Discover something new about this glittering metropolis in the desert
No words can do justice to Dubai. Despite this, I would like to try and introduce you to all sides of this unbelievable city. Here’s a quick look at my sightseeing, cuisine and nightlife tips.
The city may seem overwhelming at first sight but I have some tips and tricks for visiting Dubai so that you can pick out the best sights and highlights of this glistening metropolis and explore it properly even if you only have a little time. These are some of the most interesting attractions and things to do in Dubai.
Dubai is simply stunning! One superlative follows the next and one impressive building flies past after the other. When you’re in the taxi on the way from the airport to your hotel, you’ll undoubtedly ask: where on earth am I going to start with all the sightseeing? Check out this amazing Dubai travel guide!
Located on the Persian Gulf, Dubai is the capital of the Emirate of Dubai and also the largest city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 85% of the population of the Emirate of Dubai live in the capital and almost all economic, social, cultural, and political activity plays out here. Since the economic boom here in the 1960s and 70s, which happened when they discovered new oil reserves, the city hasn’t been the same.
New world records are constantly springing up with even more pomp and splendour. The city is building even higher skyscrapers and creating even more artificial islands in spectacular shapes. Oil has made Dubai rich and the city is still growing today. Every year there are several thousand new residents, if not tens of thousands. About 250,000 migrant workers also live here during the holiday season.
Tourism is an important industry and the UAE has long been accustomed to receiving many visitors. For a long time now, you haven’t needed to be as conservatively dressed as you once did and, as long as you don’t stroll through the mall in a mini skirt, you’ll hardly receive a second glance. Nevertheless, you should stick to the country’s rules and laws and be respectful to the locals – after all, you’re only a guest in Dubai. If you do this, you’ll have a fantastic time and be able to take home the best memories. The best time to travel to Dubai is from November to April but you can still have a great holiday in this stunning city during the rest of the year too.
Car or Metro – which one’s better?
You can reach most places inside the city by car. The road network is the most widely developed transport network. The consequence of this is that almost everyone here travels around in a car. In 2010, there were about 1.02 million cars for about 1.8 million residents. This means that more than half of the people in the city-owned a car then and that number has risen in the meantime. In any case, it is the number one mode of transport, not least because cars have air conditioning so are more comfortable for such a hot climate. Even at petrol stations, most of the work is done by staff so that customers don’t even need to get out of their cool cars.
Travelling on the metro in Dubai
As well as the many cars, there is also a very modern metro. You can’t compare it to the underground as we know it in the UK. It is all above the ground and the network is not as widely developed as the one in London. There are two lines, which link the important sights in Dubai together. At the stations, there are direct connections to the wider bus network and to the comfortable tram, which takes you to the JBR Walk. The metro is a small highlight in itself as it runs completely without a driver. You can look out of the glass windows at the front where you have a great view of the skyscrapers. The metro stations and the magnetic trains themselves are obviously all air-conditioned.
Tip: You can buy Gold and Silver Class tickets. Gold Class is a little comfier and is always emptier. Be careful not to enter Gold Class with a ticket for Silver Class as you can receive a hefty fine. There are also sections just for women and children, which men are not allowed to enter, and you should definitely look out for this. Before getting on, your ticket is validated and you have to scan it again after your journey to leave the station.
Traffic jams at rush hour
Despite everything, cars are the means of transport of choice in Dubai. “There’s a lot going on in the streets”, my guide tells me. If you want to go through the city in a car, you always have to take the traffic into account as you can sit in traffic for half an hour without moving at all. The city’s residents have adapted their way of life to the traffic and live in a flat near their workplace to avoid the traffic chaos. Often, they’ll rent a more expensive but less attractive flat just because it’s better connected. This is also just part of living in Dubai.
If you’re looking for a comfortable way to explore Dubai, I would recommend a Big Bus Tours sightseeing tour. They take you through the city on a stylish, open-top double-decker bus so you can see all the sights in Dubai. It’s best to buy your tickets online beforehand.
Dubai Tourist Attractions
Dubai is a unique travel destination. Even if you’re just driving through the street, this city exudes glamour and you can’t help but be amazed. You’ll almost certainly ask “where do I start?”. Here, you’ll find a short summary of all the tips you’ll need.
Palm Island – an artificial island
The impressive, man-made Palm Island should be high up on your list of things to see on your city tour. There you’ll find the Atlantis The Palm Hotel, a really breath-taking building with a spectacular backdrop! The Aquaventure Waterpark is also part of the Atlantis The Palm Hotel and its leisure complex. If you’re looking for the ultimate bathing experience in Dubai, head here first. In the middle of the water park, there’s a 30-metre ‘ziggurat’ tower with seven slides. Here, you not only have a superb view of the spectacular surroundings but you also get an adrenaline rush on the slides! The ‘Leap of Faith’ is a transparent tube, which you can slip and slide through like you’re in a real shark tank.
