Hard to Believe Photos and Facts About Dubai

By Jake Schroeder
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Photo Courtesy: Image Catalog/Flickr

To many, the Middle East has always been a bit of a mystery. Even one of its largest cities, Dubai, is largely unknown to outsiders. However, this sprawling metropolis is set to become a global contender, with soaring growth rates and impressive tourist attractions.

So, what is the appeal of this booming city in the United Arab Emirates? Take a look at our list of impressive Dubai photos and facts, and you might decide you know just where to go on your next vacation.

A Tennis Court Like No Other

This tennis court has the interesting distinction of being the highest tennis court in the world. It was built on top of the Burj Al Arab hotel before the Dubai Duty-Free Men's Open as a way of garnering attention for the competition. And, yes, players actually played a game on top — Andre Agassi and Roger Federer, to be exact.

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Photo Courtesy: Brett Jordan/Flickr

The scariest part is that there isn't much of a barrier keeping the players from falling off — and it’s a 1,000-foot drop! Would you ever set foot on this court? It also sparks curiosity about how many bystanders got beaned with tennis balls down below.

Million Dollar License Plates

We all know that you can customize your license plate, but would you pay $14 million to customize it? Some people in Dubai have done just that. It's essentially a way of showing off wealth. The most coveted — and most expensive — plates are single digits. The more digits, the cheaper the plate.

Expensive Customized Personalized License Plates
Photo Courtesy: K News/YouTube

A license plate may seem like something trivial to you, but to many in Dubai, it's an important mark of status. After all, a millionaire driving a Ferrari doesn't want to be caught with any old number on their car.

The Mall of the World

A daunting project is underway in Dubai. "The Mall of the World" will be the Earth's largest indoor shopping mall, made up of 50 million square feet and inspired by places like NYC's Broadway and London's Oxford Street. It sure sounds like an impressive tourist attraction.

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Photo Courtesy: @ArchJournal/Twitter

Developers plan to include 20,000 hotel rooms in the mall and more than 50,000 parking spaces. It won't just be shops, either. Visitors will be able to enjoy movie theaters, game parks and areas for cultural events as well — extravagance at its finest!

Serious Debt Management

Dubai is notoriously strict when it comes to incurring debt you can't pay. If you start missing credit card payments, they might just throw you in jail or kick you out of the country. You should pay your debts, of course, but that seems a little extreme, doesn't it?

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Photo Courtesy: Bernard Oh/Flickr

Foreigners should consider it a warning. Many of them come for the tax-free salaries and nice living conditions — for those that can afford it — but they often get in over their heads financially. It's common for these people to be deported or to flee the country of their own accord.

Desert City Heat Waves

Dubai is a city that is situated in the center of a desert. Outside, temperatures easily soar up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and sandstorms are also a concern. As a result, air conditioning is very necessary in just about every building.

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Photo Courtesy: @irishmigrants/Twitter

Skyscrapers have intense vertical cooling systems powered by water pumps, and they literally keep the buildings from melting into the ground. Without them, people would be cooked alive under the sweltering desert sun. It’s hard to imagine how much power the city needs to function from day to day.

Growing Faster Than Any Other City on Earth

Dubai has been growing at an alarming speed — and it might not be a good thing. Their metro system was built in only 18 months, much faster than any other city has managed to complete the job, and new buildings have been going up continuously.

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Photo Courtesy: Good Free Photos

Consequently, trade and tourism are increasing for the city, and it has become the fifth-highest performing metropolitan economy. Some economists, however, think we should be concerned, claiming a housing or financial crisis might be on the way. They seem to think too much of a good thing can actually be bad.

Exotic Pets

We already know that luxury is the name of the game in Dubai, but this goes above and beyond the norm. The wealthiest residents don’t seem to think simple dogs and cats are suitable. They want exotic pets like tigers and cheetahs. And somehow, they get them, even though it's technically illegal to own one.

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Photo Courtesy: @abroadunderhood/Twitter

That means you might see a tiger hanging out the window of a passing car or an exotic bird on a passerby's shoulder. It's not that hard to get them, either. They can be bought on the internet. Big surprise!

