40 Eye-Opening Facts About Dubai That Many Outsiders Don’t Know

There are few places in this world where you’ll find cops driving Lamborghinis, skiing in the desert and robots riding camels. But visitors will find all that and more in the fabulously wealthy Emirate of Dubai. The city state – which is set on the Arabian Peninsula and overlooking the Persian Gulf – is notorious for its luxury and conspicuous consumption. So, read on to learn about the legendary opulence of this magical place.

40. Robots on camels

Yes, it’s really a thing. There are camel races in Dubai where the riders are robots. And animal racing is no hole and corner affair; its value runs into “hundreds of millions of dollars” in the kingdom, according to Business Insider. The robots are actually reported to be part of a campaign against child trafficking. Apparently, impoverished kids – because of their size well-suited to camel jockeying – were previously shanghaied into the sport.

39. Dicing with death for ‘likes’

Back in 2017 Russian Instagram queen Viki Odintcova wowed her over five million followers with a daredevil video shoot at the top of the Cayan Tower. She hung 1,004 feet above a waterway by one hand clasped to the arm of an unknown “friend.” But a Dubai cop – Major General Halil Ibragim Al-Mansuri – was unimpressed. He told British tabloid The Sun, “The actions of the Russian woman put her life at risk.” You can say that again.

38. Cops driving Lamborghinis

Most police officers ride around their patch in a fairly average sedan. Though in Dubai, the cops eschew such mundane transport. Instead, they like to ride around in top-of-the-range high-performance wheels. Business Insider reports that vehicles used on duty include the Lamborghini Aventador with a price tag of $397,000 and the Ferrari FF, which comes in at $500,000. But king of the Dubai cop cars has to be the $1.8 million Aston Martin One-77.

37. Gold on demand

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A visit to the ATM to grab some of the folding stuff is routine enough. But how about trying a machine that dispenses gold bars? If you happen to be in Dubai, take a 90-minute drive to Abu Dhabi and withdraw some bullion at the Emirates Palace Hotel. Though it’s perhaps best to have some burly security with you, too.

36. Women keep it modest

Dubai is far from the strictest of Arabic countries when it comes to female dress codes, but there are some conventions to be aware of. Unless you’re visiting a mosque there’s no requirement to cover your hair. Out of respect for the local culture, however, it’s best to keep your shoulders and upper arms covered, and hems should come down to the knee at least.

35. A crowd of cranes

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Any visitor to Dubai cannot help but notice that there is always an enormous amount of construction in progress. The city has grown astronomically in the last few decades and continues to do so. Though there’s one startling fact that illustrates just how frenetic this building spree is. A quarter of all high construction cranes in the world tower above Dubai. That’s some 30,000 cranes, according to Gulf News.

34. Build your own island

The city of Dubai has expanded hugely over the past years. But, not content with the land they already have, planners have resorted to building huge artificial islands along the city’s shoreline. In fact, the Geology.com website reports that the Palm Jumeirah group of islands is the largest of its kind in the world.

33. Gold leaf galore

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The Burj Al Arab hotel soars 2,716 feet above the city and stands on its own artificial island in the Persian Gulf. It’s an establishment where luxury knows no limits and it includes more than 19,000 square feet of 24-carat gold leaf. Incredibly, that’s enough to cover just short of seven tennis courts.

32. A lot of expats

Perhaps one of the most striking facts about Dubai comes in the field of demographics. Official figures as of early 2019 put the city’s total population numbers at some 3.2 million souls. But of those people, only around 15 percent are actually native-born Dubai citizens. The rest, of course, come from somewhere else. Most of these foreigners – around 85 percent – are from South Asian nations such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The British also numbered some 240,000 people in the Emirate as of 2012.

31. Burj Khalifa Ramadan rules

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The Burj Khalifa building’s extraordinary half-mile height can lead to some unexpected quirks. During the Muslim month-long fast of Ramadan, the faithful do not eat during the hours of daylight and only break bread at sundown. In 2011 the Associated Press reported that those above Burj Khalifa’s 150th floor could not break their fast until three minutes after people on the ground. That was because, at that height, the sun would be visible for just that bit longer.

30. The far tower

The fact that you can catch views of the massive Burj Khalifa structure from all points in Dubai is hardly a surprise. But what might astonish you is just how far away you can be from the luxury hotel yet still catch sight of it. In 2014 Business Insider reported that you could glimpse the tower from up to 60 miles away.

29. A golden bonanza

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Gold is a recurring theme in the glittering Dubai story, so it’s no wonder that trading the gleaming metal is a popular activity there. In fact, taking the year 2013 as an example, during that 12-month period the value of gold traded in the Emirate was a staggering $70 billion – representing some 2,480 tons of bullion.

