Dubai’s Iconic Buildings

  • Burj Khalifa The world’s tallest building stacks up at a cloud-tickling 828m. For the design, American architect Adrian Smith found inspiration in the desert flower Hymenocallis, or spider lily, whose patterning systems are embodied in Islamic architecture. The tower is designed as three petals arranged around a central core. As it rises from the flat base, the petals are set back in an upward-spiralling pattern.
  • Burj Al Arab The Burj was completed in 1999 and is set on an artificial island 300m from the shore. The 60-floor, sail-shaped structure is 321m high. A translucent fibreglass wall serves as a shield from the desert sun during the day and as a screen for an impressive light show each night. It remains the iconic symbol of Dubai.
  • Cayan Tower It's hard to miss this 307m-high building with a twist. Running over the course of its height is a 90-degree spiral, which, aside from looking cool, reduces the deteriorating impact of the sun on the building, as well as the force of high winds.
  • Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club When you cross the bridges over the Creek from Bur Dubai South, you’ll notice the pointed white roof of the clubhouse set amid artificial, undulating hillocks. The idea behind this 1993 design was to incorporate a traditional element – the white sails of a dhow (traditional cargo boat) – into the form and style of the building.
  • Dubai International Financial Centre Designed by the American firm Gensler Associates, Dubai’s stock exchange and leading international financial institutions are spread throughout a complex of six buildings surrounding a majestic central 80m-high arch called the Gate. DIFC, as it is known, is situated on an axis with the Jumeirah Emirates Towers and the World Trade Centre, essentially framing these two landmarks.
  • Dusit Thani Dubai Sheikh Zayed Rd features many modern skyscrapers, but few are as eye-catching as this one. The 153m-high building has an inverted ‘Y’ shape – two pillars that join to form a tapering tower. It’s meant to evoke the Thai joined-hands gesture of greeting, which is appropriate for this Thai hotel chain, but some think it looks more like a giant tuning fork.
  • Jumeirah Emirates Towers These twin triangular towers coated with silver aluminium panels and topped with needle-nose spires are among the most iconic buildings along Sheikh Zayed Rd. The taller of the two (355m) houses offices, while the other (305m) is an ultra-luxe business hotel. A three-storey shopping mall connects the two.
  • Jumeirah Beach Hotel This curvaceous S-shaped construction represents a wave, with the Gulf as its backdrop. The glimmering facades of the hotel and its close neighbour, the Burj Al Arab, are achieved by the use of reflective glass and aluminium. The two structures combined – a huge sail hovering over a breaking wave – symbolise Dubai’s maritime heritage.
  • National Bank of Dubai This stunning landmark overlooking the Creek was designed by Carlos Ott and completed in 1997. Although originally the National Bank of Dubai, in 2007 the bank merged with Emirates Bank to form Emirates NBD. The headquarters are still here, in this shimmering landmark overlooking the Creek. The design combines simple shapes to represent a dhow with a billowing sail, while the real-life dhows plying the Creek are reflected in its gold-coated glass facade.
  • Gevora Hotel Looming aloft at 356m and touted as the tallest hotel in the world, Gevora is a classic cylindrical skyscraper topped with a dramatic gold lattice spire. Located in the heart of the Financial District, the Gevora eclipses the previous record-holder, the nearby JW Marriott Marquis Dubai towers, by a mere 1.5m.

Beaches

Dubai residents love their beaches. Many who live in Jumeirah and the Dubai Marina, within splashing distance of the crystal-clear turquoise waters, make it a daily ritual to head down to the beach, while the rest of Dubai typically hits the sand on Fridays and Saturdays.

If you're not staying at a beachfront hotel fronted by its own sandy ribbon, you can either drop big dirham for a day guest pass, pay to chill at a snazzy beach club or go dipping for free at a public beach such as Al Mamzar near Sharjah or along Kite Beach, Jumeirah Public Beach or JBR Beach in Jumeirah. All have undergone enormous infrastructure improvements in recent years and now come with changing rooms, toilets, showers, sunlounger and umbrella rentals, sports facilities, a jogging track, playgrounds and kiosks.

Dubai Canal Boardwalk

A dream of the late Sheikh Rashid in the 1960s, the Dubai Canal was realised by his son, Sheikh Mohammed, in 2016. An extension of the historic Creek, the canal flows 12km from Ras Al Khor in the east to the Gulf in the west and will eventually be lined with restaurants, parks, marinas and a mall. For now, there’s a 3.2km boardwalk running from Business Bay to Jumeirah that’s devoid of greenery but still popular for jogging or a stroll.

Simply get off at Business Bay metro station, or catch a ferry or water taxi from one of nine waterfront stations. Don’t miss the waterfall that cascades off the bridge spanning Sheikh Zayed Rd near the W Hotel at Al Habtoor City; it's lit up at night and operates on sensors so it turns off when boats float past.