I wrote about planning a trip to Dubai earlier this year, if you’re thinking about heading over there, check out this post first to get you started. This time I’ll share some tips I’ve learned (some the hard way, to be honest) and local customs that you might want to keep in mind.
Great, you’re almost there with your tickets in hand and accommodation booked! Now it’s the time to start planning your itinerary. This is going to be a long one!
When we had booked our first trip, we picked up a copy of the ol’ Lonely Planet and I definitely recommend doing so. I also recommend buying a copy of Time Out Dubai once you arrive. They do great features on restaurants, brunches, free things to do, new places to see, best parties etc. 9 dirhams well spent to get you going on what’s happening that week!
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY…
In Dubai spending money is way too easy. Dubai is quite expensive, in many instances even more so than Finland. And Finland is pricey! Dubai is like that for both visitors and and residents, so living there you can lose the benefit of not paying taxes in how much you pay rent.
You can pay almost everywhere with a credit card or an European debit card (don’t know about the American ones), but still it’s good to have cash. As a rule of thumb, 1 euro or USD is roughly 4 dirhams.
People spend a lot of time in malls and not just for the shopping. You’ll find amazing food courts and restaurants, aquariums (Dubai Mall), leisure activities (even ice rinks and a ski slope at Mall of the Emirates), movie theaters, etc.
If you’re planning on shopping, save up before going or make sure your credit limit is sky-high. If you don’t plan on emptying your savings account, there’s still tons of other things to do besides shopping.
Prices for brand items are higher than in Europe and the US, but on the contrary Dubai has great sales, especially in January.
SEEING THE SIGHTS
If you are excited to go to At the Top @ Burj Khalifa, book your tickets ahead. It will be fully booked on most occasions. Believe me, happened to us twice so we’re still missing the experience. The tickets are more expensive around sunset and sunrise, and of course there is a premium experience with a premium price available too.
A hop-on, hop-off sightseeing is a great idea if you don’t have a rental car. Don’t worry, those buses mostly have more seats with AC than without, as opposed to most other cities.
If you’re looking for “historic, authentic” Dubai, go to the Deira district to see the souks and to Dubai Creek area. Dubai has only existed for a few decades, so the history here is the “original” history of the area which was here long before the city itself.
If you have time, consider visiting Abu Dhabi Oman for a day. We have some day trips planned in the near future, and you can read about our day trip to Al Ain here, here and here. We also went to see the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. I still haven’t written about our visit to the YAS Marina race track, but I’ll find the time one day!
When it comes to restaurants, don’t worry, Dubai has whatever you might feel like eating.
98 % of all restaurants also deliver, so you don’t have to go out of your apartment building or hotel if you don’t want to. You might have to go downstairs to the lobby or garage though, because on 90 % of occasions the poor delivery guy will get lost in your building’s 4 different underground floors and you’ll get hangry.
Note that Friday brunch is a thing. It’s still on my to-do list, but I’m kind of happy about that because I have not been able to choose which amazing brunch to go to yet. Try this one and be totally overwhelmed by the options. Apparently it’s totally fine to go clubbing right after the brunch, even though it would be 5 pm in the afternoon!
I’m saving my restaurant favorites up for another post, so stay tuned 🙂
LIKE A LOCAL
The UAE is a Muslim country, so there are some rules of public demeanor that I strongly recommend you to respect as a tourist as well.
Make sure your shoulders, knees and cleavage are covered in public places. The only places to be seen in a swimsuit is at the beach (literally just the sandy part) and the pool.
It’s about respecting the locals and their way of living. Showing too much skin is not only disrespectful, but also makes people uncomfortable. Besides, there’s crazy AC everywhere indoors so you will feel cold at some point. Dubai is modern and considered a beach destination, but the locals mostly follow these guidelines and you should too. The other Emirates are considered more traditional, especially Sharjah.
Also keep in mind that public displays of affection are frowned upon. You’ll see young couples holding hands, so maybe this is changing? Still we as a couple won’t hold hands, touch or kiss in public. It’s actually a local custom to hold a dear friend’s (of the same gender) hand when walking together.
You will only be able to buy alcohol in licensed restaurants, ie. in hotels and some restaurants. Because of this, there’s amazing non-alcoholic beverage options everywhere. Juices, smoothies, homemade lemonade, iced tea… Before, I used to skip the drinks section of the menu and order a diet soda, but no way I’m doing it in Dubai! The locals also love spending time at cafés with their friends. I’ve been wanting to try the yummy-looking pastries at Café Bateel for ages!
People are beyond friendly, polite and helpful everywhere. Don’t hesitate to ask for help and directions if you need them. The Emirati are known for their hospitality and they take pride in this. We only experienced bad service once, and it even wasn’t that the waiter was rude, we just didn’t feel very welcome or acknowledged on that single occasion.
What would you like to know? Have you ever visited the Gulf area?