Dubai Travel Guide: Things You Should Know Before Your Trip
Dubai – one of the world’s most futuristic and glamorous urban destinations – is a gutsy and superlative-craving city that has birthed some of the most spectacular man-made marvels. From the world’s tallest building to a palm-tree shaped archipelago, this booming metropolis has a plethora of wonders that guarantee to leave you speechless and in awe. What’s more, the city has world-class shopping centers, sweeping sand dunes, eye-catching old traditional Arabian houses and a labyrinth of vibrant souks, making Dubai an even more appealing destination to tourists.
Why visit Dubai?
Las Vegas and Dubai have quite a lot in common. For starters, both modernistic cities have gorgeous skylines that gleam like beacons against desolated desert backdrops. In addition, people from all corners of the earth flock to these glittering oases with the same reason or goal – to play hard. As a vacation, however, Dubai trumps the old Sin City easily, thanks to its larger-than-life attractions, international culinary scene and the fabulous cream-colored shoreline of the Persian Gulf. As an added plus, this Emirati city is still growing, and plans are under way for things that are better and bigger.
Dubai is a city of gigantic projects and superlatives, home to the largest man-made marina, the tallest tower and largest shopping mall in the world. On a smaller scale, though, the city is pretty tied to its days as a sleepy small fishing village. The Jumeirah Beach’s natural sands flank the wonderfully sculpted Palm Islands, the colorful Gold and Spice Souks flourish amid the massive Dubai Mall and traditional wood abras drift past the motorized boats on the Dubai Creek.
In spite its futuristic setting and rapid urbanization, Dubai remains quite much rooted in its past. As far as I’m concerned, it is this dynamic that has put this city on the tourist radar and global limelight.
Language and currency
While Dubai’s official language is Arabic, its flourishing tourism market and trade history mean that almost everyone can speak English here. As a matter of fact, English serves as the city’s lingua franca, and most Emiratis have to speak English, so they can communicate with their migrant workers. Most shops in Dubai are staffed by migrant workers from the Philippines or India rather than Emiratis.
American and British travelers can also exult in the fact that many major credit cards are accepted at restaurants, hotels and stores. For those who prefer to pay in cash, the official currency in Dubai is AED (Emerati dirham), which is roughly equal to 0.27 USD. Also, make sure to have cash on hand, as you visit its traditional markets (souks).
When to go
Dubai is sweltering and steamy most of the year. The best time to visit it is between November to March, when the weather in Dubai is moderate. If, however, you’re heading here for the sand, sea, and sun, autumn and spring are ideal. During these seasons, you can tan your body by day, and cool down at nighttime in the air-conditioned shopping malls, bars and restaurants.
Summer, although scorching, is rather popular with families and budget-conscious travelers. Most people can’t take the heat during summer, leaving little competition for affordable and desirable hotel deals. But remember, the daily temperature in Dubai from June to September is over a blistering 40 degrees Celsius.
Do I need a visa to enter the city?
Citizens of the GGC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain – are allowed to enter the city without a visa. In addition, a short-stay visa will be given, upon arrival, to residents of the GCC countries, regardless of the nationality
Travelers from industrialized countries will get a 30-day visa stamp on their passport, for free, on arrival. For 500 AED, this visa can be extended up to 90 days, after arrival.
Countries that get to enjoy this privilege include:
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Travelers from countries that were not mentioned above are required to secure a visa, prior to the trip, which will need a sponsor from the UAE. For the most part, your travel agent will arrange it for you. As far as the cost, you need to shell out around 70 USD for your visa, excluding travel agency fees. And take note that there no longer visa extensions available for travelers living from countries not included on the list. This new rule was designed to avoid tourists from seeking jobs in UAE.
Citizens from Israel are banned from entering the country by the UAE government. Travelers who have non-Israeli passports with Israeli stamps are allowed to enter the city.
There are several other countries that are eligible for free tour/hotel sponsored tourism visa. Check UAE Interact, for more information and the latest details.
