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Explore soaring marvels in a desert playground

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

The Burj Khalifa (left) towers above Dubai’s ultramodern skyline.   Photo: Xavier Arnau/Getty Images
Adrian Smith

Your Guide

Adrian Smith, designer of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building

 

Flight time:13.5 hours on Emirates

When to go:Winter
Average temperature: 77 degrees; weather: bone-dry

Where to stay:Manzil Downtown Dubai
A sleek but laid-back hotel that makes you feel like family. From $208; Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard, Old Town; vida-hotels.com

Dubai is the ultimate can-do city. When I first visited, in 2003, there was almost nothing there except for the Burj Al Arab, this fascinatingly outrageous 56-story, V-shaped hotel that had been built four years earlier on a manmade island in Dubai’s harbor and was designed to resemble the cocoon of a butterfly. (I’m told the handwoven carpets cost $300 per square foot and the in-room toiletries alone are worth $500.)

Today, Dubai has world-class universities and hospitals and some of the finest restaurants. It’s also home to the Dubai Mall, which comprises more than 1,200 stores under one roof and occupies five million square feet—a little bigger than the Merchandise Mart. It also has an ice rink, an aquarium with exhibits larger than the Shedd’s, and a modern-day souk where you can buy anything you want in gold. Middle Easterners fly in just to shop here.

Next door to the mall is the Burj Khalifa, which we completed in 2009. It has three observation decks: one each on the 124th and 125th floors and another on the 148th. One of my favorite touches: There’s a swimming pool on the 76th floor where you can swim under a glass wall and emerge outdoors.

Now Dubai is getting ready to host the world’s fair in 2020. When I think about what they’ve managed to do in a desert, it seems miraculous.

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