Although commonly known simply as Dubai the city is only a part of a vast desert area which forms the emirate with the same name. Here are the main areas of the city and the outlying region, and what you will find in them.
The long, lazy S of the Creek (Khor Dubai) is the artery around which the city has grown and prospered, and from where it derives much of its character. An intriguing mix of trading, fishing and tourist vessels constantly ply its waters.
Despite the bulldozing and building that is swiftly re-shaping Dubai, the Creek has managed to stay one of the most characterful areas in Dubai, and remains a busy thoroughfare.
This area of Dubai is truly eclectic, mixing the traditional with the modern. To the west is souk land, a rabbit warren of narrow alleys, where cheap eateries jostle for space with overflowing shops selling goods of every description.
Further east in Deira and along the bank of the Creek, you will find ancient dhows loading and unloading their cargos. Next to them rise striking buildings such as the glittering glass and steel towers of Deira’s burgeoning business district. Attractions in this area of Dubai include Deira City Centre mall, the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, the tennis stadium, Century & Irish Villages and Dubai Festival Centre, the location for yet more shops, restaurants and entertainment.
The bustling Bur Dubai area is the location of some of Dubai’s most historic buildings, including the beautiful wind-towered Al Fahidi Historical District – the old mercantile headquarters.
Bur Dubai houses the Diwan (Ruler’s office) where matters of state are decided. The old fort, now the Dubai Museum, traces the city’s development. There is a bustling business hub, a textile souk, a street full of electronics shops, plus many residential apartment blocks, as well as many outdoor eateries and shisha cafés along the Creek.
Oud Metha is a largely residential area of Dubai, but also home to an array of recreational and educational facilities. There are classy shops at the glorious reincarnation of ancient Egypt that is Wafi City, excellent eateries at the nearby Pyramids, some seriously sophisticated bars at the adjoining Raffles Dubai hotel as well as additional retail opportunities at Lamcy Plaza.
Take your pick from bowling, ice skating, cable car rides, the Wonderland Theme and Water Park and daily dinner dhow cruises from Al-Boom Tourist Village. This area of Dubai is also home to Dubai Healthcare City, a state-of-the-art medical facility.
Sheikh Zayed Road
Heading south-west from Trade Centre Roundabout towards Abu Dhabi, the famous 12-lane Sheikh Zayed Road runs parallel to the coast. Lined with hotels, malls, office and apartment blocks of stunning chrome and glass, the architecture speaks of eye-popping wealth and conspicuous consumption.
A mass of record-breaking new developments have sprung up in this area of Dubai, including the distinctive gate-shaped DIFC (Dubai International Financial Centre) – home to Dubai’s very own financial exchange – and the vertigo-inducing Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, surrounded by the Dubai Fountain.
Jumeirah and Satwa
Jumeirah is an affluent suburb crammed with all the facilities needed to live the good life: desirable properties, art galleries, boutiques, lovely parks and beautiful people. This area of Dubai is a soap opera neighbourhood in the making, with some of the well-heeled female residents being dubbed the Jumeirah Jane set.
There is a plethora of malls and beauty salons, but also many pleasant cafés. Jumeira Beach Park offers a convenient place to top up the tan, while a busy coastal cycle path runs along the beach. The nearby oasis of Safa Park provides fairground rides and sports in a green, shady environment.
In contrast, neighbouring Satwa is earthy and atmospheric, best known for its textile shops and excellent tailors. However, even this bastion of old Dubai is planning radical reconstruction as this area of Dubai is prime real estate. See it now before it changes forever. And while you’re there, it’s worth catching a glimpse of the Thursday and Friday night traffic parade along 2nd December Street (formerly known as Al Dhiyafah Street).
Umm Suqeim and Al Sofouh
The southerly stretch of the west coast leads away from the heart of Dubai into a totally different world, although a burgeoning host of luxury residential projects, exclusive five-star resorts and chart-topping attractions are busy breathing new meaning into the term ‘ground-breaking’.
Umm Suqeim boasts the Burj Al-Arab, Wild Wadi and the Jumeirah Beach Hotel. Further south, and home to the exquisite One & Only Royal Mirage, Al-Sufouh is sandwiched between the high-profile Madinat Jumeirah and Dubai Marina developments, and controls the entrance to the man-made Palm Jumeirah project.
One of the first areas to allow foreign ownership of property, New Dubai has grown from several modest housing developments to include Dubai Marina, and Jumeriah Lake Towers, with its 200 plus high-rise properties. Inland, it features low-lying residential areas surrounded by lakes, meadows and golf courses.