Until recently, Dubai and culture seldom came together in the same sentence. But things continue to change on this front, and today there is more than just the Dubai Museum to give you a feel for Dubai's heritage and culture.
Although there are not so many must-see cultural attractions, Bastakiya is a picture-perfect restoration of an early Arabian neighborhood, and a walk through here will give you a strong sense of Dubai's history. Spend a little time walking or taking a dhow along the creek, the city's lifeline where dhows haul their traditional trade. Be sure to visit the Gold and Spice souks, where business is conducted in the same traditional way that Arabian markets have done for centuries.
Many of Dubai's best art galleries are located in the city's Al Quoz area, an otherwise unappealing industrial zone of factories and warehouses. Yet a dynamic arts community thrives here and there are a number of art spaces worth visiting. Other galleries have opened in major malls and hotels as Dubai tries to build a more culture-conscious image.
Dubai is recognized around the world for its ambitious tourism developments, which have helped turn the tiny emirate into a major travel destination in just a couple of decades. Among its most extraordinary feats, Dubai recently opened the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa (previously known as Burj Dubai), Dubai Mall, one of the planet's biggest shopping centers, and the Palm Jumeirah, which is home to Atlantis, The Palm. This may be some of Dubai's last grandiose investments for a while, though - other extravagant projects, such as The World and most of Dubailand, were put on hold or canceled as a result of the 2009 global financial crisis and Dubai's staggering debt. It remains to be seen which of these stalled projects will get another chance.
The attractions already here are meant to impress. The fact that the indoor Ski Dubai was built is an accomplishment in its own right; that it's located in one of the world's hottest deserts almost exceeds imagination. And you can even visit Ski Dubai without straying more than a few feet from the comfort of your own Kempinski ski chalet or the air-conditioned corridors of Mall of the Emirates - just where you want to be in summer when the outside air is hot as Hades and will nearly melt your sunglasses. The obvious alternative is to head to Aquaventure at the Atlantis resort and spend the afternoon whizzing down water slides and dunking your head in tide pools and lagoons, just after spending the morning swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Bay.
Except in the very hottest months, Dubai is a paradise for outdoor sports, particularly for beach activities, golf, and tennis. All of the major beach resorts offer watersports, and a number of excellent parks invite you to walk, jog, rollerblade, or go for a bicycle ride. Camel and horse racing are important aspects of Dubai's heritage, and the emirate today hosts championship races as well as international golf and tennis tournaments. A desert safari is one of the most fun activities you can do outside the city, complete with dune bashing in a 4WD, camel riding, delicious dining under the stars, and Arabian entertainment. Those who have more time may want to consider an overnight camping adventure in the desert to get a more in-depth perspective of Arabic life outside the booming Dubai metropolis.