Dubai's transformation you must immerse yourself in its ancient culture, and what better place to do that than in a souk. Dubai's two main ones, Bur Dubai and Bur Deira, offer a look into daily shopping venues of the past. In the narrow alleyways of the spice souk, you'll sense the atmosphere and smell the scents of the past. Outside each stall are stacks of bags containing spices, incense, rose petals and traditional medicinal products. Go through the large wooden doors leading to the cool interior of each one. A short walk from the spice souk is the gold souk. Here, bargaining is the norm.

It's also a city of firsts — Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building and Palm Jumeirah, Palm Deira, and Palm Jebel Ali, the world's first artificial islands resort. But there's so much more.

Even though Dubai offers the latest in amenities and creature comforts, its culture dates back to the third millennium at archaeological sites Al Sufouh and Jumeirah, artifacts from which now fill the Dubai Museum.

Al Fahidi Fort, which now houses the Dubai Museum, dates from 1787 and once guarded the landward approaches to the town. Its colorful life-size dioramas depict everyday life in the days before the discovery of oil. Exhibition galleries recreate scenes from Dubai Creek, traditional Arab houses, mosques, a souk, date farms, as well as desert and marine life. You can even learn about pearl diving through exhibits displaying pearl merchants' weights, scales and sieves. A short walk from Al Fahidi Fort, lies the old district of Al Fahidi, with its narrow lanes, tall wind towers, and the largest concentration of traditional courtyard houses in the city.

But to truly get an idea of what life was like in Dubai 400 years ago, you should visit the restored 16th century Hatta Village, with its traditional style village architecture. Inside, you'll see two watchtowers, a mosque and houses constructed of stone, mud, reeds and palm tree trunks built around the imposing Hatta Fort.

The buildings lining the Bur Dubai side of the creek promenade provide a panorama of the old city. The traditional facades of these buildings have been restored to their original state, with wooden windows, decorative gypsum panels and screens.

Dubai also has many fine mosques. One of the largest and most beautiful, the Jumeirah Mosque, is a spectacular example of modern Islamic architecture. Built of stone in medieval Fatimid tradition, the mosque, with its twin minarets and majestic dome, is a city landmark.

The Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary, established in 1985 and covering an area of 2.4 square miles (6.2 square kilometers), supports more than 20,000 water birds of 67 species, including nearly 2,000 greater flamingos, and acts as a staging ground for the wintering birds of the East African-West Asian Flyway. The site also hosts more than 500 species of flora and fauna and is one of the best managed arid zone wetlands in the region. Located within the City of Dubai, it should be a must-see destination on your list of places to see in this uniquely Arab city.