Around the world in 1 day: Exploring Dubai Expo 2020

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If you’ve never heard of the World Expo, it’s exactly what it sounds like: an exhibition where almost every country in the world comes together to showcase its coolest ideas, technology and architecture. Considering it takes place every five years — add one extra year of delay due to COVID-19 — the Dubai Expo 2020 was a highly anticipated event. 

With more than 200 pavilions occupying an enormous space — twice the size of Monaco — the expo is basically a trip around the world. We knew there was no way that we could visit every single country’s pavilion in a single day. Thankfully, we were able to fast-track our favorite pavilions in advance using the Expo 2020 app. Under themes of opportunity, mobility and sustainability, participating countries and businesses worked together to create an atmosphere of progress and innovation. 

My family and I started off our one-day tour of the expo at 10 a.m. on the dot, right in time for the opening hour. Although we were able to pre-book a fast track for most of the pavilions, we were unable to book one for the United Arab Emirates exhibition, which just so happens to be the most sought-after pavilion at the expo. In high spirits, we eagerly marched towards the pavilion, discussing our thoughts on the initial online reactions of the exhibition. However, upon arriving at the UAE pavilion, we were told that there had been people waiting outside for it to open since seven in the morning and that our chances of getting in were slim to none. 

With a hint of disappointment but persisting enthusiasm, we began to make our way through the rest of the expo, stopping randomly every once in a while to admire the top-notch architecture. Eventually, we entered the Hungarian pavilion, a unique cylindrical building with a wooden structure. This exhibition explored the theme of Hungarian groundwater through a completely immersive audiovisual experience. I discovered that water is extremely important to Hungarians, and water is not only ingrained in their lifestyle, but also in their culture. The interactive exhibition taught visitors about Hungary’s spa culture and the widespread use of thermal waters for its medicinal properties. By the end of it, I noticed my parents deviously planning their next spa retreat to Budapest. 

After sampling some Hungarian mineral waters, we made our way to a country pavilion described as a “three-dimensional garden”: Singapore. The plant-filled structure was entirely solar-paneled and made to reflect Singapore’s reputation as the world’s greenest city. Following its theme of sustainability, the pavilion shed light on the ecosystems suffering at the hands of today’s climate crises.

Photo of the Dubai's Expo 2020

Salma Sarkis | Staff

We then found ourselves racing towards the Spanish pavilion, one that — being half Spanish — I was naturally more excited for. In this exhibition, we were first confronted by “El Dynamo,” a massive interactive sculpture made up of huge, interlocking loops suspended from the ceiling. While observing this sculpture, we were guided through an audiovisual tour where we could control the patterns and sounds of the sculpture by touching the railing that ran along the outside. We were then led to the “Forest of Intelligence,” an artificial forest that highlighted the advances in Spanish biodiversity and science. Unsurprisingly, we ended our tour of the Spanish pavilion by taking advantage of the tapas bar. I was thrilled to be able to reminisce about my traditional food, such as Spanish omelets or patatas bravas, while chowing down on some delicious appetizers. 

Following our enjoyable tapas experience, we visited the Iranian pavilion, one that was unconventionally designed in the form of several smaller exhibitions. Rather than walking through a solid structure, we were forced to weave through the different buildings, discovering more about Iranian culture as we went along. The most exciting part of this pavilion lay in the center of the exhibition, an Iranian band performing traditional Iranian music on a small stage.

As the sun began to set and our feet began to ache, our enthusiasm slowly declined, and we found ourselves quickly making our way through the rest of the exhibitions planned for the day. We visited the French pavilion, where we explored the diverse meaning of light and ate some macarons. We familiarized ourselves with the Belgian vision of smart mobility systems in the year 2050. We were intrigued by the theme of density as a catalyst for an opportunity in Bahrain’s exhibition. We finally concluded the day by visiting my dad’s home country and the other half of my nationality. 

The Lebanese pavilion was one of my favorites primarily because it highlighted key features of Lebanon’s landscape, lifestyle and culture. Through an immersive experience called “Together We Walk,” the pavilion used a series of digital art creations to devise an emotional and hopeful representation of Lebanon. The gift shop was also exceptionally fun, as we admired the wide collection of Lebanese goodies.

If I had more days to spend in Dubai, I think I’d revisit the expo and try to visit every single pavilion. I don’t like to rush things, nor do I like missing out on anything. However, I must admit that our day trip to the Dubai Expo 2020 was extra productive, and I truly feel like we made the very most of our time there. All in all, a day very well-spent!

Contact Salma Sarkis at [email protected].