28. How about a second city?

Apparently, the Dubai authorities have an astonishingly ambitious plan to build a second metropolis. This high-tech venture would be air-conditioned throughout and will look like something from a futuristic sci-fi movie. The new city will also satisfy the most demanding shopaholic, as it’s slated to have the world’s largest mall. The planet’s biggest theme park – sitting under a glass dome – is also mooted.

27. Spend, spend, spend

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Plenty of people are keen to experience the fabulous wealth and luxury of Dubai. Evidence for that comes from the fact that nearly 16 million visitors arrived in the city in 2018, according to Statista. And it seems these tourists were more than happy to empty their wallets and purses; indeed, they spent a spectacular $28 billion in the Emirate in 2016.

26. Pump it up

Around 12 percent of Dubai’s economy comes from tourism, though the Emirate has other strings to its bow. And one of those is oil. Business Insider notes that the Emirate extracts between 50,000 and 70,000 barrels of the black stuff each day. Furthermore, the city state is reported to have something like four billion barrels of oil yet to be pumped.

25. Fantasy theme park.

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Naturally, Dubai’s millions of tourists and residents needs to be entertained. That’s what prompted ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to announce the Dubailand project in 2003. Still under construction, this epic project has a reported construction cost of $64 billion. On completion, it’s projected to be twice the size of Florida’s Walt Disney World Resort – making it the largest theme park in the world.

24. Abandoned autos

There’s no shortage of wealth – and conspicuous consumption – in Dubai. Strangely, one of the less attractive aspects of that comes in the shape of abandoned high-end automobiles. It seems that even the wealthy of Dubai are not immune to the vagaries of the world economy. Many went bankrupt after the 2008 financial crash and, it’s reported, simply walked away from their luxury wheels.

23. Skiing in the desert

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Dubai is a desert city, and even in its coldest month of January temperatures rarely fall below around 60°F, according to the website Climates to Travel. Therefore, presumably winter sports are a non-starter. But you’d be underestimating the determination of the Emirate’s people. They simply went ahead and built a climate-controlled indoor resort with five slopes called Ski Dubai. So, you can bask in the sun in the morning and go skiing in the afternoon.

22. From rags to riches

It’s something of a surprise to learn about Dubai’s past when you look at the gleaming glass towers that ornament this thoroughly modern city. But going back to the early 19th century, it was a fishing and trading village – home to around 800 people of the Bani Yas tribe. According to the website Culture Trip, boom time for the Emirate really got going in around 1990, and since then the population has increased by an astonishing 569 percent.

21. Dates and cattle

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The first settlement we know about on the site of modern Dubai dates back as long ago as 5,000 years. That was the Bronze Age period, and itinerant cattle herders lived in the area during this time. Cultivation of date palms then came a few hundred years later. Those early herders and farmers would no doubt be utterly perplexed by the city that sits on their pastures and date groves today.

20. A key trading post

Anyone strolling along the Dubai coastline today opposite the site of the stunning man-made Palm Jumeirah islands will find a stretch of sandy beach overlooked by restaurants. But the scene was very different 1,500 years ago. At that time, Dubai was a key stop-off on the lucrative trade route between Oman to the south and Iraq to the north.

19. Millions of birds

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It’s certainly true that Dubai presents a sprawling urban cityscape on the coast of the Persian Gulf. But that doesn’t mean there’s no wildlife to enjoy. It’s actually a passage point for some 320 different species of migrating birds as they journey between Europe, Africa and Asia, according to the travel website Get Your Guide. Look out for broad-billed sandpipers, pink flamingos and spotted eagles during the fall and spring migratory seasons, when millions of birds fly over the city.

18. A tower based on a flower

The Burj Khalifa tower – with its 148 floors – is well known for its soaring height and the opulent luxury of the hotel that it houses. But it also has a surprising twist in this architectural form. The design of the building is actually based on a flower. Hymenocallis – better known as the spider lily – is the plant in question, and its natural habitat is fittingly in the desert.

17. A hymn to coffee

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The stimulating beverage has played a central role in both commerce and culture among Arab peoples, so it comes as no surprise that Dubai has its very own Coffee Museum. Set in an old Emirati house, the museum has exhibits illustrating the history of coffee and its irresistible spread around the world. Once you’ve learnt about that story, you can then relax in the museum’s café with a cup brewed in the traditional way.

16. Automated transit

Dubai proves its status as a futuristic modern city with its mass transit system known as the Dubai Metro. It is home to the world’s longest fully automated transport railway, which can whisk you around the city on two lines: the Red and the Green. In total, there are around 46 miles of track, with trains running between the 49 stops without a driver in sight.

15. Royal riches

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Headed by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai’s royal family have ruled the city state since 1833. And there are said to be hundreds of members within the family – including the Sheikh’s own 23 offspring. With all those children, it’s just as well that he is not short of money. Indeed, the family is reported to be worth $18 billion, according to figures reported in the Singapore Tatler.

