f 35 years of What's On in Dubai - What's On Dubai
35 years of What's On Dubai Before 35 years of What's On Dubai After

35 years of What’s On in Dubai

To celebrate our launch of our brand new website, we are showcasing the incredible change What’s On has witnessed over 35 years in Dubai.

‘A change is as good as a rest.’ It’s a motto tailor-made for Dubai as it continues it’s rapid growth into one of the world’s most important hubs. There’s been plenty of the former and little of the latter over half a century of hard graft.

But that’s all it is, of course, half a century, a mere grain of sand in the egg-timer of planet earth. Yet what a ride it has been.


Jumeriah Beach Then & Now (images provided by dubaiasitusedtobe.com and Getty)
The discovery of commercial quantities of oil off the coast of Dubai in 1966 lit the touch paper for development, while the opening of the city’s first hotel, The Carlton (now The Riviera) laid the foundations for the thriving tourism market that booms today. That the Creek was then the place to be seen accentuates the shifts in the years since.


Dubai Creek Then & Now

By the time 1979 came around – and What’s On had hit the shelves for the very first time – Satwa and Deira were a hive of activity, home to a vibrant restaurant, bar and country club scene. Within three years of issue one, 36 five-star hotels had opened. Places like the White Oryx pub, Captain’s Table at Dubai Marine Hotel and The Bistro near Al Nasr Square – forced to close after stricter alcohol licensing laws came to pass – were the Zuma, Mahiki, Blue Marlin of the time.

For all that, though, Sharjah, which was still licensed until the 1980s, more than matched the scene down the coast, attracting a core of Dubai residents to the likes of the Bangkok Cellar and the beachfront Carlton Hotel.

Meydan Then & Now. It was built on the site of the Dubai Country Club sand golf course (images provided by dubaiasitusedtobe.com and Getty)
Further north, Ras Al Khaimah was playing host to English football club, Southampton, in an early hint at the ‘escape to the sunshine’ view of the UAE held by sports stars the world over. By What’s On’s fifth anniversary Mohammed Ali and George Best were just two of the illustrious names to have spoken exclusively to the magazine while passing through.


In truth, the sheen of celebrity has wrapped itself around Dubai since the start, be it with 80s icons Cilla Black, Tina Turner, Status Quo, Ronnie Corbett and Tom Jones, or legendary actors Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes appearing together at the opening of Planet Hollywood in Wafi in 1998. Then there’s Pele, Spice Girls, even Queen Elizabeth II. In Sharjah, James Bond himself, Sean Connery opened the Marbella Club. While the landscape changed, it remained a place to be seen.

Dubai’s First Mall (images provided by dubaiasitusedtobe.com)

As What’s On founder Ian Fairservice says, ‘shopping wasn’t up to much back then’, with Diyafa Street (now ‘2nd of December Street) the Oxford Street of the time. Though the first mall to open – The Al Ghurair Centre, again in Deira – lacks the gloss and sparkle of the city-within-a-city centres we have today, it retains iconic status in the region.


Sheikh Zayed Road Then & Now

Infrastructure moved with the times as well, of course. The Sheikh Zayed Road as we know it today – all 14 lanes of it – was but a dusty trail cutting through the sand with little to admire en-route (no change there, then). Reaching Abu Dhabi was an adventure in itself.

Meanwhile the modern institution of ‘brunch’ was taking its first tentative steps in the form of the Friday buffet breakfast at the InterCon, which to this day retains much of its original charm.


Entertainment by the bucket load, then. But those setting up a new life in this progressive pocket of the planet had much to amuse themselves with in the absence of superstars. What’s On, for example, triumphed the DWSA water-ski club’s annual championships, and societies including the Dubai-Sharjah Morris Dancers, Theatre Club, Dubai Caledonian Society (which still exists for Scottish expats to this day), and Petroleum Wives Club (now expanded to the Dubai International Women’s Club), gave a sense of camaraderie to those here.

And it’s that which continues to pull in people from around the world now. The population has increased from a modest 275,000 in 1979 to the more than 2million who currently scurry between almost 500 skyscrapers (up from just one, Trade Centre).

Not one of them has any reason for being bored. They certainly don’t have an excuse to rest.


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Great article and loving the layout of the website. Very clean and easy to navigate. Although, consider moving the comments section about the “related knowledge”?

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What's On
What's On

Not a bad idea, we hope to tweak the things over the next few months all feedback is welcome.

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Okay, now that I see the length of the comments display. Think it’s better how it is. Maybe thumbnail the Related Knowledge? I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Cheers!

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helen spearman

LOVE the pics of the Burj Al Arab in progress.



Alister Akbarov

Amazing transformation of Dubai! Lucky you, What’s On, you were there to witness it. Congrats!



Eman Qadeer

My parents have been here in Dubai for longer than 22 years. My dad coming here in 1989 and my mom joining him in 1991. They’ve seen Dubai grow vastly in the last 2 decades but one thing they’ve seen throughout is only construction.

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prince dsilva

It is amazing the way Dubai has progressed, what a vision by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Dubai has emerged as a cosmopolitan metropolis that has grown steadily to become a global city and a business and cultural hub of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region.
Been in Dubai for 5 years but every time you find something new. Awesome… Just awesome…



Abdulkarim Sonara

I know dubai sins 1988 the development growing evry hour and most higher achievements are airport and dubai metro
Emirates airline has significantl role
In dubai’s growth and security and many
Many more things

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Fathima zohra


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What's On
What's On

in depth stuff.

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khrisna daug

Fantastic! It’s like zero to hero!

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Indeed! what a ride our past years in Dubai has been and What’s On has been right though it all with Dubai … an amazing achievement! Congratulations Whats On and welcome to the Online scene.

Your article 35 Years in Dubai and the Before and After images brings back soo very many memories. We too have been in Dubai for around the same time and remember well the launch of the magazine. Infact it was was the only one around worth reading and, true to its name, still is.

Well done and all the best to the entire team at What’s On!

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Dubai is a gem among cities.

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Great article, top work WO

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suzanne stone

What an amazing city. Full off life love food water and sand. What more could you wont but to go there.
Buy gold and see this wonderful city from out of the sand. The Royal family must be so proud of what it has accomplished over these years. Can’t wait to see it for my self.

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Manju Asarpota

I have been residing in UAE since 20 years .Its indeed an incerdible experience to see how UAE has grown.What’s On is packed with expert opinion, insider info, news, reviews, competitions and much more.The special article “Then and Now”justifies it.Bidder for Expo 2020….its the result of what is ON on What’s on!

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THE BEST place in the world,

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Marion pollard

we lived in the trade centre apartments when we arrived in Dubai in 1979. I have just visited Dubai and it is hard to find the apartments amongst the tower blocks. Our last home was Chicago Beach Village which is no longer there but was replaced by the Madinat and Al Quasr. It is an amazing place now but we loved it when we lived there until 1990 and leisure time was spent at Mina Seyha harbour where the annual raft race was held, very competitive! Lucifer disco in the Metropolitan and the Red Lion pub were the in places to go. Children learnt to ride at the old polo club on ex polo horses , where there were fun and games when the first ponies were brought from UK , full,of high jinx! Such happy memories.

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