Rising majestically from its own man-made island just off the coast of Umm Suqeim is the peerless Burj al Arab (“Tower of the Arabs”), one of the world’s most luxurious hotels and de facto symbol of the city. Commissioned by Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed, the aim of the Burj al Arab was simple: to serve as a global icon which would put Dubai on the international map. Money was no object. The total cost of the hotel was perhaps as much as US$2 billion, and it’s been estimated that even if every room in it remains full for the next hundred years, the Burj still won’t pay back its original investment.

As a modern icon, however, the Burj is unmatched, and the building’s instantly recognizable outline swiftly established it as a global symbol of Dubai to rival the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and the Sydney Opera House. Even the top-floor helipad has acquired celebrity status: Andre Agassi and Roger Federer once famously played tennis on it, while Tiger Woods used it as a makeshift driving range, punting shots into the sea (before ringing room service for more balls).

The Burj is home to the world’s first so-called seven-star hotel, an expression coined by a visiting journalist to emphasize the unique levels of style and luxury offered within. Staying here is a very expensive pleasure, and even just visiting presents certain financial and practical challenges. Fortunately the building’s magnificent exterior can be enjoyed for free from numerous vantage points nearby.

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