Destination of the day: Dubai

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Burf Khalifa - the tallest building in the world, from (almost) ground level

Burf Khalifa – the tallest building in the world, from (almost) ground level

Everyone who takes the latest direct air route from Dublin, Emirates new daily service to Dubai will be struck by how improbable a holiday destination it is, in terms of terrain and climate.

With a landscape of desert and salt flats, summers where even the sea can reach almost 40 degrees Celsius, on paper it looks like an inhospitable location.

Somehow it has managed to overcome its physical challenges to provide an imaginative and exciting holiday centre. Tourism was identified by the Dubai authorities as a way of attracting in foreign currency and diversifying the emirate’s economic development. It is viewed as an exotic but safe destination, with a stable government.

The best time to visit is between December and March, when the slightly cooler winter temperatures can be further reduced by infrequent rainfall. Typical daytime temperatures in high seasonnare about 24 degrees centigrade, compared to temperatures of over 40 degrees centigrade in the summer, when the heat is often made more uncomfortable by high humidity levels. Going outside can sometimes be like walking into a steam room.

The attraction of Dubai as a tourist venue centres on its high-end resort hotels, which provide plenty of opportunity for play, with facilities for watersports, fishing and golfing. The typical tourist excursion is a couple of hours energetic dune-bashing in four by four jeeps, followed by camel rides in the desert, and a view of the sunset before a evening’s entertainment of belly-dancing, hookah pipes and an Arabic dinner served Bedouin-style, to guests seated on carpets under a star-filled desert sky.

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Dubai’s two superb waterparks are located in resort complexes. The original, Wild Wadi, is based in Jumeirah near the iconic sail-shaped hotel, the Burj Al Arab. It is themed on the Arabian folkloric story of Juha, an adventurer who is shipwrecked on an enchanted island with his family. Wild Wadi ‘s scariest ride, the Jumeirah Sceirah, hurtles you at speeds of up to 80 kms per hour, cascading a breathtaking 33 metres, creating a feeling of almost weightlessness. It lays claim to being the highest slide outside north america. The park’s newest addition is Tantrum Alley, a water tornado ride.

The second waterpark, Aquaventure, is in a 42 acre park beside what has quickly become Dubai’s most famous hotel, the majestic pink-arched Atlantis the Palm. Like its competitor, Wild Wadi, it offers a cooling lazy river ride for the fainthearted, and exhilarating rides that knock the stuffing you for the more adventurous. From the top of the Ziggurat, designed like the eponymous Mesopotamian temple, the Leap of Faith is a terrifying almost sheer 27 metre drop, followed by a catapulting ride through a transparent tunnel in a lagoon of sharks.

The Atlantis resort, built on the top of the man-made island Palm Jumeirah, has also provided Dubai with an open-air concert venue, with up to 10,000 people showing up at Nasimi Beach. The next Sandance festival on 9 March is headlined by Snow Patrol; Dublin band the Script played there at the November event.Dubai burj khalifa by night

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At the Grand Jumeirah Mosque, members of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding offers the curious a chance to learn about Emirati culture and religion in a relaxed atmosphere, four days a week at 10am. They explain the thinking behind Muslim religious rules, and invite questions from the audience.

The Dubai Museum in the 19th century Al Fahidi fort displays tableaus of life in former times around the Dubai creek in traditional Arab houses and souks.Bastakiya, the trading heart of ‘old’ Dubai, is a restored complex of traditional courtyard houses and former merchant’s homes, with cooling wind towers, cloth and wooden structures designed to trap wind and send it downwards to cool the houses.

You cannot miss the latest dramatic centrepiece of the Dubai tourism industry because it featuresin the city’s advertising material and every new view of the skyline.

The Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest tower and highest man-made observatory, and home to Dubai’s newest luxury hotel, the Armani. Book your tickets in advance of your visit, as the waiting list can be days long.

From the 124th floor, you can look down over the whole city, haze permitting, marvelling at the futuristic architecture of the new metro system with its gold foil-shaped stations, at the motorway network and at the improbable greenness of the city parks.

Surrounded by a carpet of skyscrapers which appear tiny compared to the awesome height of the newest tower, you cannot fail to be impressed with what the emirate has achieved by creating a world-class tourism, transport and business centre out of this harsh desert landscape.

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