Dubai is a city and emirate of the United Arab Emirates. The cosmopolitan city is known for its beaches, luxury skyscrapers, old town, food scene and endless shopping.
However, Dubai has way more to offer than the short and luxurious experience. It is why this guide will help you plan your trip to the city that never sleeps. Everything is in there, from air travel, choice of hotel, the right FX-free credit card, to the little secrets that will make your trip full and rich in experiences in and around the city.
- Is Dubai Safe?
- Do I Need a Visa to Enter Dubai?
- COVID-19 Travel Requirement for Dubai
- Best Ways to Fly to Dubai
- Where to Stay in Dubai?
- Weather in Dubai
- How Much Does a Dubai Trip Cost?
- Best Way to Get Local Currency: UAE Dirham
- Use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees
- Dubai International Airport is in the City
- Buy a Prepaid SIM Card on Arrival
- Dubai Neighbourhoods
- International Driving Permit
- Tipping in Dubai
- Best Food in The World is in Dubai
- Save with Groupon
- Best Pool Day Access in Dubai
- The Holy Month of Ramadan
- What to Wear in Dubai
- Alcohol in Dubai
- Keep the PDA Private
- Lewd Language
- Dubai Museums
- Dubai Water Parks
- Expo 2020 Dubai
- Dubai Souks & Malls
- Additional Great Things to Do in & Around Dubai
Is Dubai Safe?
Dubai is safe to visit. Not only is it one of the safest places in the Middle East but also in the world. Although some speak of pickpocketing, I’ve never experienced or seen it myself in my many trips to the city. Crime rates in the city is amongst the lowest in the world. That’s for both violent and non-violent crimes. Also, citizens and expats in Dubai abide by the laws of the emirate.
You’re concern is not to break unwhillingly local laws that relate to alcohol consumption, public display of affection, offensive language and the way you are dressed. I do discuss these issue later sections in the guide.
The city is safe for women traveling alone as well. Security is tight in Dubai, which brings a sense of safety for all.
If you need to call emergency services, here are their phones numbers:
- 999 for Dubai Police
- 998 for Ambulance
- 997 for Fire Department. The Fire Department in Dubai is called Civil Defense.
Do I Need a Visa to Enter Dubai?
As a Canadian or an American you do not need to make arrangements for a visa prior to travel. A free 30-day visa will be stamped in your passport at immigration. Moreover, make sure your passport is valid for more than 6 months. Also as a Canadian, you’re allowed a 10-day grace extension.
Here is the list of countries that are entitled to either a 30-day or 90-day free visa on entry:
30-day visit eligible countries: Andorra, Australia, Brunei, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Macau, Malaysia, Mauritius, Monaco, New Zealand, Ireland, San Marino, Singapore, Ukraine, UK, USA and Vatican City.
90-day visit eligible countries: Argentina, Austria, Bahamas Islands, Barbados, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Kiribati, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Maldives, Malta, Montenegro, Nauru, Netherlands, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Uruguay.
You’re all set to fly!
COVID-19 Travel Requirement for Dubai
Now that we have cleared up the visa issue, let’s look into the COVID-19 travel requirements. I understand it is not the most exciting part of the guide but it is an essentiel one.
Flying into Dubai
All visitors must provide a negative COVID‑19 RT‑PCR test certificate. Moreover, the test must be taken no more than 72 hours before departure. However, I would advise you make sure your arrival time is within that 72 hours period.
Dubai only accepts a Reverse Transcription‑Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT‑PCR) test certificate. Therefore, insure you are requesting that specific test to avoid a costly mistake.
Visitors have to provide a digital or printed official certificate in English. Bring a printed copy along in case your smart phone decides to melt down on you at customs. In general, as a rule, always bring a paper copy for every important document of your trip:
- Proof of return ticket
- Hotel bookings
- Proof of travel insurance (in COVID-19 context)
It’s very important to keep in mind that you cannot submit an official certificate that has been used to enter another destination within the validity period!
Visitors from the following countries have to take another COVID-19 PCR test on arrival at Dubai International Airport:
Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Georgia, Ghana, Guinea, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Oman, Pakistan, Poland, Philippines, Qatar, Rwanda, Russia, Senegal, Slovakia, Somaliland, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe.
