Dubai Middle East UAE

Ultimate Beginner’s Dubai Travel Guide

The UAE was a destination I wanted to tick off my bucket list for a long time. Located on the south-eastern end of the Arabian peninsula on the Persian Gulf, I was intrigued by this prosperous, and modern country that sprung out of the desert at amazing speed, with its record-setting mega-structures. I was lucky enough to receive the opportunity to visit Dubai for a girls’ vacation with my cousin Shena. In spite of my excitement, I was bloody scared of the horror stories I read about people running afoul of the UAE’s Sharia laws. I was also anxious about being alone, while awaiting Shena’s evening arrival. In the end, I spent that first day relishing my freedom to explore! Read more about my experience in this glamorous desert city, in my Ultimate Beginner’s Dubai Travel Guide!

 

How to get There

Emirates Airlines flies from major international cities. I took an overnight Emirates flight from London’s Gatwick Airport (LGW) to Dubai International Airport (DXB).  Get to your hotel in the city via:

  • Uber 
  • Metered taxi.
  • Ladies and Families Taxi (Pink Taxi) . This service is provided exclusively for ladies, solo female travelers and families. They are driven by females in pink headscarves and jumpsuits (think I Dream of Jeannie!). Note, I never felt unsafe with a male driver at any time!
  •  Dubai Metro – a cheaper option to get close to major hotels and many tourist destinations. Buses can shuttle you between the airport and Ibn Battuta metro station. Most stations also have connecting buses and taxis for onward journeys.

Where to Stay

There is a widely held perception that a vacation in Dubai is astronomically expensive. Not necessarily so ! In recent years, the city has become a top international tourism destination and stopover point.  Hotel prices are therefore competitive with a plethora of options from which to choose, depending on the type of accommodation you seek.

 

Luxe Accommodation

If you’re after unparalleled luxury and exceptional service, the following options range from USD $500 – $1500 per night:

The Burj al Arab

One & Only Royal Mirage, Dubai

Raffles, Dubai

Affordable Luxury

Consider the 5-star business hotels on Sheikh Zayed Road – Downtown Dubai, close to all the action ! The following options range between USD $200 – $350 per night :

Jumeirah Emirates Towers

Shangri-La Hotel

Sofitel Dubai, Downtown

JW Marriott Marquis, Dubai

Image source: Shangri-La Hotel, Dubai

Lounge – JW Marriott Marquis

 

Popular Hotel Chains

Accustomed to the consistent quality and efficiency provided by chain hotels? The options below are priced at approx. USD $75-$200 per night:

The Crowne Plaza Hotel, Dubai

Holiday Inn, Downtown Dubai

Rove Hotels Downtown    is a trendy local hotel chain that bustles with young energy. It caters to modern, hip travelers seeking intelligent and no-frills hospitality.

Air BnB

Air BnB  is a great and popular way to save on hotel costs in Dubai. A luxurious and well-appointed apartment, suite or bungalow can be yours for approx. USD $150 per day !

 

What to Do after the Hotel – The Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa

Drop your bags off at the hotel and head down to the Dubai Mall using the following options:

  • Your hotel’s complimentary shuttle (if available)
  • Metered taxi
  • Uber
  • Metro to the Burj Khalifa Station where feeder buses take you directly to the Mall

Ask to be dropped off at the downtown entrance and after a short walk, you will find yourself gazing up in awe at the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world! Walk down the terraces past the many cafes, while taking in the superstructure and then enter the gigantic Dubai Mall. Stand before the floor to ceiling aquarium, watch ice skating at the large indoor rink and enjoy the people-watching while you grab a bite to eat.

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The Dubai Mall is a shopaholic’s wildest dream! Catering to the luxury-loving fashionistas and the high street hunnies alike, the Dubai Mall is a one stop shop. The mall is home to the annual Dubai Shopping Festival, a retail bonanza that kicks off in January. The Dubai Mall’s Souk (Arabic for market) is a joy to stroll through, not really for the shopping but for the gorgeous Arabic architecture. I admired the stone corridors, high archways, ornately carved patterns, and mosaics. The subdued lighting gave the whole place a very romantic aura!

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At the Dubai Mall Souk, visit the Majlis Café and try camel milk, a natural lactose- free alternative to cow’s milk !

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Looking for a Unique Souvenir ? – What to Buy

Camel milk Chocolate

Go against the norm of key-rings , refrigerator magnets, and mini figurines. Surprise family and friends with bars of Al Nassma camel milk chocolate as a special and delightful souvenir!