Robot Camel Racing

The U.S. has baseball, and Dubai has camel racing. It’s the official sport of the city, but it has also been the subject of great scandal in the past. Camels require small people to be jockeys — specifically children — and it was discovered that child trafficking was occurring to fulfill this need.

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Photo Courtesy: @naidusudhakarv/Twitter

These days, camels are raced by small robots. It's a perfect solution: no more kids in danger and less weight for the camels. These robot jockeys can cost anywhere from $300 to $3,000. They are certainly inventive in Dubai!

Majority Are Immigrants

Interestingly, Dubai is a city made up of foreigners — a surprising 83% of the population are immigrants. They mostly come from nearby countries like Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. However, some come from Western countries as well. Only 17% fall into the official "Emirates" category.

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Photo Courtesy: Olgaozik/Pixabay

The divide among immigrants and Emirates is huge, however. Most immigrants work grueling, low-paying jobs and live in poor conditions. Emirates, on the other hand, don't lack for anything. A small portion of Emirates and immigrants belong to the wealthy elite of Dubai and make mind-boggling salaries.

Abandoned Expensive Cars

In Dubai, it's not rare to see expensive sports cars abandoned in parking lots. Why would that happen? Well, Dubai isn't exactly lenient when it comes to debt, so if you start to fall behind on car payments, you could find yourself in prison.

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Photo Courtesy: Ben/Wikimedia Commons

Considering the consequences, it makes sense that people who get in trouble financially can't manage to keep such expensive cars. They often decide to flee the country, leaving behind million-dollar Ferraris and other pricey vehicles. It's too bad these flashy machines end up rusting on the side of the road.

Unique Indoor Ski Park

Who said you can't ski in the desert? Dubai is proud of its indoor ski resort, with five slopes spanning 22,500 square meters, including one at the black diamond level. Another run measures 400 meters, with the artificial mountain clocking in at 85 meters tall.

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Photo Courtesy: Timo Tervo/Flickr

With this ingenious construction, visitors are able to enjoy all the benefits of winter, despite the 100-degree weather outside. Just don your coat and gloves — you brought them, right? — and rent a pair of skis. Extra perk: You don't even have to worry about sunscreen.

No Skimping in Fancy Hotels

Arguably the most famous hotel in Dubai is the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah. It has been called a "seven-star hotel" by reviewers, and it’s also the fourth-tallest hotel in the world. The interior includes 1,790 square meters of space adorned with 24-carat gold leaf. It’s the place to stay if you're looking for high-end accommodations.

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Photo Courtesy: Jimmy Baikovicius/Flickr

Of course, you have to be ready to hand out some big bills. The Royal Suite will cost you about $20,000 per night! Only the richest people in Dubai have seen its impressive interior.

Bus Stops You Dream About

Not only do these bus stops look cool, but they have a really useful purpose as well. Dubai gets very hot in the summer months, and it can be dangerous to be outside for long periods of time. Heat exhaustion and dehydration are very real threats in the UAE.

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Photo Courtesy: Fabio Achilli/Flickr

In other countries, you pretty much have to suffer through the elements at bus stops, but not in Dubai. They have enclosed air-conditioned stations so that bus riders can stay cool — and sane — in the heat. It looks like their luxury extends to the streets.

Neverending Construction

Thanks to all the growth happening in Dubai and the Middle East in general, it’s common to see a lot of cranes — no, we're not talking about the bird. Currently, 24% of all the construction cranes in the world are being used in Dubai. That's about 30,000 cranes.

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Photo Courtesy: @meeddubai/Twitter

This isn't surprising when you consider how much money and effort is going into the city’s expansion. In 2017, Dubai had a budget of $12.88 billion for infrastructure spending alone — and it’s not just for cranes. The entire Middle East is using lots of heavy-duty construction machinery for modern expansion.

ATMs Like You've Never Seen

Head to the Dubai Mall, and you can find this special ATM. Instead of spitting out cash, it dispenses gold bars. If you're not feeling the bars that day — they are heavy! — you can also select coins or jewelry, all made with 24-carat gold.

