There's plenty to do during a Dubai stopover, says Dean Fosdick
Dubai International Airport this year surpassed London's Heathrow as the world's busiest international air travel hub.
If you can arrange it, Dubai is a great place for long layovers between long-haul flights.
It sits in desert country but that's part of its appeal. It makes a handy stopover point for lazing on a beach, doing wheelies in the sand with a dune buggy, bargaining with merchants at a traditional souk or taking high tea in the world's tallest building.
But beware: "Dubai has only two seasons — hot and hotter," my for-hire driver said with a shrug and a smile while taking me on a private tour of the city (about NZ$175).
And temperatures had already reached 32C at 5am on a mid-September day as my plane arrived in Dubai.
Here are a few suggestions for things to see and places to go while pausing in Dubai:
Visit the world's tallest building
The Burj Khalifa is the icon of Dubai's fast-growing vertical cityscape. It's the world's tallest structure at 828 metres, making it nearly twice as tall as New York's Empire State Building. The building was completed in 2010 and houses a luxury hotel, residential apartments, corporate offices and suites. It takes a little over a minute by high-speed elevator to reach the observation decks (124th, 125th and 148th floors). Splurge by reserving a window table at the building's 122nd storey At.Mosphere restaurant. Prices aren't cheap but then it's all about rooms with grand views. Fronting the building is the Dubai Fountain. It has quickly become popular for its choreographed, multi-coloured displays — especially at night.
Getting there: Head for the lower level of The Dubai Mall near the food court and walk to the Burj Khalifa ticket counters. Book online in advance to avoid the long lines of daily visitors. That also may earn you a discount. Access the At.Mosphere website to make a dinner reservation.
Ride an abra and bargain at the gold and spice souks
Getting to the most popular of the city's traditional souks is more than half the fun when you cross Dubai Creek on a motorised abra. These small wooden water taxis can squeeze in 16 to 20 people seated shoulder to shoulder. Scores of the boats work the Creek daily, taking about five minutes to cross from Bur Dubai to the Deira district with its souks selling everything from gold and spices to perfumes and belly dancer outfits. Hone your haggling skills. Few things are sold at listed prices. Take a wharf walk to soak up the fascinating street scenes. Buy a bottled beverage along the way to hydrate.
Make your way to any of these departure points: Deira Old Souk Abra Station, Bur Dubai Abra Station, Sabkha Abra Station. Ticket prices are minimal: 1 dirham or less than NZ40c per person per trip. No reservations required, simply pay the abra operator and board. The boats leave when both benches are full.
Book a desert safari
Consider taking a trip into the surrounding desert if you have a lengthy layover in Dubai.
Tour options range from wildlife watching and sand-skiing to dune-bashing — racing four-wheelers up and down the many steep sandy slopes. Another desert-trek alternative is a sunset safari. These are half-day, late evening outings to pseudo-Bedouin encampments featuring buffets set around campfires. Entertainment varies from camel rides and belly dancing to falconry. You'll get an exceptional after-dinner treat simply by turning out the lights. Stargazing in the unpolluted dark of a desert night is an unforgettable experience.
Find a tour package in any of the local guidebooks at airport magazine stands, or from sales reps in nearby hotels. If you're flying Emirates you can arrange a variety of stopover tours via its website.
IF YOU GO
has three daily A380 flights from Auckland to Dubai.