Dubai. Ultra-modern metropolis, it’s a little overwhelming to say the least. It’s a city full of superlatives, supercars and super-high buildings.
Stepping out from the airport, you will instantly be swept away by the roar of a Ferrari, be hit in the face with the intense heat (if you go in summer) and be blown away by the plush malls, luxury hotels and record-breaking attractions.
Discover some tips to help you to feel a little less like Alice travelling down a rabbit hole with the 10 must-do’s in our Ultimate Dubai travel guide. Where you can find what to do, where to stay, where to eat and try not to blow the budget!
TIPS WHEN TRAVELLING TO DUBAI
1. Bring cash
You’ll find many taxis don’t have card yet, so trying to hail one down without any dirhams can be very frustrating, especially waiting in the hot sun!
2. Know the day
The UAE weekend falls on Friday/Saturday. Friday is the holy day so bear in mind that some attractions may be closed until early evening.
3. Respect the culture
Dubai is a lot more modern than some people have heard and especially in the Marina Area, where you can see people wearing denim cut off shorts and an off the shoulder top. However be respectful of the Muslim culture you are in and when entering any large malls or government areas, remember to cover your shoulders and knees.
4. Get connected
At the airport, you can pick up a tourist sim card and usually there is free wifi in most public areas. It’s essential to avoid getting lost and knowing where you want to go.
5. Make a plan
There is so much to do, and so little time. You could be at kite surfing one day, then riding a camel on a desert safari the next. The opportunities are endless, so make sure you plan it out so you don’t miss that true “Instagram moment”.
6. Know your seasons!
Dubai is a desert, it is incredibly hot and humid in the summer, with temperatures getting over 50 +! Try to avoid May-August if you can. In Summer a lot of attractions are closed as well.
If you can’t avoid this time, don’t worry, there are plenty of Shopping malls and restaurants/beach clubs that will keep you cool and entertained.
The best time to visit Dubai is from October – March. The weather is beautiful, sunny in the day but cool in the evenings and mornings. Perfect for walking outside, rooftop pool parties and beach days.
Also be mindful that Ramadan is every year, it’s the holy month where Muslims worldwide fast from sunrise to sunset as one of the five pillars of Islam.
The timings of this change every year, as it gets pushed back 10 days each year. This year it will start in May. (2019)
Although some restaurants are still open in Dubai, it is not a good month for tourists looking to have a good time and it is very disrespectful to eat or drink in public during this time.
10 MUST DO’S IN DUBAI
This is very hard, as there are hundreds of things to do in Dubai, but to narrow it down to just 10, so here we go!
Dubai Desert Safari Tour is one that can’t be missed. Watch the sunset while driving through the untouched desert in your own 1950’s land rover & enjoy a live falconry show. Arrive at a traditional Bedouin-style camp, where entertainment, henna, Camel Rides and a delicious evening awaits. You will get picked up from major hotels and it’s all-inclusive. You feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of Dubai and it’s a piece of heritage that you will remember forever. Your Aladdin and Jasmine inspired photos will start trending for sure!
2. Go to a Friday brunch
It’s brunch, but not how you know it.
Of course, Dubai has taken this classic feast to new heights. Traditionally brunch is defined as a big meal somewhere between breakfast and lunch. Brunch in Dubai is something else. Think all-inclusive feast of food and drinks that goes for 3 or 4 or sometimes more hours (the longest on record in Dubai is 9 hours long).
Friday is the biggest day where you will see the expat community come out in forces to drink their tax-free salaries away.
It’s very hard to choose the best spot, as they are all competitive and fabulous! But here are our top 3:
- Coya – A journey to Peru.
- Asia Asia– Asian Fusion in a stunning marina venue.
- Rockfish – Seafood with a view.
Let’s talk about the ‘kids’ for a minute. Atlantis Aquaventure waterpark on the Palm Jumeriah is a full day of water park fun for kids and the young at heart. With 17 hectares of attractions, including a slide that will shoot you through a shark-filled lagoon. Our advice? Book online to avoid the queues.
