DUBAI DONE RIGHT
If I had to choose between a city break or a beach holiday, my first instincts would always choose the latter. There are very few Cities that really entice me to want to visit – Dubai being the only one so far that I keep wanting to return to. In fact, my first ever holiday abroad was to Dubai in 2002, when the world exclusive 7-star hotel, Burj Al Arab was pretty much still brand spanking new! (No, I didn’t stay there). I have since been back twice and having seen the way Dubai has evolved with the times whilst maintaining a strong sense of its cultural heritage and traditions, is definitely one of the factors that keeps drawing me back.
I last visited Dubai in 2017 as part of a multi-destination trip back-to-back with Jamaica. I know they are on completely different sides of the world, but when you set your mind to it, anything is possible, right?! Rather than staying in the central area, which can be quite pricey, we opted to stay an hour away in Ajman and for anyone who has been to Dubai multiple times already, I would recommend opting to stay a little further out on your next trip. It allows you to experience the top things to do in Dubai but from a different perspective and you get to see the quieter life away from the hustle and bustle of the City centre.
Below are my top 5 must do’s when in Dubai with an added bonus
Dubai Marina (daytime)
Dubai’s man-made marina is one of the city’s busiest neighbourhoods where you will never be bored! It’s a great area for all ages to spend the day whether you want to shop, eat or play. Dubai Marina Mall consists of more than 130 restaurants, cafes and shops targeted towards all budgets, but the biggest attraction situated within the mall itself is Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo! For a more leisurely approach to experiencing the Marina and its surroundings, the promenade is the place to stroll along and watch the world go by. Dubai is all about luxury and the ‘high life’, so why not hire a private yacht for the day?! For those with a more adventurous spirit, soar over the marina on the longest urban zipline!
Photo Credit: Unsplash
Dubai Marina (at night)
The landscape of Dubai becomes a dazzling array of sparkling lights as night falls, bringing a whole new atmosphere to the City. In my opinion, the evening is the best time to view Burj Khalifa from the outside, as the infamous light show illuminates the building from 7.45pm until 10.45pm every 30 minutes from Tuesday to Saturday. Whilst you’re there be sure to also catch the water fountains come to life with colour and motion as the water sways in time to a range of melodies. The display runs every 30 minutes from 6pm, daily.
Dubai Creek & Gold Souq’s
Dubai Creek has been the lifeblood of the city for generations and continues to be a vibrant hub for locals and tourists alike. A great way to get a taste of the local life is by riding along the creek on an ‘Abra’ - one of Dubai’s many traditional boats; They run frequently as water taxis throughout the day across four stations along Dubai Creek and are largely used to cross the creek that separates Bur Dubai from Deira, Dubai’s city centre. You can either purchase a one-way ticket, or hire your own Abra for an hour to explore further up the creek. On the ride you’ll be able to observe local traders, wooden dhows and the occasional ship sail past as well as the contrasting views of old and new Dubai such as traditional houses, towers and minarets.
If you didn’t already know, Dubai is also known as the City of Gold. For over a century, traders have travelled to Dubai's Souq’s (markets) in search of spices, pearls and gold. A great part of Dubai’s success with Gold is down to its geographic location; Gold brokers are able to benefit highly as their working hours cover every time zone from East to West. The real attention grabber for tourists to visit the Gold Souq’s other than to grasp the cultural heritage of Dubai is that gold is tax-free for tourists!
If you were to go on a desert safari in only one place in the world, it has got to be in Dubai as a late afternoon/evening experience! Afterall, before Dubai became the luxurious scene as we know it today, it was merely a sandpit! But one that proclaims a somewhat exotic legacy as I like to think of it. A typical desert safari involves a very bumpy ride through the desert in a 4x4, with the optional camel ride, sand boarding or Quad Buggy dune bashing followed by an entertaining show and meal after watching the sun go down.
Being a part of the United Arab Emirates means that Dubai has strong ties to the Arabic lifestyle and traditions. This is reflected in the entertainment of the evening which consists of belly dancing and Sufi whirling among other performances. The background music is in the traditional tune of their own melodies; Emirati music dates back to the time of the Bedouins and would’ve been sung by camel herdsmen and professional performers.
Dubai Parks and Resorts
Head South of Jebel Ali to experience Dubai Parks and Resorts which opened in 2017 (I am yet still to visit) and is the largest group of resorts and parks in the Middle East consisting of 3 theme parks: Motiongate Dubai, Bollywood Parks Dubai and Legoland Dubai as well as Legoland Water Park. Whilst Legoland Dubai and Legoland Water Park are aimed towards families, Motiongate Dubai and Bollywood Parks Dubai offer rides, attractions and experiences that all ages will enjoy!
