Exploring Dubai highlights ahead of Expo 2020

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A Platinum Heritage Safaris excursion in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.
A Platinum Heritage Safaris excursion in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.

The past half-century has seen Dubai complete its transformation from a simple fishing village to a futuristic Middle East metropolis, and next year's Expo 2020 Dubai promises to showcase the best of the United Araba Emirates (UAE) city's past, present and future.

At the invitation of its tourism board, I recently visited Dubai to experience its record-setting architecture, cosmopolitan culture, world-class shopping and more. The following are six things to see and do during a visit to the city:

• Shop at the Dubai Mall and see the Burj Khalifa: The downtown Dubai mall holds more than 1,300 high-end stores and restaurants and equally intriguing attractions, too, including an Olympic-size ice skating rink and a megaplex cinema. The Souk sells traditional jewelry, clothing and handicrafts, and aquatic life is on view at the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. Yet the biggest mall attraction is At the Top, Burj Khalifa, a ticketed entry to the towering skyscraper's observation levels.

• Find artisanal goods on Alserkal Avenue: Alserkal Avenue is both a storefront and a developmental hub for creative industries and nonprofits in the UAE. Located in the Al Quoz industrial area, this complex holds galleries, community spaces, cafes and boutiques. The Good Life is a top-tier, designer-sneaker store; Tamashee carries high-end footwear; and Mirzam Chocolate Makers produces its beautifully packaged bars on site.

The Dubai Frame in Zabeel Park.
The Dubai Frame in Zabeel Park.

• Visit the Dubai Frame: This 492-foot-tall, golden rectangle in Zabeel Park metaphorically bridges Old Dubai and New Dubai. An enclosed walkway at the top of the frame offers views of the Burj Khalifa, Dubai International Financial Centre, Dubai Mall and other sights.

• See the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood: Near the Dubai Creek, this Old Dubai sector reflects what life was like before the UAE formed on Dec. 2, 1971. In the 1980s, many mid-19th-century buildings were torn down, but the remaining have been repurposed as art spaces and locations for societies, including the Alserkal Cultural Foundation.

• Get a different view of the Emirates: On a Hero OdySea boat tour, get a safety lesson before driving a speedboat in the Persian Gulf for views of the Burj Al Arab and the Atlantis, the Palm hotels. Platinum Heritage Safaris takes 1950s Land Rovers into the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve to experience a Bedouin camp.

• Get mesmerized by La Perle by Dragone: This permanent show at the Atrium in Al Habtoor City is inspired by Dubai's culture and features aerial feats. Its aquatic stage is a headliner, as performers get submerged or dive into its waters.

Where to stay

• The Four Seasons Hotel Dubai International Financial Centre has a spa; fitness center; rooftop, glass-enclosed pool; and cigar lounge plus the Mina Brasserie and Luna Sky Bar.

• At the Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach, try the Asian-inspired seafood menu at Sea Fu or the market-style eatery, Suq; have tea or coffee or meze at Shai Salon & Terrace. Unwind at the spa, relax by the beach and have a nightcap at the Mercury Lounge.

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