Dubai Travel Guide – how to have the best time in Dubai
Did you know that Dubai is 5.3 times bigger than New York City? The greatest, the highest, the most expensive… These are all the adjectives that you will often hear about this city. I was quite surprised hearing that 85 percent of around 2.8 million people living in Dubai are expats. Only 15 percent are native residents. People from all over the world are coming to live in Dubai so Dubai is a mix of a “light’ Arabic and western world. Considering that in 1950 there were only 20 000 residents, fast-moving and growing are other adjectives to add to the list.
If you’re having second thoughts about visiting Dubai, please stop. Some people will say that it’s super expensive, it’s hot (well it’s in the middle of dessert) and for that amount of money you can see something better. Believe me, that’s not true. I had similar thoughts and to be honest, if I didn’t have a friend who lived there, I would probably choose some other place instead of Dubai. Oh, how glad I am we went there. Dubai offers so much to see and experience. For someone, who like me, never was in some Arabic country, it was a good opening for exploring the Arabic world. Of course, it’s not as conservative as some other Arabic countries, but there are some rules that you need to follow that are common in these kinds of countries. As my boyfriend says: Dubai is Arabic culture adjusted to western people.
What to do there? Well, the list is huge, and it depends on how much money you are willing to spend. Keep reading for a bunch of ideas about how to fill those hot Dubai days.
What to know before you go to Dubai
- Dirham (AED) is the official currency in Dubai and everyone is speaking English (at least I haven’t met anyone who’s not).
- How safe is Dubai? Many people are wondering how safe Dubai is and I can assure you that Dubai is safe for everyone. I was there for 7 days and not even once I felt that I was in some danger (maybe only while crazy fast taxi drive 😊).
- If I’m a woman, do I need to cover up? No. you do not! Although Arabic, UAE is more western than some western countries. I saw so many different dressed women: from ones wearing an abaya to ones in miniskirt and crop top. Of course, I would say that there are times and places for everything like elsewhere. Be respectful to the people living there and their religion.
- In opposite to many European cities, Dubai is not a walkable city. With 4,114 km² in size, there is a huge distance between all of the places you would want to visit. For example, the distance from Deira to Marina Dubai, both very popular and touristic places, is 30 kilometers. And be aware that 20 minutes walking in Rome and 20 minutes walking in Dubai is not the same. In some months the temperature in Dubai reaches above 40 degrees. You can imagine that is not a pleasant walk.
How to reach the city from Dubai airport
You can reach Dubai city center from Dubai international airport by underground (approx. 50 min long ride), by bus (1 and a half hour) and by taxi, whose fares are higher than public transport (1,3-euro ticket) but still pretty affordable compared to the distance and time. I have found an excellent article that covers everything you should know about this, so if you need more information head to this link.
How to move around the city
Public transport in Dubai is inexpensive: it depends on how many zones are you passing through, but prices are from 3 -8 dirhams (around 2 euros top) and the ticket can be purchased in the form of NOL cards. There are different versions of this card (read more here) but for the people staying 7 days, the best option is to use Silver NOL Card. You can either buy a 7-day pass for 27 euros or top up your card with any amount necessary.
I was impressed by how good the metro is in Dubai: it’s super clean and smells nice – when there is a 30-40 degree outside, this is an important feature. Not only that, it’s a driverless and fully automated system. I wouldn’t call it extensive because you need to use taxis if you want to reach some points, but for example, the metro goes to the airport, Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall and similar.
It drives mostly above ground so while driving you can catch some very nice views of Dubai Mall, Dubai Marina, Zabel Park or ultimate Burj Khalifa.
A more convenient way to move around Dubai is a taxi. Metro is clean and safe, but not that extensive. When it’s 40 degrees outside you don’t want to spend 15-20 min walking. But to be fair, when you compare it to the other cities in the world, taxis in Dubai are cheap. Starting fare is 12 dirhams (around 3 euros) and the price depends on tolls or time of the day. While entering the cab, ask the driver how much it would be to take you to that point so there will not be any surprises.
We used a combination of both: sometimes we would just take a taxi to the nearest metro station and then continue the trip with the metro but sometimes we would just use a taxi.
For renting a car you will need an international driver’s license, passport and credit card. I haven’t rented but I do have a friend who’s living there so she gave me the information.
