Dubai is a city of contrasts. Between the old and new, between the glitzy and the humble, and the modern skyscrapers and the expansive desert. Whether you prefer a fast-moving pace or a slow quiet walk, you can find a little bit of everything in Dubai. Originally a trading port, Dubai’s culture is imbued with a deep sense of acceptance, hospitality, and growth. Don’t let the heat deter you. Dubai is a city that is carefully crafted for visitors. With plenty of indoor, sheltered, and water activities, Dubai’s bright sunny skies turn into a paradise. And, with winter temperatures in the 80s, you’ll be able to enjoy everything the city has to offer. Here is our little introductory guide to Dubai.
Dubai is a long, spread-out city on the gulf coast. Here you won’t find a traditional city center as much as a conglomeration of different neighborhoods to explore. Where you stay and spend most of your time will depend on what kind of trip you want to have, but the city accommodates getting from one end to the other.
It’s easy to walk within neighborhoods but it’s not so walkable between them. However, they have a fantastic metro system with wifi and comfortable seats. The metro is mostly above ground so you’ll pass by many of the iconic landmarks and it’s a great way to sightsee as you travel from place to place.
The city also boasts a decent bus line and an extensive network of taxis which you can hail or order through apps.
So what kind of things can you do in Dubai?
Downtown Dubai is an impressive jungle of glistening modern skyscrapers, promenades, luxury shopping, and pop-up markets. The modern construction is incredibly intentional, with a pedestrian-friendly design. While you walk down the boardwalk, with the fountain on one side, you’ll pass tempting restaurants and inviting stores, sprinkled with pockets of greenery and sculpture. Downtown Dubai is home to a unique concentration of world-record breakers — here you will find the largest observation wheel, the tallest fountain, and the tallest building.
–The Burj Khalifa – At 160 stories tall, the world’s tallest building is an incredible feat of engineering. Visitors can ride the elevator to the 124th floor for breathtaking views. Or, head to the 148th floor to marvel at the views from the world’s highest observation deck. Because it sells out quickly, purchase your tickets in advance.
–Ain Dubai – The world’s largest observation wheel allows you to enjoy sweeping views from over 250 meters in the air. It’s a perfect way to get a constantly shifting, unique perspective of the city.
–Dubai Fountain – with multiple, incredible shows every day, the Dubai fountain even outshines Vegas. Reaching unprecedented heights there are now viewing platforms allowing you to get even closer to the action.
Just as Downtown Dubai is full of modern wonders, Old Dubai is bursting with key heritage sites. A collection of neighborhoods winds its way along Dubai creek, with low gypsum and coral buildings. They mark the site where the city was originally settled. And today they are a historic hub of typical Emirati culture. Wander the narrow winding streets, soaking in the fragrant spice souk and traditional cuisine. Here you can discover the traditional wind towers, art galleries, markets, and museums. You can dine in cafes tucked into scenic courtyards and in the evening, unwind with a sunset ride on an abra.
Al Fahidi Fort – built in 1787 for defense purposes, it now houses the Dubai Museum. Journey through the history of Dubai from its beginnings as a trade port to the glittering hub it is today. Learn about Emirati culture and the customs of the region.
XVA Art Gallery Hotel& Café– an internationally acclaimed art gallery and restaurant. Specializing in contemporary works from established and emerging artists from the Arab world.
Abra– a traditional wooden boat. Boats carry about 20 people. Gently float along Dubai Creek with the city as your backdrop. The trip is relatively quick and is particularly stunning at sunset.
Shopping in Dubai is its own adventure. Malls here are more than just a collection of shops. They have gaming zones, ski slopes, ice rinks, aquariums, cinemas, and VR experiences. You can spend an entire day exploring a wide range of exclusive shops and high-end brands. The Dubai Mall in downtown features over 1200 retail stores and hundreds of restaurants. The slightly smaller Mall of The Emirates promises a “shopping-resort” experience. This mall features fashion shows, family events, and the latest haute couture on display. Anyone who enjoys shopping will have an incredible time in Dubai.
Visit in January to enjoy the Shopping Festival and get in on all the best deals.