In Dolphin Bay, you can, as the name suggests, go swimming with dolphins. This is a more gentle and relaxing affair compared to the exciting slides but it is still a great experience. And, if you’re worried that this is animal cruelty, I can ease your mind. They pay particular attention to the needs of the dolphins, who have plenty of space for exercising and playing. There are also strict rules for guests when they are swimming with them. The dolphins are always accompanied by qualified experts.
There is a fantastic view of the striking sail-shaped Burj Al Arab Hotel from the beach of the Aquaventure Waterpark.
The Burj Khalifa – the new roof of the world?
The Burj Khalifa is currently the highest tower in the world at over 828 metres tall. It still delights the locals and, even seven years after it first opened, it is still the ultimate Dubai tourist attraction! A visit to the viewing platforms on the 124th and 125th floors is really worth it. In terms of places to visit in Dubai, this is really hard to beat!
“The view over the city is outstanding!”
You can read about the beginnings and development of the tower as well as how it was built and the development of its surroundings. The view over the city is amazing and it is uniquely beautiful here, especially at nightfall. The 360° viewing platform is sensational. You should also head to the Dubai Fountains right in front of the tallest building in the world during the evening for an exceptional water spectacle.
Dubai Creek – dive into old Dubai!
“I really recommend a trip to old Dubai”, my guide tells me. The creek, which runs through the city, separates the old area and the new area of Dubai. You can travel leisurely around it on an Abra, a small, traditional wooden boat. You should definitely do this. It isn’t just a tourist attraction as locals use it all the time to get to work or the shops. On one side, there is the Gold and Spice Souk. On the other, there is a market where you can buy clothes and many other things.
The journey isn’t expensive. It only costs 1 Dirham (around 20 pence). Here, you can get a small insight into the Dubai, which existed before the oil boom in the 60s and 70s. During the trip, you’ll pass the big wooden boats, which have brought spices and fabrics from India to Dubai for many years. Sailors take back different electrical appliances with them so don’t be surprised if you see hundreds of modern fridges at the front of the wooden boats – a crazy contrast!
Dubai’s pearl divers
The first pearl divers settled here on Dubai Creek hundreds of years ago. This was the foundation stone for the economic development of the city. In the olden days (which actually aren’t so long ago), pearl diving was the city’s economic engine. Today, it’s clearly tourism. Because of this, you can find a little bit of everything on offer here!
If you’re interested in Dubai’s origins, don’t miss out the historic quarter, Al Bastakiya! Persian merchants settled here in the 19th century and they named it after their hometown, Bastak. Now, the remaining buildings have been restored with original materials like clay, shells and limestone. The neighbourhood offers a fascinating contrast to modern Dubai. It feels as though you’re in a completely different world in the narrow lanes surrounded by typical Arabian houses! Nowadays, the quarter is becoming more of an artists’ district and ateliers, galleries and museums are springing up all over. There is also very good food in the restaurants here so you should definitely try a couple of typical Arabic dishes.
‘Do Buy’ – a traditional souk or a dazzling mall?
What can you do particularly well in Dubai? Shopping, of course! Here, there are so many malls you can’t count them all! They are all unbelievably spectacular and try to outdo each other in both luxury and originality. Checking out these bustling shopping centres is definitely one of the top things to do in Dubai.
Guru Tip: If you want to travel to Dubai between November and April, I can recommend three cool places to you. Visit Global Village on Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road, which is a multicultural meeting point with all sorts of entertainment and opportunities for shopping for the whole family. You should also check out the magnificent flower park, Dubai Miracle Garden, as well as the light park, Dubai Garden Glow in Zabeel Park. It is the first glowing theme park in the Middle East.
Shopping is a really special experience here. In Dubai, you can snap up a few things not only in the air-conditioned malls but also in traditional bazaars or souks. It’s definitely worth taking a trip to at least one. A visit to the Gold and Spice Souk is a must when you’re in Dubai. There is gold aplenty here and many shops sell intricately decorated jewellery, which you can’t buy in Europe. You should also take a stroll around the spice market, which smells like incense. You’ll be totally overwhelmed by all the different spices. Once you’ve visited the souks, you know where Dubai’s second name, ‘the city of gold’, comes from. The many stands really sell everything you could possibly imagine in terms of gold. But watch out! You really are expected to haggle with the merchants. Some even consider it as an offence if you don’t try to negotiate the price!
