Dubai is one of the most famous cities in the United Arab Emirates with a population of 2,1 million. Build in the middle of the desert, it’s a city of extremes: the highest building of the world, the biggest shopping mall of the world, the most expensive hotel of the world and so on. An ideal place if you like some luxury, but also as a backpacker it’s a great city! In whatever case, there is enough to see and something for everyone.
Last year we started our second world trip with a trip to this big city. For a while we were curious about the city, partly by stories of relatives, and we wanted to see how cool this city in the middle of the desert really is. Dubai certainly surprised us in a positive way. So positive that we want to go back! And that says a lot, because actually we are not really city people at all. Give us a tropical island or the outback, and we’re happy. But Dubai is different.
The hustle and bustle of the city, the desert, the beaches, the world’s largest building, begin in a totally different world, wanting to have everything the biggest and best of the world: we loved it! In our opinion, Dubai really has everything you need in a city. Whether you really like city trips or prefer the tropical beaches more: Dubai has it all. In this Dubai travel guide we will tell you what, in our opinion, are the real must sees and do’s. Furthermore, we will provide a lot of practical tips and the best places to eat and sleep.
needed to see it all
Things to Know
For most of the western countries, you don’t need a visa to enter Dubai.
For current information about visa, check this website.
Dubai has a desert climate. It’s warm all year round, making it an ideal travel destination. Note that in summer it can be really hot, there will be temperatures measured of 50+ degrees celsius! We traveled in early November, which was actually ideal. It still was pretty warm during the day, but not too warm (around 35 degrees celsius). Visit lots of places with airco or the beach if you think it’s too hot, and make sure you’re wearing light, non-revealing clothes. Non-revealing clothes, because of religious reasons in Dubai. Read more about this in our article ‘Cultural differences in Dubai‘
For more information about the climate, take a look at this website
Best time to visit
The best time to visit Dubai is of course not in summer. That’s really too hot. The best period to visit is between November and April, when the temperatures are okay to handle. Of course, it’s much busier in this periode and therefore also more expensive, keep that in mind!
The currency of Dubai is Dirham (AED).
At the time of writing (January 2020) 1 Dirham is: 0.24 euro or 0.27 USD.
Dubai is known to many people as an expensive city. In itself, it is, but of course you can make it as expensive as you want. We found out that Dubai doesn’t have to be as expensive as you might think! Sleeping is possible from 17 euros (20 USD) a night in a hostel (yes, they have a few hostels over here!), but can also be a few hundred euros a night.
Food isn’t too expensive, at least cheaper than we expected (count on 40 euros / 47 USD per day), and also the public transport is cheap (approx 1 euro / 1.18 USD for a ticket). The things that make it more expensive are the excursions. There are heaps of cool activities where you pay a lot for (read: 30 euro / 35 USD p.p. for the Top).
Do you want to travel reasonably budget, but still want to see all the sights and eat good food? Then think about 100-150 euros / 110-170 USD per day.
The official language is Arabic, but everybody speaks English very well. Signs are also all in Arabic ánd English.
Internet is widely available throughout Dubai and in most cases free with unlimited data. Ideal!
Do you travel with medicines? Then be prepared when traveling to Dubai! They are quite strict with this in the UAE. Always make sure you have a doctor’s statement explaining what medication you take and where for. They check this regularly at the airport!
Note: medicines containing the substance codeine are prohibited in Dubai! It is seen here as drugs and possession of, for example, pain killers with codeine can even give you a jail sentence of at least 4 years, so don’t take it with you!
Officially, alcohol is forbidden in Dubai. Although, it’s not too bad in Dubai. It’s mainly the other Emirates where they are much stricter. For example, you can even import alcohol into Dubai: you can take 4 liters per person. However, in stores or supermarkets, alcohol is not available. In various restaurants, hotels and bars they are allowed to give you alcohol, but only when they have a permit. But keep in mind that drinking alcohol in public is strictly forbidden and driving under influence is seen as a serious violation!
The culture in Dubai is totally different from the western world and there are some things to keep in mind when visiting. At least, ensure that you’re wearing non-revealing clothes. So in other words: no revealing clothes, such as extremely short pants or a crop top. Also, affection in public, such as kissing, is forbidden!