Departing from Dubai
Dubai does not require visitors to take a COVID‑19 RT‑PCR test at departure. However, your home destination will dictate whether you need one or not. Check with your country’s COVID-19 entry policy.
The following Dubai Health Authority (DHA) labs provide COVID‑19 RT‑PCR test certificates:
– Al Garhoud Private Hospital
– Al Zahra Hospital
– American Hospitals Dubai
– CPS Clinical Pathology Services
– Dubai Health Authority (Latifa Labs)
– EUROFINS BIOMN
Source: Emirate Airlines
– Mediclinic Hospitals Group
– Medsol Dubai Medical Laboratory
– National Reference Laboratory
– Viafet Genomic laboratory
– Scientific Clinical Laboratories (Unilabs)
– Star Metropolis Clinical Laboratories
– York Diagnostic Laboratories
Other hospitals in Dubai will provide COVID-19 tests
- Al Tadawi Medical Centre
- Aster Hospitals in Dubai
- Canadian Specialist Hospital
- Emirates Hospital
- King’s College Hospital
- Medeor Hospital
- NMC Healthcare
- Prime Medical Centres
- Saudi German Hospital
- Thumbay Hospital
- Zulekha Hospital
Also, SEHA COVID-19 drive-through Service Centers have three drive-through SEHA screening centres at Mina Rashid, Al Khawaneej, and City Walk. SEHA, which means health in Arabic, is the UAE’s largest operator of public hospitals and clinics.
Furthermore, this service is convenient for 2 main reasons: if you’re driving, then you’re waiting in the comfort of your car and don’t have to show up at a hospital or clinic. The second reason is the cost. It’s only AED65 (C$22.69) vs AED150 (C$51.50) in private clinics and hospitals. You still have to schedule your appointment.
Best Ways to Fly to Dubai
If you fly to Dubai you’ll probably land at Dubai International Airport (DXB). It’s the world busiest airport in terms of international passengers traffic. It is also the home to Emirates Airlines.
Emirates Airlines fly direct to Dubai from Toronto and most major US international airports:
Emirates Flights from The Americas
New York JFK
New York Newark
If Emirates does not fly to your airport, you can still try out Qatar Airways from most North American major hubs:
Qatar Airways Flights from The Americas
New York JFK
I flew Qatar Airways to Dubai from Montreal in September 2021 and managed to pay only C$742 (590 USD).
You can fly European carriers and score some nice prices. Although I avoid flying European airlines as the layovers are long (+5-7 hours) and hubs such as Heathrow, Paris and Frankfort crowded and expensive. Also, you will land in Dubai after 11pm, which is a peak time at DXB Airport.
You may also pay less if you have airlines points or miles. A return reward ticket with Aeroplan in Economy class will cost you 110,000 points and $241.47. But it’s not worth spending miles on a Dubai trip when you can grab a cash ticket for less than C$800.
Finally, use Google Flights to find and track great rates on flights.
Where to Stay in Dubai?
Dubai is a hotel heaven. From mid-scale properties to resorts and luxury hotels, you will lose your mind trying to choose where to stay. In other words, you will probably try at least 2 hotels during a one-week stay. That’s how exciting the hotel offering is in Dubai.
I recommend you stay in hotels that are either easily accessible by public transit – near a metro station – or that are relatively central to avoid the heavy gridlock. A combination of metro, Uber and taxi rides is a cheap way to go around Dubai. Finally you’d only need to rent a car for part of your vacation that is when you get out of the city.
Personally, unless you’re seeking isolation and calm, I don’t see value in staying in properties in the Palm Jumeirah such as the W Dubai or Sofitel The Palm. It’s a 30 km ride from downtown Dubai (Burj Khalifa area)! Only a 20-minute ride when there’s no traffic jam but it can get ugly and you’ll get hit by a C$1.25 fee every time you pass the Salik Toll Gates.
To make things easier, here are some of the hotel where you can stay. I chose rates that include breakfast:
- Four Points by Sheraton Bur Dubai C$88
- Aloft Dubai Airport C$87
- Hampton by Hilton Dubai Airport C$89
- Hilton Garden Inn Dubai Al Jadaf Culture Village C$90
Another way to search for hotels is to either go through majors brands or via online travel agencies:
Many hotels offer complimentary shuttle services to different venues across the city. To clarify, these shuttles are not advertised on their sites. Therefore, email the property and inquire whether they offer shuttle services to the Creek, Dubai Mall, airport and other venues.
