Dubai Travel Guide
By Neha Singh
Dubai may not be a capital city, but is definitely the most visited and popular place in the Middle Eastern country of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It’s a destination that is lauded as much for its avant-garde sights as for its timeless attractions. It’s where classic sandstone structures elegantly co-exist with the mix of super sleek, cloud-piercing structures, high-end entertainment facilities and thrilling attractions. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! So come read this comprehensive Dubai travel guide to know more about this city which is a real oasis in the Arabian Desert.
When to visit Dubai?
Dubai is a city which you can visit anytime. Its malls, theme parks and attractions are open year-round and packed with loads of leisure, shopping and entertainment options. But, if harsh heat and humidity is not your thing, avoid visiting here during peak summer months (June to August) when the mercury hits over 55 degree Celsius.
That said, you can still make the most of your summer trip to Dubai with its many innovative indoor attractions such as Ski Dubai, Dubai Ice Rink etc. While winter months (from November to March) are cool and refreshing, it’s also the time when the room rates and airline tickets are at their peak.
Top Things To Do And See In Dubai
1. View the City Skyline from Burj Khalifa / Dubai Frame or both
The 828-meter high Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest man-made structure and a trip up to its ‘At the Top’ observation deck on 124th level is one of the most convenient ways to admire Dubai’s gorgeous skyline, desert and ocean all at once. You can further ascend 24 levels up to its 148th level to experience the world’s highest observation deck. If you’ve already been here or looking for an alternative over this, consider a visit to Dubai Frame! It may not be as high as Burj Khalifa, but is certain to blow you away with its striking picture-frame-like structure, past and future galleries, and mostly, the sky deck, offering the views of both old and new Dubai.
2. Watch the Dubai Fountain Show
Jetting out water as high as 500 feet, the Dubai Fountain Show on Burj Lake is one sight that you shouldn’t miss in Dubai. With the towering Burj Khalifa and colossal Dubai Mall in the background, this magnificent light and water spectacle is definite to take your breath away, as it dances in tune to your all-time favourite Arabic, Bollywood or western music. This is a free attraction and takes place every 15 minutes. But you can make your Dubai Fountain show experience truly special by booking an abra ride during the show or via choosing to dine at one of the restaurants that offer unobstructed views of the fountain.
3. Explore the Malls in Dubai
Of all 70 plus malls in the city, the biggest of its kind Dubai Mall grabs maximum attention for its 1200 outlets complemented by an array of dining options and leisure/entertainment attractions such as Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, KidZania, and VR Park.
That said, there are plenty of other malls in Dubai which equally deserve a visit. Check out Mall of the Emirates with Ski Dubai, visit the Egyptian themed Wafi Mall, and be sure to discover Ibn Battuta with six unique sections, representing the countries travelled by Ibn Battuta – the famous 14th-century Moroccan explorer and scholar.
4. Journey Back to Dubai’s Past at Bastakiya Quarter
Yes, a stroll through the city’s oldest neighbourhood will give you a taste of Dubai’s ancient past. Also known as Al Fahidi Historic Neighbourhood, this well preserved quarter has a string of old-style sandstone structures across its narrow labyrinths. They once used to be the residence of traders from Iran in the 19th century. Most of them are topped with wooden towers and now serve as an art gallery or museum.
If you’re curious to know more about Dubai’s culture and history, you can visit the Dubai Museum which is a few blocks away. An extensive array of art and artefacts on view here will give you an in-depth insight of Dubai’s age-old lifestyle and traditions.
5. Take a Desert Safari
When the city’s shine and sparkle becomes too much for you, escape to Dubai’s desert on an all-inclusive desert safari. Surprisingly, you don’t have to travel far for this. Just 40 to 45 minutes away from the city centre, the consummate desert landscape will supremely detach you from Dubai’s glamorous sights.
You can select from activity-packed morning or more comprehensive evening Dubai desert safari with 4X4 dune bash, cultural experiences, BBQ dining and entertainment. There is also overnight desert safari which allows you to stay under the Arabian Desert sky.