Read more about the cultural of Dubai HERE in our extensive article ‘Cultural differences in Dubai’!
The most logical way to get to Dubai is, of course, by plane. From the Netherlands it takes about 6,5 hours and from New York about 12 hours.
Dubai is a very important hub for a lot of flights. So when you, for example, fly to Asia or (like us) to Australia, chances are you’ll have a transit in Dubai. Take advantage of it and explore the city for a few days!
Keep in mind that Dubai is extremely big. You will really be surprised, at least we were! It’s all so wide, all the sights are spread out all over the city and it takes a fair amount of time to explore. Walking is not always an option. For example, we thought it was possible to walk from Dubai Marina to the Burj Al Arab.. turned out it was a walk of almost 2 hours! It looked much shorter on the map 😉 So actually, you’re always dependent on the public transport or some other way of transport.
The nicest way to travel around in Dubai, according to us, is public transport. The metro is an ideal mean of transport which is arranged very well. The metro line runs mainly along the Sheikh Zayed Road, the road where most attractions are located as well. By metro you can actually come close to all the must sees. Our hotel was also very close to the metro, which is why we have used it often.
Note: the metro has a separate train carriage for women. For men it is strictly forbidden to enter! For women, the advantage is that they can often sit, because most of the times it is much quieter in this train carriage 😉
The metro runs almost 24 hours a day: 7 days a week from from early morning till somewhere after midnight. They also go very regularly: every few minutes.
Public transport in Dubai uses a kind of chip card, the Nol Card. You can put some money on this card and then travel by metro, tram, bus and water taxi. We haven’t used this card ourselves. We just bought separate tickets each time (about 1 euro (1.18 USD) per ride), but apparently these cards are quite handy and prices are also a bit cheaper. For more information about the Nol Card, check this website.
The bus is also very well arranged and they even have air conditioning in the bus stops! Yes, the bus stops are covered here 😉
But the taxi is a nice and cheap way to see Dubai as well. There were a numbers of areas that were not really accessible by metro, which meant we had to take a taxi. Examples of these areas are: Jumeirah, the Palm and sights located more inland. The taxi is very reliable and uses a meter.
When you want to cross the Dubai creek, you use the boat taxi, also known as an abra. An abra is a traditional boat made of wood and it’s the oldest mean of transport over the water. It’s a fast and very cheap way to cross the river. A ride costs around 1 dirham (= 0.22 euro / 0.27 USD)! We also find this the most fun way to cross the river.
Dubai has a lot of extraordinary sights: the highest building in the world, beautiful beaches, impressive shopping malls, but also a beautiful historical area. Nothing is too crazy in Dubai and you really notice that when you walk around. Everything is so impressive! We make a list of the things you really should not miss:
The Top @ Burj Khalifa
One of the most famous places in Dubai, so this Dubai travel guide isn’t complete without it! The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world, with a height of no less than 828 meters, one of the many extremes in the city. You will probably see the Burj Khalifa almost everywhere around the city, but what’s really beautiful is ‘The Top’. With an incredibly fast elevator, you go to the 124th or 125th floor of the Burj Khalifa and from there you really have a stunning view over the city. We could even see Palm Jumeirah and a little of The World from up there! If you’re lucky (in the evening), you can even see the fountain show from above.
During sunset, tickets are most expensive, while this is also the most beautiful time. Tip: go an hour before sunset, so the tickets are cheaper. You can stay up there for as long as you like, so if you wait for a while you can also see the sunset! We stayed even longer to also take some night shots and have seen the view at daytime, with sunset and in the evening, all in one time!
Another tip: buy your tickets online! This is much cheaper than on the spot, because there you might have to pay 50 euros more! A ticket for the top is, outside of sunset time, 150 AED (= 36 euro / 40 USD) and you can book it here.
Fun fact: the tower was known as Burj Dubai (Dubai Tower) during the construction, but this name was changed to Burj Khalifa just before the opening, a reference to UAE president Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahayan).
Dubai Mall Aquarium
The Dubai Mall Aquarium is an aquarium you’ll won’t see anywhere else. In the middle of a shopping mall, spread over two floors and with a very large window in which you can see all the fish, sharks and rays swimming. You’ll find the aquarium in the Dubai Mall, the biggest shopping mall in the world (yet another extreme!), with around 1200 stores!