Souks or Bazaars are open marketplaces with multiple small stalls and shops. Bursting with sights, smells, and activity, you can find these traditional markets in the historic Bur Dubai neighborhood. Souks allow you to indulge all of your senses in a shopping experience. Run your hand over soft silk and delicately embroidered fabrics in the Textile Souk. Soak in the glittering lights and irresistible reflections as you browse the jewelry and watches in the Gold Souk. Or follow your nose to the aromatic Spice and Perfume Souks. Some souks hold specific wares, and some feature a little bit of everything. But, in all the markets, you’ll find friendly vendors waiting to haggle with you. In addition to a local bargain shopping experience, you can enjoy an expansive variety of street food and traditional restaurants.
Sitting on the gulf coast, Dubai has gone from a humble trading port to a vibrant beach destination. Adding to their already impressive soft sand beaches, they’ve created a series of man-made archipelagos. So, whether you prefer the luxurious Palm Islands full of underwater villas, overwater bungalows, and high-end beach resorts, or something with more of a chill So-Cal vibe, you can find it here. Stroll past bright-pink bougainvillea villas, trendy cafes, and chic beachfront shopping in the Jumeirah neighborhood. Make a beeline for Kite or Sunset beach to try your hand at a myriad of watersports. Or, spend the day with your family at the waterpark!
Palm Jumeirah – Soak up the sun as you lounge in luxury at the exclusive beach clubs. Watch the sea life swim past your villa. Or take in the stunning views from the world’s highest infinity pool. This palm-shaped archipelago spares no expense.
Palm Jebel Ali – This not-quite-completed archipelago is for adventurists. Feel the rush of adrenaline as you embark on the shooting range or motocross track. Then, cool down in the bright blue waters by kite-surfing or on a jet ski.
Deep-Dive Pool– Enter another world, an underwater fantasy, in the world’s deepest diving pool. Descending 60.02 meters this pool offers divers a unique sunken city to explore. You can explore up to 12 meters down without any certification.
Contrasting the blue coastal waters are the brilliantly orange-red desert sands. The Dubai desert is both quintessential and full of surprises. Within the Dubai Conservation Reserve, you can step into ancient traditions with a camel ride and an Arabian feast in a Bedouin tent. Get your adrenaline pumping with quad bikes and sandboarding. Or relish the romance of luxury glamping under the stars and hot air balloon rides at sunrise.
Glamping Resorts – There are a few luxury glamping resorts in the Dubai desert. Featuring beautiful tents, private pools, and access to the best activities.
Safari– Your guide maneuvers over the dunes in a four-wheel drive Jeep while you keep a watchful eye on the sands. You’ll see the striking Oryx with their long, straight horns, herds of graceful gazelle, and many rare bird species.
Camel Racing– Dubai’s favorite sport and a unique experience. From the grandstand, you can cheer on your favorite as sixty camels rush down the track. Arrive before the race and take the opportunity to pet the camels and take photos.
Tips & Customs
Dubai is a very safe city to visit even as a solo traveler. As with any city or country, Dubai does have its own customs, traditions, and social rules. And, it is important to be respectful. Try to follow some of the unspoken rules to avoid social faux pas.
– Modesty is important. Try to wear clothing that doesn’t show too much skin, tattoos, or other body mods. Women should wear a headscarf when visiting a mosque. And tone down the PDA in public locations.
– Don’t take photos of the locals without asking their permission. Unsolicited pictures posted online can result in major fines.
– Because they take public safety seriously, public drunkenness isn’t allowed. It’s best not to ‘bar hop’ but rather stay in one licensed establishment as you party with the locals till 3 am.
– Electronic cigarettes and vapes will be confiscated at the airport.
– Remember to drink lots and lots of water. Even in winter, the temperatures are high. Therefore, it’s easy to underestimate what you need to stay hydrated.
– The weekend is Friday & Saturday while the work week begins on Sunday. It’s good to keep in mind when you’re planning popular weekend activities.
– The Dubai airport is huge. Therefore, it takes quite a bit of time to get from one side to the other, which is why we never plan any activities immediately after arriving.
Are you ready to explore the many sides of Dubai? Let us know! We’d love to help you plan the perfect itinerary.