4. Souk it!
Put your best battering skills to test at the glittering Gold Souk, discovering the souks is the best way to round out your Dubai tour. The Spice Souk is also right near the gold souk, the spice souk is the perfect place to scoop up some of the local Arabic spices. Just remember and check if you buy some, can you take it back home?
For a more polished experience, check out the Souk Madinat Jumeriah, which has been designed in the style of an old authentic Arabian marketplace. Explore lanes upon lanes lined with stalls selling jewellery, art and other trinkets. It’s the perfect place to grab a last-minute gift such as your loved ones name written in a beautiful Arabic bracelet or a traditional gold Arabic coffee pot.
No prizes for guess what Dubai’s number one visitor attraction is! At a huge 456 meters above sea leave, the observation tower, at the top, Burj Khalifa is the number one attraction and best way to see the city, Tom Hanks style!
Step inside the high-speed elevator for your daily head rush and be transported to the entry point, level 124. After you have taken your time on this level, you can move up to another level. Level 148 – this is home to the world’s highest observation deck and outdoor terrace sitting at a huge 555 meters high! At the top opens from 5.30am daily & you can pre-book online, through travel agencies or even at Dubai kiosks at the major malls (Dubai Mall is right next to the Burj Khalifa).
Get that falcon’s eye view and make everyone back home green with envy as you book your luxury seaplane scenic flight over Dubai. You can choose your flight, such as the ‘Aerial Adventure’, which will whizz you up and over the skyline for 40 minutes in a classic seaplane. Tick off that bucket list item by booking yourself into the co-pilot’s seat and discover the city from the sky!
7. Beach and Pool action
When you think of Dubai, you don’t really think of the beach, however, to our surprise, it can be a real beach holiday if that’s what you’re into!
Dubai is of course also famous for its beach clubs. Depends on the day, but you can usually pay a day pass to stay at the beach, have some drinks or just chill out in your own private cabana. The hot spots right now are; Nikki Beach Club, Barasti Beach, The Cove beach at Bluewaters and Drift beach at One and Only, Marina.
Of course, all the major hotels all have very glamorous pools too if you want to lay by your pool all day and catch up on some good books. You will have plenty of sunshine for this, all day long!
Technically this isn’t Dubai, but you won’t regret the visit!
The capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi is home to many attractions, such as the Emirates Palace, Ferrari World, The Lourve and of course the Grand Mosque.
Sheikh Zayad Grand Mosque is a modern masterpiece of Islamic architecture with a spectacularly decorated interior. You will feel a million miles away as you walk around the stunning feature.
Note: Make sure you check the times that you want to go and the dress code online.
(The Drive to Abu Dhabi from Dubai is around 1.5 hours)
Disney lovers are in for a treat as the iconic Mickey Mouse and the gang fill up the Dubai Miracle garden with magic and childlike charm. Breaking the world record for the tallest topiary sculpture, this garden in Dubailand invites you to gaze up the 18-metre-tall structure and let the thousands of plants and flowers brighten up your day.
There is also plenty of entertainment for the little ones and entry is free for those aged two and under. It is a must see for all ages and proves that Dubai really does, have it all.
10. Shop until you drop
There’s definitely no shortage of retail therapy in Dubai, from mega malls to small concept stores and traditional souks. The main malls are all open until late, with Dubai mall open from 10am until Midnight, 7 days a week.
The Dubai Mall is the biggest and most well-known of the shopping scene, offering fashion and entertainment in epic proportions. More than 1,200 luxury shops and dining experiences are on offer, to the likes of Dior, Chanel, Fendi, Gucci, Bloomingdale’s and many many more. If you’re mid-spree and need a break, the mall also has a very impressive list of entertainment such as the Dubai Aquarium, Underwater Zoo and Olympic size ice rink.
The Mall of the Emirates is also a huge power player, with a hands-free shopping service, which means you can drop off your bags at designated points and have them delivered directly to your hotel room!
There is also a huge amount of mini-malls if you don’t have enough time (or patience) to trawl the jumbo malls, some to note are – Dubai Marina Mall, Ibn Battuta Mall and The Mall on Jumeriah Beach Road.
If Malls aren’t your thing but you want to do some shopping, there are also some cool concept stores you can check out. It’s hardly surprising when Dubai hosts over 200 nationalities that call the city home, international design influencers are making a huge mark.
