Forty of the best

Dubai has squeezed a lot into the last four decades. considers – in no particular order – 40 of the emirate’s most outstanding achievements

1. Bold vision
Dubai Ruler His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the incumbent visionary, carrying on the work of his brother, His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and father, His Highness Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, before him. Dubai has long been ruled by ambitious, determined and intelligent leaders.

2. Architects’ paradise
Dubai’s skyline is one of the most iconic in the world. Buildings such as the Burj Khalifa and Burj Al Arab have shattered records and set global benchmarks.

Dubai has also managed to attract a remarkable cross-section of creeds and colours with more than 200 nationalities working and living in the emirate

3. Jumeirah Group
Founded in 1997, Jumeirah Group today manages seven hotels and resorts in Dubai, including the seven-star Burj Al Arab and also operates stylish properties in London, Shanghai, Frankfurt, New York and the Maldives.

4. Emirates Airline
Just 26 years after its launch, it’s hard to imagine a world without Emirates Airline. The Arab world’s largest carrier, in 1985 it brought people to the small Gulf emirate of Dubai; now it transports 85,000-plus passengers a day to 116 destinations in 67 countries.

5. City of culture
Dubai has built a thriving cultural scene: the city boasts over 40 art galleries, while exhibitions and trade shows such as Art Dubai, Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), and Dubai Fashion Week attract worldwide attention.

6. Dubai Metro
The Dubai Metro is a true first not just in the region, but globally. The 75km-long track is the longest fully automated metro network in the world, and carries tens of millions of passengers a year.

7. Cinematic city
From its soaring skyscrapers to age-old sand dunes, Dubai was a city made for the movies. It has provided the backdrop for everything from Bollywood romances to Hollywood blockbusters, such as Mission: Impossible 4. It has also spawned a hit of its own – City of Life, from Emirati director Ali F Mostafa.

8. Education
The UAE has worked to become the higher educational hub of the Gulf region and currently boasts three federal universities, more than 70 Ministry-accredited institutions and over 120,000 students enrolled on courses.

9. Dubai Ports World
The world’s third-largest ports operator, Dubai Ports World has more than 60 terminals in operation and a further 10 under development across six continents, and employs more than 30,000 people.

10. Meydan Racecourse
Marrying Dubai’s passion for horse racing with its ambition for grand construction projects, Meydan Racecourse has set a new standard for racecourses worldwide. Boasting the world’s longest and largest grandstand and the world’s first luxury five-star trackside hotel, it’s the place to spend a day at the races.

11. Heritage & culture
Established in 1998, the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding is a non-profit organisation dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding between the various cultures that live in Dubai. Operating under the banner ‘Open doors, open minds’, the centre has worked hard to heighten awareness of the local culture, customs and religion of Dubai and the UAE.

12. Standard of living
Dubai combines a high standard of living with year-round sunshine. It’s the reason why hundreds of thousands of expatriates from Europe, the US and Asia come to live and work in the city, and the reason so many will find any excuse to stay.

13. Top shopping
For those who like to shop till they drop, Dubai might just be the answer. As well as the vast and well-appointed Dubai Mall, the city boasts a plethora of other destinations for those with money burning a hole in their pocket.

14. Ports of call
Dubai International Airport is set to become the world’s second busiest international airport in 2012. And just down the coast, Jebel Ali Port maintains Dubai’s status as the region’s premier trade hub, regularly breaking container throughput records.

15. Ease of business
Dubai Government has gone to great lengths to ensure that the emirate is an attractive place for foreign firms to establish operations. Whether that means pioneering a free zone concept (see entry no. 38), cutting red tape and bureaucracy, streamlining registration processes or increasing transparency, Dubai represents a tried-and-tested proposition for businesses from all over the world.

16. Philanthropy
Dubai Cares, launched in September 2007 to work to improve children’s access to quality primary education, and global blindness charity Noor Dubai, which also helps thousands in underdeveloped countries, are among the most successful humanitarian initiatives in the Middle East.

17. Global finance
Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) plays a vital role as a link between the markets of East and West. The sun is setting on the Tokyo exchange as it rises in London, but in between, Dubai ensures that money never sleeps.

18. Melting pot
Through its efforts to diversify its economy away from oil revenues, the emirate has also managed to attract a remarkable cross-section of creeds and colours with more than 200 nationalities working and living in Dubai.

19. We are ‘The World'
As a feat of marine engineering, the World islands take some beating. A cluster of man-made archipelagos constructed in the rough shape of a world map, the project covers an area 6km by 9km, and increased the emirate’s shoreline by around 232km.

20. Ski Dubai
When Dubai brought snow to the desert in November 2005, it didn’t take long for residents to strap on their gear and tackle a 60-metre-high indoor mountain featuring the world’s first indoor black run.

21. Tennis and golf
Sports fans are well catered for in February, when the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and the Omega Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament come to town. The former is a two-week event frequently voted a favourite spot on the tour by the players. And the latter is just the first in a golfing double bill for the emirate: the European Tour culminates at the Dubai Open Championship in December.