Photo courtesy themajlisdubai.com

Chocolate Image source : www.themajlisdubai.com

Traditional Clothing

I visited a store called Artizana Ahjar where the owner allowed me to try on some beautiful traditional Arabic ladies clothing. I tried sky blue and fuchsia butterfly-style jalabiyas and a black abaya.

Blue kaftanjpg

PinkKaftan

immawizard

Oud and Custom-blend Fragrances

The store assistant helped me custom- blend my own fragrance! I chose a blend of jasmine, apple and peach scents. As a personal treat, I also bought a tiny bottle of a traditional Arabian fragrance called Oud. Oud is rare and costly so I use this mysterious and sexy scent very sparingly!
Oud

 

What to Do at the Burj Khalifa – Go to the Top !

Purchase tickets in the Dubai Mall and make your way up to the top of the tallest building in the world to take in spectacular views of this impressive city!

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Where to Bargain Shop : Deira Souks

Bargain hunters will love Dubai’s souks in Deira, one of the oldest parts of Dubai. Here, you can shop for clothing, accessories, souvenirs, electronics, food and household items. Naif Souk is a popular one to visit and is one of the city’s oldest souks.

Don’t miss out on the nearby Gold Souk for 22 and 24 karat gold jewelry and the Spice Souk with its enticing array of aromatic spices! Haggling is expected so never pay full price for anything! Folks who are unaccustomed to this will feel intimidated when confronted with a pushy salesman. I recommend that you go with (or fake !) a confident attitude! If you’re jittery, a local guide  who has experience can help you. The Souks are accessible via taxi and metro. Don’t bother driving, finding parking is difficult.

Spice souk edited GoldSoukedited

 

How to Haggle – My Tips

Haggling is a process that takes some time to master. Everyone has their own method that works for them. These tips work for me:

  • Walk with cash broken down into small denominations
  • Contain yourself if you see something that you absolutely love ! Keep your facial expression neutral.
  • Browse for the best prices and decide how much you want to spend on a particular item.
  • Sort out your money aside from the shop. Don’t open your purse or wallet in full view of shop salesmen.
  • Offer just under half of the item price so that you have some wiggle room to increase if the salesman asks for more. Offering too low a price would be considered insulting. Remember the process is a give and take!
  • Walk away if the salesman is being overly stubborn and time is passing by. Not wanting to miss out on a sale, they will often come running after you and give you the price you offered.

 

Sightseeing & Culture – What to Do

Visit Dubai’s famous landmarks, museums and historical locations via the  Big Bus, Dubai , an open -top, hop on -hop off, red double decker bus. Three routes are available on one ticket that includes free entry to museums, dhow cruises, and shuttles. Step off the bus at your desired destination and wait to catch another one when you’re done!

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Local Culture and Traditions

Many hold the viewpoint that Dubai is a city bereft of any real character and soul. Not true! Emiratis are a patriotic people who are fiercely proud of their national identity and Bedouin culture. Many interesting elements of the city’s history can be seen at the Dubai Museum, from its origin as an important trading and fishing port to the prosperous metropolis it is today. Examples of the UAE’s Bedouin cultural traditions are also displayed.

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Traditional costume Pearl diving Pearlstringset

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SheikSaaedhouse

Experience Emirati culture in a more personal way by visiting the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding located in the historic Al Fahidi District. The Centre was established in 1998 to educate and build respect and understanding between UAE locals and other nationalities in Dubai. Here, one can enjoy a delicious traditional meal, visit a mosque, walk through the Bastakiya district and learn about local customs via interaction with Emirati hosts and hostesses. This interaction includes a Q&A session where no subject is taboo.

SMCCU

Image source: SMCCU

 

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Supercars and Skis !

Bugattis, Ferraris and Bentleys oh my ! Gas brains unite, the UAE is supercar heaven ! Due to Dubai’s concentration of wealth, such envy-inducing vehicles can be seen everywhere ! The local police even added various models to their fleet ! However, from what I’ve witnessed, Emiratis have a special love affair with the Lamborghini.

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The Mall of the Emirates is home to Ski Dubai , the first indoor ski-resort in the Middle East that caters to all levels of expertise! Ski, snowboard, roll down in a giant ball or hang out with the penguins, there is something for everyone to enjoy!

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What to do for Lunch

Try a brunch buffet

Dubai is a gastronomic adventure with food from all over the globe ! There is a wide variety of lunch options in the malls but I encourage you to try  a brunch buffet at one of the major hotels. I loved the one at The Address, Downtown Dubai. 

