Design in the Desert: The Architecture of Dubai and Abu Dhabi

December 1 – 7, 2018

Where a few decades ago there was mostly empty desert, today Dubai is home to one of the world’s most distinctive and rapidly growing skylines. With the help of massive cash investments from the government and foreign investors, hundreds of imaginative skyscrapers have sprung up. These include ambitious building projects like the Burj Al Arab, designed to mimic the shape of a traditional sail; the Palm Jumeirah, a manmade archipelago on an unprecedented scale that forms the shape of a palm tree; and the Burj Khalifa, the tallest skyscraper in the world. The variety of designs is highly eclectic — the result of influence from both Arab and international architectural and design firms. After exploring the highlights of Dubai, travel to the neighboring emirate of Abu Dhabi — the capital of the UAE and also home to extravagant architecture such as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Learn about the complex relationship the two emirates share when it comes to designing buildings and the economics behind their growth. Delve also into the darker side of such rapid expansion—accusations of worker abuse and human rights violations. Come away with a balanced perspective and new insight into this fascinating and dynamic part of the world.


travel deeper:


Day 1
Welcome to Dubai

Arrive at Dubai International Airport and transfer to your hotel. Enjoy a welcome dinner tonight on board the Bateaux Dubai. Enjoy dinner and drinks while gliding over the Dubai Creek channel in luxury as your expert introduces you to the city’s architectural history. (D)

Day 2
Old Dubai

Explore the cultural side of Dubai today. Begin with a visit to the Dubai Museum located in the Al Fahidi Fort, first built in 1787. Walk through the local textile market, then board a water taxi to reach the spice and gold souks in Deira. Pause for lunch at Al Dawaar, Dubai’s only revolving restaurant which provides changing views of the water and cityscape. The afternoon will be at leisure. Gather this evening for a presentation on the architecture of the UAE. Discuss the history of the Emirates, current building projects, and the sites the group will visit tomorrow. (B,L)

Day 3
New Dubai

Take part in a packed, all-day architectural tour of Dubai. This full itinerary includes the most unique and ambitious architecture in the region. Begin at the Nakheel Development Center, a government-owned organization responsible for many of the largest building projects in Dubai. Continue to one of Nakheel’s projects—the Palm Jumeirah. Ride the monorail for an up-close look at this man-made archipelago crafted in the shape of an enormous palm tree. Other visits today include Dubai Marina, home to hundreds of skyscrapers constructed within the last 5 years. Pause for lunch at the Souk Madinat Jumeirah. After lunch explore Business Bay and Downtown Dubai, and catch your first glimpse of the Burj Khalifa—the world’s tallest skyscraper. Dine this evening at a restaurant overlooking the waterfront of the Creek. (B,L,D)

Day 4
Only in Dubai

After breakfast, depart for the Mall of the Emirates—the largest mall in the world. This massive complex is much more than a shopping center. It is also home to Ski Dubai, the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East as well as a remarkable architectural achievement. This unique structure includes 5 ski slopes and a 400-meter ski run. Learn from your expert just what kind of planning was required to create a snowy 85-meter high mountain in the desert. Return to the Burj Khalifa for a special experience—travel to an observation deck on the 124th floor for unparalleled views of the city. Dine this evening inside the opulent Burj al Arab, Dubai’s iconic hotel created in the shape of a ship’s sail. Gather for an elegant dinner at Al Mahara. Instead of walls, the restaurant is lined with a floor-to-ceiling aquarium. (B,D)

Day 5
To Abu Dhabi

Check out of your Dubai hotel and depart for Abu Dhabi, a 1.5 hour drive away. Along the way, your expert will discuss the complex and often competitive relationship between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Each seeks to outdo the other, investing in ambitious and costly building projects—with mixed success. Check in to Le Méridien Abu Dhabi and enjoy the afternoon at leisure. Those who wish may explore the nearby YAS shopping mall. Dine as a group this evening at Rozanah Restaurant which specializes in Lebanese and Middle Eastern cuisine. (B,D)

Day 6
Exploring Abu Dhabi

Depart for a full day exploring the architecture of Abu Dhabi. Visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, an elegant place of worship that took an international team nearly a decade to complete. The grounds are large enough to accommodate 40,000 worshipers, making it the largest mosque in the UAE. It was designed to be an international project, utilizing materials and artisans from Morocco, Pakistan, India, Italy, Greece and many other countries. The ornate carpet in the main hall is considered to be the largest in the world. Reflecting pools that run alongside the arcade shine light onto the mosque’s 96 columns, which are inlaid with mother of pearl. See the Sheikh Zayed Bridge, said to be among the most intricate ever created. Head to YAS Marina Circuit—the home of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix—and pass by the nearby Ferrari World, an indoor theme park notable for being the largest space frame structure ever made. Tour the under-construction MASDAR city, a planned city that seeks to run exclusively off renewable energy. Pending its opening in 2017, visit the newly constructed Louvre in Abu Dhabi. This evening, toast the end of your trip to the United Arab Emirates with dinner at Safina Restaurant. (B,D)

Day 7

Travelers depart for Abu Dhabi International Airport for individual flights home. (B)


trip details

Novotel Dubai al Barsha

The Novotel Dubai features a beautiful hanging garden and views of the Arabian Gulf. Guests can enjoy the on-site Balance Spa, pool and attentive service.

Le Meridien Abu Dhabi

This 4 star resort hotel features a beach, pool, lush gardens and over a dozen dining options for its guests.

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