City Visit: Stopping over in Dubai and Travel to The Empty Quarter, United Arab Emirates

Dubai had some great sightseeing experiences. We didn’t go up the Burj Khalifa skyscraper or have breakfast at the Burj Al Arab, but we did relax. 

Some describe this city as a “meh” city. Although it has an artificial flavour to it, I think with a little scratching of the surface, there’s lots here to be seen and experienced. As with other hot sunny climates, it was a difficult city to shoot photos in well, without getting lots of glare.

This post is one chapter in our trip to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and the Maldives on United Airlines and Etihad Airways. This trip was booked and credited to Aeroplan and Etihad Preferred Guest. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.

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City Visit: Stopping over in Dubai and Travel to the Empty Quarter, United Arab Emirates

Checking out Diera and Old Dubai:

We spent a but of time in Diera – Old Dubai, which was the most interesting. Diera is historically the original part of Dubai and is located near the Dubai International Airport. We took the metro to get there from the Grosvenor House Hotel in Dubai Marina, saving the need for any taxi haggling.

This is the early cooling systems of the older buildings. This one is likely a replica, but it was how the buildings were cooled before the air conditioning era. Deira was an interesting neighbourhood. It was a cross between immigrant residences and a dressed up tourist zone that offered traditional markets.

Building Cooling Systems in Diera, Old Dubai
Walking the Streets of Diera
The Markets of Diera
Cooling off in The Markets of Diera
Neighbourhood Mosques in Diera

We also took a ride on Dubai’s own version of the Hong Kong Star Ferry – a traditional Dhow boat ride for 3 AED Dirham ($1 USD). From there, we were able to get a great perspective on the river.

Traditional Dhow Ferry
On the River
Under the Bright Middle East Sun
River Traffic on the Dubai Creek
Maritime Workers in Traditional Garb
The River Ferry Terminal

After all that sightseeing, it was time for a snack along side the river. We stopped for a little falafel, pita and hummus with riverside views. Of course, no liquor or wine was available so we enjoyed a fruit juice as is customary in this part of the world.

Riverside Arabic Snacks

Simply delicious and a great re-charge for our day..

Exploring the Dubai Mall:

Of course, a visit to Dubai wouldn’t be complete with out a visit to the 1,200 shop Dubai Mall. And of course, in a world of conservative opposites, they would have both no kissing / touching signs, and a fashion show on display at the same time. 

Exploring the Dubai Mall
Fashion Shows at the Dubai Mall
Local Rules in Effect
Views of the Burj Al Arab on the Skyline

We really enjoyed our time in Dubai. It was just the right combination of sightseeing and relaxing. We would look forward to coming back sometime soon.

Travelling to The Empty Quarter:

During this holiday, we were looking for something interesting to do. With our advance research, we discovered “The Empty Quarter”. The Empty Quarter is the sand desert encompassing most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula. The desert covers some 650,000 km (250,000 sq mi) including parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. It is part of the larger Arabian Desert. The desert is quite large measuring 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) long, and 500 kilometres (310 miles) wide. Its surface elevation varies from 800 metres (2,600 ft) in the southwest to around sea level in the northeast. The terrain is covered with sand dunes with heights up to 250 metres (820 ft), interspersed with gravel and gypsum plains.

After several days in Dubai sightseeing, we started our UAE road trip, heading down to the Empty Quarter and Liwa Oasis for a desert experience. 

We headed out on the highway which was pretty desolate. The further we got out, the more we were able to spot interesting things foreign to us, like camels being held in a farm area.

Hitting the Highway towards the Empty Quarter
A very flat and straight drive
Camel Spotting on the Drive

You certainly don’t see this every day when you travel, at least not in my travel circuits.

Visiting Sheikhs’ Hamad bin Hamdam al-Nahyan’s Private Car Collection at the Emirates National Car Museum:

On the way, we stopped at the Sheikhs’ Hamad bin Hamdam al-Nahyan’s private car collection. Called the Emirates National Auto Museum, and located in the middle of nowhere in an austere pyramid, the Sheikh has a car collection of 250 cars.

The Emirates National Car Museum

It was probably one of the more bizarre tourist attractions that I had ever seen. I don’t know if I’d really even call it a tourist attraction, we were the only ones there on our 1 hour visit. Who keeps a brand new 1996 Ford F150 complete with the window sticker as part of a collection? There was also a custom pickup truck scaled up 70 times normal size, a new Ford Crown Victoria police cruiser with California Highway Patrol markings (parked almost next to a Rolls Royce for that matter), and 7 Mercedes 500 SEL sedans, painted rainbow colors.

An enlarged pickup truck
A Rolls Royce contrasted with a Yellow Taxi Cab
Rainbow Mercedes Benzs

Surely some eclectic tastes at play here.


Our time in Dubai was quite enjoyable. It was the right mix of warm (hot) weather relaxing and light sightseeing. We were happy to be located in the Dubai Marina, which we found to be a convenient base for getting around. Thanks to the somewhat artificial nature of Dubai, it had something for everyone and a lot of different things to look at.

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