Destination Guide

Dubai Travel Guide

Dubai Travel Guide

Facing the Persian Gulf, Dubai sits on the north-east coast of the United Arab Emirates. Dubai is an incredulous makeover story. From a fishing village of boat builders, sea traders and pearl divers to a global mega-city of oil magnates, shipping barons and loaded financiers, the flight has been powered by petrodollars, visionary enterprise and unbridled ambition.

Like an illusory oasis, the sandcastle of riches shimmers like a polished gold nugget on the scorched Arabian desert sands. Exquisitely sculpted manmade islands deck the Champagne-tinged shoreline. Futuristic concrete-and-steel structures dot the cityscape. Colossal skyscrapers twist in outlandish shapes. Luxury yachts bob in artificial marinas bordered by glamorous promenades. Snazzy cars zip out of gilded hotels. Splurge-worthy miles of floorspace fill mammoth shopping palaces. The mood is excessive extravagance, and the vibe is big-on-bling.

dubai's skyline
Dubai at dusk

Dubai borders Abu Dhabi (the capital of the UAE) to its south, Sharjah to the northeast, and Oman to the southeast. Dubai is backed by the Arabian Desert. 

With man-made islands mimicking a map of continents, palm tree formations like calligraphic poetry, and an audacious skyline of record-breaking architecture, surreal seems to be an unchanging theme in Dubai. The city is dominated by the world's tallest building - the Burj Khalifa - a magnificent structure of shimmering glass, and exacting steel. On the once barren Sheikh Zayed Road sits a plethora of skycrapers of all different shapes. In Dubai, size matters. 

Things to Know before visiting Dubai:

Dubai is a multicultural state - the vast majority - 85% - of its 3.5 million inhabitants are expats - mainly from India and Pakistan. Dubai is diverse in every way - and attractive to old & young, beach & adventure seekers … those looking for culture and those just wanting fun!

Emiratis are Muslim and although Dubai is very tolerant, there are several "courtesies" that must be observed:

  • The dates for Ramadan change every year as it is celebrated in the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. Lasting 29 - 30 days - culminating in Eid - Emiratis fast, reflect and prayer. Restaurants and bars are still open to serve foreigners but it would be disrespectful to eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public places during this time
  • It is illegal for unmarried couple to stay or reside together
  • You are allowed to consume alcohol but do not get drunk in public. Drinking age is 21 in Dubai
  • Do not use rude language in public
  • Bikinis are allowed on the beaches and by the pool. However, in public you must cover up - especially if visiting a cultural or religious site. Clothing should cover the tops of the arms and legs, and underwear should not be visible
  • You must not photograph anyone with asking permission first
  • If you can, avoid personal displays of affection!
  • Drugs of any kind are strictly prohibited. You must also check that your prescription and non-prescription medicines are allowed into Dubai
  • Pornography in the UAE is illegal as is importing pork products
  • Cross dressing is illegal. Homosexuality is also illegal.
  • Visiting Dubai is not cheap. Make sure you can pay your bills or you can be jailed.

Getting to Dubai:

Dubai International Airport is the main international airport serving Dubai. It is the home of Emirates - the airline and is the third busiest airport in the world. Most of the world's major airlines fly straight to Dubai. Many also fly to neigbouring Abu Dhabi (home to Etihad) and after visiting this fascinating & laid back Emirate, head to Dubai - just 90 minutes by road.

With legendary Duty Free shopping and amazing lounges, Dubai Airport is a tourist destination in itself!

Read the review of Emirates First Class

Read the review of Emirates Business Class

Book a flight to Dubai: 

Check your Visa: 

If you are a passport holder of countries and territories - including UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, China and Japan, no advance visa arrangements are required to visit the UAE. At Immigration at Dubai International Airport, your passport will be stamped with a 30‑day visit visa free of charge.

For some countries, including Germany, Greece, Spain and Sweden, your passport will be stamped with a multiple entry 90‑day visit visa that's valid for 6 months from the date of issue, and for a stay of 90 days in total. 

a view of burj khalifa
Burj Khalifa - the tallest building in the world

Best Time to Visit Dubai: 

Dubai is one of those places that you can visit all-year round and expect warmth in your bones. There are two seasons though - summer and winter - basically unbearably hot and manageably hot!

In January, the lowest average temperature is around 20 degrees Celsius, rising to around 30 degrees between June and August. There is the odd splash of rain in the winter. If you are heading to the desert however, the nights can get “chilly” so pack a sweater!

January - temperature varies between 15 and 23 degrees. The odd rain shower.

