Dubai Travel Guide
Dubai is full of contrasts. There's the glittering skyline, made up of skyscrapers so tall they defy imagination; the modern collection of stores and eateries, offering up every kind of option a traveler could possibly want; and the luxurious hotels, ready to welcome even the most discerning traveler in style and excess.
Then there's the desert with its rolling hills of sand stamped with the footprints of Arabian oryx and gazelles; the souks with their labyrinth of stalls, bins overflowing with a rainbow of spices, the scent filling the air; and the traditional abra boats ferrying riders across the Dubai Creek.
The city has sprouted up from its desert port beginnings to become a sprawling metropolis full of vibrant neighborhoods, record-setting buildings, and over-the-top shopping centers all in the last several decades (excavation work on the famous Burj Khalifa didn't even begin until January 2004).
Today, Dubai can be fast and slow at the same time—a place to grab an avocado toast and relax on the beach, a place to appreciate a desert conservation reserve, and a place to shop 'til you drop or party the night away all in the same day.
It's these contrasts that make the city as dynamic and interesting as it is, and so much fun to explore.
Gulf Standard Time
Best Time to Go
Dubai is hot throughout the year, but winter is one of the best times to visit with average temperatures hovering in the high 70's and low 80's in December. Those who love to pack a sweater are in luck too as early mornings and evenings in the desert tend to be much cooler and air conditioning is plentiful throughout Dubai.
Another reason to visit during the winter is the Dubai Shopping Festival, which is held in January each year, complete with great deals, live entertainment, and raffles.
Things to Know
Dubai is a modern city in many ways, but there are certain rules that everyone—including tourists—should follow. When it comes to dressing, modesty is best and while you may see people wearing just about everything, it's a good idea to cover your shoulders and knees to be respectful (think a t-shirt and a midi skirt or jeans for women). Travelers who venture out of the city to visit a mosque, like the gorgeous Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in nearby Abu Dhabi, will have to dress even more modestly.
Certain behaviors that are common in the United States are frowned upon or even illegal in Dubai, like public displays of affection and being drunk in public (you can drink in certain places like licensed hotel bars, restaurants, and clubs).
Dubai is a very safe city, even for solo female travelers, and there is a whole police department dedicated to tourists. Even so, Dubai is a major city and all travelers should take normal safety precautions.
If your phone dies while you're shopping, like in the Mall of the Emirates, you can borrow a portable charger for free.
Currency: United Arab Emirates Dirham
(Check the current exchange rate)
Language: Arabic; however, many people speak English as well
Thank you: Ashkuruk
Peace be upon you (a common greeting): As-salaam 'alykum; response is: Wa 'alaykum as-salaam, or peace be upon you too
Calling Code: +971
Capital City: Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates
How to Get Around
Trains: The Dubai Metro is cooler than your average subway, featuring automated and sleek cars—the Red Line even holds the Guinness World Record for the longest driverless metro line at more than 32 miles long—WiFi, and even separate cars women and children can use. There are nearly 30 metro stations and a good amount of the track is outdoors, passing by iconic landmarks like the Burj Khalifa and making it a great way to see the city and get from Point A to B. Passengers can purchase single, return, or day-pass tickets or get a cashless smart card called Nol.
Buses: Dubai has more than 1,500 buses that cover about 87% of the city's urban areas, including 35 lines that connect to metro stations.
Taxis: Dubai has an extensive network of taxis that bring travelers throughout the city. It's easy to hail a taxi at popular attractions like the malls and the beach. For women who feel more comfortable with a female driver, the city even has "Ladies and Families" taxis, which are always driven by women.
Car service: Those looking to schedule a taxi ride can use apps like Uber and Careem, which operate throughout the city.
Abra: Travelers can ride these traditional wooden boats between the Bur Dubai area and the Deira area where Dubai's Gold Souk, Textile Souk, and Spice Souk are located. A ride costs only AED 1 (about .25 cents), or tourists can book the boat as a private charter for AED 120/per hour (or about $32).
Things to Do
Neighborhoods to Know
Old Dubai: This area is a collection of neighborhoods around the Dubai Creek, including Deira and the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood. A stroll through this area, lined with low-profile gypsum and coral buildings, will give visitors a small taste of what Dubai was like before the modern construction boom. Spend some time exploring the area's souks or hop on an abra for a boat ride along the creek, which used to be the entry to the pearl diving port.
Jumeirah Beach Residences and Dubai Marina: These neighborhoods, which sit next to each other, form one of the best places to go for a waterfront stroll. Grab a bite to eat with a view of the gulf in JBR before getting an ice cream and walking over to the marina to watch the sunset on the water, surrounded by towering modern skyscrapers.
Downtown Dubai: This is one of the most iconic neighborhoods in the city, home to The Dubai Mall, the Burj Khalifa, and the Dubai Fountain, which puts on a fantastic show every 30 minutes each night. Shop 'til you drop, head up to the top of the tallest tower in the world, or grab a seat at one of the many restaurants surrounding the fountain for dinner and show.
Palm Jumeirah: This palm-shaped island is manmade and dotted with luxury hotels and beach clubs. Kids will love the over-the-top waterpark at the Atlantis, The Palm resort, while adults will enjoy whiling away the day at one of the many pool decks. For a bird's eye view of the island itself, try skydiving (just remember to stop screaming long enough to take it all in).
Dubai basically has two seasons: hot and hotter.
In the winter months (from about October to May) temperatures range from 68 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. During the summer months (June to September), temperatures can reach as high as 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
Thankfully, there is plenty of air conditioning to go around to combat these extremely hot temperatures.