When I first imagined travel to Dubai, I thought of skyscrapers and giant malls. These are definitely present, but what I did not expect was the expanse of desert sand just outside of the city. Dubai is an international flight hub, and the largest city in the UAE, United Arab Emirates.
I enjoyed a few days exploring the city and was impressed by the buildings and layout of the city. It is an interesting mix of very modern architecture and more traditional souks (markets) and boats on the Creek. Even in March, the weather was very hot and sunny. While I was walking around the city, sweating, many taxis passed by honking and asking if I needed a ride. However, I was persistent in walking so I could enjoy the city views!
This is a short guide on travel to Dubai based on my 5 days there in 2017, which may seem a long time ago in an ever-changing city. In fact, I have noticed when looking at GoogleMaps recently that a lot of restaurants have changed since then. So, I will share my experience, but you may need to look for some updated food recommendations!
- Burj Khalifa, tallest building in the world from 2010 until at least January 2023
- The Dubai Fountain musical show
- Visit the old Souks including spices and gold
- Walk along the Creek viewing wooden boats
- Take a boat taxi, though be careful about where the destination is!
- Burj al Arab, a 7 star hotel, the outside is impressive but you can’t enter unless you have a hotel or restaurant booking
- Atlantis, The Palm hotel and aquarium
- Mall of the Emirates with Ski Dubai
- Dubai Museum and fort
- Desert Safari such as Orient Tours
- Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo
- Jumeirah beach area
- Jumeirah Mosque
- Dubai World Trade Centre
- Al Fahidi Historical area
Before you go
- Dubai is the largest city in the United Arab Emirates, but not the capital, which is Abu Dhabi
- There are strict laws about consuming alcohol; drinking age is usually 21 years. Alcohol can be consumed at home and in licensed venues. A permit may be needed
- Zero tolerance laws against drugs
- Dress conservatively and bring a head covering for mosques
- Dune bashing is a lot of fun- it is zooming over sand dunes in a 4X4 jeep with slightly flattened tires
- Weather is hot most of the year, and very hot during the summer
- Tipping is not expected
- Dubai International Airport is an international hub. I have passed through on the way to other countries, and I stopped for a visit for a few days. Lots of shopping!
- The Dubai Metro system is clean and safe, and there are women-only carriages
- Taxis are reasonable and if you are walking, especially in the heat, you may find that taxis slow down and beep at you to get business
- I stayed at the Carlton Palace Hotel, which was a 5-star at a reasonable price
- The location was quite central though I did end up taking taxis and the metro from nearby Union Station
- There is a rooftop swimming pool, gym and spa
- Rooms are large, comfortable and air-conditioned
- Staff were friendly and helpful
As I mentioned in the UAE post, I am not entirely sure what is considered the local cuisine. I asked some friends and they said generally Middle Eastern. On the desert safari, the barbecue dinner was advertised as “traditional”. It included tasty grilled meat, salads and pitta bread.
Another Middle Eastern meal I enjoyed was at Milas in the Dubail Mall. Sadly, this location is closed permanently, though it still seems to exist in Abu Dhabi. The pitta bread arrived hot and puffed, and it was delicious. The ingredients were so fresh and flavourful. I loved the tabbouleh salad made with parsley, tomato, bulgur wheat, garlic and lemon.
The breakfast at the hotel was an interesting mix of western food, Chinese food, and Middle Eastern breads, beans and salads.
One unusual food I tried was the camel milk ice cream. I hesitated to try it as it did not immediately sound very appetising. However, curiosity got the best of me and I tried some. The texture was so smooth and creamy and the flavour was similar to cow’s milk. I’d definitely recommend it!
In addition to the local food, I found a lot of delicious and authentic Indian food. There were many Indian restaurants, fast food stops, and dessert shops. One that I tried is still open, Bombay Bites. They serve a lot of vegetarian snack foods and the prices are very reasonable. It was filled with Indian people, and one had to eat quickly to make space.
Finally, my splurge of the trip was to dine at Atmosphere restaurant on the 122nd floor of the Burj Khalifa. Of course, the view was stunning in every direction. It was fun to watch the Dubai fountain show below, as it looked so small. And in the distance, one could see sand in the desert around the city.
The food was beautifully presented and the service was friendly and efficient, not pretentious. Also, the cost was not too high considering the quality and location. As on 2023, it looks like Atmosphere is undergoing a transformation. I hope it will re-open again soon!
Q: Do I need a tour guide?
A: No, it is easy to find your way around the city
Q: Do people speak English?
A: Yes most people speak English
Q: Is it a walkable city?
A: In the centre of the city, it is walkable. However, you don’t see many people walking very far because the weather is very hot
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