Dubai has never been somewhere that has really appealed to me, I don’t know why but it’s not been at the top of my list of places to visit. However, having now spent 3 nights in this vibrant city I can safely say that my mind has well and truly changed. I loved my time there and can’t believe how much there is to see and do. The locals are friendly, the streets are clean and the climate in February when I visited was perfect; warm, sunny and a steady 25°C. I also presumed that there wouldn’t be much to do in Dubai, how wrong I was! For those that like adventure there’s the desert, ziplines, ski slopes and skydiving. For sun worshippers there’s the beach. If you’re a shopaholic the shopping malls are out of this world and then there’s the sightseeing; so much of it that I didn’t get to see it all! Read on for the lowdown on my adventures in the UAE and what you need to do on your trip there…
From the airport:
Catch a taxi, red roof taxis are all over Dubai, ignore people trying to usher you to the more expensive cars. There is an official taxi rank so once you’ve got your bags follow the signs outside the airport. Taxis are metered, I paid AED 105 and gave a AED 20 tip for the journey to JBR Residence, which took around 30 minutes.
What to wear:
I wasn’t sure what to pack for Dubai as I didn’t know how strict the country was on dress code. Dubai is a Muslim country so dress conservatively, ladies should keep shoulders and knees covered. The JBR Residence and the marina area seemed to be a bit more relaxed when it came to dress code. I was surprised to see people wearing all sorts, tiny shorts, skimpy tops and little beach dresses. I believe in dressing respectfully depending on where I am so went for maxi dresses, floaty trousers and tops covering my shoulders. Although dressing conservatively does seem to be less of a need than I expected.
Swimwear is fine on the beach or by the pool but cover up modestly when leaving and take something to change into, wet swimwear under clothes is classed as inappropriate.
When visiting a mosque covering up head to toe is a must, pack scarves and pashminas or hire when you visit.
I went on a desert safari and would really recommend comfy, closed toe footwear. I’m a flip-flop girl but I’m so pleased I wore my converse in the desert; the amount of sand I emptied out of them after sand boarding was incredible!
Taxis are everywhere and pretty cheap. The metro and tram are all easy to use and there’s a monorail which goes to The Palm. Sightseeing buses are a great way to see the city, more on this below.
Where to stay:
Dubai Marina and JBR
I stayed in this area and absolutely loved it. The beach, Marina Mall and The Walk; a mile long ocean side promenade with shops and restaurants are all there. I loved sipping on mocktails in cafés overlooking the ocean and browsing the market stalls. Yalseah Arabic Lounge and Cafe was my favourite, stop by for mango smoothies and crêpes. There is a public beach area too so there’s no need to pay to go on a private beach if you don’t want to. For daredevils there’s a zipline, XLine is the world’s longest zipline. It’s super pricey but looks like an incredible experience, zoom from 170 metres high down to ground level at exhilerating speeds with awesome views.
Downtown is a good spot to be for some of Dubai’s top sights, the Burj Khalifa, Dubai Fountains and the Dubai Mall are all there. It’s around 20 minutes drive from the airport, Dubai Creek is also nearby. Most of the hotels in the downtown area are within walking distance of all the attractions making it a very convenient place to stay.
The Burj al Arab, the Wild Wadi Waterpark and La Mer are all on the doorstep of Jumeirah Beach as are some amazing hotels. It’s a beautiful spot with most of the hotels having their own private beaches. This is the spot for sun worshippers and those looking for beautiful hotels with gorgeous ocean views. Jumeirah Beach is also only around a 15 minute drive from Downtown Dubai.
Things to see:
The Burj Khalifa stands at a height of 2716.5 ft making it the world’s tallest building. Work started on this incredible structure in 2004 and was completed in 2010 with up to 12,000 people working on it everyday. Step into the worlds fastest elevator and take in the views of Dubai on the 124th and 125th floor, at 456 metres up it’s well worth a visit. Be prepared for long queues. I booked an 11.30am slot and must have spent an hour queuing to go up in the lift and then back down again. Book a mega early slot to watch the sunrise and enjoy breakfast afterwards. The views from ‘At the Top’ are amazing and what a thing to be able to say you’ve seen Dubai from the world’s tallest building.
