Transforming from an afterthought to a revitalized global city and business hub of the Middle East, today’s bustling metropolis of Dubai is a far cry from its relatively small population of 183,000 people only 40 years ago. Now home to over 2.2 million residents, Dubai has the United Arab Emirates to thank for reinvesting in the city after spending billions and billions to attract international attention and encourage tourists to visit the city and one day call it home.
With the Dubai International Airport as one of the busiest transportation centers in the world that outranks even Atlanta, Beijing and London, Dubai has quickly established itself as one of the most prominent and expensive cities in the world. Transitioning its economy from trade and exploration to oil, tourism, aviation and real estate, Dubai has attracted some of the most eccentric millionaires on the planet that seem to be running neck and neck to see who can spend the most the fastest.
In a city that speaks fluently in money, Dubai has come quite a long way in terms of wealth and its richest residents aren’t afraid to show it. Helping to make the city what it is today, we took a look around the 1,588 square-mile town and found 22 photos that prove Dubai is the craziest place on earth. Grab your passport and hold onto your seatbelts because this is an adventure you won’t want to miss!
#22 – Don’t Look Down
Towering at 2,722 feet with its grand spiral breaking through the clouds, what better place to start our adventure in Dubai than at the top of the Burj Khalifa? Inspired as part of the Downtown Dubai project to draw international attention to the city, construction on the Burj began in January 2004 and was completed six years later to the tune of $1.5 billion. Officially recognized as the tallest building in the world, its grand opening in January 2010 gave visitors a first look at the exquisite multi-use structure.
Attracting tourists from around the world (and for good reason), the Burj is home to the Armani Hotel, a variety of restaurants, corporate suites and dozens of residences in addition to two observation decks that offer breathtaking views of the city. The first observation deck, At the Top, opened in 2010 on the 124th floor and was the highest in the world before losing its title in 2011. In a city where bigger is always better, the Burj went sky-high to reclaim the title in 2014 when they opened the SKY observation deck on the 148th floor that gave visitors a chance to stand inside the clouds!
#21 – It’s a Miracle
Will you be my Valentine? February 14, 2013 wasn’t another ordinary Valentine’s Day in Dubai as Cupid’s arrow landed in the heart of the city at the opening of the Dubai Miracle Garden. Easily one of the most impressive botanical gardens in the world, the Miracle Garden is exactly that – a miracle – as it stretches across over 780,000 square feet in the middle of the Arabian Desert and is home to over 15,000 butterflies and an impressive 45 million flowers.
Earning the Garden Tourism Award for New Garden Experience in 2015, the Miracle Garden cost over $10 million to build with construction completed in two phases by over 400 workers. Filled with attractions like a floral clock, colorful peacocks, a butterfly park and an aromatic garden, tourists from around the world plan their vacations between October and April to ensure they don’t miss out on the best views from Dubai’s very own beautiful blooming desert miracle.
#20 – Need a Lift?
Don’t worry, we deliver! If it seems like everyone in Dubai drives a luxury sports car, there just might be a good reason. As if the city wasn’t already crazy enough, car dealerships have jumped on the bandwagon and raised the bar when it comes to customer service as many now offer helicopter delivery. No, we aren’t joking! If you buy a sports car in Dubai, there’s a fairly high chance that you can have it delivered by helicopter right to your front door. Now that’s one heck of a sales promotion!
In 2013, Aston Martin paved the way as the first automaker to have one of their cars delivered by helicopter to the top of the Burj Al Arab hotel after hovering at over 1,000 feet above the ground. Obviously loving all things Dubai, Aston Martin celebrated its 100th birthday event and gushed over the city saying, “It is with great pride that we continue our centenary celebrations in such a unique manner in the city of Dubai.” Why? Because anywhere else a helicopter delivering a car would simply look out of place!
#19 – Buy Low Cell High
The phone’s ringing and it’s for you! In a city known for its wealth and love of luxury (cue the sports cars and helicopters), shopping for a cell phone is anything but ordinary. While the rest of us often feel like we’ve splurged on the latest iPhone, that’s only pocket change compared to Dubai’s love of all things technology especially when it comes to glitzy and glamorous cell phones. Home to some of the world’s most expensive phones, Dubai takes great pride in bedazzling their phones with everything from diamonds to silver and even gold.