6. Visit Bluewaters Island to Find Dubai’s Newest Attractions
The newest and stylish waterfront destination in Dubai is a perfect hangout spot for people from all walks of life. It welcomes you with the majestic view of Ain Dubai which is all set to hit the headlines as the world’s biggest Ferris wheel. The island is also home to attractions such as Madame Tussauds Museum – the first of its kind museum in the Middle East, and Rotunda Dubai (inside Caesars Palace Bluewaters Dubai) which adds to the region’s reputation as the ultimate entertainment hub.
7. Get a generous dose of fun and thrill at Dubai’s Theme Parks
In recent years, Dubai has received massive applause for its world-class theme parks. You can tour IMG Worlds of Adventure, with four themed lands inspired by Marvel superheroes, iconic cartoon characters, and dinosaurs. If you’re a hardcore theme park fan, don’t miss Dubai Parks and Resorts. It’s the region’s first integrated resort with three theme parks and a water park to its credit.
You can choose to catch up with Hollywood based rides and attractions at Motiongate Dubai or head to Bollywood Parks Dubai with all attractions, shows etc inspired by classic Hindi movies. Then there is LEGO-based theme park plus waterpark, both ideal for families of kids from 2 to 12 years.
8. See Palm Jumeirah
This is one of Dubai’s most prestigious landmarks. Rightfully, no Dubai trip is complete without catching a glimpse of this magnificent, one-of-its-kind man-made island which resembles a giant palm tree with a crescent on its top. If you want to take in this sight in its entire splendour, an air-borne adventure is probably the ultimate option.
You can take a helicopter ride, sign up for a seaplane tour or go extreme with a sky dive adventure wherein you’ll freefall over the island from a height of more than 10,000 feet. But this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, being super exhilarating and expensive. So you can alternatively take a monorail ride to admire the island’s main attractions, starting from Atlantis, The Palm resort to its stylish architectures, cool residences and boardwalk.
9. Snap some amazing images against Burj Al Arab
The sail-shaped Burj Al Arab is so stylish that it definitely merits the title as the world’s only seven-star hotel. However, a stay here may not be for everyone, but you can still marvel at its awe-inspiring interiors by booking a dining session at one of its elegantly designed restaurants. This allows you to sample refined cuisines in a chic ambience, surrounded by the most exquisite sea views. But if you want to skip the dining part as well, make sure that you at least capture some images against its beautiful backdrop.
10. Don’t miss Dubai’s popular seasonal attractions and events
The majority of attractions and experiences listed above can be enjoyed any part of the year. Dubai’s seasonal attractions, however, are special and active only for a few months in winter season. One of the most unmissable among them is DSF or Dubai Shopping Festival. This falls during December – January and turns the city into the ultimate hub of shopping, dining and entertainment for the whole one month. The biggest of its kind Dubai Miracle Garden is another seasonal sight that is a must-experience, especially for nature lovers. Don’t miss Global Village if you happen to visit Dubai between October and April. With 30 plus pavilions hosting close to 80 countries, it offers you the once-in-the-lifetime chance to discover several cultures, try unique cuisines and shop the authentic specialties of different parts of the world.
11. Go on a Dinner Cruise
A relaxed evening cruise aboard a dhow or traditional Arabian vessel is one of the best ways to admire Dubai’s remarkably illuminated cityscape. Once used for fishing and pearl farming during the pre-oil era, dhows are now integral to Dubai’s culture and heritage. Make it a classic experience by going on a cruise at the historically significant Dubai Creek or add a touch of modernity with a cruise along the uber-contemporary Dubai Marina. More than views, a dhow cruise is worth trying for its lavish buffet dinner and live Tanura show.
5 Dubai Money Saving Tips
1. First and foremost, plan in advance! Book your airline tickets, accommodation in Dubai and entry tickets to popular landmarks much before, at least three months ahead of your Dubai trip.