These fountains reminded me of the fountains outside the Bellagio in Las Vegas and they are in fact created by the same people. Set to music the water show is mesmerizing, with the dramatic backdrop of the city skyscrapers and the Burj it’s a really nice experience. The show only lasts for a few minutes so time your visit to the Dubai Mall to see one. There are shows during the day and evening, check on the website for times. Watch them at night and marvel at the Burj Khalifa illuminated in a dazzling fashion.
This was one of my favourite parts of the trip, a morning dune drive with camel riding, sand boarding and breakfast in a Bedouin camp. We were collected from our hotel at 7.30am and driven to the Dubai Desert Conservation Area. After the tyres on the 4×4 vehicles were lowered we set off in convoy into the desert. Driving up and down the dunes was thrilling. We stopped in the dunes to take photos and then continued on the adventure. After the drive we arrived at a camp and had the opportunity to try sand boarding. Next was a short camel ride and finally a sit down in the Bedouin camp along with Arabic coffee, dates and breakfast. I booked the trip with Arabian Adventures,they have a load of other fantastic experiences including a ‘Sunset Dune Dinner Safari’.
A bus tour is a great way to see Dubai. We used City Sightseeing Dubai; with a one-day pass you get to travel on all four routes as well as a boat trip. We unfortunately didn’t have time to go on the boat trip but I think it’s really great value for money at AED 300. Water was provided on the buses as well as headphones to listen to the guided tour. I found it really informative and it was nice to see different parts of the city you don’t get to see in a taxi. My favourite routes were the blue route covering sights such as the Jumeirah mosque and the Burj al Arab and the yellow route, this went around the marina and onto The Palm.
Where to drink:
Being a Muslim country alcohol is only permitted in hotels so you’ll find that cafes and bars only serve soft drinks. Shishas are very popular; you can’t go far without spotting someone smoking one. But bars are aplenty, head to a hotel for G & T or cocktail with a view. Pick a hotel with a rooftop bar, I really recommend visiting one at sunset. Jumeirah Beach Hotel has an amazing bar overlooking the ocean and the Burj al Arab. I stayed at the Ramada Plaza at the Jumeirah Beach Residence. The rooftop bar had amazing views of the marina, ocean and The Palm. The Sofitel downtown has a chic rooftop bar with infinity pool, it’s open during the day as well as the evening and has incredible views of the Burj Khalifa. Pure Sky Lounge at the Hilton on The Walk is another perfect spot for sundowners with views of the Arabian Gulf and The Palm, time your happy hour drink for sunset.
This wasn’t high on my agenda for Dubai but the UAE certainly knows how to do shopping malls! The Dubai Mall has it’s own aquarium and ice rink and you’ll find the Dubai Fountains right outside, plus the Burk Khalifa next door. The Dubai Mall app has a map to help navigate this vast shopping extravaganza, it’s really useful for finding your way around. Mall of the Emirates has ski slopes with an alpine lodge you can stay overnight in and ski lifts to get up to the top of the ski runs. If you have time they really are worth a visit.
The only mosque open to non-Muslims in Dubai is the Jumeirah Mosque. Tours run 6 days a week at 10am and last for 75 minutes. Plan a visit here while on a bus tour; the City Sightseeing Dubai buses stop nearby. Further afield is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi which is around a 1 hour 30 minute drive from Dubai. If you have a day spare in your trip you should put this in your itinerary. One of the world’s largest mosques it has an open-door policy and is just incredible. Huge white domes house not only the prayer hall but also the world’s largest hand-made carpet and chandelier. Entry is free.
Happy Dubai planning!