Nov 052016
 
A sparkling golden ceiling in the Dubai Mall.

A sparkling golden ceiling in the Dubai Mall.

My favorite country in the world for architecture is the United Arab Emirates. “Just let your creativity go wild!” seems to be the message given to UAE designers of buildings and decor, and boy, do they ever!

Gorgeous art at the Women's Museum of Dubai.

Gorgeous art at the Women’s Museum of Dubai.

During the 9 days I traveled in Dubai and Abu Dhabi (yes, this was the solo trip I took while 5 months pregnant), I spent most of my days blissfully gaping at the architecture, snapping hundreds of photos. Join me now as we explore some of the country’s visual highlights.

The Burj Al Arab.

The Burj Al Arab, beloved by tourists to the UAE.

Of course, the first building on a tourist to Dubai’s mind is usually the Burj Al Arab, the graceful sailboat-shaped “7-star hotel” pictured above. Though to stay at the hotel, the prices are astounding (click to see), it’s totally free to ogle the building from all outside angles. I took the classic photo above from the patio of a nearby hotel called Jumeirah Mina A’Salam (directions here), where I indulged in a yummy Chinese food lunch. As you can see from the photo below, the lobby of that hotel is tops, too! The UAE does hotel lobbies to the max, and my eyes thoroughly enjoyed the visual feasts.

A sumptuous hotel lobby near the Burj al Arab.

A the sumptuous hotel lobby of the Jumeirah Mina A’Salam hotel.

Next up, the other must-see tourist spot in Dubai for architecture and experience: the Burj Khalifa, our world’s tallest building (though a race is always afoot to surpass it in height)! You can go all the way to the top to take in the ridiculous views, though the ultra-exclusive hotel below the observation decks is off limits to tourists who aren’t staying there.

Me at the top of the Burj Khalifa, looking down at Dubai!

Me at the top of the Burj Khalifa, looking down at Dubai!

The Dubai Mall, the largest shopping mall in the world (would you expect any less from the UAE?), is right next to the Burj Khalifa. This mall has mind-blowing architecture in its own right, plus an indoor ice skating rink… not to be confused with the penguin-hugging experience of the Mall of the Emirates.

The Burj Khalifa towers above the world.

The Burj Khalifa towers above the world.

The Dubai Mall also provides awesome views of the Burj Khalifa from the fountains that flow outside between the Palace Hotel and the Address Hotel. (If that last name sounds familiar, it was the hotel that was engulfed in raging flames on New Year’s Eve of 2016, but appears to functioning again.)

The Souk Madinat doesn't look like any mall I've seen before!

The Souk Madinat doesn’t look like any mall I’ve seen before!

Have you noticed a pattern yet? Much of the best architecture and decor in Dubai is found in its malls and hotels! This is partly because luxury buildings of this sort abound in Dubai, since the UAE is so popular for tourists and business travel, but is also so hot that indoor activities make the most sense. The prettiest mall I saw in Dubai is pictured above and below: the Souk Madinat, which is near the Burj Al Arab.

A colorful kiosk in the Souk Madinat

A colorful kiosk in the Souk Madinat

If it’s museums you’re after for your art, however, consider the Dubai Women’s Museum, nestled in the historic Deira neighborhood near the sparkling Gold and Spice Souks. I found the museum fascinating: a quiet and thoughtful oasis amid the bustle of Dubai.

A sparkly outfit from the Dubai Women's Museum.

A sparkly outfit from the Dubai Women’s Museum.

Let’s travel to Abu Dhabi, UAE, shall we? The unquestionable architectural highlight is Sheikh Zayed Mosque, also known as the Grand Mosque. This building is the most mind-blowing piece of architecture I’ve ever seen, so there will be an entire article about it soon (subscribe to my free montly newsletter so you don’t miss it), but check out this preview, below. What a building!

I loved Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Mosque!

I loved Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Mosque.

Next up, no visit to Abu Dhabi is complete without walking around the Emirates Palace hotel, a spot that is totally free to visit (soooo worth it!), though the opposite of free to stay the night (see what I mean here).

Tips on the best buildings and sights around Dubai and Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Looking up at the massive dome of Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi.

A final architectural wonder of Abu Dhabi are the Etihad Towers. Yes, Abu Dhabi is home of one of the most luxurious airlines in the world, Etihad, and has the pretty buildings to prove it! The lines of these towers epitomize “flight” to me. So creative and graceful…

The Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi have lovely lines.

The Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi have lovely lines.

Here is what I find particularly stunning about the architectural wonders of the UAE: the entire country used to be simply desert! To get an idea of what lies beneath all the buildings you’ve seen on this tour, look at this photo that I snapped during a desert safari on my last night in the country:

Under everything in the UAE is desert like this!

Under everything in the UAE is desert like this!

Now, with that in mind, gaze below at what the Marina district of Dubai Looks like now. (Another architectural gem: That twisted building on the left! It is the Cayan Tower, also known as Infinity Tower, and I love it.) Let us appreciate the engineering feat it is to erect those skyscrapers on top of sand…

The vibrant Marina area of Dubai.

The vibrant Marina area of Dubai. See the twisted building?

As I type this article, my little baby is grabbing at my leg and gurgling, “Lalala!” as if she knows that she is in all these photos, snuggled up in my rotund womb. Perhaps, during that UAE trip in utero, she soaked up some of the artistic and architectural creativity of the country! If she demands gold leaf paint for her nursery ceiling, we’ll know why.

Me being pregnant at the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

Me being pregnant at the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

So what do YOU think? Which of these buildings or works of art are your favorite, and why? Have you been to the UAE, or would you like to? Do share!

Affiliates in this article support this site at no cost to you. Happy travels!

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  19 Responses to “You Won’t Believe the Architecture and Art of the UAE”

  1. Dubai is a must visit city & seen to be believed. Marvellous architecture stands alongside traditional quarters, whereas man-made islands protrude of the coastline. 🙂

  2. Dubai is just an amazing destination.
    All I have heard about Dubai is just the “worlds largest building, worlds largest mall, worlds largest man-made island…… and so on” Bingoo!
    visiting all the attractions out there will be really a superb experience.

  3. I haven’t been to the UAE, but when I do visit the country one day it’s definitely because of its architecture. Did you visit the Louvre in Abu Dhabi as well? I’m particularly curious about that, and I’ve been wondering how it compares to the original one in Paris.

  4. Good for you for not letting pregnancy keep you away from a great adventure! Your photos are stunning and really bring out the amazing architecture of Dubai.

  5. Dubai certainly doesn’t come to mind when thinking about art and architecture. I think shopping and ex-pat life. This is a good reminder there’s so much more to explore.

  6. Too many gorgeous places to choose! BUT I do really want to see the Grand Mosque & Burj Al Arab.

  7. Your photos are fabulous: everything looks so shiny and perfect! For a long time, I didn’t have the Emirates on my travel radar, not even sure why, but I can see I have underestimated how beautiful it looks. What I’d love to see the most is the Mosque in Abu Dhabi: I just find the domes irresistible! And a golden nursery? I mean why not 😉 ?

  8. wow so many gorgeous things inside, great to see from your photos, so many details captured I’m sold! On my bucket list Dubai 🙂

  9. Great post and fantastic pictures. Makes me want to travel again!…one day

  10. What a fabulous solo trip. You definitely got to see a lot of great architecture during your visit. I really like how they didn’t just pour creativity on the outside of the buildings but the interiors are all also works of art.

  11. These photos are amazing! Wow! Would love to get to the top of the Burj Khalifa and the Cayan Building as well!! Great recap of your visit and tour for “two.” 😉

  12. Dubai’s malls and hotels are amazing! I haven’t been to the UAE but would love to visit. Did I hear seven-star hotel?

  13. Love your spectacular pictures! I do dream of Dubai one day. It just looks like a phenomenal place to visit.

  14. The UAE looks amazing. I love your colorful photographs, especially of the hookahs! It’s fabulous how they’ve embraced and value great architecture and urban planning in the design of their city.

  15. We spent one night in a stopover in Dubai last year. Got to see just the Dubai Mall and the Burk Khalifa. We really have to go back and also to pass by Abu Dhabi. Spectacular photos.

  16. Totally agree with you the the UAE is leading the world in terms of interesting and artful buildings Lillie! It was so fascinating to explore Dubai and marvel at the impressive architecture throughout the city. Haven’t managed to make it to Abu Dhabi yet, but I’ll obviously have to get back!

  17. I’d love to visit Dubai! And these photos only make me want to visit it sooner 🙂 Great post!

  18. My goodness, talk about a feast for the senses! I love travel photography, and your post makes me think Dubai would be a pretty great place for that sort of thing 🙂

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