I think Dubai is overrated. There, I said it. People may get upset, because it is such a hotspot these days, but really, if you are not into shopping (I'm not), crowds (I'm not), spending lots and lots of money (I don't have that much to spend) and more shopping (I covered this didn't I?), it's not going to keep you interested for more than a day or two. It's a gigantic building site, it changes on a monthly basis, the roads go in different directions than they did only a few months ago, it's busy and expensive and polluted, and honestly I don't know what the fuss is about.
However, if you should find yourself in Dubai with some time to kill, there are some things worth doing and seeing, once you've spent all your money at one of the city's fifty million malls (well, if there aren't there will be soon!). For those of you who just tuned in, I lived in the Emirates for four years. I did not live in Dubai, thank all the deities that have or will or could exist. I lived in a much smaller, quieter place called Al Ain. But you cannot live in the UAE and avoid Dubai entirely, alas. So I am rather familiar with it, though there are obviously people who are more so.
One of the city's major advantages is that it is the stopover point for those long haul Emirates flights. If you're going from anywhere in Europe to Australia, for example, you may end up in Dubai for a couple of days. Likewise to places in South East Asia. If you find yourself in that position, it really probably is worthwhile to spend a couple of days if you can. And here follows the guide for people (like me) who are not that into big cities, but find themselves in this particular one.
My first hint is take water. Wherever you go. It is HOT. Even in winter it is hot. Believe me, no matter where you are from, this is HEAT. And it's coastal, so it is also humid. Upwards of 45C with a lot of evaporated sea in the air is not a fun and pleasant experience. You will dehydrate. Carry water with you.
My second hint is take a jersey. Now you think I am crazy - I just told you how viciously hot it is. Indeed. However, every building and vehicle you go in will be air conditioned. And some of them are a tad... zealous. Hotels, especially, can be chilly, and since, in Dubai, hotels are some of the few places you can get a cold beer, you may want to visit them. And then you'll be cold. Nuts, I know, but there it is.
OK. Things you really should do. Go to the Emirates mall if only to see the ski ramp. Artificial snow in the middle of a desert. This is an amazing example that money can, indeed, buy most things. See the snow, take a picture, then get out of there.
The malls, in fact, are probably worth wandering through, even if you don't shop. The architecture in Dubai is.... idiosyncratic. There is the Mercato Mall which is done in an Italian style. No wait. It's done in ALL the Italian styles. There's the Wafi Centre with its amazingly kitsch Egyptian theme, complete with a three story stained glass window and a giant glass pyramid roof. They are entertaining, to say the least.
But then there are some genuinely fun things. Take a dow on the creek. And I don't mean one of the happy tourist ones that take only you and your family on an over-priced guided creek-tour. No. Take it as it was intended - as a taxi from one side to the other. Clamber in with the everyday people and cross it like it's supposed to be done. Then go visit the souks on the other side. Again, you don't actually have to buy anything, but you'll get pashminas for 10 dirhams (that's less than $5 US). I saw the exact same types of pashminas in Covent Gardens in London for 30 pounds. But even if you don't want to buy stuff, it's worth having a look around. Go early - it gets very crowded in the afternoons.
For the more adventurous there are any number of dune-driving possibilities. People who will take you in 4X4s up and down dunes at incredibly steep angles. Not my cup of tea, but if it's your thing, you can do it here.
Visit the Blue Souk in Sharjah. In fact, really, if you do nothing else, you should try to do this. It's great. You can buy carpets in a good old fashioned bargaining way, although make sure you have dirhams with you and try to find someone who lives there to go with. The prices used to literally halve for us when we said we lived in Al Ain. There's plenty of gold jewellry too, for those who like that sort of thing.
And, actually, it really is quite pleasant at certain times of the year (i.e. NOT summer) to sit out on a balcony of a hotel or a restaurant and drink a cool beer or cocktail or fruit juice, depending on your preference, and watch the lights of this very new city come on. Just as long as you can ignore the construction cranes.
But I have warbled quite enough about this now, and there is much I have left out. Another day perhaps.