22. Peace and security
Dubai has a well-deserved reputation for keeping its environment peaceful and its streets free of the crime which blights other global cities. This is largely down to the sophisticated methods and highly trained officers of Dubai Police, led by the redoubtable Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan Tamim.

23. Global player
Dubai’s success is based on the fact that it is open, accessible and international. Dubai is constantly evolving to keep up with worldwide trends and best practices, keeping pace with the likes of London, New York and Tokyo.

24. Palm Jumeirah
The Palm Jumeirah was the first Dubai mega-project to capture the world’s imagination and put the emirate on the map as a real estate phenomenon. The man-made archipelago has increased Dubai’s coastline by some 520km, and is today home to more than 100,000 residents, as well as many luxury hotels including the sumptuous Jumeirah Zabeel Saray.

25. Suite dreams
With the world beating a path to Dubai’s door for most of the last decade, some of the biggest names in the hotel business have stepped in to put a five-star roof over visitors’ heads. From the opulence of stalwarts such as the Park Hyatt, Mina A’Salam and One & Only Royal Mirage, to the razzle-dazzle of the Atlantis and the stately elegance of Grosvenor House, Dubai has rooms to suit all tastes.

26. Powerboating
The world champion Victory Team is the most successful team in the history of offshore powerboat racing. Championed by Crown Prince His Highness Sheikh Hamdan, and chaired by His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Victory Team has certainly lived up to its name, most recently clinching the UIM Class 1 European Powerboat Championship on Lake Como in October.

27. IRB Rugby Sevens
This annual carnival of rugby has become one of the most popular social events on the calendar, attracting tens of thousands of fans from around the world to a purpose-built Sevens stadium on the edge of the city.

28. Fireworks
While you can’t ordinarily see the Palm Jumeirah from space, you might have been able to on 20 November 2008, when the opening of the Atlantis hotel was accompanied by the most spectacular fireworks display in history. One million fireworks – almost 10 times that used for the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony – lit up the Palm and were broadcast around the globe.

29. Diversification
Dubai’s rulers have long recognised the importance of diversification away from reliance on oil revenues. That’s why they have worked hard to establish Dubai as a trade, tourism and financial centre whose future is independent of the price of a barrel of crude.

30. Gateway
Dubai has an enviable location between East and West. It has capitalised on this geographic location and has created a sophisticated business environment that makes it a compelling choice for increasing numbers of international firms looking to do business in the Gulf.

31. Undersea worlds
Dubai boasts two vast aquariums that hold an extraordinary array of sea life. Dubai Mall Aquarium has one of the largest capacities in the world, while visitors to Atlantis Aquarium peer through the world’s biggest acrylic panel.

32. Hail to the chef
The last year alone has seen the opening of venues such as the Ivy and Gaucho Grill. Add to that Dubai institutions such as Rib Room and Nobu, plus restaurants by Pierre Gagnaire and Gary Rhodes, and the emirate has clearly found a recipe for success.

33. Music
Dubai has become a regular stop-off for some of the most popular entertainers on the planet. Increasingly, there’s a move the other way too: artists such as DJ Bliss, aka Marwan Parham, and Dubai band ABRI have been bringing the Emirati vibe to audiences across the world.

34. Horse racing world
Horses from HH Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin stables have won more than 1,800 races worldwide, while the Dubai World Cup, held every year in March, is the richest horse race on the planet with a purse of US$10m.

35. Heritage sports
While Dubai is associated with sporting success across many modern disciplines, the emirate is acutely aware of its responsibility to preserve traditional Arab sporting pursuits. Expertise in falconry, dhow racing and camel racing is passed from one generation to the next, even at palace level – HH Sheikh Mohammed is a champion endurance horse rider.

36. E-Government
Dubai has ensured that residents are able to avail of the latest online facilities when it comes to accessing government services., provides government services to citizens, residents, visitors and businesses and is among the most sophisticated in the region.

37. Superstar status
It’s hard to feel too sorry for Tom Cruise, but the fact is that the actor isn’t even the real star of his latest Mission: Impossible movie. That honour belongs to the Burj Khalifa, which has dominated all the pre-release hype and looks poised for a long, successful career on the silver screen.

38. Free zones
Dubai’s free zones have underpinned much of the emirate’s astonishing economic growth in the last decade. Offering 100 per cent foreign ownership, 100 per cent import and export tax exemptions, 100 per cent repatriation of capital and profits, and no corporate taxes for 15 years, they represent a winning proposition for foreign firms looking to enter the market.

39. Sunken treasures
It’s not every global trading hub that would deliberately sink a ship off its coastline. But that’s what happened when a working freighter was scuttled 12 miles offshore at the request of Dubai’s Ruler, to allow natural reefs to form. Today the Sheikh Mohammed Barge is a popular diving spot.

40. Dubai Fountain
One of the emirate’s most popular attractions and as much of a hit with residents as it is with the tourists who flock to the foot of Burj Khalifa, Dubai Fountain fires water up to 500 feet in the air during shows set to classical and contemporary Arabic and world music.