My trip to Dubai was a little unusual in comparison to the other people I know who’ve here. By unusual, I mean although I did the typical touristy things, I also went out of my way to explore as many incredible hotels and restaurants as I could.
The experience I had in Dubai was nothing short of me having a sparkle in my eye. I was surprised how, within the city, everything is so tall and organised. It feels like there is no normal sized building in the entire city. But as soon as you leave the city limits, there is nothing but desert in all directions. I think this is the true charm of Dubai.
Some basic information
If you have a US passport, you don’t need a visa to visit UAE, for many countries, UAE has a Visa on Arrival policy (for free!). You can get more information here: Visa Information
The most convenient and comfortable way to reach Dubai is taking an Emirates flight here. Emirates has ongoing deals on flight tickets and if you book it in advance, you can score a really sweet deal! You can also fly into Abu Dhabi and drive to Dubai.
Dubai is very well connected by public transport. It takes around 14 dirhams to travel to all zones in the metro. You can also call ride share or taxis to your hotel to get around. Dubai also has Hop-on/ hop-off buses that you can buy a pass for and travel all over the city.
Dubai is a really small city with way too many exotic hotels to choose from, especially the really fancy ones. Depending on your budget, it can cost you anywhere between $50 to $500 per night. Now, you can even book a house through Airbnb.
When to travel?
If you didn’t already know, Dubai is a desert! No matter what time of the year you go here, it is going to be quite hot and humid. Having said that, winter (Feb-April) is still the best time to visit. You can catch the Dubai Shopping Festival if you travel in January. The rates are going to be a little more pricey as this is peak tourist season! Keep in mind that most of the city closes during Ramadan so make your plans accordingly.
Everyone tends to speak English, if not they generally understand Hindi. The common tongue here is Arabic.
Dubai uses Dirhams. Although most stores accept major credit cards, it’s always good to have some spare cash just in case. 1 Dirham is approximately equal to $0.26. You can exchange money at the airport or designated spots around the city. Some places provide a horrible exchange rate, beware of this.
Food & Beverages
Some of the most lavish spreads of food that I have seen has been in Dubai. They have chefs from all over the world in the best hotels and restaurants cooking the most scrumptious delicacies. Alcohol is permitted in designated restaurants. Drinking in public can lead to serious jail time.
Keep in mind
Swimming clothes only on the beach and try to keep it modest. Avoid swearing in public and PDA.
Drink plenty of water and apply sunscreen- it gets hot even in winter.
The city can get very humid. Be prepared to face that.
It gets cold at night and really hot during the day. Make sure you have a jacket.
Spots to Visit
Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Fountain
The main reason many of us decide to visit Dubai is to see the tallest building ever built! Yes, it is as incredible as it looks in the movies but we didn’t get to see Tom Cruise swinging! Going on top of the Burj Khalifa is a unique experience. The building is 160 stories tall (almost 1 mi) and obviously offers vertigo-inducing views! The price to go ‘At the top’ is AED 125. The elevator takes you to the 124th and 125th floor. The key feature to observe: The elevators are FAST!!
Top Down View from the tallest building on Earth
You can see the scattered tall building on one side and the Arabian sea stretched out for miles on the other.
Scattered buildings around Dubai -
Primarily being a dessert, on one side of the Burj is nothing. You can sometimes catch a sandstorm approaching, like in the image here.
The Desert City
Burj Khalifa is one of the most expensive hotels to live in and also has many restaurants with the breathtaking view of the Dubai Fountain- second largest sound-light fountain in the world. This will definitely remind you of the fountain show you saw in Bellagio, Las Vegas and the only difference being – it’s BIGGER!
We chose the Armani -Amal Restaurant for some good Indian food. As we munched on some hot naan bread, the after-dark beautifully choreographed waters danced in front of us. It would set you back just about $100 for 2!! Not such a bad deal eh?
