There are few places in history that have changed as much as Dubai has in such a short period of time. The purely visual changes are impressive enough; photographs of the city in the 90’s or early 2000’s show a nearly-barren desert with a handful of buildings popping up here and there and a few construction cranes scattered around. Probably most famous for the world-class architecture, the Dubai of the 2010’s is now a global powerhouse.
This list will show the ways that Dubai has achieved this status. There are a variety of economic and cultural factors that have led to the overall success of the country. Diversity has been the key to Dubai’s success and shows throughout both of these factors as the metropolis pulls from the influence of many cultures.
Dubai is a happier, richer, more advanced society now than it was 20 years ago (by every metric). Known for its over-the-top wealth and extravagance, the city is likely to keep growing and stay as one of the most advanced places in the world. Holder of many, many world records, Dubai is clearly a city interested in showing off, which has been a large boom for their tourism industry. More and more every year, Dubai is a major tourist destination for people from all over the world. The mixture of Middle Eastern and Asian cultures that make up the majority of the city make Dubai one of the most interesting places in the world for a high-end (and likely very expensive) adventure.
20 World-Class Architecture (Burj Khalifa)
The most obvious visual changes in Dubai come thanks to the city's monumental architecture.
20 years ago, the city had virtually no skyline. Today, it has one of the most impressive views in the world.
This is thanks in part to the Burj Khalifa (pictured above)—the tallest building in the world. The 830-meter tall skyscraper definitely stands high above the rest of the city, but there are now hundreds of skyscrapers across the city. Buildings like the Raffles Hotel Dubai and the JW Marriott Marquis are some of the most innovative structures in the entire world, giving Dubai the most interesting skyline in the world.
19 Rapidly Increasing Population
With a population estimated at over 3 million as of mid-2018, Dubai has experienced a major population boom. 20 years ago, that number was closer to 750,000 meaning that Dubai has experienced a 400% population increase in 20 years. That’s a lot of new people. The population in the country is also extremely diverse. According to a census conducted by the Statistics Centre of Dubai, only 15% of the population are natives to the UAE. Over 70% of the country’s population comes from Asia. The population of Dubai clearly shows how much Dubai has been changing and growing over the past 20 years.
18 Increasingly Cosmopolitan
Clearly, the population boom in Dubai has led to an extremely diverse population. Again, according to the Statistics Centre of Dubai,
only 15% of the population are UAE nationals. 51% are from India, 16% are from Pakistan, and there are sizable populations from Bangladesh, The Philippines, and Somalia.
The country also enjoys tourisms from every corner of the world. This also means that there is a ridiculously high amount of languages being spoken in the country every day. While the official religion in the country, Islam, is the most frequently practiced in the city, there is also a sizable Christian population.
17 Better Infrastructure
As is probably pretty apparent at this point, Dubai has kind of been mastering their infrastructure. The city’s skyline has grown exponentially over the past 20 years and the country has invested billions of dollars to progress their infrastructure. The city is expected to spend an estimated $30 billion over the years (2016 to 2020) to prepare for the 2020 Dubai Expo. The infrastructure ranges from the famous architecture to residential, commercial, and religious projects that have been growing exponentially in the last 20 years. There have been no signs of stopping in recent years so chances are Dubai will continue to stand as one of the most innovative cities in the world.
16 Tourist Destination
In tandem with all of the progress made in Dubai, tourism has grown as well over the years. There are all kinds of tourist destinations throughout Dubai, including the Burj Khalifa. There are also plenty of museums to see, along with diverse restaurants and lots of opportunity for shopping. There are also plenty of religious Islamic locales worth a visit like the Jumeirah Mosque, which is a replica of the Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo. Dubai also has some beautiful beaches (some natural, some man-made). Dubai is one of the most exciting cities in the world to visit but keep in mind, it won’t be cheap.
Dubai stands up with New York, Tokyo, Singapore, and London as a world-class center for shopping. This is thanks in large part to the Dubai Mall.
Connecting the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Aquarium, the mall has an ice-skating rink, gaming zone, cinema complex, and hundreds of shops and restaurants.
Dubai has some of the most expensive high-end shopping in the world, but there are also plenty of high-quality and popular bazaars throughout the cities. The Gold Souk and the Spice Souk are some of the most popular shopping options in the world for gold and spices, respectively. No matter what you’re looking for, Dubai will have it.
Over the past 20 years, Dubai’s government has actively been diversifying their economy from being trade-centric to being a service and tourism hub. Their actual trade has diversified as well, ranging from more than their oil-reliant economy to a trading hub for diamonds and gold. Known for a ridiculous amount of wealth invested in gold and diamond, well... anything, this makes a lot of sense. Gold toilets, cars, and food, not to mention gold ATMs. All of these do actually exist in the country. There is even a gold bazaar where you would be able to go if you’re interested in buying some for yourself.
Being in the Middle East, Dubai is a place that will feel unfamiliar to most tourists visiting the UAE. Despite unfamiliarity, Dubai is one of the safest places in the region to travel. Like most major cities, there is plenty of opportunity for petty things like theft, so if you plan on visiting, keep your wits about you and don’t leave your belongings unattended. Like most places in the world, be aware and always be respectful and I can virtually guarantee that you will be just fine.
12 Island Making
Palm Jumeirah, Deira Islands, Palm Jebel Ali, The World, and Bluewaters Island. These are all islands in Dubai, but the cool thing is that they are all man-made. The Palm Islands are perhaps the most recognizable, shaped like palm trees.
Each of Palm Jumeirah’s 17 fronds and its 7-mile-long crescent surrounding the fronds are all populated with construction projects across prime beach land. The Burj Al Arab—probably Dubai’s second-most-famous structure has its own man-made island.
