DUBAI TRAVEL GUIDE FOR FIRST TIME VISITORS TO THE U.A.E.
Dubai, a cosmopolitan city of 2.6 million inhabitants, is a sparkling, vibrant, multicultural hub on the Arabian Peninsula. Visitors will fall in love with its revolutionary architecture, lively souqs, water canals and boat rides that encompass the city’s history. Everything about Dubai will make you feel like you are living in a futuristic Arabian fairytale.
The UAE offers a 90-day visa-free stay to nationals of the EU and GCC member states and a 30-day visa-free stay to nationals of the USA, Australia, Japan, and many more countries. Visit the government’s website to learn more about visa requirements before visiting the UAE.
Best time to visit Dubai
Because of the arid desert climate visiting Dubai is most enjoyable during the cooler months. Any time between October and May will provide pleasant temperatures, allowing you to explore Dubai outside of the air-conditioned malls. The malls are nice, but who wants to spend their holidays exclusively indoors?
October – November and March – May: Expect summer weather, perfect for relaxing at the beach, boat rides, lovely dinners outside with stunning views and strolls on the beach or the many parks.
December – February: The winter months offer comfortable temperatures with chilly, windy evenings. This is the perfect time to explore the souqs or go kite surfing.
December 2nd is the biggest national holiday with celebrations throughout the month, followed by New Year’s celebrations. Expect big celebrations ranging from the countdown on the beach to fireworks taking off from the world’s tallest building, the only 7-star hotel in the world, or from the “leaves” of the Dubai Palm. These festivities are followed by the Dubai Shopping Festival in January, resulting in even more celebrations, fireworks, and discounts in shops all around the city.
Arriving In Dubai
Most international flights land at Dubai International Airport which is conveniently located in the city. However, since the opening of Al Maktoum International Airport in 2013, some airlines have started using this airport. Al Maktoum is 37km away from the city so be sure to double check your flight itinerary.
Dubai International Airport has a metro station in the airport which will take you to various parts of the city. Currently, the only way to reach Dubai from Al Maktoum is via bus and taxi connections to the city.
Dubai Info And Map
Prepare to be enchanted by a charming mix of tradition and futurism in this multicultural city.
Pricewise, Dubai’s taxis are fairly accessible for tourists to the city. However, there is an unavoidable surcharge which is applied when you take a taxi from the airport.
In order to use the Dubai Metro, you need to buy an NOL card. The cards are available for purchase at ticket counters and machines located in every metro station. The NOL is a prepaid card that can be used on all public transportation in Dubai. For ticket prices and where you can use the NOL card, visit the Roads & Transport Authority website.
The UAE is a very international community and even though the official language is Arabic, English is the most spoken language in Dubai. In fact, you will find all signs written in both Arabic and English. It is, however, highly appreciated if you can speak some Arabic words when talking with locals. You can learn some basic Arabic phrases here.
Important notes: Even though Dubai is quite open, it still situated in a traditional Muslim country. As such travelers should remember to abide by local laws and be respectful toward the local culture at all times. The general dress code, for men and women, is to keep your shoulders and knees covered. At most bars, restaurants, and clubs you will be refused service if you arrive with flip flops or open-toed shoes. However, at the beach and in beach clubs, western swimwear is acceptable. Showing romantic affection in public, especially between unwed couples, is not accepted, and it could get you into trouble.
One further point to mention is that alcohol consumption is only “allowed” in international hotels. The good news is that you will find bars, beach clubs, restaurants, and night clubs in these hotels. And international hotels are everywhere in Dubai. If you plan on drinking in Dubai do so in extreme moderation. The government has an “out of sight, out of mind” policy when it comes to alcohol consumption. However, numerous tourists find themselves running afoul of the law despite the relaxed policies.
Where To Stay In Dubai
Dubai is home to an astounding number of hotels ranging from modest to spectacularly high-end. If you visit during peak season hotel prices tend to increase – making Dubai a tough place for a budget traveler. As always, booking early can land you some good deals on accommodation in Dubai.
Check out Booking.Com for current rates on properties.
Contrary to popular belief, there is much more to do in Dubai than shopping and water parks. Dubai is a multicultural city with a rich trading history thanks primarily to its strategic location on the Persian Gulf. The historical and cultural aspects of Dubai lie side by side with the modern displays of wealth found in every corner of the city. The recent economic boom in Dubai has led to an exciting food and art scene, amazing photo opportunities, and spectacular architecture.
Burj Khalifa Tower. At 829.8m it holds the current record for the tallest building in the world and deserves a spot on any Dubai itinerary. Top notch architecture and the best views of Dubai make for a great experience. Additionally, if you go at dawn, you can even see the famed Dubai Fountain show from an aerial perspective! You can visit the Burj Khalifa Observation Deck for an amazing view of Dubai. But if you have some extra money to spend try booking a table at At.Mosphere. This restaurant is located on the 122nd floor of the tower and is a dining experience like no other. Enjoy an afternoon tea at a window-side table at a hight that makes even the buses below look like ants.