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 What to do for Dinner

Arabic Cuisine and Dancing Fountains!

Enjoy dinner at the Crowne Plaza’s popular Al Tannour Restaurant with a sumptuous Lebanese spread of salads, hummus, flatbreads made on hot- on -spot, stuffed grape leaves, well-seasoned kebabs, and dessert.  Wash everything down with my favourite Dubai drink – fresh mint lemonade!  If you have the time, stay for the after dinner entertainment featuring belly dancing, local music, and shisha smoking.

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A second great option is the Lebanese restaurant, Abdel Wahab, at the Souk al Bahar  in downtown Dubai. We were lucky to get a table with a stunning close-up view of the Burj Khalifa that sparkled as dancing Fountain started their routine ! The Dubai Fountain is the largest fountain system in the world, created by the one at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. Water jets shoot up to 500 ft in choreographed routines to Arabic, Classical, Indian and Western music.

 

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Disclaimer: All images are mine unless otherwise stated.

 

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36 Comments

  • Reply
    Alicia Baksh-Clarke
    at 10:54 AM

    I’m so proud of you! This is very well written. An enjoyable read and very practical advice for anyone wanting to visit Dubai. Five stars!!!

  • Reply
    Natasha Welch
    at 4:17 PM

    This is a really amazing guide! Super comprehensive and covers just about everything! I’d never heard of ‘pink taxies’ before I think that’s a really good idea for giving women the peace of mind they sometimes need.

  • Reply
    Aisha
    at 9:06 PM

    This is such a great post! The photos are fabulous and bring an already beautiful city to life! The details are also incredibly useful for travels who truly want to make the most of their trip. Thanks for sharing!

    Cheers!
    Aisha (Island Girl In-Transit)

    • Victoria Hawkins
      Reply
      Victoria Hawkins
      at 11:05 AM

      Thanks for the love Aisha! I’m glad to know a fellow Trini travel blogger 🙂

  • Reply
    Sara Fergie
    at 11:41 PM

    Dubai is still in my bucket list, I almost had a chance to visit in 3 years when I flew to UK but I layovered in Abu Dhabi instead for shorter flight time. Thanks to your post, it seems like I have been there! One day soon I will get to see it myself and I will definitely use your tips and guides. Cheers!

    • Victoria Hawkins
      Reply
      Victoria Hawkins
      at 11:09 AM

      Sara, do take the opportunity to stop over and visit sometime! It’s a fun place to be for a handful of days!

      • Reply
        Solyn
        at 11:47 PM

        We need a lot more inthigss like this!

  • Reply
    Stefano Mura
    at 11:48 AM

    I went to Dubai last year twice, but only for a stop-over flight. So I spent the most of the time in the Airport, or just walking around with a Taxi in the most famous places. Next month I’m going to back there, this time for 3 days since a very good friend of mine is working for Emirates, so I take a note of the places you mentioned in the post for my visit 😀 Anyway I want absolutely taste the camel milk chocolate…I’m too curious 🙂

    • Victoria Hawkins
      Reply
      Victoria Hawkins
      at 9:11 AM

      Hope you enjoy your brief stay over there! Camel milk is different all right…similar to goat.

    • Reply
      Jonay
      at 11:45 PM

      Thanks for shignar. Always good to find a real expert.

  • Reply
    RC
    at 10:24 AM

    Camel milk. That’s something you don’t get to have everyday. Dubai is not a priority as a destination but I would definitely explore this part of the world someday…or when I have more than enough money to spend a night at the Burj Khalifa. =)

  • Reply
    Shane Prather
    at 7:27 PM

    Dubai would be such a luxurious destination! One day when I’ve saved up a bit more money I’d love to experience it in all its glory!

    • Victoria Hawkins
      Reply
      Victoria Hawkins
      at 9:53 AM

      It is luxurious but you don’t have to be super wealthy to enjoy it ! Don’t wait too long!

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    What to do in Dubai - The Travel Blogs
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  • Reply
    Ainsley Duyvestyn
    at 3:35 PM

    Great post! Seems like you got so much out of your experience! I loved that water park there it was so much fun! 🙂

  • Reply
    Madhu
    at 9:02 PM

    This guide covers every thing and looks so helpful.i will save it for my travel to Dubai

  • Reply
    Mona Corona
    at 4:14 PM

    This is such a helpful and informative guide. You’ve covered everything there is to know!

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