Dubai is nothing if not distinctive. The city-state by the sea is home to some of the world’s most absurd man-made structures and points of interest, from the tallest skyscraper (by far) to the largest artificial archipelago designed for residential use.
It’s hard to narrow the list of ridiculous Dubai monuments down to 10, but you have to stop somewhere. Next time you’re in the most dynamic emirate, check out these unforgettable attractions.
The world’s tallest skyscraper, for now, is the Burj Khalifa, a 160-story monolith that soars nearly 2,800 feet into the sky. That’s almost a kilometer, if you’re counting. Much of the structure is off-limits to the public, but the ANNEX is definitely worth a closer look; the rotating exhibits are designed to inform and delight visitors and building residents alike. And, of course, there’s an open-to-the-public observation deck with panoramic views of Dubai, the sea, the desert and—if you squint—perhaps the rocky coast of Iran in the far distance. (But perhaps not. Mirages are common in the desert, after all.)
Viewed from above, this ultra-exclusive housing and resort development resembles a giant palm frond. It juts out into the sea from Dubai’s increasingly crowded mainland, providing folks lucky (and wealthy) enough to live on it with stunning city views. If you’re just visiting, look for marina-side restaurants and clubs for an unforgettable sensory experience in a truly otherworldly monument to human ingenuity.
Autism Rocks Arena
When Dubai-based philanthropist Sanjay Shah launched Autism Rocks, he had no idea he’d set a course that would lead to the construction of a 30,000-seat, purpose-built arena—one of the largest in the Middle East—devoted exclusively to his cause.
But lead it did. Inaugurated in 2016 by Nicki Minaj and host to a slew of luminaries since (including the inimitable Guns N’ Roses), the Autism Rocks Arena has breathed new life into Dubai’s music scene. An even larger permanent arena, under construction nearby, promises to be a true game-changer.
Infinity Tower (Cayan Tower)
Formally known as Cayan Tower, Infinity Tower isn’t nearly as tall as the Burj Khalifa—it rises just over 300 meters, or about 1,000 feet. That doesn’t mean it’s any less impressive in its own right. Infinity Tower’s selling point is its shape: a gracefully twisting parallelogram rising from the depths of Dubai’s city center, its square roof standing in stark contrast to its effortless curves. It’s a photo op like you’ve never seen, so start snapping.
Below the hulking Infinity Tower lies Dubai Marina, the world’s largest man-made storage area for personal watercraft. The marina is the centerpiece of a thriving, high-end residential district (actually, given its size, several) and a popular destination for tourists, thanks to a twisting waterfront pedestrian path that comes alive on mild days. If you’re fortunate enough to have a boat, the view from the water is unforgettable.
Yes, you can ski in hot, flat Dubai. You just have to do it indoors.
Ski Dubai is excessive, even for the world’s most dynamic city-state. Its nearly 300-foot vertical drop covers a stunning variety of skiable terrain covered with always-fresh, man-made snow. And, since it’s right in the middle of the Mall of the Emirates (more on that below), you can hit the slopes on a break from your shopping binge. No word yet on Ski Dubai’s air-conditioning bill, but safe to say it’s impressive.
Mall of the Emirates
In a city known for luxury retail, Mall of the Emirates takes it to another level. This consumerist mecca has more than 500 individual shops, including most of the planet’s immediately recognizable luxury brands, plus a slew of value-added experiences of which Ski Dubai is merely the most unusual. You can catch movies and theatrical productions, enjoy fine dining, people-watch from a bevy of indoor viewpoints, and indulge your senses in dozens of other ways here. Plus, management is famous for eye-popping giveaways that can put real coin in your pocket.
The World Islands
The World Islands have been in the works for more than a decade, but the financial crisis of the late 2000s knocked the ambitious project—far larger than the Palm Jumeirah—off track. Since then, the artificial archipelago, which roughly resembles the seven continents, has been sitting more or less idle a kilometer or two off Dubai’s coast.
According to Business Insider, The World is back on—at least, the first true phase of its development. The Heart of Europe project, with antique streetscapes and high-end resort properties with boat slips galore, will be the first big test of The World’s viability. And then, who knows?
Dubai Sports City
Sports fans, rejoice: There’s a new referee in town. Dubai Sports City is a mixed-use real estate development built around—what else?—sports. It’ll figure prominently in the city-state’s World Cup plans, but it’s already making waves with fitness buffs.
Al Fahidi Fort
Dubai doesn’t have much of an “old town.” If you’re keen on immersing yourself in the history of the cradle of civilization, head to Cairo, Jerusalem or Mecca.
Dubai isn’t totally of-the-moment though. At the mouth of Dubai Creek, near the towering ship cranes of Port Rashid, lies a small but bustling historical district that stands as a testament to the Dubai that time forgot: the once-sleepy fishing village guarding a strategically important outlet to the sea.
The centerpiece of the old city is Al Fahidi Fort, an 18th-century fortification that remains popular with camera-toting tourists. (And Emiratis looking to reconnect with their roots.) While you’re in the area, don’t miss the Deira Gold Souk (a stunning jewelry bazaar), Dubai Grand Mosque, or Heritage House. And remember that “old” doesn’t mean “rustic”—you can stay at the Astoria or the Four Seasons, both within walking distance.
Which of these outlandish landmarks are you going to check out on your next visit to Dubai?