Jumeirah Mosque. This mosque is the only one in Dubai that is open to the public and non-Muslim guests and offers the perfect opportunity to learn about the Emirati culture and Islam. The Jumeirah Mosque is open from Saturday-Thursday each week. If you arrive at 10:00 you can join a lecture and get a taste of some local snacks as Arabic coffee. Dates and local sweets are also offered. Modest clothing for men and women is required and women should cover their hair. If needed you can also borrow a scarf before entering.
Bastakiyah Quarter. Come to the Bastakiyah Quarter for an insight into what Dubai used to look like. Get lost within the lanes alleys of this lovely quarter, where you can find numerous traditional houses. Many of these now house art galleries, museums, and restaurants. This is also where you can find the Dubai Museum. As you might expect, it is located in a traditional house and offers a great educational look into Dubai’s local history and culture.
What To Eat In Dubai
With so many different cultures mingling in this city, it shouldn’t be a surprise to find how abundant gastronomic pleasures are in Dubai.
For Emirati food, visit the Sheikh Mohamed Centre for Cultural Understanding and have a traditional Emirati dinner. This is a great chance to chow down on good food while also learning about the local culture. Visiting the many smaller eateries in Dubai will take you on a trip around the world. You can find anything here from Indian, Ethiopian, and even North Korean cuisine!
A very special place on the Dubai foodie map is held for the oldest restaurant in Dubai – the quirky Persian Special Ostadi. For a fun and delicious food experience, head over to Bu Qtair. Located in an iron shed by the beach, you can choose which masala marinated fish or shrimps you want them to grill. Then, wait outside on a plastic chair until they call your name, pick up the order and savor the magnificent flavors!
Best Dubai Tours
Old Dubai Tour. Starting in Deira, indulge in the abundance of scents hidden in the alleys of the Spice Souq, souq means market. After taking in the aromas, head to the Gold Souq to see shoppers bargaining for extravagant quantities of gold. These markets give a look at traditional shopping in Dubai.
Next, hop on a traditional boat called an Abra. These boats will ferry you across the river. After hopping off on the other side of the Creek in Bur Dubai be sure to spend some time strolling around the old souq located on this side of the river. Here you can haggle for traditional oud perfumes which are scented with Agar Wood. Oud Perfume is highly prized and difficult to produce so many tourists hope to take some bottles home. This market is also home to many vendors of woven products like scarfs and pillow covers.
Water Tour. Hop on the RTA boat at Ghubaiba station and take a ride from the Creek all the way to the Dubai Marina. You will be able to see all of Dubai from a new perspective and you will even get a glimpse of the famous World Islands. Heading to the water is the best way to get photos of Dubai’s impressive skyline. And, if you are especially lucky you will have a chance to see dolphins swimming and playing in the Gulf.
Layover Tour. If you are on a layover and only have a few hours to explore the city, take the red metro line along the Sheikh Zayed Road, enjoying the views of Downtown Dubai. From the Burj Khalifa Station, walk through Dubai Mall and check out the largest suspended aquarium in the world. If you are unafraid of heights you can go up the Burj Khalifa for an aerial view of Dubai. Just be sure to prebook your tickets before going! Finally, head back to Dubai Mall’s Kinokuniya Book Store Cafe to watch the fountain show from the balcony. The best part is that you will be able to watch the show while having some coffee.
What To Bring To Dubai
In the winter months, the evenings are windy and cold. Be sure to bring a cardigan or a light jacket – especially if you’re planning on spending a night in the desert. In the summer you will need light, yet respectful clothes to deal with the heat and humidity outside and a sweater to wear inside because of the A/C. Air Conditioning is used everywhere so you need to pack more clothing for Dubai than you would think. For women, a scarf is recommended, because you can use it to cover your shoulders or to keep you warm inside a mall.
Most licensed restaurants and bars are in high-end hotels, so bringing some nicer attire might come in handy when going for a dinner or night out.
An electric converter might be useful, even though most extensions already have built-in converters. Charging your phone or using your laptop in most coffee shops is completely acceptable. Many cafes have chargers, which is great news for travelers who need to charge their phones or get some work done on a laptop.
If you are on any medication, check that they are not on the restricted or banned substances list before taking them with you. Many medications are considered drugs and are therefore blacklisted. Getting caught with them could get you into trouble even if they are doctor prescribed. There is also zero tolerance on any kind of drugs being brought into the country.
If you’re visiting during the month of Ramadan, mind that drinking, eating and smoking in public during day time is not allowed except in dedicated areas.