February - temperature average increases by a couple of degrees. Cool evenings.

March - hotter and sweatier.

April - around 10 hours of sunshine. Humidity high. Sea temperature - gorgeous

May - temperature can hit 35 degrees. Sun factor 50+ cream to hand!

June - if you can't stand the heat, keep out of Dubai! The local Emiratis escape the heat and the hotel prices dip

July - scorching

August - phew!

September - still hot. Expect fog! Amazing to see the skyscrapers in this weather 

October - humidity starts to fall. Cools - slightly

November - bearable temperatures! Sea still warm. Best time to visit

December - Dubai is filled with locals and tourists

– The dates for Ramadan change every year as it is celebrated in the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. Lasting 29 - 30 days - culminating in Eid - Emiratis fast, reflect and prayer. Restaurants and bars are still open to serve foreigners but it would be disrespectful to eat, drink, smoke or chew gum in public places during this time --

dubai's coast line
Dubai Creek

Getting Around Dubai: 

Taxi - all metered. Uber and local service - Careem also available. 

Metro - the new shiny Dubai Metro is a superb & swift way to travel. No drivers, all air conditioned. Just two lines - Red and Green -  Stops include Dubai International Airport, Dubai Mall, the Burj Khalifa, Deira and Dubai Marina.

Ferry/Abra - take to the water on a ferry or a wooden abra. 

Hotel car - never forget that your hotel will invariably have a hotel car (or two!) with driver. You can travel around Dubai in style and ease.

Camel - but usually only in the desert!

2 camels with a camel rider in a desert
The Arabian Desert

What to See & Do In Dubai:

The Emirate of Dubai is around 4-thousand square kilometres in area - although the city is only 35-square kilometres. 

There's the Arabian Desert - ideal for a safari, the 16-kilometres of beaches and Gulf of Arabia for all manner of watersports, the city - for shopping and eating and of course, the manmade islands - incredible to visit and see from the air. 

Yes - you can blow up your cash to steer a polished Lamborghini along the 16-lane Sheikh Zayed Road. Full-blown screams and contorted expressions are the routes to abandoning fear as you plunge from a plane in a scintillating skydive. Carry on the peace pact with vertigo at the world’s highest observation deck on the 124th floor of the world’s tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa.

And watching the amazing fountain shows … mesmerising!

fountain show in dubai
The Dubai Fountain

Underneath all the gloss and glamour, a deep-rooted conservative culture struggles to stay afloat. Ancient gold and spice souks – marketplaces - bustle with animated chatter. Wooden Abras – boats - rock on shimmering waters of the Creek. Bedouin deserts dwellers ride lazy camels on golden sands. And burka-clad beauties float past with their cloaks fluttering in the wind. Recover from the staggering first glimpse of the ever-evolving skyline, to toast the indomitable spirit of a city forever in flux. 

Get your fill of the glitz, then dip into the other Dubai. Hop across the Creek on an old fashioned Abra to the Al Bastakiya or Al Fahidi Historic District in Bur Dubai. This former fishing village is named after the Bastak traders that settled here in the 19th-century from Iran. It is an enticing tangle of narrow alleyways, where coral sand-coloured buildings are crowned with Barjeel - wind towers, a traditional Persian air conditioning invention.

Seek out hidden cafés, boutiques, museums and art galleries. Dubai’s oldest art space, the Majlis Gallery, is worth checking out for stellar artwork from around the world as well as avant-garde homegrown talent. The emirate’s history showcases itself at the museum housed in the city's oldest building, the sandcastle-like Al Fahidi Fort. Browse through displays of weaponry, artefacts and paraphernalia relating to pearl diving and date farming.

a hotel lounge in dubai
Majilis Gallery

Where to stay: Hotels & Resorts in Dubai

Was it an epiphany or a stroke of sheer genius, when architect Tom Wright envisioned a megastructure resembling the billowing sail of an Arabian dhow? Either way, his brainchild was slated to be Dubai’s unofficial emblem and one of the most acclaimed hotels in the world. Drumroll rights have been firmly in place, ever since its grand reveal way back in 1994.

The usual suspects are absent - no sprawling gardens, castle gates or fortress walls to ease you into the drama. Instead, the distinctive silhouette of Burj Al Arab - Tower of the Arabs - beckons brazenly from the coastline, like a beacon of buoyancy against the infinity of the Arabian Gulf. Snob appeal owes to its exclusive location on an isolated, manmade island, linked to the mainland by a bridge road. Be chauffeured in a Rolls Royce from the hotel's fleet or just ‘drop in’ from the circular helipad jutting out precariously at a height of 212 meters. Either way, the stage is set for a sinful splurge, Emirati Sheikh style.