Burj Al Arab
Designed to look like a sail of a boat, The Burj Al Arab is one of the most luxurious hotels in the world. Even the basic room cost more than $2,000!! So I had to go here to see what all the fuss was about. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint! The marble tiles, the mosaic walls, underwater rooms, high-end shops – it has it all!
Look up, It’s incredible!
My main goal to go here was to try the food. What can I say, I am a foodie! The Al lwan restaurant serves an authentic Arabic buffet with rich creamy curries and the softest freshest bread.
The entire interior has an ambiance I have never seen before. No matter what part of the world you are from, you will feel like a Sheikh! The lunch buffet will cost you $100 per person.
Atlantis – The Palm
The Palm is a magnificent and luxurious hotel. It has its own aquarium, water-park, shopping mall, spa retreats, and 23 world-renowned restaurants. It has a life of its own. To reach the massive 46-hectare hotel, you have to to take the metro. You can walk around the man-made island and get a wonderful view of the city from the island.
The Lost Chamber Aquarium is a huge indoor sea-world. You can snorkel with the exotic sea-creatures or walk around and marvel at the enormous tank.
A must try lunch buffet in the hotel is Kaleidoscope. The buffet is around AED 170 (around $47.00) on weekdays. They have an insane spread of cuisines from all over the world. The dessert section is to die for!
Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates, Dubai Souks
Dubai Mall is located near the Dubai Fountains. Remember the images of people with multiple bags of clothes on both hands just strolling around? That was me and that will be you! You will find crazy discounts, insane prices, and really tempting items everywhere. When on a vacation, you indulge!
The Mall of the Emirates is another really huge mall. The mall has rich marble flooring and tall ceilings. They have their own ski slope inside along with every high-end shop you can think of! There is a hotel within the Mall as well!
Dubai Souks are basically middle-eastern bazaars. You can street shop or walk past hundreds of vendors selling any number of unique items including saris, dress materials, and headscarves. Dubai has gold souks where you can buy gold and other jewels for a lower(?) price.
Palm Islands & Jumeirah Beach
Long empty stretches of sandy white beaches and deep blue water is how I would describe the Arabian Sea in Dubai. I grew up on the other side of the Arabian sea and my experience at the beach has been quite different from the sandy beaches here. On any given day, the beaches are crawling with tourists from all over the world. The water is warm and the view – spectacular.
Dubai is right at the brick of the Arabian Desert. Going on a safari here is one of the biggest attraction. You can book tours from your hotel lobby. The packages generally include an offroad dune ride, dinner, camel safari and evening entertainment along with a pick-up and drop-off service. The price for the entire package ranges from $50-$200 per person, depending on how private you want the tour to be.
It takes about 2 hours to reach any given camp and so the entire safari will take up most of your day. The drop-off is generally around 10pm as the sun sets pretty late here. You will be too tired (at least I was) to do anything else after the exhausting adventure.
On your drive here, the driver sometimes goes off-road onto the dunes and driving a 4×4 on sand is a very weird experience. For all the motion-sickness prone people out there, this is not for you. For everyone else, it’s not that bad but you will feel like the car will tip more than once.
Our camp was set up with food and beverages and a welcome party. The centre stage was ready for the post dark entertainment with dinner. In Urdu, this setting is called a ‘Mehfil’. There were many other tourists out in the middle of nowhere with us enjoying the merry banter and the sound of Arabic music playing in the background.
I am against animal back riding in places where the animals don’t belong. But when in the Arabian Desert, you can’t really wrong the animal. I never realised how hard camel riding is until this moment.DSC_3832
It is like hopping on a roller coaster, exciting and scary at the same time. Sunset tours on camel-backs are a specialty here.
The evening entertainment included belly dancing by some really talented women, other dance performances, magic tricks and so much more. The evening mood lights are really relaxing as the night sky fills with billions of stars.
All in all, Dubai is a really wonderful city to travel to. The Arabic culture is rich here but that does not by any means mean the city is not hip to all the western cultures! If you ever get the chance to visit, or if your flight has a layover here: don’t miss the opportunity!
Until next time,