Dominic Ellis finds the new metro offers a quick and easy way of getting around the ever-changing emirate
Dubai’s swish new metro has given visitors a comfortable alternative to navigating the city by air conditioned car. This year has seen ten more stations open on the Red line, which runs from one end of the city to the other, and eight remaining stops are due to open before the end of the year, by which time all 29 will be operational.
If you only have a short time to explore, the metro is an ideal way to get a snapshot of the city, although bear in mind that the trains – which are driverless – don’t race along quite as fast as the cars beneath on the Sheikh Zayed Road (perhaps that’s a blessing). Trains run from 6am to 11pm Saturday to Thursday and 2pm to 12am on Fridays.
The emirate is known for its super-sleek hotels and malls but if you want a taste of real Dubai, alight at Al Karama station for your first stop – the station is slap-bang in the middle of this bustling district. Despite the city’s non-stop development, Karama looks much the same as it did ten years ago, and therein lies its appeal. You’ll find everything from sunglasses (pairs at Al Wadi Optics start from Dhs 70/£12) to tailors, and you certainly won’t go hungry, with all manner of staple fast-food brands standing arm in arm with Indian and Asian eateries – Thai Terrace takes some beating.
Walk straight over to 6a Street and Digital Photo Express will print off any pictures you need in ten minutes. A few metres further on, you’ll come to Open House and Singapore Deli on your right – take a look back over your shoulder for a striking image of the world’s tallest tower, Burj Khalifa (more on that later), framed by an altogether more humble foreground of low-rise buildings and shops.
One stop on, at Al Jafiliya, you’ll find Zabeel Park, a surprising green-and-aquatic oasis in the heart of the car-covered city – it’s a good place to stretch your legs or gather your thoughts. Located next to the station and a stone’s throw from the Dubai International Exhibition and Convention Centre, the vast park has a split design, divided by the highway and linked by a grandiose pedestrian suspension bridge. Chief attractions include the 24,000 sqm Stargate theme park, built in the form of a spaceship with five wings that house exhibition and retail spaces covering various themes. Otherwise, wander around the innumerable paths, pedal away on the boating lake or unwind with a good book under a palm tree.
You can’t visit Dubai and not go up the Burj Khalifa, which is served by its own metro station, four stops on from Al Jafiliya. Open since January, the stats of the shimmering, 828-metre-tall structure are jaw-dropping – with more than 160 habitable storeys, it took 330,000 cubic metres of concrete, 39,000 tonnes of steel reinforcement, 103,000 square metres of glass and 22 million man hours to build.
After some initial hiccups and stories of visitors getting stuck prompted a closure, the lightning-fast lifts to At The Top, the 124th-floor observation deck, seem to be in working order. Travelling at a speed of ten metres per second, the journey up takes about a minute, and the views that greet you really are spectacular, showing just how quickly this desert land has turned into a metropolis – it is better on a clear day, though, and if you are of a nervous disposition, bear in mind that you might, ever so slightly, feel the tower sway. Consider too that the cost is similarly stratospheric – starting at Dhs 100 (£17) and rising to Dhs 400 (£68) if you want immediate entry and to dodge any queues. Visit burjkhalifa.ae
At the foot of the tower is the ultra-exclusive Armani hotel. Open since April, its eight food and drink outlets include the sleek Armani lounge, a great spot to have a drink and watch the jaunty Dubai Fountain dance to music on the half-hour – the tunes are piped into the venue via speakers. Reservations recommended. Visit armanihotels.com
Mall of the Emirates
After that performance, pop back on the metro for four stops to the shopping mecca that is the Mall of the Emirates (or “M-o-E”, as the locals call it) – there is a direct walkway from the station. The 223,000 sqm centre is home to more than 470 stores ranging from high-street to high-end, over 75 food outlets, a 14-screen multiplex cinema, the Magic Planet family entertainment centre, a Kempinski hotel and even Ski Dubai, the emirate’s very own winter wonderland in the desert. Only in Dubai. But perhaps less well known is the DUCTAC Community Theatre and Arts Centre on level two, which regularly hosts drama, art and photography exhibitions, as well as a range of workshops – mosaic making or pottery, anyone? Open daily 10am-10pm?(until 12am Thurs-Sat); malloftheemirates.com
Atlantis the Palm
Back on for two stops to Dubai Internet City, and it’s a short cab ride to the opulent water-themed resort Atlantis the Palm. Situated at the apex of the crescent of the man-made Palm Jumeirah island, Atlantis has become as much a tourist draw as a place to stay since it opened two years ago – the fantastically over-the-top lobby buzzes with visitors. If you’re into attractions of the aquatic kind, you’re in luck – the Lost Chambers is home to some 65,000 marine animals, while there’s also the Aquaventure water park, and Dolphin Bay, where you can swim with the slippery mammals. Alternatively, simply have a drink in one of the sea-facing bars and enjoy the Gulf views before you return to reality. Visit atlantisthepalm.com
Not only is Burj Khalifa the world’s tallest building, but it also has:
- the largest number of storeys in the world (163),
- the world’s tallest service elevator (504 metres),
- the highest swimming pool in the world (level 76).