Dubai is the most modern and progressive of the seven Emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. It is a place of superlatives, with the world's largest mall, tallest building, fastest cars, and the world´s only 7 star hotel. It is one of the most visited city destinations in the world, even more so than Paris, perhaps due to the vast golden beaches and glamorous malls, all mixed in with the allure of Arabian Nights. The best time to visit Dubai is in the late Autumn or early Spring, just after and before the unbearably hot and humid summer kicks in. Wintertime is also pleasant, but can be a bit too cool for sunbathing. September is also the time of Ramadan, so note that during this time there will be certain restrictions on eating and drinking in public, and no alcohol will be served in bars during daylight hours. However this is also an opportunity to take part in the fast-breaking iftar feast, which is an Arabic banquet served up after dusk during Ramadan. Dubai is not your typical sun, sand and shopping destination in that it is essentially an Islamic country, and there are number of zero-tolerance laws in place regarding drink driving, drugs, and excessive public affection. However, don´t let this put you off, just be aware and Dubai will be a holiday to remember for all the right reasons!
- Dubai is seemingly the fastest growing city in the world, going from one high rise in 1991 to over 400 in present day!
- Over 80% of Dubai´s population consists of immigrants, with many of these being of Indian descent.
- The Burj Dubai is the tallest building in the world and as tall as two Empire State Buildings atop each other.
- In summer, the temperatures go well above 40° C during the day, so people mostly stay indoors with the air-conditioning on.
- The world´s largest horses are found in Dubai.
The malls of Dubai definitely take shopping to a new level. Besides miles of shops (during summer power walkers are known to do laps of the air-conditioned corridors of the malls rather than brave the humid heat on the streets!) there are also plenty of entertainment options for those keen on shoes and labels. The Mall of the Emirates has an indoor ski slope, where you can ski and snowboard on real snow, or else sit in one of the surrounding restaurants and watch the action from above. The Dubai Mall is home to the world´s largest (of course!) aquarium, a great way to keep the children busy while mum indulges in some pampering. Dubai´s shops are mostly contained in malls, however along the strip in Jumeirah there are also countless boutiques and beauty salons which offer manicures, pedicures, facials etc at the hands of very efficient beauticians. Deira and Bur Dubai are Dubai´s oldest parts of town, and also the least touristic. Both lie on the river, which you can cross with an abra (very cheaply!) to reach Deira from Bur Dubai. The gold and spice souk, both traditional, bustling markets selling mostly gold jewellery and spices, but also all kinds of knock-off goods in back rooms, are both located in Deira, while Bur Dubai is home to the unmissable, and very Arabic, Bastakiya cultural centre.
For some beach time, head over to Jumeirah, which is one endless trip of beachfront and also is home to most of the Western expats in the area. The Madinat, very close to the Burj Al Arab, is a very popular but pleasant Arabic-style complex with shops selling everything from carpets to wooden camels and pashminas, and has many good restaurants with beautiful palm-fronded outdoor areas looking onto a man-made lake. For nightlife, check out Barasti, a very popular beachfront bar, or the Buddha Bar. On Fridays you could head to one of the hotel brunches, where you pay a fixed fee for as much food and drink as you can handle. These usually open at 12pm and finish at 4pm.
For the more adventurous (and not for the easily car-sick), there are some great dune-bashing safaris you can go on, where a driver will pick you up from a central Dubai location, then take you out into the desert to show off his dune driving skills at full throttle. After this exhilarating ride and a calming sunset, a feast of Arabian breads, vegetables and meats is served in a Bedouin-style camp nearby.
Getting Around Dubai
Dubai International Airport has a duty-free section in the baggage reclaim area where you can purchase alcohol. If you are staying in self-catering accommodation, this may be a good idea as otherwise you will not be able to buy alcohol in the special alcohol outlets without a residents permit. Most visitors get a taxi into town from the airport, as it is both relatively cheap and easy. However you can also get the Dubai Metro from Terminals 1 and 3, or a number of buses.
Getting around Dubai is easiest in a car, either a rental or by taxi, which are cheap. The Metro is another great option, and you can purchase a day pass for unlimited travel for just Dh 14. Buses are best for getting from one neighbourhood to the next, as the system is quite incomprehensible and the service infrequent.