This tour showcases Dubai skyscrapers at their most brazenly futuristic and upwardly mobile – and if you’re looking for that archetypal modern Gulf image of bristling chrome and glass skyscrapers shining in the clear desert sun, this is the place to be. The itinerary will take you a couple of hours and can easily be combined with a visit to the Downtown Dubai development which could easily expand to fill a whole day, especially if you spend some time shopping in the Dubai Mall and go up to the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa.
Not surprisingly, photographs of Sheikh Zayed Road are often used to symbolize Dubai’s headlong rush into the 21st century. It’s here you’ll find the city’s biggest and busiest highway – 12 lanes of nonstop motorized mayhem – hemmed in on either side by lines of wall-to-wall Dubai skyscrapers, packed impossibly close and climbing ridiculously high, like the steel and plate-glass cliffs of some post-modern architectural Grand Canyon.
Begin at the landmark Emirates Towers at the northern end of Sheikh Zayed Road – the lobby café in the Jumeirah Emirates Towers hotel is a nice place to enjoy the superb hotel atrium, or arrive at lunchtime and enjoy some tasty chow at the Noodle House.
Just north of the Emirates Towers is the sprawling Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre and, just beyond, the old Dubai World Trade Centre. Finished in 1979, this was Dubai’s first-ever skyscraper (and the tallest building in the Middle East when it was constructed) in what was then the middle of virtually untouched desert, though it now looks almost playfully tiny compared to the giant high-rises further down the road.
On the other side of the Emirates Towers is the gleaming modern Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), home to the Dubai NASDAQ stock exchange and myriad other banks and financial companies. Centrepiece of the development is the striking The Gate building, looking like a kind of postmodern Arc de Triomphe, or an extremely large table. Tucked away to one side of The Gate, The Gate Village is home to a dense cluster of upmarket galleries, plus a couple of smart restaurants.
Return to Sheikh Zayed Road and walk south along the strip past a sequence of landmark structures. Just south of the Emirates Towers it’s impossible to miss the zany Al Yacoub Tower – effectively a kind of scaled-down copy of London’s Big Ben, although at 330m it’s well over three times as tall as its British original.
Continuing south, landmarks including the huge Chelsea Tower, topped by what appears to be an enormous toothpick, and the soaring, pencil-thin Rose Reyhaan, formerly the world’s tallest hotel. The southern end of the strip terminates in a flourish with the unmistakeable Dusit Thani hotel, looking like an upended tuning fork thrust into the ground.
From here it’s easy to continue to the Dubai Mall and Downtown Dubai development. Turn left around the back of the Dusit Dubai Thani, walk past the Al Murooj Rotana hotel and then head right over the road at the traffic lights to reach the main entrance to the mall – a five-minute walk.
Al Ain in 1 Day … Explore the oases, mudbrick forts and markets of the UAE’s only major inland city
Discover Dubai’s Exotic Souks … Hunt for gold and frankincense in the labyrinthine Deira bazaars
Dubai for Kids … Ten of the best things to do with children in the city
Dubai in 1 Day … Superfast city tour to make the most of your stay
Dubai in 2 Days … Seeing it all (nearly!) on the ultimate city tour
Dubai Walking Tour … The oldest part of the city is Bur Dubai, great to explore on foot
Dubai’s Upmarket Jumeirah District … Suburban heaven, local style
Futuristic Dubai … Take in the iconic (and quirky) real estate on a showstopping, self-guided tour
Highlights of Old Dubai … Dive into the past in Dubai’s historic old city
Indulge in Downtown Dubai … Home of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa
Sharjah in 1 Day … A taste of the traditional Gulf
Shopping in Dubai: Souks and The City … Crunch your credit-rating in Dubai’s stupendous array of old-school souks and dazzling modern malls