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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.)
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.
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.
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!
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).
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…
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:
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…
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.
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!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!