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There’s no doubt that Dubai is one of the most fascinating and interesting places in the world; a fast-paced cosmopolitan city with oodles of glitz, glamour and excitement around every corner.

This is a destination which effortlessly fuses its native Arabian traditions with all some of the best luxury amenities in the world, and with some of the most tranquil beaches in the Middle East, and the barren beauty of the desert, there are many unforgettable adventures you can experience during your time in the city.

Perfect for travelers looking to unwind, indulge, and get a taste of the Middle East, if Dubai is on bucket list, you’re in luck. We’ve put together the ultimate travel guide with our favorite spots, including where to stay, play, relax, shop, and tips you should be aware of when you head out to eat.

A Travel Guide to Dubai: Where to Stay, Play, Relax, Shop & Eat

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Where to Stay

The Burj Al Arab

Shaped to resemble the sail of a ship, this seven star hotel is located on a manmade island in Dubai, UAE and is considered to be the most luxurious hotel in the world.

All rooms are supplied with a 24 karat ipod, ipod doc, free Wi-Fi, a flat screen TV, luxurious linens, a lovely view of either the gulf or the city, and butler service is available if you so desire.

Some of the higher end rooms even have libraries, snooker tables and private elevators. You can arrive by private transfer from the airport, or even helicopter if you so choose!

Armani Hotel

Located in the world’s tallest tower, Giorgio Armani’s first hotel is built on the first 39 floors of the Burj Kalifa.

It’s in a fabulous location with direct access to the sprawling Dubai Mall, and rooms overlook the Dubai Fountain, Souk Al Bahar dining district, and the new Dubai Opera house. Rooms are as sleek and stylish as you would expect. The style is chic and minimalistic.

Atlantis the Palm

Atlantis is one of the most iconic hotels in Dubai, an underwater-themed resort built to resemble a Disney castle.

Guests enjoy spectacular views of the azure Arabian Sea, or the iconic Palm Island and magnificent Dubai skyline. There is a waterpark onsite, two pools, and nearly a mile of man-made beach.

90% of their rooms are interconnecting, making this the perfect choice for families. While opulent suites and fine-dining restaurants attract luxury travellers, this really is a bustling family resort. You’ll have a ball!

Atlantis the Palm Dubai

Where to Play

Burj Khalifa

Soaring 828 metres above Dubai, the Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building. As a tourist, it’s you can walk around the base to marvel at the union of art, engineering and heritage. However you shouldn’t miss the chance to visit the highest outdoor observation deck in the world, at 555 meters high!

Catch Dubai Fountain’s daily performances inbetween the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall, a dance show of water reaching up to 140 metres high, accompanied by syncing lights and music. Evening shows are every 30 minutes daily from 6:00pm – 11:00pm.

Book a Dhow Cruise

Segregating the charming city of Dubai into 2 parts, the Dubai creek is the perfect venue for a dhow cruise. These operate at both day and night, and if organizing an evening cruise you can book to include dinner and entertainment too.

Dhow Cruise Dubai

Skydive Palm Jurmeirah

Host to one of the biggest annual international skydive championships, skydiving in Dubai is a serious sport!

A city jump which will see you fly over the Palm Jumeirah, the world famous man made archipelago which sits on the water and even has it’s own private beach. Views over the island and neighbouring marina are truly mind-blowing.

Sunset Beach

Whether you’re determined snap the iconic ‘holding up the Burj Al Arab’ photograph, or work on your tan, head to sunset beach. This is a free beach and one of the emirate’s most beautiful stretches of sand, with a wonderful view of the Burj Al Arab.

It is a buzzing, all action hot spot, and a perpetual hive of activity. As the only beach which offers a decent swell in winter, it’s a favorite among local surfers.

Sunset beach Dubai

 Enjoy a Hot Air Balloon Ride

There is no better way to experience Dubai than with a hot air balloon ride over an endless ocean of sand dunes, emerald green oases, oryx, gazelles and wandering camels.

Enjoy the rare experience of seeing the fiery orange sunlight at the break of the dawn from high up in the air. Rest assured you won’t regret getting up early at all. You can take a ride at sunset to enjoy the onset of dawn in the Dubai skyline if mornings aren’t your thing.

Desert Safari / Bedouin Camp

Most Dubai tour packages include a Desert Safari, and while most tourists book this as a day trip, you can also opt to stay overnight in a Bedouin camp.

