Claimed to be the world’s fastest growing city, and certainly one of the tallest, Dubai has transformed from a small Gulf trading town to a huge, futuristic urban holiday destination.
The ruling sheikhs are determined to make Dubai one of the most popular destinations for modern day travellers and their ambition is clear in buildings such as the Burj Khalifa, the amazing Palm Jumeirah Island and the Burj al Arab.
Dubai is one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, and generally considering the most modern and progressive of these seven. It’s a reasonably new tourist destination and stands out due to its perfect location in-between Europe and Asia, as well as being near to the Middle East and India. It’s a great place for some relaxation, shopping, fine dining, sports and sunbathing – though despite its liberal policy in comparison to its neighbours you should still be respectful of the culture and laws there.
Dubai has a huge airport that is used by many airlines as a layover spot so flights here should be regular and often reasonably priced. It’s easiest to fly into Dubai as the only places to share a land border is neighbouring Oman and Abu Dhabi, another Emirate within the UAE.
Dubai’s public transport is generally considered the best in the Middle East though the city is easy for cars to navigate if you want to hire one and taxis are generally easily available except in rush hour. However, be aware that the taxi drivers are some of the worst drivers in Dubai so you may be safer hoping on the metro, monorail, tram or one of the numerous buses.
Dubai is generally split into Old Dubai and Modern Dubai depending on what you wish to see. Old Dubai includes the Bastakiya District which houses a number of traditional style reconstructed buildings alongside numerous art galleries and cafes; the Jumeirah Mosque which is the large mosque in the city and a fantastic display of Islamic architecture built in the medieval Fatimid style, it’s also open for special tours for non-Muslims to learn about Islam. There are a number of souks on both sides of Dubai creek which are large markets selling all sorts of items.
Modern Dubai is home to the Burj Khalifa which is the world’s tallest structure with an observation desk on the 124th floor that is well worth the trip up. There is also the Dubai Fountain, a dancing fountain, with an amazing display involving classical, Arabic and world music. There is also the expensive “7 star” Burj al-Arab hotel which is a great place to people watch if you can get a reservation in the cocktail bar or restaurant. Other attractions include the famous Palm Islands with sporting marinas, luxury resorts and upscale shopping malls and boutiques.
There are plenty activities for travellers such as water sports, deep sea fishing, dune bashing or desert safaris. Dubai has excellent beaches for sunbathing with some of the whitest beaches in the world and lovely warm waters that are 22 degrees in winter and get up to 35 degrees in the summer! Close to Dubai there are plenty of natural features such as waterfalls, coral reefs, fossil covered cliffs and freshwater lakes – so be sure to take an adventure outside the city.
Shopping and Dining
Dubai is particularly famous as a shopping destination and the large number of shopping malls and old-style souks means spending money is particularly easy. Remember to haggle on price in the souks as you will likely be charged tourists prices to start off with – some shopkeepers will go to interesting lengths to get you to buy which can provide much hilarity for British travellers not used to haggling.
There’s a large number of restaurants available in Dubai to suit any budget and taste; the most available street food is Shawarma which is meat cooked on a skewer then sliced and placed into a pita bread with vegetables and dressing. Most American fast food chains are available and there are a large amount of Indian restaurants due a decent Indian population living there. All of the top hotels in the city will have at least one restaurant that serves international food though you pay rather more for this than one of the chain restaurants elsewhere in the city.
Dubai does have a reasonable night-life with many hotels having bars and nightclubs, however Dubai has strict laws concerning alcohol so make sure you’re aware of these before heading out for the night. These laws include only buying alcohol in licensed premises, no drinking in public places, no drunk driving, no under 21s in bars or drunken behaviour. Many of these can results in jail time or deportation, also be aware that no alcohol is sold on religious holidays or in daylight hours during Ramadan.
Before the global crash, demand outstripped supply for hotel rooms and prices could be ridiculously high even for lower standard hotels. Now however, off peak prices are reasonable even in the five star hotels.
Options range from budget hotels and youth hostels, to mid-range hotels such as Holiday Inns to the expensive 5, 6 and 7 star hotels like the aforementioned Burj al-Arab.
As previously mentioned, though Dubai is a fairly liberal city in comparison to its neighbours, it is still an Islamic country that follows Islamic laws which should be respected by all travellers. Avoid criticising Islam or any of the ruling families of the Emirates; do not eat in public during daylight hours in the holy month of Ramadan as Muslims will be fasting and it is prohibited; be careful of conmen and real estate fraudsters if you’re looking for a new home; be aware of the laws surrounding alcohol mentioned above; women should dress modestly in public areas though bikinis are fine on the beach and at your hotel.
However, if you’re generally use common sense and are respectful you will thoroughly enjoy your trip to one of the richest countries in the world!