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!
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!
Where to Play
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. There are many places to eat in Dubai, but regardless of the choice you make, keep in mind the following etiquette.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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