Fancy a free glimpse of all the excitement waiting for you at Dubai Parks and Resorts? Riverland Dubai is a bustling destination in its own right with something to keep everyone entertained! Riverland Dubai acts as a gateway to all the parks with 4 vibrant districts to explore before even stepping foot into one of the theme parks! The Boardwalk leads into Motiongate Dubai, India Gate leads into Bollywood Parks Dubai, and The French Village will direct you to both Legoland establishments, whilst The Peninsula is surrounded by the river and is central to all parks in Dubai Parks and Resorts. You can even enjoy an Abra ride along the river! If you want to be closer to the action, Lapita Hotel, Rove at the Park and opening soon – Legoland Hotel are the on-site resort hotels to choose from. Each of the 5 sections I have mentioned offer a wealth of shops to browse and eateries catered with something for everyone.
Photo Credit: DXBentertainments.com
BONUS: Burj Al Arab
As I mentioned Burj Al Arab in my introduction, I thought it was only fair to add a little bit about it too!
Burj Al Arab is the most prestigious of all the Jumeriah hotels; a world-famous landmark that rises elegantly over the Arabian Gulf designed to resemble the sail of an Arabian Dhow (another traditional boat) and is located just 15km from the main city centre. It goes without saying that a stay here will be costly, but when you get your own 24-carat gold iPad for use throughout your stay, a set of his and hers full size Hermes toiletries and up to 8 personal butlers per suite included with your stay, as well as the option of arriving via helicopter or Rolls Royce from the airport, you really are getting your money’s worth and more for the ultimate VIP experience!
Although the island that Burj Al Arab is situated on is exclusively for those staying at the hotel ensuring privacy to all guests, there are a couple of other ways to gain access into the 7-star hotel; Book a reservation at one of the in-house restaurants or even an afternoon tea experience at Sahn Eddar. Alternatively, purchase a day pass to the Terrace which offers a one-of-a-kind restaurant, pool, beach and cabanas space. The best place to view Burj Al Arab from the outside? From Jumeriah beach!
Photo Credit: Unsplash
Arabian hospitality is second to none and Dubai constantly proves itself in being the playground not only of the rich and famous, but also for those who simply like to pretend they are ;)
That being said, there are a few things that you should Know Before You Go!
Many of the customs observed in the UAE are derived from or are identical to the teachings of Islam, and as when visiting any other country, tourists are expected to show respect to the culture and religion. A visit to the UAE is a great opportunity to learn more about the history, traditions and beliefs of Islam.
Ramadan is the holy month in the Islamic calendar and is extremely important to Emirati people, as well as other Muslims who reside in the UAE. The date on which Ramadan falls varies according to the lunar calendar, in 2022 Ramadan will begin on Sunday 3rd April. Muslims observe a fast from sunrise to sunset every day throughout the month. Whilst there is no obligation for tourists to follow suit, when visiting the UAE, by law of the country it is prohibited to eat, drink (including water), smoke or even chew gum in public during the month of Ramadan out of respect for those who are fasting. Most places still remain open, public transport and taxis operate as normal, although do take into consideration that once the sun has set most taxi drivers will stop for a while to break their fast.
Similarly to some Asian countries such as India or Pakistan, it is advisable to dress modestly when in public places other than the beach. Yes, it is a very hot destination, but the easiest way to not get into trouble and be respectful of the UAE culture, is to wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees – that goes for both men and women, especially when visiting Mosque’s, shopping malls, Souq’s and villages. Hotels and resorts may be more flexible in terms of dress codes. The only places swimwear is acceptable is at the spa, areas for water-based entertainment, beach or pool side.
To put it simply, public displays of affection are illegal; hugging and kissing in public is not tolerated. Nor is swearing or making rude gestures of any sort.
Another thing to be mindful of as a tourist is that it is illegal to take photos of local women in their traditional dress. It is also said that dancing in public can be considered provocative and is therefore best to keep your dance moves for official clubs, beach parties or behind your own 4 walls.
Whilst many countries have begun to openly embrace the LGBT movement, the UAE deems homosexuality an illegal offence, as punishable by the death penalty under Sharia law. Any public displays of affection between members of the same (or opposite unless married) sex could land you in big trouble. Cross-dressing is also illegal.
Food & Drink
Whilst alcohol is not banned in Dubai, it’s important to be aware that locals do not generally consume alcohol and it can only be consumed privately or in licensed public places. The legal age to drink alcohol in the UAE is 21. Additionally, you will very rarely find pork being served, as it is against the religion to eat it.
Some of the more common delicacies Emirati people enjoy are dates and camel milk.
The national dish of the Emirates is Kabsa, a fragrant mixture of basmati rice, lamb or chicken, mixed vegetables and spices cooked in one pot.