Weather in Dubai
Dubai is located on the shores of the Persian Gulf. It also lies directly within the Arabian Desert. Therefore, it’s no surprise Dubai enjoys a hot desert climate.
Summers are extremely hot, humid and long. They start in May and end up early October, with August as the hottest month. Temperatures will reach 41C (105F) in the day and 30C (86F) at night. Be aware summers are very humid which adds to the discomfort for many of us.
The “cool” season starts in October and ends in April. Average day temperature will hover at 25-29C (77-85F) with more precipitation in December, January and February.
In short, it is your call. I’ve been to Dubai in cool and super hot season. Both seasons have their pros and cons.
How Much Does a Dubai Trip Cost?
Let’s do some budget work.
The amounts are based on an 6-night stay in Dubai. The hotel stay(s) includes daily breakfast buffet. Moreover, I’ve upped the food, activities and shopping numbers. After all, that’s where the fun is in Dubai.
Equally important, savings can be scored on hotel stays, local transportation and food cost if you travel with a partner.
|Per person||Cost in Canadian $|
|Hotel (6 nights – for up to 2 adults & 2 kids)||$720|
|Local transportation (Uber, taxi, metro)||$150|
|Activities (desert safari, museums, outings)||$300|
|Shopping (gold, linen, spices, fashion)||$400|
Best Way to Get Local Currency: UAE Dirham
The United Arab Emirates currency is the Dirham (AED or DHS).
Here are some currency conversion rates:
- 1 CAD will get you 2.94 AED
- 1 USD will get you 3.67 AED
- 1 EURO will get you 4.36 AED
- 1 GBP will get you 5.10 AED
You can buy a bit of Emirati dirhams in your home city before flying out. In Dubai you’ll find better rates if you wish to have more cash in hand. Remember you will have to produce your passport at any currency exchange office, it’s mandatory. Above all don’t go to banks.
Al Ansari Exchange is the largest foreign exchange & remittance company with 88 branches across the city. It has a decent exchange rate of AED2.967 for C$1 (August 2021).
Use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees
All malls, retailers, restaurants and public attractions accept major credit cards. However, watch out for businesses who’d be tempted to pass the 3% credit card transaction fee on to you.
Therefore, I would suggest you get a zero fee foreign exchange credit card to cover big expenses such as hotel stays, food and shopping. You’ll save 2.5% of those big ticket items and services. That amount can add-up quickly.
The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite card is a good choice for Canadian travelers. It comes with:
- Annual fee of $139 is waived in the first year!
- A generous sign-up bonus of 40,000 points applicable on travel
- 6 passes to airport lounges with Priority Pass
- 0% fee on all foreign exchange fee, even on your cross border-online shopping
This adds-up to a total value of close to C$600!
I do have this credit card. It allowed me to access some wonderful airport lounges, including the one in the brand new Istanbul international airport.
Dubai International Airport is in the City
Dubai International Airport (DXB) is located in the Al Garhoud district. That means the airport is within the city and is linked to the metro network. Metro stations Airport Terminal 1 and Airport Terminal 3 are on the Red Line which services many hotels, malls & attractions across different districts.
You’ll notice on the map below that the Red line crosses the city from North to South in an reverse L shape.
In fact, you can do a lot of the sight seing, shopping and eating out along the Red line. This allows you to maximize the value of the metro network and save on car rental and road toll fees.
Buy a Prepaid SIM Card on Arrival
If you don’t want to pay the dreaded daily international roaming fee of $13 then you’ll want to buy a local prepaid SIM card.
There are 2 mobile operators in the UAE: Etisalat and DU. Although you can buy the prepaid SIM cards in major malls, grab one at Dubai Airport DXB arrivals hall.
You’ll be able to score a decent price on a DU SIM card for less than $30 which comes with 6GB data for 28 days. Ultimately, it’s not the best price but it certainly beats the daily roaming fee of $13.
Make sure your smart phone is unlocked. Additionally, bring your passport along.
Another reason for getting a local SIM card is to simplify the use of apps such as the Dubai COVID-19 (mandatory), RTA Parking app, Careem (car-hailing app).
You can split Dubai into 7 distinct districts.
