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Dubai is one of the fastest growing cities in the world and the Gateway to the Emirates. Once a sleepy trading port and centre for pearl diving in the Arabian Gulf, today it has seven-star hotels and magnificent shopping malls. But you can still visit exotic historical sites or sail in a traditional dhow.

Why go?

This is a vibrant, action-packed city, ever growing and developing and the base for exploring the wider Emirate states.

Dubai is ideal for both city break lovers and those who love shopping and entertainment, as much as those who want to rest and relax in year-round sun beside the pool or beach of excellent, high quality hotels.

And if you prefer your sand by the seashore, laze on Dubai's famous beaches, Jumeirah, Al Makhtoum and Jebel Ali. There are lots of activities such as water parks, volleyball, and surfing, skiing and diving. Take a walk through the lush gardens of Jumeirah Beach Park. Enjoy the wide range of international and traditional Middle Eastern cuisine in Dubai's famous restaurants and cafes.

Dubai can be visited any time of the year, but the best time is between November and March when the weather resembles a late spring or early summer in temperate-zone countries. Average temperatures in Dubai at this time will be in the 20 - 25 degrees Celsius range. March is an especially good time to visit as it coincides with the annual Dubai Shopping Festival.

Arrange your Dubai car hire with a pick-up at Dubai International Airport (DXB). This will transport you speedily to the city centre and your hotel. If you plan to visit other parts of the United Arab Emirates after you arrive, Dubai's fast and efficient network of motorways will take you through the length and breadth of the states of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm'al Quwain.

You can also arrange a pick-up at Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC), which opened in 2010. This airport is close to the Dubai World Centre near Jebel Ali. Once complete, it will have five runways that serve next-generation aircraft and will become one of the major hub airports of the world.

Where to explore?

There is plenty to see and experience in Dubai itself as well as in the neighbouring Emirates. Using a cheap hire car will help you to make the most of your stay.

In Dubai city you will be able to visit the Jumeirah Mosque that dominates the city centre. Though a modern structure, it was built in the Fatimid tradition that ruled the region between the 10th and 12th centuries. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the mosque and the best time is at sunset to witness the beautiful shadows cast by the building.

The Al Fahidi Fort and Museum can also be found in the city centre. This 18th-century fort is the oldest standing building in Dubai and was built as a defence against attack from the sea. The fort was converted into a museum in 1970 and today is known locally as the Dubai Museum. It holds a stunning collection of old sailing vessels, ancient weapons and outfits for pearl divers. It also has life-size dioramas - model museums - that depict traditional life in Dubai before oil was discovered. The most famous exhibit is the 3,000- to 4,000-year-old grave from the Al Qusais archaeological site, an area that is today a suburb of modern Dubai.

See more of Dubai's traditional life at the Heritage and Diving Centre in the Shindagha area. This heritage village is part of a more ambitious plan to turn the whole of the Shindagha area into a cultural site depicting Dubai's maritime history. There is a Bedouin village, an ancient armoury and souks selling traditional items. It's a popular venue in the evening as there are lots of cafes and restaurants with live music.

Skiing and ice skating are not usually associated with the Arabian Gulf but Ski Dubai recreates a ski resort in the Mall of the Emirates, the largest shopping mall in Dubai. There is a 60-metre mountain, ski slopes for various abilities and even a group of penguins that greet visitors at certain times of day. The Ice Rink is the size of an Olympic rink and offers all forms of skating, from lessons for beginners to ice hockey matches.

Dubai has plenty of attractions for modern-art enthusiasts. The Art Attack Gallery, located between the Jumeirah Beach Road and the Al Wasil Road, features contemporary art from the Middle East, Africa, India and Europe. There are frequent auctions and art fairs.
For a breath-taking spectacle visit the Dubai Gold Souk in Deira in the east of the city. Deira is Dubai's main business district but the gold market is its chief attraction. The Spice Souk is in the Al Ras district of the city. Wander around the narrow streets and savour the exotic smells.

The world's largest theme park is just a 50-minute drive outside the city on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. Ferrari World offers more than just Ferrari racing cars during the Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. There are waterfalls, shopping centres, marinas and the biggest rollercoaster in the world.

For those who prefer racing on four legs rather than four wheels, Dubai's ultra-modern Meydan Racecourse hosts the Dubai World Cup in late March. There are two racetracks, an all-weather course and even betting on the premises. Up to 2007, this was the site of the Nad Al Sheba racetrack.

For a true marine experience, visit the Dubai Aquarium on the ground floor of the Dubai Mall. This is the biggest aquarium in the world with 33,000 aquatic animals. There are over 400 sharks and rays in the tank. Visitors can access the tank from three different levels in the Mall.

When in Dubai, make sure you go on a desert safari. Hire a 4x4 with a professional driver and set off in the early morning, the evening, or overnight. You can go dune bashing, learn about falconry or just spend the night under the desert stars.