This Middle Eastern City Is Home to Luxury Hotels, Thrilling Desert Adventures, and Delicious Dining

Here's how to plan the perfect visit to Dubai.

Dubai Skyline
Photo: Jackal Pan/Getty Images

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.

Time Zone

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
Hello: Marhabana

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).

Best Hotels

Armani Hotel Dubai

Armani Hotel Dubai
Courtesy of Armani Hotel Dubai

Address: Burj Khalifa, 1 Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard, Downtown Dubai
Phone: +971 4888 3888

This luxurious hotel is located in one of the most famous buildings in Dubai and the world: the Burj Khalifa. The hotel takes up the first eight floors as well as the 38th and 39th floors of the world's tallest tower, offering incredible views of the city and the Arabian Gulf below. Rooms are designed by the hotel's namesake, Giorgio Armani, and feature muted colors that will relax any guest after a long day of shopping at nearby The Dubai Mall.

Burj Al Arab

World's Coolest Pools
Courtesy of Burj Al Arab Jumeirah

Address: Jumeirah St - Dubai
Phone: +971 4 301 7777

If the Burj Khalifa is the most recognizable building in Dubai, the Burj Al Arab is a close second. And inside this iconic sail-shaped building floating in the middle of the gulf is one of the most stunning hotels in the city. Each colorful room comes with Hermès amenities and butler service as well as access to the hotel's private beach and entry to the Arabian-themed Wild Wadi Waterpark.

Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort and Spa, Dubai

Terrace at Al Maha Desert Resort at sunset, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
LOOK Die Bildagentur der Fotografen GmbH/Alamy

Address: Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, Dubai - Al Ain Road, Dubai
Phone: +971 4 832 9900

This hotel is set against rolling sand dunes and roaming oryx, offering guests an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city with 42 individual suites all with their own private pools overlooking unobstructed views of the pristine desert. During your stay, book a dune drive to get your heart pumping or go on a guided nature walk in the desert. In the morning, sit down to breakfast on the veranda and keep your eyes peeled for a few gazelles popping by to say hello over French Press coffee.

Atlantis, The Palm

Underwater suite at Atlantis, The Palm Hotel in Dubai
Courtesy of Atlantis, The Palm

Address: Atlantis Dubai, Crescent Road, The Palm, Dubai
Phone: +971 4 426 2000

This hotel and waterpark is an over-the-top playground for kids and adults alike, featuring rooms that look out at the Arabian Gulf and even underwater suites where guests can see sharks and rays right from their bathtub. The resort's waterpark, Atlantis Aquaventure, has more than 30 slides and attractions and people can even go on an underwater walk to see the sharks. Access to the park is included in each stay.

Sofitel Dubai Jumeirah Beach

Dubai skyscrapers at The Walk, Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR).
JurgaR/Getty Images

Address: Jumeirah Beach Residences, The Walk, Dubai
Phone: +971 4 448 4848

This hotel is located across the street from one of Dubai's best beachfront dining and shopping promenades, The Walk. All guest rooms overlook the water and have a private balcony, featuring teak furnishing and warm colors. Head to the beach (the hotel offers complimentary beach kits) or relax at the seaview pool for a quiet afternoon.

Bulgari Resort Dubai

Bulgari Hotel and Resorts, Dubai
Courtesy of Courtesy of Bulgari Hotel & Resorts, Dubai

Address: Jumeirah Bay Island, Jumeirah 2, Dubai
Phone: +971 4 777 5555

This resort, which sits on an island, takes its design inspiration from the Mediterranean, featuring a coral-inspired sunshade that wraps around the building and using large windows to bring in natural light. The hotel has its own yacht club (a first for Bulgari) with an outdoor pool and bar, and even has a Little Gems Kids Club where the smallest guests receive their own activity passports. Rooms take advantage of the hotel's location with several overlooking the water.

Queen Elizabeth 2

The Queen Elizabeth II luxury cruise liner, also known as the QE2, is seen docked at Port Rashid in Dubai
Karim Sahib/Getty Images

Address: Mina Rashid, Dubai
Phone: +971 600 500 400

This unique property was once a working cruise ship that has been converted into a hotel, permanently docked in Dubai. The 13-deck ship features 215 refurbished hotel rooms and suites — including the Royal Suite with a large wood-lined private deck — restaurants, a spa, and a theater. History buffs can tour the ship's bridge and see what the cabins looked like in the 1960's before settling in for a leisurely Afternoon Tea complete with finger sandwiches, traditional cakes, and warm scones with clotted cream.