There are different from one another and most are easily accessible by metro. Here’s a quick description of each district to help you plan your visits.
It’s Dubai’s old town. Located south of the Dubai Creek, the area may not be luxurious and sleek but its bustling streets, textile souk and traditional shops will make you feel the authentic Dubai. As you walk Creekside, you’ll stop at different eateries, watch the boat traffic and end up at the Dubai Museum. Overall lots of walking, eating and culture to look forward to.
Metro stations: Al Ghubaiba, Al Fahidi.
Deira is the other old part of the city, where it all started. Its narrow lanes are witness to the buzzing trade. From the gold and spice souks down to the Creek, Deira is home to cheap yummy restaurants of all backgrounds.
Metro stations: Union, Al Ras, Al Rigga.
This southern suburb of Dubai holds surprises galore. As soon as you are done skiing down the Mall of the Emirates slopes you’ll walk the boutique heaven. Also, the area also features lots of ethnic restaurants. Here’s a little secret: the best kunafa dessert in Dubai is at Feras Aldiyafa Sweets which is a 10-minute walk south to the Mall of the Emirates.
Metro: Mall of the Emirates, Mashreq Metro Station 1
Al Quoz is an industrial area located in western Dubai. But it’s also known for its art galleries. Alserkal Avenue is central to the arts and culture. The open space hosts a lineup of galleries, wrokshops spaces and restaurants. For this reason, it is the nest of homegrown creativity in Dubai.
Metro stations: Al Safa, Umm Al Sheif
In my opinion, Jumeirah is Dubai’s gem area in terms of laid-back beach mood. It is the city’s coastal residential area. It does not have high rises and features a mix of older houses and small commercial developments.
Also, it is a popular expat residential area and is the home a many beaches. Both iconic Jumeirah Beach Hotel and Burj Al Arab luxury hotels are located in Jumeirah.
The area is an entirely man-made marina with a canal excavated from the desert. Also known for The Beach at JBR, the neighborhood is full of shops, restaurants and cafes. It’s the home of Marina Mall. Although, it’s not my top favourite area to visit, it’s interesting to spend an entire evening.
Metro stations: Al Khail, DMCC
The new area is home to the iconic Burj Khalifa, The Dubai Mall and Dubai Fountain. Located along the Sheikh Zayed Road and metro Red line, you’ll walk the district galore.
With other venues such as Fashion Avenue & Dubai Opera, you can spend a whole day of shopping, fine dining and sightseeing.
Metro stations: Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall, Business Bay 1
The manmade palm-shaped archipelago is impressive. A monorail links the Atlantis hotel to the Gateway Towers. However if you really want to see the Palm, you’ll either have to go for a parachute jump or fly over it. Other than luxury residences, the Palm Jumeirah is home to many luxury hotels. All in all, a quick drive suffises.
Metro stations: Dubai Internet City 2, Al Khail
The Dubai Metro is a gem. Not only does it serve most of Dubai’s districts but it’s an architectural marvel. Each station feels like a luxury mall, where platforms and trains are air-conditioned. Additionally, each station is clean and security is omnipresent.
Dubai Metro is comprised of 2 main lines: Red and Green.
As mentioned, the Red line crosses the city from its southermost point at UAE Exchange station, with a turn eastward across Deira all the way to the airport at Al Rashidiya station. The line is 52km long and features driverless trains!
With 20 stations, the Green line is u-shaped. The Southern part of the U starts at the Creek head (Creek station) all the way to the other end of the Creek, turns across Deira with an end in Al Qusais area (Etisalat station) North of the airport.
It’s important to note that you can connect to the Red line at BurJuman and Union stations.
Fares go from 3.5AED to 7.5AED (C$1.20-C$2.58). The most expensive rate covers 3 zones or more. This means you can hop in metro at one of the airport stations and head to the last station of the red line, a 45km ride for less than C$3!
The Dubai Abra is a boat service in Dubai Creek. Coupled with the metro, this ferry service is a lot of fun and inexpensive.
The motorized traditional abra will connect the North and South shores of the Creek. It only costs AED1 to cross (C$0.25). Riding the abras is a landmark Dubai experience.
You can rent your car at the airport. All of the major car rental companies are available. But be aware that picking-up a rental car is a paperwork-heavy process. Therefore, it’ll eat up a lot of your time. As you land in after 1 or 2 long haul flights, this may be the last thing you want to do.
