Sunshine and Safaris: A Dubai Guide
Dubai. A city that is much more than the towering sky scrapers, aquamarine waters, extravagant hotels, and beautiful bronzed people you see in postcards. With expats making up over 88% of the United Arab Emirates population and over 200 different nationalities living within its desert borders, Dubai is as international as it gets. Here are a few reasons why you should book a holiday to Dubai, rather than just a connecting flight.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
Flights and visas
An easy 7-hour flight from London, Dubai can be reached directly with Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, Qantas, and British Airways. British citizens are granted free visas for 30 days.
How long to go for
A week is a reasonable amount of time to get the most out of your trip to Dubai – less than that and you will feel cheated when the hotel staff escort you from the air-conditioned lobby into your fancy airport transfer. Allow yourself time purely for enjoying the 5-star hotels (draped lazily over the sun lounger beside the pool) and a few days for exploring the city.
Best time to travel
The months between November and April are the best time to visit Dubai when temperatures are tolerable.
– Summer (June to September)
Summer days can reach a scorching 48 degrees Celsius. While the heat can be insufferable, this is the most affordable time to visit Dubai: June to August yields the cheapest room rates.
– Winter (November to March)
Winter days have temperatures of 25 – 30 degrees Celsius. Beach lizards can rest assured that the “winter” temperatures still allow for sun tanning.
While Arabic is the official language, English is the most widely spoken language in Dubai. Other common languages are Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, Chinese, and Persian.
Learn a few phrases of Arabic:
– Hello: ahlan or marHaban
– Goodbye: Maa Salaama
– Yes: Naaam
– No: laa
– Thank you: Shukraan
PEOPLE AND DRESS CODE
No matter what you read in a guide book, Dubai is a modern city that has embraced a liberal and westernised lifestyle. There are two dress codes in Dubai, one for locals and another for expatriates. Outside the home, Arab women dress head to toe in an abaya (black robe that covers the head) while men wear a khandura (white cotton robe worn with a white or red chequered head scarf). Tourists can wear whatever they like, provided it’s appropriate.
What to wear
Dressing in Dubai is all about what you feel comfortable in. Bikinis and bathing suits are acceptable at hotel pools, waterparks or at the beach – just make sure you cover up when you walk through the hotel lobby. When exploring Dubai, you’ll see men in board shorts and t-shirts and women in dresses, shorts, and strappy tops – in fact, you will almost always see people wearing a lot less than you are.
If you’re worried, it’s best to err on the side of conservative. A good rule to follow is to cover either your shoulders or your knees, such as wearing a knee-length dress with bare shoulders, or a shorter dress with covered shoulders. That way, you’ll feel cooler without offending anyone.
The exception to the casual rule comes in when visiting mosques or religious areas. Here, you should always cover from shoulders to knees. If you’re planning on going to nightclubs, make sure you pack something a little fancier as this is where tight dresses, high heels and flashy jewellery are the norm.
– Pack lightweight, non-crease clothing
– Summer dresses and long, flowy skirts are good for keeping cool
– Bring a shawl to cover your shoulders
– Lightweight cardigans are great for the cooler winter evenings
– Always pack a sun hat, sunglasses and sun cream
– Don’t bother with adapters (the plugs are UK standard)
Dubai uses the Dirham currency (AED). At the end of 2015, the exchange rate from Pounds to Dirham was a little over 1:5. This means that when paying for anything in Dubai, simply divide it by 5 to work out how much it is in pounds.
Using cash abroad
Don’t bother with exchanges ahead of time as the airport and UK exchange rates will rip you off. Simply bring your debit or credit card and draw cash directly from a local ATM.
Credit card assurance
Most hotels in Dubai will require a credit card or cash deposit to charge purchases straight to your room. If you’d prefer, you can ask to pay cash as you go along.
The hotels charge “Tourism Dirham” of around 20 AED a day. This fee goes towards improving the infrastructure in Dubai.
The Entertainer has over 4,000 “buy one, get one free” offers for meals and attractions in Dubai. It’s a great way to find out about specials, such as “ladies nights” (usually on Tuesdays) where women get free drinks just for arriving.
DINING IN DUBAI
Dubai has over 5,000 restaurants to choose from. And with over 200 different nationalities living here, you’re ensured a melting pot of cultures and cuisines.
The Dubai marina is a good choice for your evening meal with over 200 restaurants to choose from. The marina comes alive at night when the skyline is lit up with sparkly lights, boats are chugging up and down the canals, and families and couples spill out onto the boardwalk in search of their evening meal. The hardest decision is deciding where to eat.
