Does Dubai Have a Soul?

Posted by - February 18, 2013 | Category: Escapes, Middle East, United Arab Emirates

Dubai Private Tour

The “city” label doesn’t suit Dubai too much. Nope, that just won’t do. “City” is too…average, too plain-Jane for this over-the-top metropolis. Instead, the largest (and loudest) city-state in the United Arab Emirates prefers to go by multiple monikers, so it has cities within the city.

Bear with me.

There’s the IT  center, called Dubai Internet City. The family-oriented shopping/eating/what-to-do-with-the-kids-on-the-weekend hub of Dubai Festival City (home to that “McDonald’s of Furniture,” IKEA.) There’s also a Dubai Media City and even an Old City, except it’s called Old Town, and it’s a very pricey and modern residential area. Even the old comes with a price here.

In reality, they’re just neighbourhoods. But neighbourhoods just sounds too folksy for Dubai, so a parade of Cities it is.

I was glad to have a chap by the name of Sunil sort it all out during a private tour of Dubai through the good folks at

Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel, Dubai, UAE

Our first stop after picking us up from the Mövenpick Bur Dubai was Emirates Towers, and although the Jumeirah Emirates Towers is the 5th tallest hotel in the world, it seems puny in this neighbourhood, errr…city – 5 of the top 10 ten tallest residential buildings in the world are nearby at the Dubai Marina.

Downtown Dubai, United Arab EmiratesAfter a photo-op we headed to the Mall of the Emirates, home to people like this kid – waltzing through the mall with his ski bag…Kid with skis, Dubai, UAE Dubai private tour…because the Mall of the Emirates is the home to Ski Dubai – the first (and from what I can gather, the only) indoor ski resort in the Middle East.Ski Dubai, Dubai, Mall of the Emirates, United Arab EmiratesConsidering Dubai’s penchant for titles, I was a bit surprised to hear that Ski Dubai is not the largest indoor ski resort– that honour goes to SnowWorld in Landgraaf, the Netherlands, although there are plans afoot to outdo that one when Skipark360° in Sweden gets their act together (which begs the question, “Why does Sweden need an indoor ski resort – don’t they have enough snow?”)

Dubai Private City TourIn any case, it was interesting to peek through the Plexiglas to get a glimpse of the lengths people will go to for a half-pipe or half-turn or half-plié or whatever it is that people who ski do.Interior of Ski Dubai, United Arab EmiratesNext up was another photo-op at Atlantis, the mammoth hotel/waterpark located on The Palms man-made islands. The thing about The Palms is that it doesn’t look like you’re on a pile of reclaimed sand dredged from the Persian Gulf when you’re actually on it, it just looks like you’re in a residential neighbourhood (sorry “CITY”) with a big fat waterpark at the end of the block. It’s much more impressive from the air.

Residential area, The Palms, Dubai, UAE

tunnel to Atlantis Hotel, The Palms, Dubai, UAEAtlantis, Dubai, UAEThe Burj Al Arab was the next stop on our Dubai private tour. I had been inside once before — back in 2006 I went with a friend for High Tea. I capitalize that out of fanciness, because it was pretty fancy (it IS the world’s only seven-star hotel) and because the tea was also 80 bucks per person, so I think it deserves the uppercase treatment for that alone. The tour took us near the entrance (you have to be a guest or have a reservation for High Tea or one of the hifalutin restaurants to get in) and I was just fine with that.Burj al Arab, Dubai, UAELike the Burj Al Arab, the nearby Souk Madinat Jumeirah is pretty fancy too.Dubai, United Arab Emirates 168But like much of Dubai, it’s the type of place that has no soul. It’s more like a mall, with all that A/C and those spotless toilets and that smug boutique-y “look at me, I’m designed to look old, but I’m really quite new” air.Souk Madinat JumeirahThere were plenty of trinkets though. That’s something I suppose. And did I mention it had A/C?statues for sale at Souk Madinat Jumeirahcamel for sale at Souk Madinat JumeirahThe real soul of Dubai (if it has one) is in its real souks – the Gold Souk and the Spice Souk in Deira. We took a water taxi to get there.water taxi, Bur Dubai, UAEAnd saw views like this…Dubai, United Arab Emirates 218…and folks like this.Dubai private city tour, LocalGuiding.comAnd spices like these…Dubai, United Arab Emirates 229Incense, Dubai, United Arab EmiratesSpices at souq, Dubai, United Arab Emirates…and incense burners like these.Incense burners, Dubai, United Arab EmiratesAnd of course “Natural Viagra”…Natural Viagra, Dubai, United Arab Emirates…and fashions for the whole family.Souk at Deira, Dubai, UAEchild mannequins in Arabic clothing dubai private tourGold Souk, Dubai, UAEAnd plenty of gold.Gold Souk, Dubai

This is still Dubai after all.