With this in mind, you can head to your hotel and rent your car at city branch after you’ve had one or two nights of sound sleep. Some companies will even bring the car to your hotel allowing your to enjoy more time at the pool.
Dubai has toll gates. It’s AED4 ($C1.25) for every Salik Passing. There are 8 operational electronic toll road Salik Gates in the city:
- Al Garhoud Bridge
- Al Mamzar South
- Al Mamzar South
- Al Safa
- Al Barsha
- Al Maktoum
- Airport Tunnel Gate
- Jebel Ali
All rental car have a Salik tag. Furthermore, note that most car rental companies will charge you an extra AED1 per passing.
Kayak and Rentalcars.com do a great job at finding the best discounted rates. Otherwise, all major car rental companies are available at the airport and in the city. You’ll need your International Driver Permit.
Careem, Uber & Taxi
The fastest way to get around Dubai is by car. Combining Dubai Metro and car hailing services will save you money on car rental and parking fees.
The Dubai Taxi Corporation (DTC) is owned and operated by the Roads and Transport Authority Dubai (RTA). The corporation was designed to accommodate locals riders and tourists with competitive rates. That is why, taxis tend to be cheaper than Careem and Uber, particularly of bigger car requests. Keep in mind that you still have to foot the Salik toll fee and a 5% VAT applies to your total Careem, Uber and taxi fare.
International Driving Permit
The UAE require foreign visitors to carry an International Driving Permit (IDP). An IDP is a proof of a valid driver’s license that is issued by your local authority (province, state, government). Furthermore, car rental agencies will also ask you to produce your IDP.
You can get an International Driving Permit if you meet these 3 requirements:
- You’re 18 years or older
- Hold a valid driver’s licence issued by your province or state. Learner’s and suspended licences are excluded
- 2 identical passport-sized photos
An IDP will cost C$25, plus approximately C$15 for the passport-sized photos. You can have it on the spot at your local CAA boutique Once issued, the IDP is valid for one year. Make sure you get it, otherwise the car rental company will decline service and cancel your booking. For more details, check the CAA faq.
Tipping in Dubai
This subject matter is very dear to me. In general, going on vacation and receiving world-class service deserves proper tipping.
There are no set rules for tipping in Dubai. In other words, as most restaurants add taxes and service charges, tipping is not compulsory. However, I find that the service level in Dubai is top-notch. Therefore, I will always tip the person that provides the service. Above all, I make sure the tip goes straight to that person.
Here are some tipping ideas:
Gas station attendant
Gas station attendants are the most neglected when it comes to tips. To clarify, they work outside in very hot and humid conditions. In my past trips to Dubai, I would always leave a minimum of AED5 (C$1.75).
15AED in tips per day can go a long way for them. They can easily cover a full meal at the end of of their work day. So keep these workers in mind and be generous with them.
I usually leave the equivalent of C$5 (AED15) per day of stay or a one-time C$10-C$15 (AED30-40) amount along with a thank you note. The housekeeping ladies and gents work hard. It is particularly true in COVID-19 times. They will thank you for it and take extra care in the grooming of your room.
Either round up the fare amount to nearest note or give an extra AED5-10. Taxi and Uber rides in Dubai are cheap so be generous.
Valet & bellboy
Most guest give a AED5 bill to the valet and bellboy.
That can go up as your luggage count goes higher and heavier. But if you don’t have change, than it’s not an issue. What I usually do – once I have change – is find the valet/bellboy and give them the tip.
This one’s straight forward. You can leave an additional 10% to 15% of total bill. I make sure I address the waiter/waitress, thank them for their service and hand them the tip while I tell them “this is for you”.
Best Food in The World is in Dubai
Dubai is a cosmopolitan society with more than 150 nationalities. The restaurant scene is very hot in the city. From your neighborhood counter to the star-studded restaurant, choice and quality will simply make you lose your mind.
Indian & Pakistani food
Here’s a list of great Indian and Pakistani restaurants popular with locals. These were proposed by Dubai-based fellow travel blogger The Points Habibi:
- Pak Liyari (Pakistani biryani)
- Jaffer Bhai’s Biryani
- Arsalan Restaurant
- Farzi Café (modernized Indian)
Similarly, you cannot be in Dubai and not eat Levantine cuisine. Here’s a sample list of places across the city:
- Allo Beirut
- Al Khayma at Dubai Marina Beach
- Bebabel – The Dubai Mall – Progressive Lebanese cuisine in casual chic surroundings.