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Photo Courtesy: Marko Kudjerski/Flickr

You'll have to pay with a credit card or cash and then click on the type of gold you want. Simple, fast and easy — if you have the money, of course. These things are so popular that they have to be refilled twice a week. Apparently, a lot of people like gold!

Fashion

You probably think of Paris or New York City when you think of fashion, but Dubai is quickly catching up to these cities. The city has its own fashion shows throughout the year and even has a region of the city dedicated solely to high-end clothing.

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Photo Courtesy: Jaguar MENA/Flickr

In fact, some Dubai designers have had their work featured on runways in NYC and Paris. Their designs aren't usually as revealing as styles Americans are used to seeing, but is that really a bad thing? They are popular, nonetheless. After all, not everyone wants a see-through gown or a bare midriff, just to be stylish.

Skyscrapers

Back in 1991, Dubai only had one building that qualified as a skyscraper: the World Trade Center. Now, it has more than 400 skyscrapers dotting the city, including the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. The road where you can find the highest concentration of skyscrapers is Sheikh Zayed Road.

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Photo Courtesy: Re-Zet/Pixabay

If Dubai managed to go from one to 400 in 30 years, how many will it have 30 years from now? Only time will tell. One thing is for certain: The city is not slowing down.

Low Crime

Dubai doesn't play around when it comes to crime. They operate under Muslim law, and punishments are strict for those caught breaking the law. Because of this, Dubai is actually one of the safest cities you can visit. It’s a high point of pride for the city.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter Dowley/Wikimedia Commons

Visitors will notice that police officers — who enjoy a high social status — ride around in Lamborghinis and Ferraris. That’s a far cry from police vehicles in the U.S. They even have a $1.79 million Aston Martin, complete with the police force's signature green stripes.

More Sand Than You Can Imagine

If you haven't heard of Dubai's Palm Islands, you're in for a treat. Palm Jumeirah, Jebel Ali and Deira are all man-made islands created off Dubai's sparkling shores. Not surprisingly, Palm Jumeirah is arranged in the shape of a palm tree.

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Photo Courtesy: Fabio Achilli/Flickr

In order to make these islands, Dubai had to ship in enough sand to fill the empire state building two and a half times. The city is now calling this project the eighth wonder of the world. It's certainly an impressive creation — if only for the crazy production logistics.

A Crucial Airport

Tourism is booming in Dubai, and that means their airport is crucial to their growth. It generates a humble $22 million of the GDP of Dubai — that's 33% of the total. Other things that contribute are commerce, trading, transportation, retail and, of course, oil.

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Photo Courtesy: Fabio Achilli/Flickr

Dubai International Airport is also important on a much simpler level. It directly employs more than 90,000 people and indirectly supports more than 400,000. It's a bustling economic hub, and if anything were to happen to it, the city would be devastated. It coordinates nearly 2,000 flights each day.

They Want to Win

Rapid growth and plans for the biggest mall on Earth — it's all part of Dubai's drive to be the best. The best buildings, the best hotels and the best place for a vacation. The city even boasts the tallest building on Earth, the Burj Khalifa, standing at an unbelievable 163 stories high.

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Photo Courtesy: Sam Valadi/Flickr

Dubai is also known for being home to the biggest aquarium in the world, the biggest indoor ski park and the tallest hotel (JW Marriott Marquis). This hotel — as well as many others — are said to be some of the most luxurious hotels on the planet. If there is anything Dubai wants, it's to be #1.

Address? What's That?

It seems crazy that such a quickly developing city wouldn't have a proper address system, but it's true. Thanks to exponential growth, clear directions have fallen to the wayside. That means visitors need to be doubly prepared. Without a map on hand, even taxis won't always know where to take you.

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Photo Courtesy: Vladimir Yaitskiy/Wikimedia Commons

If you ever want to send a letter to Dubai, their mailing labels have a place where you can draw a map to the house or write clear directions like "third street past the yellow supermarket." Does it work? Only mailmen in the city know for sure.