Burj Al Arab - Tower of the Arabs
The Burj by night

Extraordinary in both form and function, but minimalistic in its steel and concrete facade, the hotel’s construction is a story of complicated challenges and improbable possibilities. Burj Al Arab is a feat of ingenious engineering that pushed the limits of human creativity. 

A closer look reveals materials, design elements and techniques carefully picked to cope with the aggressive environment. Standing on land reclaimed from the sea, its foundations are secured with 230 concrete piles of 40-metres installed into the sand and protected from erosion with a surface layer of boulders wrapped in concrete of honeycomb pattern. Expansion joints help the building to breathe under wind loads. Trussed arches, girders, cables, bars and double-curved membrane panels manage wind pressure. 42,000 square metres - 450,000 square feet - of glass panels glint like jewels in the sun during the day and showcase the illuminated coloured sculptures of water and fire at night. And the gigantic white fabric sail is the proverbial beauty with brains, the symbolic shape doubles up to keep inside temperatures in check.

a luxury resort in dubai
Amazing pool 

Fantasies of vacationing like a billionaire morph into reality in the opulent interiors. Cascades of jewel tones, coloured lighting, heavy curtains, ornate furniture, elaborate chandeliers, fine carpets, 30 varieties of marble and 24-carat gold leaf surfaces transport you into a Middle Eastern palace of unimaginable proportions.

This five-star hotel sports the world’s largest Swarovski crystal ceiling, symbolising the Milky Way. The tallest atrium in the world features a central fountain and a cascading waterfall descending from a height of seven metres. Nine restaurants and bars include the Skyview Bar on the 27th floor with scintillating views of Dubai and the Gulf. The signature underwater restaurant, Al Mahara, has a golden seashell entrance hallway leading to a floor-to-ceiling 1000 cubic metres - 260,000-gallon - aquarium filled with fish. And The Terrace is the first man-made luxury beach facility of its kind, with two pools decked with ten million gold and azure mosaic tiles, 32 private cabanas and 400 sun loungers.

a luxury resort in dubai
Brilliant Burj

Self-indulgence drips from the 202 duplex suites that range in size from 170 to 650 square metres - 1,800 to 8,000 square feet. Hints of gold, marble and silk, flashy amenities like an 18 carat gold-plated iPad, 24-hour private butler service, Hermès toiletries, a 17-pillow menu and an eiderdown duvet with down harvested from abandoned eider duck nests in Iceland. Regular guests are pampered with bespoke floral arrangements of their favourite flowers specially shipped from Holland, Kenya, South Africa and Thailand. All whims and fancies will be pandered to, so do not move a finger, except for the remote. Blinds, climate control and lights, everything is programmed to dance at your touch command.

Read our review of the Burj al Arab

While the Burj is this icon of architecture and hospitality - there are around a hundred luxury hotels & resorts in Dubai. From desert experiences to city centre hotels to beachfront resorts - Dubai has it all.  

There are over 100 luxury hotels in Dubai - with amazing spas, rooftop bars and even nightclubs!

The guide to the best hotels & resorts in Dubai

tables on the balcony of cafe
Pierchic restaurant

Restaurants, Cafés, Bars and local cuisine to try in Dubai

There are currently 11 Michelin-star restaurants - 2 with two stars - Il Ristorante - Niko Romito and STAY by Yannick Alleno and 9 with just one star offering cuisines from Portuguese to Indian and Japanese to British.

There is not a great deal of “local” Emirati cuisine on offer but head to a cafe for a sensational coffee and mix with the locals while you are there!

Of course, there are  fabulous places to enjoy a hearty breakfast, to enjoy a cocktail and after hours, places to drink & dance and fabulous rooftop bars from where to enjoy the spectacle that is - Dubai!

A view of dubai mall
Dubai Mall

Shopping in Dubai

From the airport to the Malls - Dubai is heaven for shoppers! Every luxury brand is available and even better - there is no tax on any purchases! So - enjoy, splurge and go crazy!! Dubai Mall is the largest in the world - with over 1000 shops & boutiques, a virtual reality theme park and even an Olympic-sized ice rink.

You must head to a souk (market) for gold, silver, myrrh and a spot of haggling!

a view from dubai's tall buildings from the beach line
Beach life - the best life! searches hundreds of travel sites at once to help you find the best premium travel offers for both flights to and from the city and accommodation in Dubai.  



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