FUN FACT: Some of the metro parts are separated with yellow floor lines from the rest of the cabin. Only for women, it’s allowed to be in this part. During rush hour Dubai metro is overcrowded but, in this part, there is always more than enough space to sit or stand comfortably. And imagine that there are just small yellow lines separating men who are almost on top of each other and ladies who are comfortably sitting or standing without someone breathing to their necks. 😊
Where to stay in Dubai
While we had a friend with an apartment there who generously invited us to stay with her for one week, so I didn’t have any accommodation experience, I did a little research to help you with your decision.
Dubai is home to many ridiculously luxurious hotels that are even more ridiculously expensive (do I need to say Burj Al Arab). To be honest, any building in Dubai was luxurious to me (apparently having a pool on the top of the building is a standard there).
Dubai is home to many, many hotels and the range of prices varies a lot. But it is possible to find something for a good price. My suggestion to you would be to take the hotels that are offering breakfast and if possible, also dinner. This will add to your expenses but trust me, in the end, it will make the difference. Restaurants are expensive for our standards and in my modest opinion, dinner and especially breakfast included will solve you a lot of time of thinking and driving but also a lot of money.
I dedicated a special post about accommodations in Dubai and the area where you can stay, and you can read more about it here.
What to do in Dubai
List of the things that you can do in Dubai is huge, almost endless. This city is everything but not boring. Be prepared for a lot: “This is the only in the world” or “This is the biggest in the world”. List of the things that you will do depends on the budget that you have but listed below, are some of the things that I think everyone should do when in Dubai.
The highest building in the world – Burj Khalifa is indeed the most famous sight in Dubai. With 828 m in height, it will be hard to miss. But you don’t want to miss it and, trust me you want to go to the top. Well, technically you can’t go to the top but there are 2 possibilities. You can go up to 124 and 125 floors that are at 456-meter height or up to 148 floors at 555-meter height. Prices are high for this experience. You will need to pay 149 AED (around 36 euro) for the lower floor or 370 AED (around 90 euro) for the upper floor.
Like most of the people we decided to go just for lower floors, and we didn’t regret it because the view was also amazing. When you think about how 36 euros is a lot, take in mind that also in New York for going up on Empire State Building or Top of the Rock you will pay almost the same. Try to go there early in the morning to avoid a lot of people or in the afternoon so you can catch a sunset. The view is great and for me, it was interesting to see how this city arises in the middle of the desert.
Dubai Mall and Dubai Fountains
As the largest mall in Dubai and one of the largest in the world, Dubai Mall is everything but not just a regular shopping center. More than 1200 shops will certainly make every shoppingholic dream come true. But there is so much more you can do there: ice skating rink, Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, waterfalls… Although there is a fee for entering Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, this huge aquarium is visible also just by walking in the mall.
Probably the best thing about Dubai Mall is outside of Mall: Dubai Fountains Shows. You don’t want to miss this! There is music in the background during every show and the water splash is going in 150-meter height. It’s held daily, two times per day at 1 pm and 1:30 pm (1:30 pm and 2 pm on Fridays) and from 6 pm until 11 pm every half hour. The best thing: it’s free. You can just stand there and enjoy a marvelous performance. It can get crowded, but the experience is still great. If you want to avoid the crowd you can sit in a restaurant nearby and enjoy your drink while the show is going on. I personally loved the one with Whitney Houston song “I will always love you” in the background.
A must-have while in Dubai: it’s a unique experience and it’s not even that expensive when you compare what you get. It includes pick up, driving to the desert outside of Dubai, safari, camel ride, dunes skateboarding and my favorite – buffet dinner under the starry sky in a desert. It’s one of a kind experience. I recommend you using Groupon to get an excellent deal for this one. You can usually find adds for 300 AED per person. On Groupon, you can find it for 110 AED without any problems. That’s around 25 euros but I think it’s worth it since you’re getting a lot for it.
One day trip to Abu Dhabi is so easy to organize from Dubai. While you can rent a car and go there by yourself, some buses will take you there for only 50 dirhams, return ticket. It’s a one-day trip without any problems since you’re there in 2 hours. Abu Dhabi is also offering a lot. There you will find the famous Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, fabulous Emirates palace, and divine beaches.
As one of Dubai busiest neighborhoods, Dubai Marina is made as an artificial canal city in 2003. It was inspired by False Creek in Toronto and it is home to many skyscrapers, rooftop bars and similar. It’s a man-made area (like most of the things in Dubai) and there were signs of wildlife there. Because of its proximity to the open sea, few times whales and sharks were spotted in this area.