Marketing to impulse shoppers who won’t blink twice at a price tag like $43,189, one of the craziest things about these insanely high-priced phones is that they are usually not even smartphones! Forget Twitter, Instagram and Facebook because these luxury cell phones are old school versions that are only good for making calls. With that being said, maybe $43,000 worth of diamonds and gold means more to Dubai’s residents than sending a text, posting a tweet or taking a selfie!
#18 – Traffic Jam
Vroom, vroom! If you didn’t believe us before about Dubai being a hotspot for sports cars, then this picture just might make you a believer. With a population of nearly 2.5 million people (and growing), Dubai’s traffic is typically a gridlock of Aston Martins, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Jaguars and the like as residents hustle around a town that seemingly never sleeps. Paired with its rising number of visitors, the city is busting at the seams with far from enough roads to satisfy every driver’s need for speed.
With rush hour looking more like a parking lot featuring an international auto show, Dubai’s commuters are savvy enough to know when to cut the engine and take a break from behind the driver’s seat when traffic is at a standstill. During these occasions, drivers walk around the multiple lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic and take pictures of other sports cars that just might inspire their next impulse buy. After all, window shopping on the highway is easy when a helicopter can deliver your next sports car right to your front door.
#17 – Not All Are Jammed
While Americans are known for driving the wheels off of their cars and only then deciding to sell, trade or scrap them for parts, Dubai residents are wealthy enough that they don’t even bother with the hassle. Instead of scrapyards filled with rusted car parts and junked cars, Dubai drivers abandon their old or unwanted cars wherever they please. What’s even more surprising is the fact that most of the abandoned cars aren’t old hunks of junk but are, instead, high-end sports cars easily worth six figures or more.
One of the prime locations for abandoned cars in Dubai is at the Dubai International Airport where those traveling out of the country drive to the terminal only to abandon their luxury sports cars in the parking lot. Months and even years go by without people claiming the dust-covered vehicles, which makes us wonder why these people left and where they went. Needless to say, if you’re in the market for a good deal on a Ferrari, the Dubai Airport just might have the car you’ve been dreaming of!
#16 – High Speed Chase
And here you thought only Dubai’s wealthiest residents own some of the nicest sports cars in the world! As American police officers get behind the wheels of modest cars like Dodges or Fords that are typically passed down from officer to officer, Dubai has upped the ante once again. The Lamborghini pictured here is one of many in the Dubai Police Department’s fleet of patrol vehicles that is more than capable of matching the speed of any wild sports car chase.
Amid a variety of the world’s fastest sports cars, the department’s fleet includes luxury rides like the Ferrari FF, Bentley Continental GT, Aston Martin One-77 and the McLaren MP4-12C. Cars aren’t the only splurge for the officers, however, as most carry Glock 17 pistols with Heckler and Koch MP5 SMG’s in their cars. Needless to say, no one wants to get in a car chase or take on the Dubai Police as they are more than ready for whatever comes their way.
#15 – Snow in the Desert
Located in one of the hottest regions in the world in the Arabian Desert, Dubai has a desert climate where most days are incredibly hot and windy with summer temperatures averaging well over 100 degrees between May and September. With the highest recorded temperature measured at 126 degrees in July 2002, winter offers little relief with highs in the mid-70s and lows that never fall below the 55-degree mark during even the coldest parts of the year.
Though Dubai has never seen below-freezing temperatures, residents are no strangers to snow thanks to the world-renowned indoor ski resort known as Ski Dubai. Stretching across 22,500 square meters, the resort features five slopes that vary by difficulty as well as the world’s first indoor black diamond run. With temperatures kept at a brisk 30 degrees during the day, Ski Dubai accommodates skiers and snowboarders with lifts, play areas, sled and toboggan runs, an ice body slide, climbing towers and even penguins that roam the resort at various times throughout the day. How’s that for a winter wonderland in the middle of the desert?