When you enter the aquarium you firstly come into a big tunnel that passes through the aquarium. This way you can see the many types of fish in a unique way.
After this you continue your way to the second floor where you enter the ‘Underwater Zoo’. Here you’ll find a lot of weird fishes. For example, you have tropical fish, several sharks, turtles, jellyfish, sea horses and even large crocodiles. All this is built in a beautiful setting.
A standard ticket will cost you 135 AED (= 33 euro / 37 USD) and gives you access to the tunnel and Underwater Zoo. You can also buy more expensive tickets, for which you get different experiences. For instance, you have a submersible simulator, a glass bottom boat, you can ride an underwater scooter between the sharks (!) and there is a VR experience.
Fountain Show Dubai Mall
The fountain show in Dubai: something that for many people is thé famous image of Dubai and the reason why many people want to visit Dubai. We must say that the high expectations for this show certainly come true. The fountain show is incredibly impressive! We liked it so much that we watched it 2 times in a row. And the fun thing is: every show is different!
You’ll find the Dubai fountain show right in front of the Burj Khalifa in the water, next to the Dubai Mall. It is therefore ideal to combine with a visit to the Dubai Mall and The Top. Our tip: first visit the Top till after sunset, then have some food in Dubai Mall and finish the day with the fountain show. The fountain show is officially the biggest and most expensive fountain show in the world and that’s noticeable! Water that sprays meters high into the sky with many beautiful lights and music.
You can see the show multiple time a day (for free). In the afternoon there a show twice (at 13:00 and 13:30) and in the evening there is a show from 18:00 every half hour. This continues till 22:00 or 23:00.
Fact: the entire fountain project, including the construction of the 12 hectare big Burj Dubai Lake, hast cost 800 million Dirham!
Mall of the Emirates
In Dubai you have big malls. Many big malls. Another mall that is definitely worth visiting is the Mall of the Emirates. This is also one of the largest mall in the world and has over 500 stores. It’s in an ideal location: right next to the Sheikh Zayed Road. We were very close with our hotel so we visited this mall regularly. But shops are not everything you’ll find in this mall: they have the indoor playground Magic Planet, a bowling alley, a mega cinema, the 5-star hotel Kempinski and the Pullman Hotel ánd the world’s largest indoor ski centre, Ski Dubai. Yes seriously, you are reading it well, a ski centre in a shopping mall! If that’s not enough reason to visit this mall… 😉
A gorgeous neighbourhood in Dubai is the Dubai Marina: the (you guessed it) very big marina of Dubai. There are many skyscrapers en is therefore also sometimes called ‘New Dubai’. It’s just a whole village in itself! The highest building is the Pentominium reaching 618 meters (!) en after that are following: the DAMAC Heights (426 meter), Marina 106 (425 meter) en the Princess Tower (414 meter). Another famous skyscraper is the Cayan Tower, that has a turning shape. You won’t believe your eyes when you’re walking on the Marina Walk! Also take a look at all the huge yachts that lie here!
Tip: At night the Marina is the most beautiful! Thousands of lights and beautiful views over the many high building.
The marina and skyscrapers aren’t the only things you’ll find in Dubai Marina. You also have the JBR beach over here. A lovely beach from which you have an amazing view of the Marina skyline.
Al Fahidi Historic District
Escape the high skyscrapers for a while and go to the Al Fahidi Historic District in Bur Dubai (also known as Bastakiya). It’s a historical neighbourhood dating back to the early 20th century, where you travel back in time for a while. You’ll see how life looked like in Dubai a long time ago, with all the typical Arabian houses, winding alleyways, traditional wind towers and cozy courtyards. A walk through the old neighbourhood is very atmospheric and lends itself very well for cute pictures.
Tip: also visit the many small museums (such as the coin museum) in the neighbourhood, which are located in the cozy houses. You’ll get a good impression of what it looks like inside.