XVA Art Hotel

Address: Al Fahidi St, Bur Dubai
Phone: +971 4 353 5383

This boutique hotel feels like stepping back in time with its romantic shaded courtyards, dark wood, and rich textiles. The hotel, which was built in what used to be a home in the historic Al Fahidi neighborhood, has 15 individually designed rooms all located around three courtyards. And don't miss a chance to walk through the hotel's art gallery, which features contemporary art from both established and emerging artists.

Best Restaurants

Brasserie 2.0

Address: Al Mamsha Street, Dubai Marina; inside the Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort & Spa
Phone: +97 143 165 550

There is no shortage of ultra luxurious restaurants in Dubai, but nothing says grand quite like an over-the-top brunch buffet. And this one certainly fits the bill with more than 10 live cooking stations (think: seafood on the outdoor grill and paella) and a juice and smoothie bar that guests can enjoy from the outdoor garden terrace. Brunch is served on Fridays and reservations are recommended.

Comptoir 102

Address: 102 Beach Rd, Jumeirah 1, Dubai
Phone: +971 4 385 4555

You'd be forgiven for thinking you were in California or Tulum when you settled into the shaded courtyard of this organic cafe. Order an avocado crostini, halloumi salad, or gluten-free buckwheat pancakes, and recharge with a chai latte made with homemade almond milk. After you're done eating, pop over to the attached concept store where you'll find boho dresses, unique glassware, jewelry, and more.

Baker and Spice

Address: Multiple locations
Phone: +971 04 886 6113

This all-natural cafe uses local ingredients where possible to blend Middle Eastern flavors with western cooking. Try one of the signature shakshukas and homemade breads for breakfast or order the handmade beetroot bucatini with chickpea curry and toasted coconut later in the day (trust us on this one).

Al Hadheerah at Bab Al Shams

Al Hadheerah, Bab Al Shams Desert Resort and Spa, Dubai
Courtesy of Jumeirah

Address: Al Qudra Road, Dubai
Phone: +971 (0) 4 809 6194

Dinner at Al Hadheerah is more than just a meal, it's an experience. Ten live cooking stations delight guests as they feast under the stars in the middle of the desert, offering classic dishes like shawarma and lamb ouzi cooked underground as well as salads like hummus and tabbouleh. And don't forget dessert where you can sample favorites like kunafa cheese and baklawa. Reservations are recommended.

Home Bakery

Interior of Home Bakery at mother branch Galleria Mall Al Wasl
Courtesy of Home Bakery

Address: Multiple locations
Phone: Varies by location

This bakery offers classic French and European pastries, but introduces Middle Eastern flavors. Try the almond and saffron loaf, which is infused with the spice, topped with a pink rose sugar glaze, and decorated with edible roses; the cardamom loaf sponge cake; or the date and coconut cake. Sugar fanatics can find these bakes and more at several locations, including one conveniently located in The Dubai Mall.

Things to Do

Frying Pan Adventures

Address: Meeting locations vary
Phone: +971 56 471 8244

One of the best ways to experience a place is through its food and these food tours offer to paint visitors a culinary map of Dubai. Try sweet milky tea in the back alleys of a souk, meat and rice pilaf, 'stuffed' falafels, or learn about the custom of making Arabic coffee while also learning about the history of the city.

Platinum Heritage

Platinum Luxury Desert Safari Dubai
Courtesy of Platinum Heritage

Address: Office 1303, Control Tower, Motor City, Dubai
Phone: +971 4 440 9827

There are many ways to see the rolling sand dunes of the desert just outside Dubai, but this animal-spotting desert safari offers a unique and environmentally sympathetic way to experience this breathtaking landscape. Book a tour in a vintage Land Rover or modern Range Rover and head out into the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve looking for Arabian oryx and gazelles. Don't forget to dress in layers — the desert can be very chilly in the morning, but quickly warm up throughout the day.

Global Village

Address: Exit 37, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road and Emirates Road, Dubai
Phone: +971 4 362 4114

Dubai's Global Village is like Epcot on steroids, showcasing more than 70 cultures at different country pavilions where visitors can shop, eat, and more. Bring a camera and capture a cool photo "for the 'gram" at one of the "selfie spots" or catch one of the many shows.

XLine Dubai Marina

Dubai marina
Jumana Jolie/Getty Images

Address: Dubai Marina Mall
Phone: +971 56 507 6366

Thrill seekers look no further than this high flying zip line that sends riders hurtling more than 3,000 feet over the Dubai Marina. Riders travel an average of about 50 miles per hour. But this attraction is not for the faint of heart — the starting platform alone is more than 550 feet high.

Hit the ski slopes

Dubai Ski Slope Camping
Getty Images

Address: Mall of the Emirates, Al Barsha Sheikh Zayed Road Interchange Four, Dubai

Skiing in the desert is possible at Ski Dubai where an indoor slope in the Mall of the Emirates allows ski and snowboard enthusiasts to clip in and hone their skills. Playing in the snow more your thing? Try the twin track bobsled experience or take some time to hang out with the resident penguins (there are gentoo and king penguins).

