Approached from the Persian Gulf, Dubai is hard to miss. Soaring up from the sands of the surrounding desert, it’s an architectural paradise of gleaming façades and state-of-the-art skyscrapers, punctuated by the 830m needle spire of the world’s tallest building. But sleek urbanscapes aren’t Dubai’s only defining feature. Hugging the Gulf, the city is populated with creeks and waterways, its porcelain shores overlooking an embroidery of artificial islands, making its on-the-water activities some of the best ways to discover Dubai.
Aside from the towering Burj Khalifa and the mesmerising display of Dubai Fountain, the Emirate’s most celebrated sites are its artificial archipelagos. From vast, ocean-borne palm trees to a map of the world, Dubai’s manmade islands provide spools of prime sandy shoreline to sprawl out on. However, the design and engineering that went into shaping them is best appreciated from above. Parasailing is a popular activity on the Persian Gulf, offering a breathtaking bird’s-eye view of Dubai’s unique coastline. Find a wealth of tour operators along the shorefront, with jet-skiing and flyboarding also on offer for thrill-seekers.
It’s hard to imagine Dubai as anything other than a glittering metropolis of glass and steel, but a closer look reveals a rich past. Weaving through its history is Dubai Creek, a saltwater canal that the Ancient Greeks once called River Zara. The creek used to harbour the main thrust of Dubai’s pearl industry, which, pre-oil, comprised the Emirate’s principle economy alongside fishing. Despite Dubai’s dramatic evolution from sleepy trading port to megacity, abras (wooden dhows) continue to nose along the creek’s currents, offering scenic views of historic Bur Dubai on one bank and the bustling souks of Deira on the other.
Blessed with sun-drenched days, Dubai’s waters rival the Caribbean’s in terms of balmy temperatures, and the Emirate’s turquoise fringed beaches are certainly a draw. But there’s much more to discover beyond Dubai’s coastline. Beneath the waves exists a plethora of wrecks left over from Dubai’s days as a busy trading port. Shimmering with marine life such as turtles and Manta rays, it’s a memorable dive site to explore. There are plenty of scuba schools offering training for beginners – Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo is a good place to start. The state-of-the-art aquarium also offers shark dives for the intrepid, with a subaquatic tunnel that’s ideal for those who wish to stay dry while marvelling at Dubai’s marine life.
There’s no better vantage point from which to admire the sunset over Dubai than the breezy deck of a boat. Take in the entirety of the city’s impressive skyline with a cocktail in hand as the sun sinks below the horizon, and stay out long enough to witness the glittering lights of Dubai at night. From the dizzying variety of routes available, choose one that takes in Palm Jumeirah and Dubai Marina for the best views.