The main Dubai airport or gateway is the Dubai International Airport (DXB). Its eventual replacement, Dubai World Central (DWC), is open and currently serving a few flights only. Alternatively, you can enter the city by traveling to Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) in Abu Dhabi or the Sharjah International Airport in Sharjah.
Airlines, for the most part, have price wars to glitzy destinations, such as Dubai, and this may work to your advantage through careful travel planning and comparison of the many airline companies serving Dubai.
FlyDubai is Dubai’s low-cost carrier, while Emirates is the official airline carrier of the city, which connects it to more than a hundred destinations worldwide.
Getting around Dubai
The public transport system in Dubai is arguably the best in the Middle East region, especially after the inauguration of the metro. Still, it’s a very car-oriented metropolis, and most visitors very often end up taxi cabs.
Taxi cabs are the most time and cost efficient means of getting around this Emirate. You can spot cabs easily by their red roofs and tan bodies. There are also pink-topped taxis here, but they are designed only for female passengers. These cabs are, as you would expect, driven by females.
All taxi cabs are metered in Dubai, with rates that start at 3 AED and increase at 2 AED a mile. The minimum fare for a taxi ride is 10 AED. Since the addresses in Dubai don’t include building numbers, you need to specify your location or destination based on a nearby hotel or an intersection.
Established in 2009, the 52-km-long Red Line is the second ever metro in the Arab world, next to Cairo. Although the line doesn’t serve Dubai’s old city centre, it will come in handy for zipping along the long coastline in Dubai, includes stops at the Mall of Emirates, Burj Khalifa and the airport. The green line, burrowing through city core, stops in Dubai downtown on its way from Al Jadaf to Al Qusais. As of now, a couple of lines are in the works, to further enhance the city’s metro system.
Routes for the metro are divided into zones, and the fares for its ride range from 1.80 to 5.80 AED, based on the distance you have traveled. If you’re planning on using Dubai’s public transport regularly, we suggest that you invest in a Nol Card, which can be used on the city’s waterbuses, buses and metro.
The RTA (Roads and Transport Authority) operates 80 routes within the city, as well as over 10 inter Emirate routes. As with the metro, the fares for bus range from 1.80 to 5.80 AED, and you may your ride through a NOL Card. You may buy this card at RTA service centers, ticket vending machines and select bus stations throughout Dubai. While buses run frequently, you’ll need to factor frequent stops and traffic delays to your travel time.
For just 1 AED a person per ride, you can cross the Dubai Creek via an abra – a traditional wood boat that has graced the waters of Dubai for hundreds of years. You’ll find these boats line the creek in the city’s downtown area. There’s no specific schedule for these boats, and they just leave when they’re filled to capacity.
The metropolis has an excellent and clearly-labeled road network. Sadly, driving standards don’t match the quality of Dubai’s roads. A lot local drivers make dangerous and sudden maneuvers, change lanes wildly, and travel at high speeds. Road accidents happen frequently, and visitors are strongly advised to drive defensively.
Other things to know
Medication – There are certain medications banned in the UAE.
Safety – The UAE is very much removed from the religious and political conflicts taking part in other regions on the Middle East.
Provocative clothes are a no-no – Visitors are encouraged to dress conservatively and moderately, meaning no exposed thighs, chests or midriffs.
Ramadan – Dubai essentially shuts during holy Ramadan month (dates change every year). Restaurants are closed, as a way to pay respect to Muslims who are fasting. Additionally it is illegal to smoke, drink or eat in public during this period.
Protect yourself from the sun – Visitors of this great city usually fall in love with its sunny and warm climate. But, take note that lack of protection against strong sun rays can result in heat stroke or severe sunburn. So, wear a heat, drink a lot of water, and lather on some sunscreen.
Obey the rules – There are certain rules in Dubai that may seem a little weird to the Western World. In fact, you may even get arrested and imprisoned in this city by just holding hands with someone from the opposite sex. That’s why you should get yourself acclimated with Dubai’s laws before leaving.