14. Drier than a very dry thing

The desert city of Dubai might not be the destination for those of us who enjoy the gentle pleasure of raindrops falling from the sky. As well as being extremely hot, it is also notoriously dry. An average year sees just 4 inches of rain falling on the Emirate and during the summer precipitation is entirely absent, Climates to Travel notes.

13. Cars, cars and more cars

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Today, Dubai is a city built around the automobile. According to Condé Nast Traveller, there are around 1.4 million cars in the metropolis, and they barrel around the city on broad six-lane highways. But it wasn’t always thus. Going back to 1963, the publication notes that there were just 13 motor vehicles registered in Dubai. And per head of population, Dubai has more cars than either New York or London, Simply Car Buyers claims.

12. So many men

Interestingly, women in Dubai are very much a member of a minority gender. For every one female in the Emirate in 2019 there were 2.3 men, according to the Dubai Statistics Center. In a 2019 article on the subject, Gulf News explained this extraordinary disparity by highlighting the huge number of expat males working in the building industry.

11. Population explosion

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Dubai can have few competitors when it comes to population growth. According to Gulf News, in the decade from 2009 the number of people in the city exploded by an extraordinary 82 percent to a total of 3.2 million. Even more astonishingly, the city’s population was a puny 20,000 back in 1950.

10. Careful how you drink

Visit Dubai and you’ll find a thriving night-time scene with plenty of clubs and bars. Nevertheless, the Emirate does have stringent liquor laws. You can only enjoy strong drink in a properly licensed establishment if you’re over 21 and not a Muslim. Furthermore, liquor sales are forbidden on religious holidays and public drinking can be punishable by imprisonment.

9. A warning

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For male and female couples, public displays of affection are not only taboo but illegal. So, stick to hand-holding. Strictly speaking, only married couples can engage in carnal knowledge, although visitors will probably be fine if they’re discreet. The same can’t be said for gay people, however, as homosexuality is a criminal offence there.

8. Respect Ramadan

Ramadan is the month-long religious custom which sees Muslims fasting from dawn to dusk, and it is a requirement for the faithful in Dubai. If you’re in the city during this period, you should be careful to respect Ramadan. That means no eating, drinking or smoking in public during daylight hours. Though as a non-Muslim, the consumption of food and drink in your hotel is accepted.

7. Just say no

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Given the draconian punishments if you’re caught, any attempt to smuggle narcotics into the Emirates is utter folly. Even prescription drugs – including anti-depressants or painkillers such as codeine – could land you in a whole heap of trouble. The British government’s website advises that drug smugglers could face the death penalty, with a minimum of four year’s jail time for even tiny amounts of narcotics.

6. Shop until you drop

Those of us who like a bit of retail therapy will be pleased to hear that the very largest shopping mall in the world is located in the Emirate. With more than 1,200 shops, 120 places for a snack, a coffee or a meal plus an ice rink, what more could you ask for? Well, how about a five-star hotel with an infinity pool? That’s there, too.

5. Camels in the desert

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You might think that holidaying in Dubai would be an entirely urban affair. But that’s where you’d be wrong. The rolling sands of the Emirati desert are just a 20-minute drive from the city center. Various tour outfits offer desert trips with the opportunity to take on the stark beauty of the wilderness landscapes. And for a real adventure, book yourself a camel ride.

4. Frighteningly fast

If you enjoy being terrified, why not take a ride on the world’s fastest roller coaster? The Formula Rossa ride is located in Dubai’s Ferrari World theme park. Strap yourself in for a swooping trip that will take you to a top speed of 149 miles-per-hour, according to the BBC. Watch out for the g-force though – the Rossa can accelerate from zero to 60 in just two short seconds.

3. Take a tax holiday

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For those who’re thinking of traveling to Dubai to work, the Emirate has one characteristic they’re likely to appreciate very much. The local income tax level is a rock-bottom zero. It’s reported that Dubai’s rulers have no plans to impose income tax in any foreseeable future. Of course, depending on where you live, tax from your earnings may be required upon returning home.

2. Record breaker

Dubai is emphatically a city of superlatives. So, it’s only natural that the Emirate should feature in the Guinness World Records book more than 130 times. The city’s multiple records include 11 for the Burj Khalifa building alone. Dubai also holds the record for the fastest cop car, the world’s longest painting which measures 36,000 feet, and the world’s highest base jump, which was of course from the Burj Khalifa.

1. Gas or water?

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So, what would you prefer: a glass of water or a cup of gas? That might sound like a bizarre question, but the fact is that in Dubai the two very different liquids cost more or less the same. In August 2020 the Condé Naste Traveller reported that a couple of pints of gas cost 50 cents. Meanwhile, a three-pint bottle of water cost roughly the same in a city where it’s inadvisable to sample the mains water.

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