Dubai is a place that needs no any introduction. The city is famous for its many iconic landmarks, the Burj Khalifa, the Palms Island and the Burj Al-Arab but to name a few. It’s also a city that is renowned for its massive wealth, which can be seen all over the place from the buildings to the cars to the high end shops, a fairly big change for me as I stopped off on the way back from a few months in South East Asia! With massive wealth from oil sales, the city has become the business hub of the Middle East and with Etihad and Emirates flying through Dubai and Abu Dhabi, it has become a transport hub too. Tourists here generally range from those on a couple of days stopover to those here on holiday for a week or two.
Currency: UAE Dirham (AED). US Dollar/AED conversion rate $1=3.7AED. Dirham is the only widely used currency here. ATM’s can be found readily.
Costs: Hostel dorm beds range from $15-$30 at either of the three hostels in the city. Hotel bedrooms depend largely on the level of luxury – decent double rooms can be got for $40 a night with air con and private bathrooms while the top end rooms come in at about $500+
Food: As Dubai is quite tourist orientated and diverse, there is food here for all tastes. The local restaurants have Asian and Middle Eastern menus while most of the main western food chains can also be found dotted around the city, particularly in the tourist areas such as the Dubai Mall. Meals, like hotels, range in price, from a meal in a local restaurant for $5-7 for a main course to a high end restaurant which can increase in price dramatically depending on where you choose. Street food can also be bought and is inexpensive and definitely worth trying.
Visa: Free 30 day Visa on arrival is available for the US, Canada and most EU countries. The list of EU countries can be found here http://www.visitdubai.com/en/travel-planning/travel-tools/visa-and-entry-information Most neighbouring Gulf countries can also obtain a free visa on arrival.
Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi can be found in the shopping centres and pretty much all of the hotels and hostels although it seemed to be less common in the smaller local restaurants
Cost Saving Tips: There aren’t a whole lot of ways to save money in Dubai as most of the attractions have set prices – for things such as the Burj Khalifa, enquire as to what the prime and non-prime visit hours are as the non-prime hours are cheaper. The malls, beaches, the Dubai fountain and the Dubai Marina are all free to visit too and are all definitely must sees when you’re here. Also, take the metro whenever possible as it’s the cheapest mode of transport. Taxis are also pretty reasonable if you’re in a group although on your own the costs would start to rack up. Eating in smaller local restaurants is generally a cheaper way of sampling the different Arabic cuisines than eating in the malls, although fast food isn’t too expensive in the malls either.
Things to Do
Firstly, check the weather before coming to Dubai as heat can be a major factor. November to March is usually the best time of year as the summer can get up to the mid 40’s (Celsius) so this needs to be factored in your plans if you’re as heat averse as I am! Transport in the city is pretty straight forward with lots of bus routes, though for simplicity, most tourists tend to stick to the Metro. The Metro stops at many of the major tourist landmarks and is a cheap and easy way to travel around without getting lost. Taxis are common too and are cheap – they can be flagged down from the side of the road or from outside most hotels. They are all metered too and most importantly, have air con.
Unlike many of the Middle Eastern countries, Dubai has quite a laid back approach when it comes to western standards due to the number of foreign businesses here. There are a number of bars serving alcohol (usually in a hotel or linked to it although it’s fine to walk in off the street) and there is a generally relaxed attitude although bear in mind, it is still a Muslim country so there are different customs that must be adhered to.
Dubai is a city with heaps to do and see. How long you want to spend here depends on the individual but personally, I was here five days and got most of this list completed. I’ve gone through the main attractions below how to get there, a brief description and the cost.
With 1,200 different shops, the Dubai Mall is the 10th largest mall in the world. Lots of people come to Dubai for the shopping and can find many high end and medium end shops in the mall. Also, the mall has a cinema, the Dubai Aquarium and an ice rink so it caters for everyone, not just the shopaholics. Getting to the mall is also pretty easy, it can be found on the metro line and has an air conditioned walkway from the metro stop into the shopping centre. There is free Wifi in the shopping centre too and loads of restaurants for when you want to take a break.
The aquarium can be found in the Dubai Mall and is hard to miss, with a
270 square metre glass wall wall panel filled with fish of all shapes and sizes swimming around. Apparently it has more than 33,000 living fish ranging from 85 different species so there is plenty to see. As for cost, depending on which tickets you buy, it ranges from approximately $27-$55 per person and can be bought online or at the gate. Online being the better option as it helps avoid the queues.
There are a couple of main beaches in Dubai – Jumeirah beach, Sunset beach and Marina beach. Marina beach, as the name suggests, is by the Dubai marina. The closest metro stop to Sunset beach is probably from Mall of the Emirates although it’s a pretty hefty walk to the beach from here so flagging a taxi is advisable given the heat. Finally Jumeirah beach is near the Emirates Towers metro stop and again it’s advisable to get a taxi from here as it’s a sizeable walk. It is beside the Dubai Zoo too, so this could be worth checking out if you have time. Personally, I would favour Sunset beach as the Burj Al-Arab is sitting out in the water 200m up from the beach so there’s loads of opportunities for a few cool selfies with the Burj in the background! As for beach etiquette, for women, going topless is not really in keeping with local standards so it’s probably best avoided. Other than that, normal swimwear is fine on the beach but once off the beach, it’s advisable to cover up as normal.