Arabian adventures don’t get more authentic than this. Camping overnight in the desert means unwinding under the starlit sky after having enjoyed dune bashing, a sumptuous dinner, belly dancing, henna painting, and souvenir shopping with the day crowd.

Desert safari Dubai

Where to Pamper & Relax

Dubai hotels are known to offer some of the best spa experiences in the world for those looking to pamper and relax.

The best hotels in Dubai for memorable spa experiences include the Burj Al Arab, Atlantis the Palm, Hilton Dubai Jumeirah, and the Ritz- Carlton.

Where to Shop

Traditional Markets & Souks

Souks and traditional Arabian markets play a crucial role in the life and trade of Dubai’s residents, and whether you’re after some lavish gold jewellery, hand-woven fabrics or traditional oud fragrances, there are souks for almost every need.

Head to the Gold Souk for gold, the Spice Souk for spice, and the Perfume Souk for, you guessed it, perfume. There is also the Textile Souk, Souk Al Bahar (inside Dubai Mall), and Souk Madinat for those in search of food.

Pictured below is the Old Souk in Deira.

Old Souk - Deira - Dubai

Extravagant Malls

Dubai has some of the world’s most opulent and extravagant malls, and if you travel at the right time, you might catch the Dubai Shopping Festival which offers raining discounts on all products under the sun.

A miniature kingdom unto itself, Dubai Mall is the largest shopping mall in the world. It includes theme parks, a waterfall, “dancing” fountains, Olympic-sized ice rink, aquarium, indoor souk and malls within the mall. There is also the Mall of the Emirates, with the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East.

Just check the luggage allowance on your flight tickets so you don’t exceed your limit!

Tips For Eating

Dubai is an absolute haven for foodies, and visitors from all over the world flock here for some of the finest restaurants on earth. But where-ever you choose to eat, keep in mind the following.

Drinking

Alcohol is usually only served in hotel bars, and restaurants which are not part of a hotel are prohibited from serving drinks. There is zero tolerance for drinking or appearing drunk in public, so plan on eating out without the addition of alcohol.

Avoid tap water, as this is generally not drinkable, though mineral water is readily available throughout the whole city and is very affordable. Hotels will usually supply guests with free mineral water, and you’ll find the supply in your room will be replenished daily.

Hotel bottled water

Ramadan

Life in Dubai is notably different from the rest of the year during the month of Ramadan, and travelers should consider this when planning their trip. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, a period of religious significance, and Muslims around the world spend the daylight hours of everyday of this month in a complete fast.

During this time it is prohibited to eat, drink, or smoke in public, and as such, most of the city’s public clubs, racecourses and restaurants are closed. Hotel restaurants and international food chains generally stay open for international visitors though, and some independent restaurants obtain a special license to operate during daylight hours.

If there is a specific restaurant you’re dying to try, check their hours ahead of time to make sure they’re open over Ramadan.

Food Allergies

Those with food allergies and special dietary requirements are really well catered to in Dubai, and there is a high awareness of food allergies which especially makes it easy for those traveling with gluten intolerance.

Souk de Madinat Jumeirah

Tipping

Most restaurants throughout Dubai will include a 10% service charge in the total cost of the bill, though it is always nice to leave a little extra if you feel their service has been exemplary.

Do note however that this service charge does not always go directly to the wait staff, and is not actually compulsory. Some people choose to refuse to pay the service charge and give the money directly to the server themselves. If the service has been good, 10-15% of the total bill is an acceptable amount to tip.

 Visa Information

Before traveling to Dubai, make sure you have a valid visa if required. Different entry requirements apply to different passport holders, ie, a number of nationalities require no advance visa arrangements to visit the UAE

However if you do need to apply for a Dubai visa, note that you’ll need international health insurance too. This is mandatory for visitors to enter the UAE, and visa applicants need to have proof of coverage, regardless of the nationality, age or gender. Only travelers who don’t need visas on arrival are exempt.

Upon arrival at Dubai International Airport, immigration may select you for random eye screening. If so, you’ll need to present a hard copy of your visa or a printed version of the visa number confirmation page at the screening counter. So be sure to travel with a copy. Otherwise it’s a charge of AED 30 per copy (and this is only payable in AED).