Burj Khalifa

Some accommodations come with views of the Burj Khalifa.
Some accommodations come with views of the Burj Khalifa. . Getty Images

Address: 1 Mohammed bin Rashid Blvd., Downtown Dubai, Dubai
Phone: +971 4 8888888

This is the tallest tower in the world and the view from the top is rightfully spectacular. Take in Dubai's many neighborhoods with this bird's eye view from the 125th floor or book a spot on the world's highest observation deck with an outdoor terrace on the 148th floor. Don't forget to stick around for The Dubai Fountain show when you come back down to earth.

Learn about falconry

One of the peregrine falcons used to hunt quail and other desert dwelling birds in a bedouin settlement in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve in the United Arab Emirates.
Leamus/Getty Images

Address: Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve
Phone: +971 4 435 6550

Learn all about falconry from a team of professional falconers on a tour with Royal Shaheen Events — and even get the chance to handle some of the magnificent animals yourself. These tours are interactive, family-friendly, and allow guests to learn both traditional and modern falconry training techniques.

Best Shopping

City Walk

Address: Al Wasl and Al Safa road junction, Dubai
Phone: +971 45905090

This shopping center is a place to shop, eat, and even live in the middle of Dubai. The indoor-outdoor setup makes it ideal for any time of day or night, offering fun brands (like Ted Baker, Sandro, and Sephora) as well as a variety of places to grab a quick bite or hang around for a while.

The Dubai Mall

People sit in an open air coffeeshop in the Dubai Mall in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images

Address: Financial Center Street, Along Sheikh Zayed Road, next to Burj Khalifa, Dubai
Phone: 800 DUBAI MALL (For use in the UAE only)

The Dubai Mall holds the Guinness World Record for the largest shopping center in the world with more than 1,300 retail outlets, including two major department stores Galeries Lafayette and Bloomingdale's, and more than 200 food and beverage outlets — basically, it's so big you could easily get lost for days. Beyond shopping (there is quite literally something for everyone), the mall has an aquarium and an Olympic-sized ice rink. The vibe and decor changes depending on which part of the mall you're in so plan to spend some time exploring — and bonus: it's air conditioned.

Mall of the Emirates

Indoor ski slope resort in the world at the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai
Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Address: Al Barsha Sheikh Zayed Road Interchange Four
Phone: 800 MOE MALL

This mall is slightly smaller than The Dubai Mall, but still features more than 630 brands and more than 100 places to grab a bite. Beyond the stores themselves, visitors will find the city's indoor ski slope and a bowling alley.

The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence

Dubai skyscrapers at The Walk, Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR).
JurgaR/Getty Images

Address: The Walk - Dubai

This shopping destination stretches along more than one mile of beachfront and features both international designers and fun pop-up markets. Check out sauce for beachy and boho-inspired dresses and cool rattan bags before grabbing a bite at one of the restaurants overlooking the gulf.

The textile and gold souks

Address: 57 Ali Bin Abi Talib St - Bur Dubai

Dubai may be known for its modern skyscrapers, but there's another side to the city where traditional souks sell everything from souvenirs to beautiful scarves. Choose from towering racks of fabric at the Textile Souk in the historic Bur Dubai neighborhood or hop across the Dubai Creek to browse endless rows of jewelry stores selling gold bangles and sparkling gems in the Gold Souk — and remember, haggling is all part of the fun.

Souk Madinat Jumeirah

Exterior of Souk Madinat Jumeirah and Burj al Arab
Maremagnum/Getty Images

Address: King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud St - Al Sufouh 1 - Dubai
Phone: 800RETAI

This indoor souk is very similar to Dubai's traditional outdoor ones with one major exception: air conditioning. Shoppers will find similar wares from jewelry to intricately designed scarves, souvenirs, and more, but this indoor version of a souk offers a quieter and calmer experience, perfectly marrying the city's traditional and modern sides. And as a bonus, there's a stunning view of the iconic Burj Al Arab.

Neighborhoods to Know

Illustrated map of Dubai with highlighted neighborhoods as discussed in the text

Lara Antal/Travel + Leisure

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.

Apps to Download

Uber: Rideshare service that lets travelers hail a car from anywhere.
iOs | Android

RTA Dubai: The city's Roads & Transport Authority app allows riders to top up their nol cards to ride the metro.
iOs | Android

The Dubai Mall: This mall is so big (and so easy to get lost in), it needs its own app. The app offers turn-by-turn navigation to the more than 1,300 stores so you'll never be stuck retracing your steps.
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