First time in Dubai? Then you’ll need to understand a few things about Dubai. It’s a big city and quite flashy. It’s rather ostentatious –everything is big and bold and glamorous. The streets and highways are full of super-car traffic. People in general feel that this Middle Eastern metropolis doesn’t have much in the culture department – it’s all just glamour. That’s not true. You’ll be surprised at Dubai’s rich culture, its beautiful mosques, museums and more. Check out our essential guide for first time travellers to Dubai, and learn more about this fabulous destination!
You Won’t Find Many Local People
Dubai is full of ex-pats from different countries. There are many Emiratis here but apart from a few, most are from other places in the Middle East. Dubai’s population comprises of business people and workers from around the world. This is something that makes tourists feel at home, because there’s always someone there from their own country. If you want to understand Emirati culture, visit the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding.
It’s An Islāmic Nation
Despite Dubai’s modern outlook and liberal policies, it is a strict Islāmic nation and it’s best not to forget that fact. You’ll have to be careful not to commit the following offences:
- Do not engage in any Public Displays of Affection (PDA) with anyone. It’s a finable and punishable offence in Dubai.
- Do not drink and drive; even if all you’ve had is a single glass of wine, you will be heavily fined or imprisoned after an accident.
- Do not drink and make loud, boisterous comments in public
- Do not insult Islam or the rulers of Dubai
- Dress modestly; you’re allowed to wear swimwear only while on the beach. In other places, it is best to wear clothing that covers your body fully.
- Women must cover their heads and men must cover their shoulders and knees before entering the mosque.
- Alcohol is available at bars and restaurants, but it is quite pricey. You will need an alcohol license to purchase it from a store. You can buy alcohol from the duty-free stores at the Dubai International Airport when you arrive. Public inebriation is not tolerated and drinks are served only to those over 21. With all these restrictions, there are still champagne brunches, expat booze parties and happy hours at bars.
- When in Dubai, do not swear, either in person or in your online interactions. If you swear online you could be fined Dh250,000 and jailed.
Dining Options in Dubai
Dubai has a definite reputation for excellence in fine-dining. A number of global celebrity chefs have opened up hotels in the city. While in Dubai, you can enjoy amazing gastronomic creations by celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Gary Rhodes, Nobu Matsuhisa, Jamie Oliver, Sanjeev Kapoor and Marco Pierre White. Even if you splurge on just one dinner, it’ll be worth it.
The Islāmic Weekend Begins on Friday
In the Islāmic World, the weekend falls on Friday and Saturday. Sunday is a working day. On Fridays, most hotels throw huge brunches to celebrate the beginning of the weekend. You’ll get to enjoy huge buffets with plenty of booze at top hotels.
Dubai Is Rich in Culture
Today, Dubai may be a dazzling metropolis, but a mere 50 years ago, it was mostly desert. You would have found plenty of fishing and pearl-diving villages around, not the great skyscrapers you see now. When you are in Dubai, be sure to visit the al-Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, a very well-preserved cultural area. This place was built in the early 1900s, and is full of traditional homes built out of black coral. The narrow alleyways and the windtowers and the old structures make for a pleasant change from the city’s towering skyscrapers.
There Are Plenty of Public Transport Options
If you’re one of those who love to foot it around, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Attractions are miles apart from each other, so it’s best to grab the Metro, or a bus, a tram, a water taxi or the Dubai Ferry.
The Metro connects almost all parts of Dubai, so it’s a good idea to use this service when you’re touring the city. Pick up the Red Nol Card and load it up with credit at any Metro station. The card costs about 2AED, and the ticket prices are lower than regular ticket prices.
If you want to see all parts of the city, sign up for a hop-on-hop-off big bus tour. You can hop off whenever you want, check out an attraction on foot, and then hop back on to the next bus in the route.
There’s another transport option that helps you get around the city quickly, without getting mired in traffic – the Dubai Ferry. Sign up for the Dubai Ferry and you get a double deal – local transport plus fabulous sightseeing.
Dubai Is a Shopaholic’s Dream-come-true
The city has innumerable shopping malls and markets selling everything under the sun.
- The Dubai Mall is the biggest mall in the city, and definitely a must-visit. There’s even a Gold ATM in Dubai Mall!
- Don’t miss the chance to visit Bur Dubai for its spice markets. Visit Deira for wonderful textiles and gold.
- Visit the Dubai Heritage Village for souvenirs and handmade items.
- Check out the Kamara Market for cheap souvenirs and jewellery.
The City’s Architecture Is Incredible
Dubai is a staggeringly grandiose city, blessed with stunning architectural beauty. Check your Dubai travel guide for first time travellers for a list of top attractions.
- Feast your eyes on the stupendous Burj Khalifa, which stands proud at 829 meters.
- The sail-shaped 7-Star hotel, Burj al Arab is another treat for the eyes, with its incredibly beautiful design and uber-luxurious interiors.
- The incredible Palm Islands with featuring the amazingly beautiful Atlantis Hotel is another not-to-miss piece of architecture.
- The Dubai Opera is shaped like a dhow and is incredible both inside and outside.
- Don’t miss the chance to see the twisting Cayan Tower, and the world’s tallest hotel, JW Marriott Marquis.
Dubai’s Desert – A Not-to-miss Treat
Make the time to sign up for a desert safari in Dubai. You can opt for the early morning desert safari and enjoy your fill of dune bashing, camel riding, quad biking and sand boarding. Or, you can opt for the evening desert safari with its lovely cultural entertainment and amazing buffet. You can even stay overnight in the desert, feasting your eyes on the glorious spread of stars in the sky. The desert safari alone is well-worth your tourist visa Dubai.
Don’t forget to visit the Dubai gold souk. You’ll get to see and buy pure 24 and 22 carat gold, though 18 carat is also available. You’ll see two prices put up for gold – the market price based on the weight and the price for the craftsmanship. You cannot negotiate on market price but you can negotiate on the workmanship price. Also, you’ll get better rates for cash, not cards.
An avid trekker, explorer and a true foodie; Neha finds happiness in small endeavours of life and loves to pen them down as a cherished memory. A firm believer that “we have just one life to live and so much to do”, Neha lives every moment to the fullest.