Dubai Mall – shopping with sharks
You’ll have the finest shopping experience in Dubai Mall. While it might be just a shopping mall once you visit one you’ll see they are so much more. These are an amazing tourist attraction that will have you falling in love with Dubai. It is the biggest mall and impresses visitors with its four floors, more than 1,200 shops, and a huge aquarium in the middle of the building! The Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo makes it possible for you to watch sharks, piranhas and rays as you shop. The tank contains almost 10 million litres of water and is three storeys tall. You can even run through it. Through a small tunnel on the ground, you can ‘dive’ into the underwater world – literally. Diving is actually possible here. The sharks here are harmless as we’re talking about sand tiger sharks, reef sharks and zebra sharks. You can feed them from the edge of the tank or from a cage.
I heard a funny story when I visited. Many shopping centres open at 6 am although the shops only welcome visitors from 10 am. Joggers can run around the mall before the shops open. What first sounds like a joke, is actually very clever. The malls are huge and always air-conditioned. In the summer and even in the cooler winter months, it is a lot healthier to jog in the buildings because of the dusty desert air.
Dubai’s cuisine – traditional meals & modern fusion kitchen
In terms of its cuisine, Dubai really surprised me. There is really everything you could possibly imagine here. The choice on offer is so wide that it’s really difficult to choose what to eat. You can find everything here from traditional Arabian cuisine, Indian, Chinese, and even Tex-Mex to the currently on trend Asian fusion kitchen.
There are endless amounts of restaurants and bistros in the malls. It’s also very popular to eat in hotel restaurants. The buffets, which are full of lots of different foods, are very fashionable here. My absolute favourite, though, was the Asian restaurant Eau Zone in the One&Only Royal Mirage, which has a view over the hotel’s heavenly pool area. I also really liked Thiptara, a Thai restaurant in the luxurious Address Hotel. In the evenings, you can sit right in front of the pool at the foot of the Burj Khalifa. When the Dubai Fountains start dancing to the music, it feels as though you’re in a film.
Arabian Cuisine – a must-eat
Traditional Arabian cuisine should definitely be on your list of things to try. It is usually prepared with fresh vegetables and also with chickpeas as a base. The hummus is simply excellent! Lamb and delicious salads are often served with it. I really recommend the Barjeel Al Arab Restaurant in Bur Dubai. Here, they serve freshly-grilled and tender meat, Arabian side dishes like Hummus, Baba Ganoush, and pea soup, as well as flatbreads, stuffed vine leaves, and even camel meat burgers… all these delicacies are unbelievably tasty! Don’t miss out on this taste experience because you always remember things like this. The quality of the food really impressed me. As there is large number of immigrants to the city the variety is phenomenal and the prices can be pretty amazing too! I was never unhappy and it always tasted very good. So, be sure to try a few new culinary treats for yourself.
Nightlife in Dubai
They also like partying in Dubai, which is perhaps not something you would expect of a Muslim majority country. The nightlife in Dubai is thriving but it is completely different to what we perhaps know in the UK. There are no bar crawls here as alcohol is only served in hotels. Only they can get a special alcohol license so the only bars and clubs are in hotels. However, there’s no less going on! One of the best things to do in Dubai if you want to live like a local is going for a champagne brunch on Friday afternoon. In big hotels, there are sometimes several clubs with different genres of music. There is a mix of Arabian music and international pop charts music. The alcohol in hotels is quite expensive but there are often special deals like happy hour, two for one and ladies’ night as well as many other offers.
Many of the hotels in downtown Dubai have amazing rooftop terraces where you can while away the evening, drinking cocktails and smoking shisha. If you’re looking for a fantastic view, reserve a table on the rooftop terrace of the TAJ Dubai. You have a direct view of the shining Burj Khalifa from Treehouse Mediterranean Lounge & Bar. Once you’ve sat down there, you’ll never want to leave. Right next door in the same building, you’ll also find the Billionaire Mansion. If you want to see some brand-new luxury cars, you’ll definitely have an amazing evening here.
Dubai? Let’s go!
A stay in Dubai is certainly really special and will most definitely be incomparable to your previous travel experiences! The city is full of luxury and the drive to make everything even more impressive than the last. If you love shopping and glamour, you’re in the right place here. If you’ve suddenly got a new-found desire to go to Dubai, you can see all the best deals on my blog. I’ve found some great bargains for last-minute trips and hotels in this wonderful Arabian metropolis.
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