Burj El Arab – JBR Beach
Probably the most famous beach in Dubai with the view on even more famous Burj Al Arab is the place you definitely can’t miss. Often it’s crowded with a lot of people and we didn’t spend a lot of time there. I’m ashamed to say, but we only came there for pictures. We didn’t enter Burj al Arab because the price range goes way above ours. The royal suite costs 24 000 USD. Yes, not our budget. 😊
Dubai Miracle Gardens
Over 50 million flowers and 250 million plants are featuring these magnificent gardens. I can’t even express how sad I was that we didn’t get the opportunity to visit this place. They are only open from November till April. During the rest of the year, it is closed due to high temperatures. 😊 Prices are quite ok: 50 AED (around 12 euros) for adults and 40 AED (10 euros) for children.
This place was a blast for me. Anyone there can be Shakira or Jennifer Lopez since vendors will call you anything just to get your attention. It is a bit annoying for sure, but for me, it was very funny. My boyfriend was a little bit annoyed, but I loved it (he just didn’t like being called Jack Sparrow and I enjoyed being J. Lo 😊). Places with some special vibe are my obsession and this place has a special vibe for sure. I found my perfect engagement ring (it’s a pity that my boyfriend didn’t like it hmm 😊). Vendors are a little bit boring with their attempts to sell you something. But, if you’re not interested, a simple “No, thank you” or just ignore will send the message.
More luxurious and prettier marketplace, Madinat Souk is also more expensive than old Souk. I wouldn’t suggest you buy your souvenirs here, but a nice walk around will be a very nice experience. There are few restaurants (with “Dubai” prices) that are offering a nice view over Burj Al Arab (especially during the sunset).
Abra Creek ride
Not everything in Dubai is expensive. You take an abra (boat) ride from Deira Old Souk (near spice Souk) to Bur Dubai Abra station or from Sabkha Abra station to Dubai Old Souk Abra station for only 1 AED. You pay directly to the driver and no ticket is being issued. The ride duration is around 5 minutes but it gives a nice view over bustling areas around.
How much money you will need?
Dubai is a city with endless things to do. As I said before, how many of them you will do depends only on your budget and wishes. For us, one big advantage was that we didn’t have to pay for accommodation, so we managed to save a lot on this.
But let’s put all costs into perspective:
Coming to Dubai: Clearly, you will have to fly there. Thankfully, these days, flight tickets are not that expensive and for us, return flight ticket was 330 euros, Prague-Dubai. That means that two people cost would be 660 euros.
Cost of accommodation: this depends mostly on your wishes and your budget. But for the sake of calculating, let’s say you can have a hotel for 7 nights in December (link) including breakfast and dinner and staying in Bur Dubai for around 500 euros. I think that is more than a good and affordable price for two persons.
Transportation: a 7-day pass will cost you around 27 euros for the whole city area. Taxis in Dubai are pretty cheap. If your hotel is located near the metro, I guess you will not be using them a lot. Consider that ride of almost 20 kilometers cost us around 15 euros, so you will not spend that much on taxis. If you use them every day once, I would say around 100 euro on taxis is the top budget.
Activities: the money you will spend depends on the number of things you will do. But for sure, if you use Groupon you can get some good discounts. Below you can find a list of things that we did and their cost.
Desert Safari: 25 euro/person
Burj Khalifa: 38 euro/person
Miracle Garden: 12 euro/ person
Abu Dhabi: 15 euro/ person
Total: 180 euros for two persons
Food: Since breakfast and dinner are at the price of the hotel, there is only a cost for lunch left. This can vary a lot but let’s say that on average per person you will spend 20 euros. That is 40 euro per day, meaning that you will spend 280 euros on your lunch in one week. You can significantly reduce this if you choose some cheaper places or prepare some food.
Total calculation leads to an amount of 1774 euros. This number can be lower or higher, strongly depending on you. Are you going to ride more with the taxis or you’re going to use just public transportation? Are you planning to stay in some more expensive downtown hotel or staying in Old Dubai is ok for you? There are so many parameters that can affect your total cost. Do you want to go for a rooftop party? Be prepared to pay 20 euros per cocktail.
If you’re having trouble to clarify where to stay and how much to pay for accommodation, don’t forget to check the post I dedicated especially on that topic.
And well, that’s it: your very own personal travel guide to Dubai. I hope that you got a general overview of things that you can do there and how much it’s going to cost you. If you think I missed something or you want to know more about some topic, feel free to comment below.
Until next time,