Oil Hub

Oil has always been one of Dubai's main resources. In 1991, the city produced roughly 400,000 barrels of oil a day. Over the years, that number has gone down significantly, as the city has improved in other areas like tourism and real estate and no longer depends solely on oil.

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Photo Courtesy: marianne muegenburg/Flickr

Today, Dubai usually produces 50,000 to 70,000 barrels a day. That's still a significant amount — about the equivalent of four and a half Olympic swimming pools — but it's a small fraction of the old numbers. The real money is in real estate.

Never Enough Gold

You will see gold everywhere in Dubai — after all, it's one of the residents' favorite things. Gold markets offer all kinds of glittering jewelry and sculptures, and you can easily find someone to put gold-plating on the most unlikely of objects.

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Photo Courtesy: @BatFineJewelry/Twitter

That doesn't mean that gold is cheap. In fact, Dubai is considered one of the most expensive cities in the entire Middle East. So, that gold-plated phone case you've always wanted? Sure, you can have it, but it will cost you. Carrying your phone around encased in gold, though? Priceless.

Biggest Aquarium Ever

Aquariums are some of the coolest places to visit. You can immerse yourself in a different world, if only for a few hours. In Dubai, you could probably spend days at the aquarium. It has the largest acrylic panel viewing area and plenty of once-in-a-lifetime activities.

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Photo Courtesy: Cazz/Flickr

Try taking a boat ride on a boat with a glass bottom or go cage diving with sharks. Not that adventurous? Take a leisurely stroll through the underwater hallway and watch sharks swim by — from a comfortable distance. Kids and adults alike will call it a trip to remember.

No Booze for Muslims

Muslims aren’t allowed to drink alcohol. In order to purchase beer or wine from a liquor store in Dubai, you must have a specific license — and that goes for tourists too. You are allowed to drink at licensed establishments, but don't think about taking the booze outside. Drinking in public areas is strictly prohibited.

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Photo Courtesy: City Foodsters/Flickr

No matter how badly you want to enjoy champagne on the beach, it’s not an option. Police will also haul you off for being drunk in public and for driving under the influence. It’s best to stay in the restaurant and not slip behind the wheel.

Detestable Traffic

The explosion of growth in Dubai means that traffic went from non-existent to all-consuming in a matter of decades. Honestly, if you're visiting the city, you should probably avoid renting a car. It's simply not worth the headache. Bumper-to-bumper traffic is the norm, even on double-decker highways.

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Photo Courtesy: Max Pixel

It's best to travel via metro within the city or even take the bus if necessary. As a last resort, taxis can take you where you need to go. Unfortunately, the number of cars has also led to growing contamination in the air.

No to Premarital Sex

This Muslim country has a no-tolerance policy when it comes to sex — specifically the premarital (or extra-marital) kind. If someone is discovered engaging in these activities, they could end up in prison. As you can guess, this happens mostly to expatriates who aren't up to snuff on — or think they can ignore — the rules.

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Photo Courtesy: Jibukrajan/Wikimedia Commons

It's best not to engage in PDA unless you want to get dirty looks. Even holding hands is risky. Unfortunately, police value a man's word over a woman's. Women who reported rape have been put in jail in the past.

Pearls Everywhere

Interestingly, Dubai used to be famous for its pearls. Long before oil and tourism took over, the region owed much of its economy to pearl farming. Back in the 1800s and early 1900s, crews of men dove in the Arabian Gulf and collected promising mollusks every day.

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Photo Courtesy: Travancorehistory/Wikimedia Commons

The pearls were highly coveted because the Gulf produced some of the most robust, colorful pearls in the world. The industry didn't survive through World War I, however, and then Japanese cultured pearls came along, and the practice completely died away.

The Largest Theme Park

Dubai has plans to create the largest theme park in the world. Surprise! Dubailand would be double the size of Disney World and is expected to attract 200,000 visitors each day. The plans were announced in 2003 with a staggering price tag of $64.3 billion.

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Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

As with many large-scale projects, development has been delayed several times throughout the years, but as of 2013, they had amassed $55 billion toward their goal. Will this dream ever come to fruition? We will have to wait and find out, but if any city can do it, Dubai can.