PopulationMetro: 5,300,000
The Middle East’s highest-ranking city wants it all—and has inspired other regional capitals to reach for the sky.

An alluring blend of over-the-top architecture and Arab heritage, Bedouin culture, traditional souks and luxury shopping, Dubai rises from the golden sands like a mirage.

Religiously tolerant, socially liberal and future-forward, the capital of modern Arabia has become a brand—one that many in the Western hemisphere can understand, buy into and visit. By 2020 when it hosts the World Expo, the emirate aims to attract 20 million visitors per year, doubling the number it welcomed in 2012.

Our top-ranked city in the Middle East, Dubai welcomed 15.8 million international overnight visitors in 2017 (6.5% higher than the previous year). So what’s to do once you get here? You could ride the elevator to the top of world’s tallest building for a bird’s eye view. You could bet on the ponies at the world’s richest horse race or pose for photos in front of the world’s tallest choreographed fountains. You could check into the world’s only seven-star property or shop in the most visited mall on the planet. Yes, it’s all here, in the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates. Is there such a thing as too many superlatives? Not in Dubai.

Place 80
Product 37
Programming 13
People 87
Prosperity 27
Promotion 49

In a city where summer temperatures often reach 120 degrees, it’s no surprise that shopping malls become the de facto hangout spots for people of all ages. Lots and lots of people. In fact, Dubai Mall welcomed 80 million visitors for the fourth year in a row. (About half that number visited the Vegas Strip in 2016.) But it’s not just the shopping that’s making Dubai among the most popular place on Earth. The trick, says local entrepreneur Mohamed Alabbar, is to build an urban, integrated destination with lots of reasons to visit, like restaurants, cinemas, galleries and—why not?—a 2,000,000-gallon aquarium.

In April 2018, Dubai Tourism launched the Dubai Pass discount pack aimed at tourists and residents alike with cheaper rates on most of the city’s main attractions and venues. But there’s more to Dubai than malls and buildings. Indeed, UAE has 43 protected areas, making up 14% of the territory here.

Old Town Dubai Igor Ovsyannykov

Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, feels that the UAE is uniquely positioned to capitalize on the current trend for ecotourism. This year, Dubai Tourism launched a new campaign to promote the emirate’s Al Marmoum desert region, which is not only where the camel races take place but is also popular among cyclists, star gazers, nature enthusiasts and hikers. “Our campaigns are focused on the lesser known areas of Dubai, its hidden gems,” says Issam Kazim, chief executive of Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing.

Kazim notes that the majority (73.8%) of tourists in 2017 traveled to Dubai for leisure, while business travelers made up 11.5% of the total. Kazim sees an opportunity for Dubai Tourism to engage this segment of travelers and push “transit tourism” thanks to the expanded codeshare partnership announced last year between Dubai-based airlines Emirates and flydubai. In April 2018, the government announced proposals to grant special visas to in-transit passengers to leave Dubai airports and explore the city during their stopovers. “We are working with Emirates to find ways of encouraging passengers to step outside and just try it out,” says Kazim. Suddenly, 20 million annual visitors by 2020 doesn’t seem farfetched.

Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve

The emirate comes in at #2 in the world in our deep Place category, for which we look at influential factors like Crime Rate, Neighborhoods & Landmarks, Weather, and Parks & Outdoor Activities. Dubai ranks #6 in Weather and finished second to only Hanoi for Parks & Outdoor Activities.