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Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; a website dedicated to opening your eyes to the wild & natural world.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

Follow their journey on Facebook, TwitterYouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.

Photo credits: Old Souk, Deira by Bertrand Duperrin. Hotel bottled water by eric molina. Souk de Madinat Jumeirah by Gilles Messian.

    53 Comments

  1. Not very accurate, fake news.
    Gambling is illegal in Dubai, there are no casinos here

    • Hi Dale, gambling was not even mentioned in this post, so not really sure why you’re discrediting the article. Assuming you’re fixating on the one word used in the sentence about Ramadam saying that everything closes down.

      For arguments sake, Dubai is actually one of the very few places in United Arab Emirates where gambling can be legal, however it is via sports betting as opposed to the conventional brick and mortar casino.

      For clarification we have edited the sentence you have questioned to to read “racecourse” instead.

      Enjoy your weekend.

    • Dale, crawl back to the rock you live under.
      That is all.

  2. I haven’t been to Dubai in a while but it is such a novel place, would love to head back to explore the Burj Khalifa. Also it would be great to stay at the Burj but not sure my budget would stretch to it.

    • The Burj is definitely a splurge! Hope you have the chance to revisit again soon – glad to hear you enjoyed your first trip!

  3. Great piece, lovely to see more of what visitors can see and do in Dubai. For me, it’s the traditional aspects that appeal the most, so I’m loving your sections on the souks and markets, and also the bedouin experience in teh desert. I’d also love to do that hot air balloon ride and the dhow cruise as well. I kind of don’t know how much I’d enjoy the superluxe hotels, I think I’d like to see them but not sure whether it would get too much for me quite quickly. It’s somewhere I’d like to visit though and see for myself! I know the restaurant scene there is just incredible!

    • Thanks Kavey! I agree with you, it’s the traditional side of the city which draws me in too. Though that said the reason Dubai is so fascinating is it’s blend of modern and traditional culture, and how they fit so seamlessly together, so there’s definitely something to be said about taking in the contrast :) … superluxe hotels aren’t too bad, promise! :D

      Hope you have the chance to visit soon!

  4. The hot air balloon ride and the desert safari are definitely things I would love to do. Although due to a lot of things Dubai is not really on my bucket list I would love to visit it someday.

    • Both are fabulous experiences I can highly recommend :) If you do have the chance to stop by Dubai, you won’t regret it – you could work it in as a short layer transiting home from another trip; Dubai is one of the biggest international hubs so most flights stop here to refuel :)

  5. Dubai is on my list of places to visit – thanks for the detailed post. I enjoyed reading about all of the luxury hotels. It will be difficult to select one!

    • Oh absolutely Nancy – Dubai is full of exquisite luxury hotels … though not a bad problem to have being difficult to choose lol :)

      Hope you have the chance to visit soon! Happy travels :)

  6. Ha, a 24 karat ipod and ipod dock. The way Apple goes through IPhone versions every year I’d be scared to invest in that but it is good to know that I have the option to arrive by helicopter if I wish. Atlantis the Palm and The Burj Al Arab look unreal, like something out of a movie. A little bummed that we no longer have the tallest structure in Toronto because of the Burj Khalifa…but I still want to see it. Good tip about the Visa’s I always overlook that.

    • Haha good point re investing in a gold iPod with apple updates and new version! Atlantis the Palm really does seem like it’s been torn straight from the pages of a fairytale or the sorts … didn’t realize that Toronto had the world’s tallest building before the Burj Khalifa … cool fact!

  7. This was a great guide. If I hadn’t already visited Dubai many times I’d follow it to the letter. A stay at the Burj would be awesome but totally out of my budget. The overnight desert camping sounds fun but I prefer a cozy bed. But sand boarding is a must!

    • Thanks Deb :) Glad to hear you’ve had the chance to visit Dubai – totally agree with you that the dune bashing is a must, even if you don’t combine it with a camping experience at the end :)

  8. This guide came at a perfect time! I’m actually thinking of planning a trip to Dubai in the next couple of months. I would love to stay at the Atlantis. It’s always been a dream of mine– the aquarium rooms seem amazing. I’ve never done desert camping either. I bet it would be a fun experience.

    • So glad we could catch you before your trip Nathan :) Can highly recommend the Atlantis – I loved my stay here … was everything I had dreamed of and more!

