Like much of modern Dubai, the marina is a mishmash of the good, the bad and the downright ugly. Many of the high-rises are of minimal architectural distinction, and all are packed so closely together that the overall effect is of hyperactive urban development gone completely mad – the result of unregulated construction during the massive real-estate boom in Dubai, which coincided with the marina’s creation. The whole area feels oddly piecemeal and under-planned, while the lack of pedestrian facilities (excepting the pleasant oceanfront promenade and Marina Walk) means that you’re unlikely to see much more of it than can be glimpsed while speeding down Sheikh Zayed Road by car or metro. It’s weirdly impressive, even so, especially by night, when darkness hides the worst examples of gimcrack design and the whole area lights up into a fabulous display of airy neon (or, if you prefer, a display of a high-rise ecological catastrophe waiting to happen).
More about Dubai
Find out more
Ibn Battuta Mall
Ibn Battuta MallSituated way down along Sheikh Zayed Road south of the marina, the outlandish, mile-long Ibn Battuta Mall is worth the trip out to the furthest reaches of the city suburbs to sample what is undoubtedly Dubai’s wackiest shopping experience (which is saying something). The mall is themed in six different sections after some of the countries – Egypt, Andalusia, Tunisia, Persia, India and China – visited by the famous Arab traveller Ibn Battuta, with all the architectural kitsch and caprice you’d expect. Highlights include a life-size elephant complete with mechanical mahout (rider), a twilit Tunisian village and a full-size Chinese junk, while the lavishness of some of the decoration would seem more appropriate on a Rajput palace or a Persian grand mosque than a motorway mall. As so often in Dubai, the underlying concept may be naff, but it’s carried through with such extravagance, and on such a scale, that it’s difficult not to be at least slightly impressed – or appalled. In addition, the 1.6km walk from one end of the elongated mall to the other is the most pleasant stroll you can have in Dubai’s pedestrian-hating suburbs, especially in the heat of summer.
The marina itself (apparently inspired by the Concord Pacific Place development along False Creek in Vancouver) is actually a man-made sea inlet, lined with luxury yachts and fancy speedboats, which snakes inland behind the JBR, running parallel with the coast for around 1.5km. Encircling the water is the attractive pedestrianized promenade known as Marina Walk. The section between the Marina Mall and Infinity Tower is now one of the city’s most enjoyable after-dark destinations, lined with a long straggle of waterfront cafés and restaurants including a large number of Middle Eastern joints, with classic Egyptian and Lebanese tunes warbling out into the night, accompanied by vast clouds of shisha smoke – offering an incongruous flavour of downtown Cairo or Beirut amid the thrusting marina high-rises. Various kiosks around Marina Walk offer a mix of expensive boat charters alongside much cheaper dhow cruises for those who want to take to the water.
Occupying a huge swathe of land some 10km inland from the marina, the vast new Dubailand development (wdubailand.ae) has become the major symbol of Dubai’s overreaching ambition – and ongoing financial difficulties. Dubailand was originally slated (according to plans announced at launch in 2003) to become the planet’s largest and most spectacular tourist development, with an extraordinary mix of theme parks and sporting and leisure facilities covering a staggering 280 square kilometres – twice the size of the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Major attractions were to have included a massive water park and snowdome; the Great Dubai Wheel, the Gulf’s answer to the London Eye (although, naturally, quite a lot bigger); the Restless Planet dinosaur theme park featuring over a hundred animatronic dinosaurs; and the Falcon City of Wonders, comprising full-scale replicas of the Seven Wonders of the World. Other mega-projects within Dubailand were to have included the Mall of Arabia (the world’s largest) and the Bawadi development, with over thirty hotels including – it goes almost without saying – the world’s largest hotel, Asia-Asia (6500 rooms), plus reams of other leisure and residential facilities.
Despite all the hubris, parts of the complex did actually manage to get built before the credit crunch hit town, including the Dubai Outlet Mall, Global Village, Dubai Autodrome and Dubai Sports City, complete with international cricket stadium and The Els Club golf course. Unfortunately, despite all the publicity, the remainder of the development now appears to be stalled – most likely for good – so that it now seems unlikely that any of Dubailand’s more ambitious attractions will ever succeed in seeing the light of day.