2. Go for an all-inclusive holiday package which helps you to put together all your preferences at a single price.
3. Hotel rates and airfares may be skyrocket during the peak winter months. An alternative is to visit here in summer months when the costs of almost everything is unbelievably low.
4. If you really want to cut down on your Dubai expenses, choose public transport over private transfers. They are equally convenient and spotless as well as air-conditioned. Just pick from the ideal NOL card depending on the duration of Dubai stay.
5. Make the most of coupon deals and consider combo tours offered by service providers such as Rayna Tours. For example, you can save time and money by opting for a tour combining Burj Khalifa or Dubai Frame with a desert safari or dhow cruise.
Dubai Local Laws & Etiquettes
Being a part of an Islamic nation, Dubai expects you to respect its culture and traditions which are largely inspired by its religious beliefs. So, keep a note of these things while in Dubai:
- Refrain from eating or drinking in public during the holy month of Ramadan.
- Be cautious while taking pictures of the important government structures and locals, particularly Emirati women.
- Alcohol consumption, possession of drugs, drunk driving etc are a serious offence. All these may cause you to pay heavy fine and even lead to imprisonment.
- If you’re an unmarried couple, don’t attempt to stay together in a hotel room.
- Say a big no to any kind of PDAs (Public Display of Affection).
- Most importantly, dress modestly. Avoid wearing revealing clothing and go for dresses that cover your arms, shoulders and knees.
Where to stay and dine in Dubai
Accommodation in Dubai
You’ll find accommodation to suit every preference and budget in Dubai. But the most important thing is to pick the right location. If you’re here for Dubai’s outdoor life and water, then consider staying somewhere close to Jumeirah Beach or Palm Jumeirah.
There are some high-end options across downtown Dubai, such as on Sheik Zayed Road, if you’re looking for a strategic location for your hassle-free Dubai sightseeing. The sky is the limit for those who are here to splurge, with options such as Burj Al Arab, Atlantis, The Palm, Armani Hotel (inside Burj Khalifa) etc. However, if budget is your concern, then hotels across Dubai and Bur Dubai are decent yet reasonably priced.
Dubai’s expat community represent over 200 nationalities and this is largely reflect its unrivaled gastronomic scene. In fact, it’s not all about Emirati or Arabic cuisines. Be it Asian, English or Mediterranean, it’s very likely that you won’t miss your favourite cuisines while in Dubai. Now if you want to try something exotic or distinct, choices are exceptionally aplenty. And the best part is that it caters to every budget too.
Getting Around Dubai
To get around in the city, there are cabs, public buses, water taxis, and most importantly, the swiftest ever Dubai Metro – which is fully automated and driverless. They are operated and maintained by Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority. You can also rely on private transfers with or without driver to explore the city. Just make sure that you bring your driving license if you’re planning to drive here.
If you’re not eligible for a visa-free or visa on arrival, you should mandatorily obtain a Dubai visa before your visit here. So before you book your air travel tickets, be sure to check whether you’re qualified for a visa exemption or not.
Arabic is the language spoken by locals or Emiratis here. With expats making up about 85% of its population, English is also widely spoken here.
The UAE Dirham is the currency and this is pegged to the US dollar with one dollar equivalent to AED 3.67.
Currency Exchange Centers and Use of Credit Cards
You can easily convert your currency to UAE dirham at banks or exclusive exchange counters dotted across Dubai’s streets, malls, and other public places. Apart from these, most shops, restaurants, theme parks etc accept all major credit cards.
No matter if you’re travelling to Dubai for its glitz, untouched desert scenery, or unequalled architectural marvels, one thing is sure – that you’re going to love this wonderful city. This guide has been written by Neha …..who lives in Dubai. Unlike some other travel guides written by visiting travel bloggers, this is written by a local resident.
About Neha Singh
Passionate about travel, Neha effortlessly blends her experiences with writing.
She is a post-graduate in Mass Communications. She loves adventure travel and music.
For more information on Dubai, head over to Neha’s Dubai Wikia.