- Al Hallab – Mall of the Emirates
- Al Safadi (restaurant has many branches across the city)
- Al Beiruti
- Operation Falafel
Kabab lovers will have to stop at Al Ustad Special Kabab, known worldwide thanks to the many YouTube foodies who set foot. You’ll enjoy Persian-style kababs as well as a good chunk of Dubai history, a must indeed.
Karak tea is common wherever you go. You’ll pay AED1 to AED3 for cup of tea. Also know as masala chai, the beverage is made by boiling black tea, with milk, spices and loads of sugar. It’s a very yummy drink and helps during a long walk in Dubai’s hot weather when water doesn’t do it anymore.
Also, there is no shortage of 3rd wave coffee shops in Dubai. The city did not escape the craze and has an amazing offering. What’s On Dubai will guide you with their 19 favorite picks. The Third Wave Near Me map has a smaller selection of coffee shops.
Be aware that most “Dubai best restaurants” articles promote the most expensive ones. That doesn’t mean they are great. Local site Time Out Dubai does a good job at compiling restaurants per region, theme and budget.
In essence, you can stumble on the best kabab sandwich, burger or curry just by walking Dubai’s old and new areas.
Save with Groupon
Groupon is popular in Dubai. It’s an easy way to look for big discounts while enjoying great new experiences. Here are the categories that will interest you as a visitor to Dubai:
Discounts are enticing. For this reason, sign-up to Groupon UAE and enjoy the price cuts. For example, high end hotel brunch buffets can be discounted by an average 30-40%. The same applies to activities. So go ahead and browse those offers as your travel date approaches.
Best Pool Day Access in Dubai
Pool and beach day access are a popular activity with residents in Dubai. Accessing luxury hotel pool and beach clubs with family or friends is a fun day activity that comes at a reasonable fee.
The supply is huge and guests will pay on average $50 for a full day access. Although access does not include drinks or food, some properties will add a food & beverage credit.
Also, weekdays and weekend rates differ.
Here’s a tip for you if you want more value for your day access: reach out to the hotel and ask if you can get access to the gym facilities. Usually it also includes free access to the spa facilities (jacuzzi, steam room) at no additional cost.
Finally, here’s a sample of some great pool and beach clubs.
InterContinental Dubai Marina
Nammos – Four Seasons Jumeirah
Weekdays, weekends: $68
Sofitel Dubai The Palm
Weekdays: $33, weekends & public holidays: $51
W Dubai – The Palm
Weekdays: $34, weekends: $68
Al Jaddaf Rotana Hotel
Weekdays: $61 (includes beverages and a meal course)
The Holy Month of Ramadan
The Holy month of Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar and its most important one.
It’s a month of fasting and prayer. Muslims do not eat and drink from dawn to sunset. Therefore, it’s important to show respect by not eating or drinking outside in public until after sunset. Some restaurants are open for lunch during the holy month. Moreover, don’t nibble your takeout outside.
Ramadan is also a very lively month in the evening. People break the fast together at restaurants. Lights are strung up in streets and people go out for long strolls, shopping and many social and sporting events occur during the holy month.
Actually Ramadan feels like a joyous celebration every evening as people get together and share typical Ramadan meals and desserts.
Make sure you check on Ramadan dates (lunar calendar) when you start planning your Dubai trip.
What to Wear in Dubai
Dressing-up modestly will be your key rule as you roam Dubai.
You can wear a swimsuit at the hotel pool, at the beach and waterparks. But topless sunbathing is illegal.
Dress-up decently in restaurants, malls, souks and in the streets. Short shorts and see-through clothing are a no no. You’ll avoid unwanted attention and useless confrontation.
Some mosques are open for visitors, so make sure you dress appropriately: pants, long sleeves and head cover for the ladies is a must.
Alcohol in Dubai
Alcohol is mainly served in hotels. Therefore, don’t bother looking for alcohol elsewhere. Hotels have great restaurants and bars and you will find everything alcohol you’ll crave.
Also nightclubs are located within most hotels. So you really don’t need to look anywhere else for cocktails and shots.