For those looking for something a little different, Frying Pan Adventures offer a 4-hour walking foodie tour which stops at street stalls and is peppered with interesting facts.
Alcohol and Shisha
Dubai is very liberal when it comes to alcohol consumption, as long as you respect the rules. Public consumption of alcohol is illegal, but most hotels and bars will serve alcohol in tourist areas.
Shisha (flavoured tobacco) is frequently smoked in most restaurants, bars and cafes. The local favourites are apple and strawberry.
Metred taxis are the cheapest way to travel in Dubai. Most have a flagfall rate of around 3 AED with a minimum fare of 10 AED, while taxis from the airport have a flagfall rate of 20 AED. Dubai taxis are very safe, but if you’re concerned as a woman travelling alone, there are ladies-only taxis (with a pink roof) that are driven by women for women.
You will need a Nol card (fare card) to use the metro and buses in Dubai.
– Dubai Metro
The Metro is the world’s longest driverless railway and runs between 5:50am and midnight. The red line runs from the airport to the city centre, stopping near most hotels. The green line circles the Creek.
– Palm Monorail
The Palm Monorail runs along the Palm Jumeirah, between the Gateway station at the entrance to Atlantis, The Palm.
– Dubai Tram
The Dubai Tram links the Dubai Metro and Palm Monorail and runs along Al Sufouh Road and Jumeirah Beach Road from the Mall of the Emirates to Dubai Marina.
TOP 5 THINGS TO DO
A desert safari should be top of the list. This 6-hour excursion includes an extremely fast and bumpy 4×4 journey over the dunes in a Land Rover (caution: may induce nausea!). You will also get to sandboard before stopping off for a desert barbeque and Arabic entertainment, from whirling dervishes to belly dancing. Expect camels, henna tattoos, shisha pipes, and authentic Arabic food.
The world’s tallest building offers an incredible bird’s eye view of Dubai from the observation deck. Make sure you book fast track tickets (particularly if you are an older citizen or have trouble walking) so you don’t have to wait in the long queues.
Whether you’re looking for retail therapy or a cheesy souvenir, exploring the Dubai Mall is a great way to spend an evening. It’s certainly not your average mall. It has an aquarium inside it and is home to the famous Dubai Fountain: a massive water and light display choreographed to music. The beam of light from the fountain is visible from space, making it the brightest spot in the Middle East!
If you’re not staying at Atlantis, The Palm, you’ll still get to see this iconic hotel by booking a day at Aquaventure. The waterpark is filled with record-breaking rides from the Leap of Faith (that shoots through a shark tank), to cownose ray feeding, shark safaris, and a lazy river that travels around the park. If you’d prefer to drop the kids off, you can spend the day on the 700m stretch of beach.
Burj Al Arab
As the only 7-star hotel in the world, you have to be able to say you’ve seen the Burj Al Arab‘s sail shaped façade in the flesh – with a photo to prove it. Walking along the Palm in winter is doable, while in summer, you can visit the Skyview Bar for cocktails and admire Dubai from the most iconic hotel in the world.
WHERE TO STAY
The Ritz-Carlton is a luxury hotel on JBR Walk with beds so comfortable you’ll struggle to wake up. Popular with families and couples, the hotel has both a family pool and an adults-only pool, a world-class spa, and direct access to world-famous Jumeirah Beach. Find out more.
Best at Travel tip: use the sky-high spa swimming pool – it’s usually uncrowded!
Sofitel The Palm
Sofitel The Palm is a Polynesian-themed hotel on the eastern crescent of the Palm. This hotel has a private beach with swimming pools, a coconut station, and some of the best food in Dubai (the Kung Pao chicken at Hong Loong Cha is highly recommended!) You’ll love the 24 living walls spread about the hotel filled with 170 different types of plants! Find out more.
Best at Travel tip: Take advantage of the free photography session for each guest – great for family photos!
Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah
Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah has the cosiest robes you’ll find in Dubai and its sea-facing rooms have some of the best views of the Burj Al Arab. The hotel offers the choice of lounging beside the ocean or pool with a family pool, adults-only pool, and its own private beach. Find out more.
Best at Travel tip: Dine in a poolside cabana at Palm Avenue at sunset.
Atlantis, The Palm
Atlantis, The Palm is the ultimate family hotel and has to be booked months ahead of time due to its popularity. Home to its own waterpark and an aquarium, there is plenty to keep the whole family entertained. Find out more.
Best at Travel tip: Visit Aquaventure later on in the day when it gets less crowded.
Have you been to Dubai? What other tips would you recommend?