      Have an amazing trip!

  9. We loved our trip to Dubai, although were traveling on a budget so the Burj al Arab was a little out of our price range! We really enjoyed our desert safari though – the 4×4 through the dunes was as good as any roller coaster I have been on!

    • Agree re the 4×4 desert safari being more insane than a rollercoaster ride! Still remember mine vividly!

  10. I am tempted to go to Dubai, not for it’s display of luxury or skyscrapers but rather to experience the desert safari. The experience of feeling the desert winds and staying in those tents, is what I look forward to the most

    • The desert safari was probably the highlight of my trip – such an incredible and authentic experience, you’ll really love it!

  11. Totally loved the Dhow cruise when I was there. I like the more “local” places in old dubai or rather older dubai. Good overview though

    • Us too :) Traditional Dubai for me was really fascinating – though I do find it just as interesting how well they blend old and new :) I’ve never seen contrasts so stark anywhere else in the world, but they pull it off!

  12. My experience in Dubai has never been a disappointment. The best way to see Dubai is by hiring a driver. You can negotiate a set price for a few days. You can rent a car in Dubai but traffic can be stressful especially if you don’t know where you are going. We hired a driver. It allows you more time to see the city as well. The driver we hired we paid approximately 375.00 and then gave him a tip at the end for another 80,00. He was our driver who we hired from the airport to take us to our hotel. Talk to them. They are a never-ending source of information and are thrilled to answer questions. This price is always rising and never the same so you will have to do some negotiating. Our hired driver was there every morning by 9 and drove us all day for 3 days straight usually until about 5. He drove us and waited for us and then on to the next site. He was familiar with all of the touristy spots as well as off the road places.

    Cheers then.

    • So glad to hear that Margaret! Dubai is an incredibly special place :)

      Thanks for the tip on hiring a driver – I stuck to individual tours and hop on hop off buses while I was there, so will definitely look at a driver when we head back. Good to know you can negotiate a price for a couple of days.

      I love that idea! And you’re right- having a local by your side is a great way to find out about the history of a place and the quirky things that you don’t find in the guide books :)

      Thanks for the tip!

  13. Thanks for this wonderful guide. Actually, I’m going Dubai this month. Just found this guide at the right time.

    Cheers,
    Dennies

    • Have a great trip to Dubai Dennies! Glad we could help :) Happy travels

  14. Very good read with lots of insider info someone might not be able to find in a typical guidebook. I was interested in reading this because I just started a house sit in Bali for a couple that lives in Dubai and we were chatting a bit about the country, and I was interested in learning a bit more about it. Like you said, many on a budget might write it off automatically, and these tips are super helpful for keeping costs down.

    • Hope you’re having an amazing time in Bali Seera … glad you enjoyed the post about Dubai … maybe it could be your next stop!

  15. I just finished reading your blog – glad I found it. My husband and I will be heading to Dubai next March for 4 nights (on our way to Australia). I need to budget as best as possible and I’m looking for hotels in the $125 – $150 price range. Where is the best area to stay while in Dubai to get in the main sites? I am interested in a Dhow cruise, visiting the traditional markets, seeing some of the famous buildings, and some of the local and older places of the city. Also interested in local foods/restaurants. Thanks! Monica

    • Hi Monica, thanks for stopping by :) Re accommodation, hotels in the older parts of the city will generally be a lot cheaper than those in places like the Dubai Marina. I would look at staying in locations like Al Mankhool, Bur Dubai and Deira. And this sounds like it would work for you in that you’re interested in visiting a lot more of the traditional / older sites.

      Re getting to the main sites, you can take the metro system for transport which is significantly cheaper than catching taxi’s, so if you look to book a hotel which is close to the metro, there are stations on Sheikh Zayed Road, in Deira or Bur Dubai. If you want to be close to new Dubai you can look at hotels Al Barsha, TECOM and Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT).

      Hope that helps!

  16. Awesome guide. I’m going to be heading to Dubai / Abu Dhabi this month! Would love to know if you had info on things to do during Ramadan in the Area. I’m sure things are a bit different than normal months perhaps!

    • Hi Joe, glad we could help :) The first time I traveled to Dubai I was there over Ramadan – the attractions were all open and operated as per usual, though the main difference was that the restaurants were closed (the effects of Ramadan mean it’s prohibited to eat, drink, or smoke in public).