Now, there is a handful of man-made islands with billions of dollars of development on them. Construction for the islands is still ongoing and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.
Continuing with the ‘over-the-top’ theme, Dubai is quickly becoming a global powerhouse because of their investments in sporting facilities. Among the largest is Dubai Sports World, the 25,000 m2 is home to just about any sport you could imagine. The city is also expanding investments in other sports like MMA fighting which includes the new Premier Global Championship. This, among other projects, was initiated by The Dubai Sports Council, which was developed in 2005 with the mission of making Dubai a leading global force in sports hosting. Since then, Dubai has become one of the top cities in the world for many sports.
10 Ministry Of Happiness
Developed in 2016, the UAE’s Ministry of Happiness was created with the simple goal of making the country happier. According to their website, happy.ae,
the mission of the Ministry is “[t]o have happiness and positivity as a lifestyle and the higher purpose of government work in the UAE.”
Ohood Al Roumi leads as the minister of happiness (best job title ever?) in her efforts to make Dubai the happiest country on the planet. The country already has a pretty good start, having been the 20th happiest country in the world when the ministry was formed. We don’t know yet whether the ministry has been successful, but time will tell.
A dark spot on Dubai’s reputation, alleged human rights violations have been a focus of the government in recent years. Many foreign laborers were apparently living in ‘less than humane’ conditions for decades and Dubai was frequently criticized for similar violations. Starting in 2006 with the permission of construction unions, the UAE has slowly been making steps to allow unions to grow and for workers to have better treatment. This is one spot where Dubai still has plenty of room to grow so hopefully we’ll see more changes over the next few years to address these alleged violations.
8 High GDP Growth Rates
Partly through the diversification of their economy and partly through extremely high investment rates in the city,
Dubai has experienced extreme growth rates in GDP over the years. The 2018 estimate is well over 110 billion dollars, making Dubai one of the richest cities in the world.
20 years ago, Oil accounted for nearly a quarter of the overall GDP, whereas now, it’s dropped to closer to 5%, showing how much the UAE has diversified its economy over the past two decades. Dubai is likely to keep adapting and growing into the foreseeable future, showing that this country is far more than just an oil empire.
7 Diversification Of Economy
The reduced dependency on oil is one major sign that Dubai has been diversifying over the years. A large portion of investments has been in infrastructure. Obviously, all of the major changes has brought in huge sums of money into the city. The other major area of growth for the city has been in tourism. Dubai has become a huge tourist destination thanks primarily to its architecture, world-class shopping, and ancient and/or religious attractions. The city is the fastest growing tourist destination in the world gaining about 10% per year. The diversification has worked out almost perfectly for the city.
6 Dubai Multi Commodities Centre
Built in 2002 and headquartered in the Almas Tower in Dubai, the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, or DMCC, was meant to ensure Dubai becoming a hub for global commodities trading. Basically, it’s a giant trading center. While that may not be super exciting, the DMCC has had a major impact on every area of life in Dubai. This is the backing of dozens of industries throughout Dubai that have helped bring in so much investment and foreign interest into the city. The primary commodities traded through the DMCC are gold, diamonds, pearls, and tea, showing just how much the country’s economy is built on luxury.
5 Beach Tourism
If you’ve been thinking of taking a beach vacation, you’ve probably thought of the Caribbean, the West Coast U.S., or ... Florida. But Dubai would probably be worth taking into consideration as well. There are many beaches across the city, but perhaps the most popular is Sunset Beach. The view of the Burj Al Arab (shown above from Sunset Beach) is one of the most popular tourist icons in the city. Beyond that, Kite Beach is popular among water sports enthusiasts and La Mer is known for having some of the best restaurants and boutiques in the city.
Skiing is definitely what comes to mind first when you hear ‘Middle East,’ right? Probably not, but Dubai doesn’t think that’s a good reason for not
building one of the largest indoor ski resorts in the world and the first in the region. In the facility located in the Mall of the Emirates, you can ski, snowboard, tobogganing, and even hang out with some penguins.
The facility makes its own snow year-round in the 3,000 m2 park with several different slopes and multiple other activities to enjoy. So if you miss the snow from back home and are looking for a place to ski while you’re in the city, Dubai has got you covered.
3 Dubai Miracle Garden
Located in Dubailand, the Dubai Miracle Garden is the world’s largest natural flower garden. Across the 72,000 m2, there are over 100 million flowers. The $11 million project initially opened in 2013 and more recent developments have included various floral structures like clocks and planes along with a butterfly garden—also the world’s largest with over 15,000 butterflies. While the garden seems to fit with the general over-the-top style associated with Dubai, it is a truly beautiful locale. This is one of a handful of places that if I were you, I would make sure you definitely don’t miss it if you ever visit the city.
2 Dubai Metro
As with most major cities across the world, Dubai has a high-tech functioning rapid transit network.
The Dubai Metro consists of two lines at the moment with more in the works. The network began operations in 2009 and run both underground and on elevated railways over the city streets.
As you might expect at this point, the Dubai Metro held the world record for the longest driverless metro network in the world. That is until 2016 when both the Vancouver and Singapore systems surpassed it. Servicing over 100,000,000 people every year, the metro rail system has become a major asset to the growing city.
Being such a cosmopolitan city, Dubai has a diverse range of food options, mainly from the Middle Eastern and Asian populations that make up a majority of the city. Most restaurants in the Muslim country generally stray away from serving pork, but you’ll find camel as a readily available alternative. I have never had a camel so I can’t give you any indication as to what it tastes like, but it is a very popular ingredient here. While a lot of food in the city will be very expensive, there are plentiful amounts of street food across the city, especially at night.