#14 – Gold Withdrawal
From helicopter deliveries of luxury cars to diamond-plated cell phones with heart-stopping price tags, part of Dubai’s incredible wealth is because of its use of gold as a solid investment. While Americans also invest in gold, Dubai has taken things to the next level with the adoption of the Gold to Go ATM machine that dispenses gold bars instead of cash. First created by the TG Gold Super Market and launched in Abu Dhabi, Gold to Go has definitely set Dubai apart when it comes to the gold standard.
With only one Gold to Go machine popping up in Florida in the United States, Dubai is a different story as the machines are scattered across the city everywhere from supermarkets and shopping malls to boutiques and convenience stores. Designed to be fast and convenient, the machines work like standard ATM machines only they dispense gold bars in different sizes of one, five or ten grams. During the holidays, shoppers can even purchase a gift box filled with gold coins for a last minute gift for that special someone.
#13 – All Gold Everything
Did we mention how much people in Dubai love gold? What about luxury cars and all things glamorous? Some Dubai residents have taken their love a little too far with the purchase of gold-plated vehicles to better flaunt their wealth. As a matter of fact, the SUV pictured here is just one of many in a growing trend that has overtaken Dubai with even Mercedes-Benz jumping on board in 2013 with the introduction of a special SLR model made entirely of white gold.
With white gold, gold and perhaps a future filled with diamond covered luxury cars, we can’t imagine the price tag on this gold-plated SUV. To give you a better idea of just how big the gold car craze is in Dubai, a gold Lamborghini Aventador was auctioned in 2013 for an astonishing $7.5 million. Though over $600,000 of the proceeds were donated to charity, Dubai residents are not only wealthy but they are incredibly serious when it comes to their gold and their cars.
#12 – Eating Birds While Birds Watch
Sit! Speak! Stay! With dogs being one of the most popular pets in the world, many dog owners struggle to teach their dogs simple commands. People in Dubai, however, have a different preference for pets as the gentlemen pictured here eat their lunch as their pet hawk watches nearby. While birds like parakeets and parrots are far from unusual pets, hawks and falcons usually require extensive licensing and training before they can be properly handled to ensure the safety of the bird and the owners.
There’s no need to worry, however, because this hawk looks like he’s well-trained and well fed. Dining at a fast food chain that, by the logo on the cup, looks similar to Church’s Chicken here in the United States, the restaurant is an interesting choice especially when dining with a pet. Regardless, we hope these two men kept their food to themselves as giving the bird a bite of a chicken sandwich seems to be in poor taste. After all, birds of a feather flock together…or do they?
#11 – High Speed
If seeing a pet hawk in a restaurant shocked you, then the next few images will only further prove why Dubai is one of the craziest places on earth. Not only is Dubai home to some of the fastest cars in the world, the city’s nearly 2.5 million residents also have some of the fastest and strangest animals for pets. Pictured here riding shotgun in a luxury car, this pet cheetah waits patiently on a leash while his owner busily texts on his gold-plated cell phone. But, wait a minute before you get any crazy ideas!
In case you were planning on picking up a cheetah for your next pet, don’t even bother if you’re in the United States because there are hundreds of regulations that prevent it (and rightly so!). However, in a city where money talks and luxury reigns as king, Dubai residents know the real meaning of “show me the money” as they can get everything they want and more (including exotic animals) as long as they have the cash or the gold to pay for it.
#10 – Showing Their Stripes
Lions, tigers and bears, oh my! The exotic pets just keep coming and, this time, it’s a beautiful tiger riding shotgun and looking entirely fed up with Dubai’s famous rush hour traffic. Like cheetahs, tigers are incredibly rare with only a few thousand remaining in the entire world. As a result, there are only eight states in the United States where it is even a possibility to own a tiger with Nevada at the top of the list since Las Vegas is considered the Dubai of the western hemisphere.