There are a lot of fun activities to do in Dubai, one more unique than the other. We tell you what the most impressive are:
Go On An Abra Boat Ride in Madinat Jumeirah
Madinat Jumeirah is the Venice of Dubai, and we understand why! It’s a beautiful village, entirely built in Arabic style, complete with many channels, cozy restaurants and a cute souk, from where you have a great view of the Burj Al Arab. We even find it was a bit Disney-like!
On the many canals you can take a ride in a traditional abra boat. Something you definitely must’ve done! In the boat you wander along beautiful Arabic buildings and you will also see two amazing luxury resorts, which are usually closed for public.
An abra ride costs you 100 AED (= 24 euros / 27 USD) and are available at the Souk Abra station on site.
Tip: At Madinat Jumeirah you can also have a lovely meal by the water. Fun to see all the boats passing by.
Go On a Desert Safari Through the Dubai Desert
In the busy city you may not really notice that Dubai is located in the middle of the desert. But take one step outside of the city and you’ll notice: vast plains with only sand and dunes. The desert is gigantic over here! A visit is certainly something not to be missed during your trip to Dubai!
There are a lot of companies offering desert safari tours, so there is plenty to choose from. We really advise you to do the tour during sunset! Usually, these tours leave around 3pm from Dubai, after which you arrive in the desert in an hour. The driver deflates his tires a bit and then the dune bashing begins! This means that you’ll cross through the desert with the jeep for half an hour, over the many dunes. An incredibly cool experience!
On the way you stop somewhere to admire the beautiful sunset and afterwards you’ll be taken to the desert camp. In the camp you have several options to do: camel riding, get a henna tattoo, sandboarding, smoke a water pipe and you can dress up in traditional clothes. Then you’ll sit on the pillows on the floor and you can enjoy the delicious buffet dinner while a dance show is performed. Super cool to experience the Arab culture like this.
Tip: in our opinion Desert Safari Dubai was a good tour operator. We choose this tour operator, because we thought this trip took longer and everything was very well arranged. There are several options available with them. When we visited, the evening desert safari was 185 AED per person (= 42 euros / 50 USD)
Take a Daytrip to Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi is the capital of the same-named emirate in the United Arab Emirates. It’s a beautiful city with the famous Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Only for this mosque the trip is already worth it! A day trip departs early in the morning from Dubai, after which you are in Abu Dhabi in about 1,5 hours. There is a lot to see in Abu Dhabi, so your day will be completely filled with a lot of sights. This city is also modern with skyscrapers, but it’s all a bit quieter and a bit more authentic than Dubai.
What do you see in a day trip:
- F1 Racecourse on Yas Island: An impressive race track with in the middle a luxury hotel, where guests can see the F1 from their hotel room.
- Fruit, vegetable and date market & fish market: A typical old fashioned market full with different types of fruits, vegetables and especially many dates, and also a market with smelly fish! 😉
- Corniche Road: A beautiful road that runs along the Abu Dhabi boulevard. You can see some beautiful buildings from here.
- Emirates Palace: The Emirates Palace is an immense hotel complex which costed 3 million dollars to build! Very impressive to see. You can visit the hotel, but you can also see it from across the river.
- Abu Dhabi Mall: Another impressive shopping mall: the Abu Dhabi Mall. Usually, you stop here for lunch.
- Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque: Of course, this largest mosque of the world isn’t missed when visiting Abu Dhabi! The mosque is truly beautiful! Made entirely of white marble and decorated with leaf gold and gems, it’s gorgeous to see. You’ll even find the largest chandelier and the largest hand-woven carpet of the world. A must see!
These are often the standard things you’ll see during a day trip. Of course you can also take other tours, for example with a visit to Ferrari World (a theme park) or to Yas Waterworld. There are plenty of choices!
Tip: we booked our day trip through Get Your Guide. On this website you’ll find several tours to Abu Dhabi and everything is very well organised.
Visit the Aquaventure Water Park
On the artificial Palm Island you’ll find the Aquaventure water park, located at the famous Atlantis Hotel. The beautifully designed water park is the largest water park in the Middle East (42 acres) and it has the largest water slide in the world: the Leap of Faith. Thanks to the many swimming pools and water slides you can easily enjoy a whole day here! Certainly one of the coolest water parks we visited in our lives.
You can’t only swim in the swimming pools, but you can even dive with sharks and dolphins, feed rays, swim with sea lions and go on a zip line! There’s also another beautiful aquarium: the Lost Chambers Aquarium.