      If you have a specific activity you’re dying to do, like the desert safari, I would book it in advance, just to make sure it’s operating while you’re there, but I don’t believe tours or main attractions are affected by Ramadan.

      Just be aware that you’ll likely be restricted when it comes to food, and have to eat inside the hotel for the most part.

      Hope that helps! Have an incredible trip :)

  17. There are a lot of hotels worth mentioning, like the Madinat Jumeirah complex, The One & Only Royal Mirage and The Four Seasons by the sea and the Dubai Marriott Marquis, the tallest hotel in the world, in Downtown Dubai. Touristino.com is a website with lots of information about Dubai.

    • Thanks for sharing your hotel recommendations James – will be sure to check out Touristino.com :)

  18. Been planning a Dubai trip for quite some time now. Thanks for sharing this! I’ll definitely save this for my future reference. Quick question though, do they have designated smoking areas there or you can smoke everywhere? Thanks and looking forward to more of your articles in the future!

    • Awesome Tristan, glad we could help! I’m personally not a smoker, but my understanding is that you’ll find a smoking area in each place, or at least beside the entrance doors.

      Double check perhaps with the hotel concierge when you get there (they’re always a great source of local info), but you should be fine to smoke outdoors, however not in government facilities, offices, malls and shops.

      Hope that helps! Have a great time in Dubai!

  19. Excellent guide. I think Dubai is also a great base to explore nearby attractions, with a day trip easily done to Abu Dhabi to admire the grand mosque and thrill in Ferrari World. And also to cruise the nearby Musandam Peninsula of Oman, with its beautiful rugged fjord-like landscape!

    • Thanks Andrew – I haven’t made it to Abu Dhabi or Oman yet, though I’ve heard incredible things – can’t wait to head back to experience some of these amazing day trips! Thanks for sharing your tips :)

  20. Absolutely right think in your post. But 1 month ago I visited Dubai. It is unfortunate for me that before I was not read your writing. But I enjoyed those time when I stay Dubai. Really It’s amazing place. Also Dubai food are so testy.

    • Glad you enjoyed your time in Dubai Denis! If you missed anything we covered in our post perhaps you can keep a note for your next trip!

  21. Dubai is one of the most famous international travel destinations and your blog is very well formatted with amazing pictures describing the places to stay in Dubai.Thank you for sharing it. As we know Dubai is a city in the United Arab Emirates known for luxury shopping, ultramodern architecture, and a lively nightlife scene. There are many places to visit in Dubai, and the most visited is Burj Khalifa. It is also a favorite destination for shopaholics.

    • Hi Maria, thanks for sharing your overview of Dubai – glad to hear you love the city as well!

  22. Dubai is such a perfect destination to travel and your post is so helpful for me, I get many ideas to enjoy my vacation.

    • So glad our guide was helpful Tonya :) Enjoy your time in Dubai!

  23. Such an informative post! We know that Dubai is one of the best places for tourists in the World & your blog post clear it well. Our family is planning to visit Dubai in coming months. I am too excited.

    • So glad it was helpful Chirag – wishing you a wonderful family trip – I know you’ll have a fabulous time!

  24. Very impressive it thanks for sharing this post i read your articles and also try to keep touch with you.

    • You’re welcome Kate, I’m glad that you enjoyed the post :)

  25. Actually I was searching to know about Dubai food. You have explained it awesome way. Specially I like you words “Dubai is an absolute haven for foodies, and visitors from all over the world flock here for some of the finest restaurants on earth.” So I can’t wait to visited Dubai.

    Thanks
    Ignatius

    • Glad we could help out Ignatius, the food scene in Dubai is diverse, and has some fabulous Middle Eastern flair. Have a great trip :)

  26. During our visit to Dubai, we stayed 2 nights at Burj Al Arab. What an amazing and memorable time that was! The staff were very friendly and professional. Check in was very prompt. We got introduced to our butler. He took us through all the features of your high tech suite. The hotel is 15 years old as far as I remember but our suite looked brand new- very clean & very well maintained. I agree on your point about the Malls.

    • So glad to hear you had a fabulous time during your stay in Dubai Kremer — the Burj Al Arab is a memorable experience indeed!

      Thanks for stopping by :)

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