Sadly, exotic pets like cheetahs and tigers usually suffer the same fate as the thousands of sports cars abandoned every year in Dubai. Since Dubai residents can afford just about anything and everything under the sun, they rarely give a second thought to ditching their pets for something bigger, better and even more exotic. Like we said, money is Dubai’s native language and not even something as beautiful and exotic as a tiger is immune to the craziness of the desert city.
#9 – We Aren’t Lion
Who needs to worry about owning a luxury car when you can ride a lion? If you’re tired of looking at the gold-plated SUVs or cheetahs riding shotgun, then you’re in for a real treat as this Dubai man uses his pet lion to get from A to Z. Hey, it’s mane is gold and that’s close enough to gold-plated, isn’t it? Like cheetahs and tigers, lions are endangered but that hasn’t stopped even the wealthiest people in Dubai from forking over large sums of money to keep them as pets.
Typically auctioned for $50,000 or more, lions unfortunately meet the same fate as tigers, cheetahs and other exotic pets in the bustling city. As a result of widespread abandonment of such pets and no real option for the animals to reenter the wild, Dubai native Ayesha Kelaif was inspired to take action when she transformed her home into a rescue shelter. Currently living in her very own private zoo, Kelaif happily keeps the company of monkeys, tigers, lions, iguanas and dozens of other animals who are lucky to have a second chance.
#8 – Superbus
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a…superbus! The only way that you can get around faster than driving in the United States is if you travel by plane since high speed bullet trains have yet to arrive at the station. In Dubai, however, all you have to do is hop on the famed Superbus, which is a hybrid vehicle that is part bus, airplane and NASCAR stock car. Don’t believe us? Able to carry nearly two dozen passengers, the Superbus travels at speeds of up to 160 miles per hour.
Developed in the Netherlands, the Supercar project has picked up steam thanks to everyone’s need for speed in Dubai. To avoid crowding the already overwhelming amount of cars in the city, the Superbus has designated lanes or even separate roads that allow passengers to travel twice as fast as normal traffic, even against those speeding Ferraris and Lamborghinis! While being a passenger is usually frowned upon in Dubai, traveling at lightning speed on a Superbus more than makes up for it.
#7 – Chill Out
Ice, ice baby! Living in the Arabian Desert, Dubai residents welcome every opportunity they can find to help beat the scorching and humid heat. While Ski Dubai offers everything from skiing and snowboarding to sledding and skating, the Sharaf Group decided to up the ante when they opened the Middle East’s first sub-zero lounge in 2007 better known as the Chill Out Lounge of Dubai. Keeping a temperature of -6 degrees, the restaurant is the first of its kind to feature ice furniture while serving hot food and beverages.
Before patrons ever set foot into the ice bar, the lounge provides thermal clothing such as parkas, gloves and hats before escorting their guests into a buffer zone that allows their bodies to safely adjust from the extreme heat to the frigid cold. Once inside, sheepskin blankets are provided as diners enjoy a breathtaking interior built of ice, glass and steel that features colorful lighting, unique patterns and delicious food that create a magical winter wonderland experience.
#6 – At the Races
We’re off to the races! Every year, millions of Americans make big bets on horseraces like the illustrious Kentucky Derby while anxiously tuning in to triple crown races to see their favorites cross the finish line. On the other side of the world, the races are quite a bit different as horses are replaced by camels and jockeys are replaced by robots. Over the past decade, places like Dubai have switched to robot jockeys out of a growing concern with children facing ongoing abuse as a result of the strict and often grueling hours spent training to become jockeys.
Today, robots are considered the standard in Dubai for camel racing as it prevents ongoing abuse to not only the jockeys but the camels as well since the robots often weigh no more than 40 pounds. Able to move much faster than having a person on their backs, the camels speed around the track as operators sit in an SUV while cruising alongside the track’s outer ring allowing them to keep a close eye on both their camel and their robot.
#5 – Oh Great, Another Starbucks
I’ll take a venti raspberry mocha latte, please! With well over 20,000 Starbucks locations around the world, you can probably name at least three that are within a few miles of your house. Out of those thousands and thousands of coffee shops, it should be no surprise that the city of luxury is home to some of the nicest Starbucks in the world. Grab your latte and have a seat because this is the one of the most beautiful Starbucks we’ve ever seen.