Don’t forget that alcohol sale and consumption is legal in Dubai, but it is tightly regulated. Needless to add that drinking and driving is not a good idea.
Lady’s Night is a big thing. Sign-up to your favorite hotels newsletters or follow them on Instagram to know their latest offers.
Keep the PDA Private
Public display of affection (PDA) is to be left in the privacy of your hotel room.
On the one hand, married couples holding hands is acceptable. On the other hand, any other form of PDA, such as kissing, languid hugs, is not tolerated. Unmarried couples should not engage in public display of affection either. Doing so may end up in fines and even imprisonment.
Hotels are used to catering to foreign tourists. They will tolerate unmarried couples checking-in. Referring to your partner and “wife” or “husband” will also help avoid issues.
Bite your tongue twice before you insult someone. Obscene language, although “natural” in some cultures, is not tolerated.
If you find yourself in an altercation or a dispute with someone, de-escalate and avoid any lewd language.
The same goes for blasphemous remarks about anyone’s religion or beliefs. Offenses of this nature will get you prison time. It is very serious.
You are visiting another country, that means different laws and traditions from your home country. In short, be less ethno-centric and “proud” about your own culture and beliefs. Show more openness towards local culture and society. Dubai is a modern society with its traditions and customs.
Most of Dubai museums are located at the Creek mouth. They also happen to be about the city heritage and history easily accessible by foot.
Shindagha Heritage District
Al Sindagha Heritage District is a waterfront area on the Dubai Creek. It hosts a series of museums and exhibits exactly where the city was born. Y
ou can walk the entire area as it is pedestrian-friendly.
It features the following venues:
- Heritage Village (craftsmenship, pearl diving demos)
- Shindagha Historic District
- Crossroad of Civilizations Museum (artifacts and weaponry)
- Al Fahidi Historical District (traditional houses with exhibits, art expos)
Metro station: Al Ghubaiba
Museum of Illusions
This place will totally distort your perception and is to be visited with a group to share laughs. The Museum of Illusions defies gravity and will leave you puzzled.
It’s AED65 for 16 years and older, AED50 for 5 to 15 year old.
Location: Al Seef, Dubai Creek.
Dubai Water Parks
If you’re looking for a day of water thrills with friends or family, Dubai has it all when it comes to water parks. The city has a few water parks for different budgets.
The waterpark is located in the Atlantis The Palm Resort. With more than 30 slides, rapids and attractions it is Dubai’s largest water park. You can even add a visit to The Lost Chambers Aquarium and relax at the private beach. A day pass goes for AED260 per person.
You can buy your tickets on online at Aquaventure Waterpark.
Located at La Mer, Dubai’s coolest waterfront complex. It’s in the city which gives it a huge advantage in terms of transportation. Tickets at Laguna Waterpark start at AED125 online or AED195 at the gate.
The waterpark features Ladies Days and Ladies Nights events. Kids under 2 enter free.
Wild Wadi is in the city as well. Located in Jumeirah, it sits close to Burj Al Arab and public beaches. It’s Dubai’s oldest waterpark and a great one as I’ve experienced it myself. If you stay at Jumeirah Beach Hotel or Burj Al Arab you get complimentary access to the waterpark.
Expo 2020 Dubai
Dubai will host Expo 2020 from 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022. Most nations will showcase a pavilion under a sub theme: either mobility, sustainability or opportunity.
Also, Emirates Airlines offers a complimentary Expo 2020 day pass to passenger flying the carrier between 1 October, 2021 and 31 March, 2022. Reward tickets with other carrier may not be eligible as ticket prefix has to be 176. Also codeshare and interline flights are exluded from the offer.
In summary, you need to buy an Emirates flight direct and fly Emirates metal. This offer is definitely worth it thanks to the savings it generates.
Dubai Souks & Malls
Dubai has no shortage of souks. Sure those modern, luxurious and impressive malls are breathtaking, however souks are a Dubai landmark.
Souk is Arabic for market or bazaar and they are spread all over Dubai. Gold, spices, silk, dry food and perfumes, there’s a souk for everything. Above all, you will shop and buy a lot.
Here are the main Dubai souks & malls that deserve a visit.
