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Its history can be traced back some 4,000 years but, with its striking skyline, today’s Dubai is one of the most modern places you could ever choose to visit, writes Helen Cartwright.

From soaring hotels that specialise in the ultimate in opulence, to relaxing days at the beach with an array of tourist attractions dotted in between, Dubai is geared up to welcome the masses with almost anything a holidaymaker could want on offer.

For many visitors, it may seem as though Dubai is striving to be the biggest and best at everything in the world.

One place where that has certainly been achieved is the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.

Reaching up an impressive 2,716ft and more than 160 storeys high, it is certainly a sight to behold.

Despite only opening a few months ago, the Burj Khalifa is already one of Dubai’s most popular tourist attractions with visitors able to enjoy sweeping views of everything that this United Arab Emirates city state has to offer from its 124th floor.

Another claim to fame for Dubai is the fact that it has the world’s largest shopping and entertainment destination – the Dubai Mall.

It has more than 1,000 shops, but with an aquarium, ice rink and even its own mini theme park, Sega Republic, there is also plenty on offer for those who don’t enjoy retail therapy.

And those who are making their way back to their hotel from the mall after nightfall can enjoy one of the most spectacular sights they will ever see. Set on the 30-acre Burj Khalifa Lake, the Dubai Fountain shoots water jets as high as 500ft and, as you would expect with Dubai, lays claim to being the world’s largest dancing fountain.

This destination is not all high fashion and super-sized buildings. Anyone looking for something a little more authentic can head down to some of the souks where shoppers can pick up anything from fragrant spices to gold at prices too good to turn down.

Where old really meets new is Dubai Creek, where there is the unusual sight of traditional wooden boats moored alongside modern mega structures.

Those wanting to venture out and enjoy a bit of culture can take a guided tour where you get to see the best places both on and off the beaten track.

Alternatively, head to Dubai Museum which charts the history of the area from its beginnings. Archaeological discoveries suggest that as long as 4,000 years ago fishing communities lived in the area, though modern Dubai traces its origins back to the 1830s.

These days it is hotels and fine dining where Dubai really comes into its own. There is no denying the city has some of the most spectacular places to stay on the planet.

From the Burj Al Arab Hotel, unofficially billed as the world’s first ‘seven-star’ hotel to the iconic Atlantis there is plenty to choose from if budget allows.

The plush Shangri-La Hotel is among the pick of the bunch. Forty-three storeys high, it has 302 rooms and suites as well as 126 serviced apartments.

The rooms have the kind of finishing touches that make you wish you could stay on that little bit longer, from the way your bed is turned down in the evening, to the speakers in the bathroom so you don’t have to miss that must-see TV programme while you get ready for a night out.

And Dubai doesn’t disappoint when it comes to dining out either, with an array of restaurants reflecting the international culture the city is famous for offering something to suit every taste.

Diners would be hard pushed to find a better Cantonese offering in the whole of Dubai than at the Shang Palace at the Shangri-La Hotel where the dim sum is to die for.

Those looking for more of a taste of home can head over to another luxury hotel – Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort & Spa, which houses the spectacular Rhodes Twenty10, headed up by TV chef Gary Rhodes. The emphasis is on great food shared between friends, with groups encouraged to order starters for the whole table so everyone can try something different. And with petit fours you can take back to the hotel, this is one dining experience that really goes on and on.

Overlooking the waters of the Arabian Gulf, the Royal Meridien has an impressive 500 rooms and suites, all with private balconies.

Another world first can be found over at the Burj Khalifa which is home to fashion house Armani’s debut hotel. Luxury oozes from every crevice of the Armani Hotel, from the sleek designs of the rooms that make you feel as though you have stepped on to a photo shoot to the finishing touches that even include Armani branded sugar cubes. And the food is certainly an experience, with eight restaurants to choose from including the Armani Ristorante which, in keeping with the brand’s founder, is an Italian delight.

From the divine dish of Burrata cheese with vegetables and basil – a genuine twist on the tomato and mozzarella salad that diners may normally expect – to the braised artichoke heart with cepes, scamorza and truffle fondue, everything here is amazing.

Another breathtaking place to stay is the Madinat Jumeirah resort which has a mind boggling 44 restaurants and bars and is built on a series of waterways, leading many guests to use an in-house boat service to get about.

Residents also get free access to the adjacent Wild Wadi Water Park, which as well as the usual thrilling water rides, also has its own Fish Spa where toothless Garra Rufa fish gently exfoliate the feet. And of course, with this being Dubai, the park just has to be home to the tallest free-fall waterslide outside of North America.

TRAVEL FACTS

  • For more information call Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing on 020 7321 6110 or visit www.definitelydubai.com
  • Three nights B&B at Shangri-La Hotel including economy flights with Virgin Atlantic from £749 per person. Valid for departures January 3 to March 31 2011. Call 0845 050 5871 or visit www.trailfinders.com for more information.
  • Virgin Atlantic flies from London Heathrow to Dubai daily. Fares start from £357 incl taxes and can be booked online at www.virginatlantic.com or by calling reservations on 08448 747 747.
  • Half-day city tour from £25 per adult/£12 per child. Al Abjar Tourism Adventures: info@abjartourism.ae or www.abjartourism.com

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