Popular creative hub Dubai Design District (d3) usually has its finger on the pulse and is a cool place to check out.
HOTELS AND RESTAURANTS IN DUBAI
In the world full of hotels and luxury dining venues, the choices are endless.
First- get your bearings. You’re new to the city, here’s the hip and happening hoods of Dubai and the low-down on where to stay and dine in each.
Note: All the restaurants that serve alcohol are inside hotels. The ones that are outside of any hotels do not and will not serve you any alcohol.
Where to stay?
This is the area where the Dubai Mall, the Burj Khalifa, The Dubai Fountain & the Dubai Opera all call home. There are a number of 5-star hotels downtown from Armani Hotel to the Taj Dubai, so could be hard to choose just one, but here’s our favourite.
This resort mixes classic themes and Arabian traditions with luxury rooms and a superior location.
Where to eat?
Dubai’s Downtown has so many choices, you could literally put your finger on a map blind and still find a winner.
But here are some of our top picks for some Downtown bites:
- BASTA! By David Myers, Renaissance Downtown Hotel – this celebrity chef adds a sprinkle of magic to a simple pizza. The gorgeous view of the city also helps the wood- fire pizza oven to make it a night of fine food and surroundings.
- Prime68 at JW Marriott Marquis – quality fare served in an elegant, yet modern setting.
The Palm Jumeriah blends posh, lavish apartments and villas with luxury hotels and malls.
It is best viewed from above to be fully appreciated and there are hundreds of hotels and restaurants to be sure to keep you occupied.
Where to stay?
All three resorts will have you feeling like royalty for your stay.
Rixos The Palm is also a great resort that is a little more forgiving on your wallet (more to spend on everything else).
Where to Eat?
- STAY by Yannick Alleno at One & Only, The Palm. Where opulence is the order of the day, both on and off the plate.
- 101 Dining lounge and Bar, also at One & Only, The Palm offers contemporary European fare.
DUBAI MARINA AND JBR
Those who want to have a taste of beach and luxury will feel right at home here. This is one of the city’s most popular (our personal favourite) and glamorous residential neighbourhoods.
Dubai Marina boasts two beachfront promenades. The Walk and The Beach at JBR. These are lined with hotels, eateries and super trendy shops and marketplaces. It is very much pedestrian friendly, however, the Dubai Tram also runs in this area and always stops outside the Beach and The Marina mall.
Where to stay?
The list of hotel brands in this area really is endless. Your budget will accommodate too, from 5* to 3* they are all there. Do your research and find out which one is for you, but with JBR facing properties, you really can’t go wrong!
Where to eat?
Again, the choice is endless, but here are some of our top picks and the reasons why!
- STK at Rixos, The Walk, JBR. Offers signature cuts of prime beef with the added bonus of a resident DJ so you can dance your calories off later!
- Fish Beach Taverna, at Le Meridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina. You will feel like you are in Greece, the water’s edge touches your table and evokes the memories of a Mediterranean summer.
- The MAINE Oyster Bar & Grill, at DoubleTree by Hilton. This is all about crustaceans with a view to match.
Sheikh Zayed Road
The pulsing arterial vein that cuts through this city. This 8 km long stretch of busy highway runs parallel to the coastline and is the main entry and exit point to all areas.
Numerous hotels are situated along the length of this highway, JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, Armani Hotel Dubai, Grosvenor House, The Ritz-Carlton, DIFC, St. Regis Dubai just to name a few, but here’s our favourite in the area.
It really is the city’s hottest address in Dubai’s coolest destination.
Where to Eat?
If money isn’t an issue you’re spoilt for choice!
- Zuma in DIFC serves Japanese food at its best and where the high rollers of Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) are usually seen hanging out after a long day’s work.
- Flair No.5 in The Ritz-Carlton.
- DIFC is also an amazing and new rooftop bar that is a little more on the reasonable side of the price bracket. This cool, chic bar is just buzzing with expats and has a very cool, chilled vibe. The food is designed to share and has an urban-infused, organic flavour.
This Ultimate Dubai Travel Guide has been contributed by Dubai Expat Kimberley Maiolo.