Again situated just outside the Dubai Mall/beside the Burj Khalifa, the fountains are another must see for anyone visiting Dubai. It is the world’s largest choreographed fountain and is set in the Burj Khalifa lake. The fountain itself has 6,600 lights, 25 projectors and shoots jets of water up to 150 metres in the air, to a backdrop of both Arabic and Western music. The best time to catch the fountain is one of the evening shows as the lighting looks much more impressive at night time. The night shows take place every 30 minutes from 6pm until 10pm (6pm until 11pm from Thursday to Saturday). The afternoon shows take place at 1pm and 1.30pm, and there are no entrance fees.
Situated beside the Dubai Mall (entry is through the bottom floor of the mall), the world’s tallest building stands at 829.8m and is another one to tick off the bucket list. In total, there are 163 floors in the building, and doing the tour has two options: the observation deck on the 124th floor (452m high) can be visited for about $34 during non-prime hours to $55 during prime hours. The Sky level on the 148th floor (555m high) was opened in 2014 and can be visited for $95 during non-prime hours to $135 during prime hours. Prime hours are generally about 4pm to 6pm although this varies depending on time of year. Whichever floor you visit, you get a great view of the surrounding buildings, with the sea on one side and the desert on the other. Again, the Burj is easy to find, simply hop off at the Dubai Mall/Burj Khalifa metro stop and follow the signs.
Burj Al Arab
The Burj Al Arab is the third tallest hotel in the world and is built on an artificial island. It stands at 280m high and is easily recognisable as the building that looks like the sail of a ship. It is another of Dubai’s flagship buildings and is definitely worth checking out. It has a number of 360 degree viewing decks giving views of the Dubai coastline, although tourist access isn’t as simple as many of the other buildings. To get inside the building, you must first make a lunch/dinner reservation to one of the restaurants. The cost varies depending on the restaurant with lunch starting off at about $95 in the Royal Hall and increasing to $230 in the Seafood Restaurant for a five course meal, so make sure to check prices before you order! Afternoon tea can also be bought for about $60. So this is probably the cheapest way to get inside the building for a look around and a few photos. To get here, taxi is probably the best option as it’s a bit away from the metro.
The desert safari was one of the highlights of the trip to Dubai, it wasn’t something I had planned on doing but it was interesting as it helped to see the more traditional side of Dubai rather than the usual mega rich, excessive side of the city. Also, I heard that the UAE government subsidises the desert safari’s so that tourists can see some of their culture, so it’s pretty cheap (about $30 for five or six hours in total). Booking the safari can be done in a number of ways, most hostels/hotels can book it for you or you can book online. I booked through my hostel and was picked up at about ten minutes from where I was staying.
The safari itself has a number of different things to do – it begins with some dune bashing where you get driven through the sand dunes in a 4×4, it’s great fun. Next, once you arrive, there are a few options to do such as camel rides, driving quad bikes in the sand, holding a falcon plus there was a bar there too (these are paid extras). Included in the safari is some lunch, unlimited shisha pipes, belly dancing and you can try on some traditional costumes too. All in all, well worth the trip.
The Dubai Marina is another thing to add to the must see list. Getting here is simple, the Marina is a stop on the metro line and it’s a chance to not only see the beautiful marina and some sizeable boats, some of the buildings and surrounding architecture is pretty unbelievable. Again, it’s free to visit and walk around as it’s an open area, with many people sitting out for a cup of coffee and taking in their surroundings.
The Palms (Palm Jumeirah)
The Palms are another of Dubai’s recognisable attractions, it is a completely artificial island, built in the shape of a palm tree. Firstly, getting here is fairly straight forward – the metro travels out to the beginning of the island although it does involve switching trams once or twice to get here. Next, you have to leave the metro system and get a separate train to the Atlantis hotel at the far end of the island. On the train journey you have a chance to see the different houses and cars and you can see the different building projects that are in process on the island. The last stop is the infamous Atlantis hotel – you can go in and walk around although it’s not possible to go upstairs to get a view of the island without having a room in the hotel unfortunately.
Mall of the Emirates (Ski Dubai)
The Mall of the Emirates is similar to the Dubai Mall – it has a few hundred less shops but is a bit smaller too so it’s slightly easier on your feet as there’s much less walking! Again, getting here is easy – it’s a stop on the metro and has an air conditioned walkway into the shopping centre. It also has the world’s biggest indoor ski slope (called Ski Dubai) where you can get skiing lessons, snowboard, toboggan and see some real life penguins. As for prices, it ranged from $55 to $80 for a day ski pass.
Hopefully this is some help for any of you hoping to visit the place, its well worth the trip and has some unbelievable architecture and wealth. Culturally, it’s such an international and recently built city, that it has lost a lot of its authenticity although the desert safari does help to show a bit of Dubai in the traditional sense. If you have any questions about the place, leave a comment and or check out one of our other posts located on the homepage.