Located in the Battuta Mall (which you’ll see more of later), this Starbucks is the focal point of a beautiful rotunda featuring ornate mosaic tiled walls, a glowing chandelier and gorgeous floors. A far cry from any mall food court or Starbucks we’ve ever visited, we can’t imagine this local coffee shop serves anything less than biscotti wrapped in gold, lattes poured with the silkiest creams and daily drips made of the finest beans.
#4 – High End Shopping
Let’s shop till we drop! This aerial view shows what was once known as the largest mall in the entire world, the aptly named Dubai Mall. The four-story and 5.4 million square-foot mall was part of the $20 billion Dubai Downtown renovation project that included the Burj Khalifa to revitalize and attract international attention to the growing city. Completed in May 2008, the mall did exactly that when it opened with 635 retailers as the second largest mall opening in world history.
Currently home to over 1,200 shops, a luxury hotel, movie theater and more than 120 restaurants, The Dubai Mall sees millions of visitors each year with 2014 topping the charts after an impressive 80 million people passed through its doors. Once inside, visitors can skate on an Olympic-sized ice rink or play over 150 games at the SEGA Republic indoor theme park based on the Sonic the Hedgehog video game. If that isn’t enough to take in, visitors can head over to the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo which just so happens to be next up on our list.
#3 – And Its Aquarium
Sitting inside The Dubai Mall, the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo could easily stand alone as one of the greatest museums in the Middle East. Designed by the Oceanis Australia Group, the aquarium features one of the largest glass displays in the world and is only outranked by Japan’s Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium and China’s Chime-Long Ocean Kingdom. Withstanding 10 million liters of water, the glass panel allows visitors a crystal clear look at over 33,000 marine animals.
So what are the dangers of having so many animals and so much water inside one of the largest malls in the world? Hiring and training only the best of the best, the aquarium staff has little room for error when it comes to cleaning, maintaining and caring for the facility and its marine life. In February 2010, the unthinkable occurred when a leak in the aquarium caused a partial evacuation of the underwater zoo and a brief shutdown of one area of the mall. Thankfully, it wasn’t the shark tank, otherwise that would’ve been extremely messy!
#2 – Tennis, Anyone?
See you on the court! If you plan on heading to the tennis courts in Dubai, you might consider packing a dozen or so extra balls for the match. Typically used as the Burj Al Arab luxury hotel’s helipad and only transformed to promote the 2005 Dubai Duty Free Men’s Open, the court gave players a stunning view of the city of Dubai and the beautiful blue waters of the Arabian Gulf but did little to keep those stray tennis balls from flying over the edge.
Towering at over 1,000 feet, the court attracted some of the biggest publicity in the sport’s history when tennis greats Andre Agassi and Roger Federer arrived to play a friendly match before the Men’s Open. Making their way to the hotel’s rooftop and up a flight of stairs, the pros cautiously looked over the edge before making history as the only two professionals to ever play a round at such a dizzying height. Having since reverted to the hotel’s helipad, the sky-high tennis court will forever live on in pictures!
#1 – Island Living
Palm trees and fruity drinks, it’s the island way of life! When you think of island living, the first place that usually comes to mind is the Caribbean and not the United Arab Emirates. However, Dubai has proven to be the exception to the rule once again after building its own set of artificial islands which is home to Palm Jumeirah, Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Deira just off the city’s coast. With construction beginning in 2001 amid controversy over the cost and environmental impact, the only island yet to be completed is also the smallest – Palm Jumeirah.
Attracting millionaires and billionaires throughout the country, big spenders have dropped $1.5 million or more (which is chump change in Dubai) for their own islands in the Palms offering plenty of room to build extravagant mansions and boat docks galore. With Palm Jumeirah already filled with a variety of luxury hotels, resorts, apartments and homes, it’s undeniable that Dubai’s wealthiest won’t bat an eye at dropping millions just to switch their zip codes from the city streets to the sandy isles of the Gulf.