For a city-state with aspirations of taking over the world’s tourism industry, Dubai has a serious lack of one thing: coast. In its natural state, the emirate boasts a mere 70km of shoreline, totally insufficient to service the needs of its rocketing number of beach-hungry tourists and residents.

Dubai’s solution to its pressing lack of waterfront was characteristically bold: it decided to build some more. The Palm Jumeirah has already added 68km to the emirate’s coastline, although this was just the first (and smallest) of four proposed offshore developments which were intended to create anything up to 500km of new waterfront. Two further palm-shaped islands – the Palm Jebel Ali, 20km further down the coast, and the gargantuan Palm Deira, right next to the old city centre – were also planned. Reclamation work on the former has apparently been complete since around 2008, although development of the island’s infrastructure (slated to eventually house a quarter of a million people) has been on hold for several years, and shows little sign of resuming. Palm Deira, meanwhile, has now been relaunched as “Deira Islands” in a new and non-palm-shaped form.

The current status of the even more fanciful The World development is similarly uncertain. Lying around 5km off the coast (accessible by boat only, unlike the three palm developments, all of which are connected directly to the mainland), this complex of artificial islands has been constructed in the shape of an approximate map of the world (weirdly impressive when seen from the air). It was originally hoped that developers would buy up individual islands and create themed tourist developments, perhaps based on the “nationality” of the island they occupy, but although physical reclamation of the islands has been complete since around 2006, little development has yet occurred and most of the islands remain uninhabited dots of sand in the ocean – while 2011 saw persistent (though unsubstantiated) rumours that the entire archipelago had begun to sink back into the sea. The only way of currently seeing the islands is by visiting the beach club on Lebanon Island (t04 447 2240, The island is open daily 11am–6pm and costs 300dh per person to visit, including boat transfers (hourly) from Jumeirah Fishing Harbour. Visitors have the use of the club’s beach, swimming pool and the smart Toro Blanco lounge-restaurant, specializing in Mediterranean cuisine.

Finally, plans for a fifth and even more extravagant artificial archipelago, christened The Universe (with a design based on the solar system) were announced in 2008, but were put on hold soon afterwards and now appear to have been permanently cancelled.

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