Bring your Tupperware containers with you. You will fill-up on spices you know well and others you’ve never heard of. Located in Deira, the Spice souk will hook you with its smells and brights colors. Your homemade rice will never taste the same after that. It’s also known as the Old Souk and is adjacent to the Gold souk.
Metro stations: Al Ras, Baniyas Square
Abra station: Deira Old Souq Marine Transport Station
You’ve never really been into gold and jewelry? Well that’s about to change. Because once you set foot into the Gold souk, your perspective will change radically. So will the thickness of your wallet.
Buying gold in Dubai is considerably cheaper than other countries despite the 5% VAT. Also, you can negotiate the price, which is close to impossible in the luxury jewelries in the malls.
Walking the narrow lanes, the souk has hundreds of jewelry stores. You cannot leave it without getting a loved one something priceless. Stay away from the bigger stores.
Take public transit or a taxi. Parking in the area is close to impossible. Avoid the evening crowds and head out in the morning at around 10-11am.
Metro stations: Al Ras, Baniyas Square
Abra station: Deira Old Souq Marine Transport Station
Adjacent to the two first ones, the Perfume souk offers a great array of fragrance. Discover the distinct scents of Arabian perfumes as well as bakhoor. You can even make your own fragrance.
Metro stations: Al Ras, Baniyas Square
Located in Bur Dubai, it’s part of the great souk area. I’d like to see you walk the souk and not buy a real pashmina shawl or embroidered fabrics. In short, the souk requires a good 2-3h of discovering, fresh juice drinking, negotiating and buying.
Metro station: Al Ghubaiba
Abra station: Al Ghubaiba Marine Transport Station 2
Souk Madinat Jumeirah
Less traditional than the old souks in Deira, you’ll still get a whiff of local culture, boutiques, cafes and restaurants. The luxury souk offers a different way of shopping and roaming.
The Dubai Mall
Hard to miss this mall: an aquarium, 1,200 retail stores, high-end dining and an ice rink. You can spend the whole afternoon there and watch the Fountain show right after sunset. Check The Dubai Mall web site and phone app for more information and promos.
Metro station: The Dubai Mall
Mall of the Emirates
Ski, shop, eat and catch a movie. The things you can do in this luxury mall. You can even book your hotel at the mall: you can either stay at the Kempinski or the Sheraton.
Metro station: Mall of the Emirates
Dubai new urban shopping district ressembles a Spanish rambla. It’s a perfect place to walk the new area in cooler weather. As usual, luxury boutiques, cafés and modern fusion restaurants align across it’s pedestrian streets.
Additional Great Things to Do in & Around Dubai
Dubai is not all malls and fancy cars. There is so much more you can do. Here are my favorite personal picks.
You cannot pass the dune bashing experience . In the company of a professional driver, you’ll be seated in a luxury SUV. The car will climb up and down the dunes with mad accelerations, drifts and falls.
Choose a dune bashing package that includes an evening buffet dinner with a belly dance and fire show. You can even ride a camel and get a henna tattoo.
Ask your hotel for quotes from different local tour companies. You’ll be picked up at your hotel for the afternoon and evening activities in the Dubai desert.
Here is a full list of things you can expect and book on a desert safari:
- Pick-up from your hotel in 4×4 vehicle
- Dune bashing in Toyota Land Cruiser
- Complimentary refeshments at all time (water, soda, coffee, tea)
- Sunset photography
- Henna design
- Camel ride
- Shisha smoking lounge
- Belly dancing show
- BBQ buffet dinner
- Quad biking
- Drop off at your hotel
Built in 1977, the Jumeirah Mosque is one of the most beautiful mosques in the region. Locals and tourists can visit the mosque at 10am and 2pm, with the exception of Fridays. There’s no need to book in advance, just show-up 30 minutes prior to visit time.
A Luxury Desert Stay
How about a luxury desert stay just 1h outside of Dubai? The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah Al Wadi is a spot you may want to consider for a ne-night stay with 2 full days of activities and relaxation.
I hope this guide will help you plan properly your next fantastic trip to Dubai.
Dubai offers a warm Arabian hospitality, draped in luxurious finesse with a heart-warming gourmet offering. All of it in modern setting with a link to the past and traditions.
Finally, Dubai is all about various experiences: different areas to be explored, different foods to be had and different shopping urges. But those urges are not material stuff you bring back with you. Above all, they are your memories of one of the best trips of your life.