A day ticket for Aquaventure will cost you 320 AED (= 77 euros / 87 USD). Check this website for more information about prices.
Tip: book your tickets online on the website! This way you don’t have to queue for too long and if you book 2 weeks ahead it is even cheaper as well.
Watch the Sunset at Burj Al Arab
In addition to the highest building of the world, Dubai also has the only 7-star hotel in the world: the Burj Al Arab. The building has a remarkable shape that you’ll notice immediately when you enter the city. It’s built in the form of a sail from a dhow (a type of Arabic ship). In many places in the city you can see the building from a distance. We thought that was beautiful! We even had a view on it on the roof terrace of our hotel 🙂
However, we found the most beautiful place to see the Burj Al Arab was at Sunset Beach. This beach is actually located right next to the building, which makes for beautiful views. During sunset you can also beautifully see the sun go down behind the building!
Tip: after sunset, wait for a while until the lights of the Burj Al Arab go on. At night the building is really beautiful to see and it changes color all the time.
Visit the cute souks in Bur Dubai & Deira
Bur Dubai and Deira are the old neighbourhoods of Dubai. Here you can really experience Dubai’s life before all of the big skyscrapers were built. These are two cozy, authentic neighbourhoods where you’ll find a lot of souks (markets). For example, you have the gold souk, the spice souk and the textile souk.
The Dubai Creek is located between the two neighbourhoods. To get from one neighbourhood to another you need to cross this river. And the most fun way to do that is via an abra (water taxi)! Go to one of the many stations on the water and take a local abra to the other side, for just 1 dirham! You’re really among the locals and get to experience how it is to ride on such a traditional boat. It only takes about 5 minutes, but you should definitely not miss this!
Go To the Beach in Dubai
Going to the beach in Dubai is something you really need to experience! Especially with the heat it’s great to cool down in the sea. The beaches of Dubai are pretty impressive, many of them have a beautiful view of the skyline. Our absolute recommendation is JBR Beach (in Dubai Marina), followed by Sunset Beach (next to Burj Al Arab) and Kite Beach (in Jumeirah).
Are you going to book a trip in Dubai? We recommend that you mainly do this online. Often this is cheaper than paying on site. For example, for the Top, you pay around 50 euros more (!) and it is often sold out on site. Furthermore, we haven’t seen many travel agencies in Dubai (like in Asia), so it’s difficult to compare between different trips. You really have to use the internet in our opinion.
Where to Eat
- Arabian Tea House Cafe in Bur Dubai: a super cute tea house where you can drink more than 100 different types of tea and they also have delicious dishes. The decor looks beautiful!
- Trattoria Toscana in Madinat Jumeirah: delicious Italian food in a beautiful waterfront location.
- Al Mallah in 2nd of December Street: one of the best Arabic food trucks in Dubai. Get your shoarma here and enjoy the entertainment on the famous 2nd of December Street.
- 800 Degrees Pizzeria in Mall of the Emirates: delicious pizzas in an impressive mall.
Where to Stay
In Dubai there are several neighbourhood where you stay the night very well. Personally, we found our location on the Sheikh Zayed Road very good, because we were close to the metro. We were also close to the Mall of the Emirates and, in our opinion, this is a perfect location! Close to shops and food, and by metro you are everywhere easily. Another beautiful neighbourhood to stay is Dubai Marina. A good location to discover more south of Dubai and you’re also close to the beach. Would you prefer to stay in the old part of Dubai? Then find a hotel in Deira of Bur Dubai.
Guesthouses / hostels in Dubai:
A hostel near Dubai Marina in an ideal location. With swimming pool!
From USD 31 per night
A hostel on the 66th floor! Close to Dubai Marina. A unique place to stay!
From USD 35 per night
Hotels in Dubai:
The hotel we got. A lovely hotel with rooftop swimming pool from which you have great view of the Burj Al Arab. Near the Mall of the Emirates.
From USD 117 per night
A simple hotel with everything you need, right in the center of Deira. Close to the airport.
From USD 93 per night
There is so much to see and do in Dubai! We hope this travel guide will help you plan your trip to this amazing city.
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