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September 13, 2022updated Jan 26, 2023

The Story Behind the World Islands, Dubai

Discover the story behind the ambitious island project, as well the hopes for its future.

By Kim Ayling

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Nowadays, Dubai is most primarily known for its glitz and glamour, with the United Arab Emirates’ capital home to some of the world’s most opulent (and exclusive) hotels, restaurants and clubs. However, lurking just off its manicured shores is a reminder of the financial troubles that once troubled the country: The World Islands Dubai.

Since launching in the early 2000s, the World Islands have been subject to much speculation. From rumored celebrity purchases to outlandish (and often abandoned) hotel projects, the controversial archipelago’s life has been a storied one, with hopes for completion looking slim after it was abandoned following the 2008 financial crash. For many years, what was once one of the UAE’s most ambitious projects was a sandy ghost town.

However, as Dubai’s popularity as a luxury vacation destination and investment hotbed has grown, as has the outlook for the once-abandoned World Islands. Earlier this year, global hotel group Anantara opened the doors to the 70-room Anantara World Islands Dubai Resort, giving a new buzz of hope for the destination.

[See also: Buying and Living on Your Own Private Island]

lebanon island and the heart of europe, dubai
Lebanon Island resort, with the under-construction Heart of Europe project in the distance / ©The Island

What are the World Islands, Dubai?

Sitting around 2.5 miles off the coast of Dubai in the Persian Gulf, the World Islands are a collection of smaller islands designed to replicate the world in miniature, with each island named after its corresponding country. First announced in 2003, the World Islands promised to be the next big thing in the luxury travel realm, with members of the global elite, including Richard Branson and the late Karl Lagerfeld, clamoring to have a piece of the action.

As is standard in the glittering city of Dubai, the World Islands are, of course, not a naturally occurring phenomenon; the man-made archipelago was created by Dubai-based development firm Nakheel Projects, a name associated with many high-profile projects across the region, including St. Regis Dubai, The Palm.

The artificial islands were created by dredging sand from the Gulf and transporting it to the designated spot, with several million tons of rocks used to keep it in place. In total, there are 300 islands in the World Islands, with each ranging from 250,000 to 900,000 sq ft. The entire collection covers some 5.4 miles across.

However, despite the buzz caused when the World Islands were first announced and the numerous individual island sales, the 2008 financial crash saw work on the ambitious development grind to a halt.

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At this point, it was estimated that almost $15bn had already been spent, but just one island development was finished with the rest at varying stages of completion. Amongst the chaos of works halting, developers were also forced to deny rumors that the World Islands were sinking back into the ocean.

[See also: The Michelin Guide Arrives in Dubai]

anantara resort world islands dubai
Anantara World Islands’ 70 accommodations include suites, pool villas and beach villas / ©Anantara

World Islands’ current developments

Since work on the development halted in 2008 there have been multiple reports of the project recommencing. For many years, the Heart of Europe project was the most convincing. Imagined by the Kleindienst Group, the Heart of Europe development will see a small number of the islands in the World transformed to replicate the continent of Europe – to the extent that fake weather conditions including rain and snow have been created in some areas.

The Heart of Europe project includes the building of a series of luxury hotels, private mansions and floating villas, each of which is designed to transport guests to different European destinations, including Monaco, Venice, Sweden and Germany. While much of the ambitious project is still under development, the group is investing potential investors to register their interest.

However, the most exciting World Islands development is without a doubt the Anantara World Islands Dubai Resort, which opened in February this year and sits in the South America region of the islands. The resort’s 70 accommodations include suites, beach villas and pool villas, all of which feature an abundance of outdoor space in the form of either a private balcony, deck or terrace.

There’s a host of amenities, including a Thailand-inspired spa, an open-air cinema and a floating lounge. Ding options are varied too, with multiple restaurants and bars spread across the resort. And, currently being the only open resort on the whole archipelago affords Anantara an unrivaled sense of privacy and seclusion, with views over the main city of Dubai.

Visiting the World Islands, Dubai

For visitors staying elsewhere in Dubai who just want a glimpse at the fabled World Islands as opposed to an overnight stay, a visit to Lebanon Island – which was the only island to be completed when work on the project initially stopped back in 2008 – can be arranged. Guests can take a day trip to Lebanon Island where they can enjoy its beach club, swimming pool restaurant and beaches.

The island is also available for exclusive hire for corporate events, weddings or private gatherings. It is also possible to organize boat tours around the deserted islands, with private yachts available.

the wolrd islands from above
What was once one of the United Arab Emirates’ most ambitious and outlandish projects now more closely resembles a sandy ghost town / ©Shutterstock

Are the World Islands Dubai for sale?

For the most part, the development and purchase opportunities are a closely guarded secret. An old listing on Private Islands Inc for the entire collection harks back to when the World Islands was just an exciting concept, but at the time of publishing, there is only one individual island listed for sale.

Which island it actually is is not disclosed, but the listing advertises it as being 505,925 sq ft and undeveloped, with an asking price of $16m. While this may feel hefty considering the baggage associated with the World Islands project, if the Anantara resort lives up to expectations, the island could quickly increase in value.

Anyone wanting to own a slice of the World Islands can also look into private purchase opportunities within the Heart of Europe. The project is offering investors the chance to purchase either a second home on one of the resort islands, including luxury villas and mansions, as well as a highly exclusive selection of completely private islands, all of which will have the extensive amenities of the European-inspired hotels on their doorstep.

[See also: The Best Private Islands for Sale in the USA]

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