After the parade of biggest/tallest/showiest that has come to define Dubai, it was nice to see at least a glimmer of its past, and its soul. Even if was wrapped in 24 karats.

Note: My Dubai private tour was compliments of, but the opinions expressed are all mine.

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38 comments - add one
      1. Oh yes, it is a contest! I lived in Dubai for about 4 years (and also struggled to find its soul while in there) and I can tell you it is so much of a contest that there is competition not only between Dubai and other parts of the world… but also between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which is pretty ridiculous considering they’re both emirates within the same country.

        Dubai want to be the biggest at everything… but big isn’t always best!.. and that’s what Dubai still needs to learn.

  1. I have honestly no idea how to imagine what Dubai is like, and was until now always a bit intimidated by all the “biggest”, “grandest” and “most expensive” (even though they have an IKEA, there’s a tiny sigh of relief from this common gal), so thank you for finding Dubai’s soul. Because even with all the impressing amazingness, there always needs to be a place where people are keeping it real and where you can just walk around and buy some spices or some natural viagra if you feel like it. Wait. What the heck is ‘Natural viagra’??

  2. I love the middle east, and I adore Dubai. I think you have to accept it for what it is – trying to make it something it’s not is a mistake because you’ll simply be searching for something that’s not there. My family live here so I’ve spent lots of time exploring the city (old and new) and I find both sides of the city are equally enthralling. The old city is great as it’s still traditional and the daily fishing culture is still in full swing. The new side of the city is magical in it’s own way too though – you just have to be accepting of how new it is and the fact it’s such a new city and it’s still growing. I don’t think the soul of Dubai is only found necessarily in the old parts – try looking in the new parts too – there are some beautiful things to see and experience. 🙂

  3. OK Raymond, nothing against you but I was really turned off by the glitz and glamour of Dubai. It seems a rather empty place. Huge buildings and high class but no substance. I liked the Gold Souk area and Spice Souk area but then the stuff for sell looked very touristy. Maybe the people and the Old Town “city” is more authentic where you get a taste of the local culture. Then again, maybe it is what it is – a high class glamorous city with tall buildings and excess without much substance.

  4. I’ve always wanted to go to Dubai. It’s funny — when I posted last year about skiing in Vegas, several people thought it was a Ski Dubai situation. Um no, Nevada has a mountain lol.

  5. Ah Dubai. It’s on my bucket list but I have yet to go (it’s a big bucket). The indoor ski resort, trips me out every time and of course there’s the architecture… Some of the craziest designs I’ve ever seen! Dubai is an ironic metaphor. Its past is probably more fascinating to me but I hope to ingest it all for myself one day. Thanks for the share! Love the blog.

  6. Love your post and agree with your premise. Did you go to the Dubai Museum? It begins with their history starting in the 1940s. Essentially, it’s a museum to the culture they wished they had. Great post and love your pictures!

    1. Glad you liked it Lance! I did not make it to the museum. The UAE government is supposed to lift the visa restriction for Canadians next month though, so I will have plenty of chances to check it out (it’s only a 3.5 hour drive from here in Muscat.)

      Thanks for dropping by!

  7. My friend and I took a Dubai city tour with Sunil of Star Mark Tours. We had a wonderful tour and saw many of the sites in Dubai. We saw Ski Dubai at the Mall of the Emirates, the Dubai marina, the Palm and Atlantis, the old quarter, including an abra ride across the Dubai Creek, including stops at the Gold Souk and the Spice Souk. A stop a the Madinat Jumeriah, and also a stop at the Dubai Mall and Burj Kahlifa (sp?). Also saw the Dubai Museum.Sunil was very informative about Dubai and its history and culture. I highly recommend a tour of Dubai with Sunil. Mary H.


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