Top things to do in Dubai
Be wowed by the Burj Khalifa
A visit Burj Khalifa – the tallest structure on the face of the earth – is a must for anyone visiting this grand and extraordinary city. Soaring like a massive needle-shaped spacecraft above Dubai, it truly is a wonder of modern design and technology. The opportunity to see the city on the 134th floor from the observation deck shouldn’t be missed, and night or day, the view is absolutely breathtaking.
Wander around the largest mall in the world
A paradise for every shopaholic, the Dubai Mall is a sprawling one-of-a-kind retail center that houses over 1,000 stores as well as 160 beverage and food sellers. Even if you are not into shopping, a visit to this immense shopping center is something that should be on your travel itinerary. After all, the Dubai Mall also boasts a ton of entertainment facilities, such as a movie theater, an ice and plenty of kid-friendly attractions. Recent visitors of the mall highly recommend dropping by the Dubai Fountains – a towering 900-foot pool in which spurts of water dance gracefully in the midst of colored lights.
Are you an intrepid traveler? Skydiving in Dubai will not only give you the thrill of a lifetime, but it will also let you take in awe-inspiring bird’s eye views of the wondrous Palm Jumeirah as well as other notable landmarks, including Burj El Arab, World Islands, Burj Khalifa and Dubai Marina.
See the world’s most luxurious hotel
With its deluxe accommodations, world-class amenities and outstanding service (includes a Rolls Royce service driven by a chauffeur), it’s no wonder the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah, one of the finest hotels in Dubai, has been voted on a number of occasions as the world’s most luxurious hotel. Famous for its gorgeous sail-shape silhouette, this lavish and eye-catching building also has a unique and stunning architectural design.
Stroll the Dubai Marina
Aptly labeled as the largest artificial marina in the world, the Dubai Marina is a marvelous man-made canal that serves as a home to dozens of beautiful yachts. Furthermore, it has a sweet 7-kilometer walkway with an array of outdoor cafes, bars and restaurants.
Watch the Dubai Fountain in action
The Dubai Fountain – the largest dancing fountain in the planet – is a visual spectacle that you can’t miss when visiting this charming city. Illuminated by thousands of lights and dozens of color projects, this charming fountain is equipped with state-of-the-art water jets that shoot water as high as 450 feet in the air. To make things even better, the water show is accompanied with awesome classical and Arabic music.
Hit the souks
Not a lavish shopaholic or a big-time spender? Then, hit the bustling souks of the city, to get good bargains for textile, souvenirs and other awesome items.
Visit the Dubai Miracle Garden
One of the best places to visit in Dubai, this lovely garden displays a myriad of colorful and wonderfully arranged flowers.
Enjoy a hot air balloon ride at the Dubai Conservation Reserve
Want to get a magnificent aerial view of the deserted landscapes near the city? Wake up early, make your way to the Dubai Conservation Reserve, and glide over the tranquil desert of the Emirate with a magical hot air balloon ride. Even though it’s not as spine-tingling as skydiving, it still is an amazing ride that will literally take you thousands of feet above an endless sea of sand dunes, green oases, oryx, gazelles and wandering camels.
Tour its historic sites
Despite all its towering skyscrapers and modern-age amazement, Dubai still exudes a distinct old world feel, thanks to its cluster of historic sites like Al Ahmadiya School, Basktakita District, Jumeirah Mosque and Shindagha District.
Where to sleep
Best hotels in Dubai
- Al Qasr Madinat Jumeirah
- Dar Al Masyaf Madinat Jumeirah
- Al Murooj Rotana – Dubai
- Al Bustan Rotana – Dubai
- Address Dubai Mall
Cheap hotels in Dubai
- Holiday Inn Express Dubai – Safa Park
- Premier Inn Dubai International Airport Hotel
- Royal Falcon Hotel
- Asiana Hotel Dubai
- Rose Garden Hotel Apartments – Bur Dubai
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