Dubai‘s tourism boom shows no sign of slowing. The city welcomed more than eight million international overnight tourists in the first six months of the year, an increase of 10.6 per cent on the same period.
For anyone planning to visit in the coming months, here are some things I’ve learned from my numerous trips that you really ought to know.
For the best picks, get HWM's must read newsletter!
1. There’s life beyond the skyscrapers
Dubai has a rich history, and the UAE culture is fascinating if you scratch beneath all that gold. Weren’t expecting that, were you?
Head to the souks that flank Dubai Creek, the original heart of the city, where traders from all over the Middle East come to flog their wares. Here you can haggle for turquoise trinkets from Iran, silver treasures from Oman, and dates from Saudi Arabia. There’s even a spectacular souk dedicated to gold – worth a look, even if you’re not buying.
2. The food is fantastic
One of the benefits of having such a huge expat population is a wealth of dinner choices: Dubai has an exciting food scene.
And it’s not all about luxury restaurants, either – although there are plenty of those. In the Bur Dubai area, you can feast on Iranian, Filipino, Yemeni, Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani, and even Afghan food. Frying Pan Food Adventures offers some fun foodie tours.
3. You don’t need a burkini
A bikini will suffice. While the UAE is a Muslim country, it’s not as conservative as you might expect. Dress as you would do in America: shorts and skirts are fine. There’s no need to cover your hair either.
4. But bring a coverup
The shopping malls are cold – it’s all that A/C. You’ll also need one if you plan to visit Jumeirah Mosque, on a (highly recommended) guided tour.
5. Taxis are cheap
The Metro is cheaper, but most of the stations are in inconvenient locations. Take a taxi instead – and tip your driver.
6. The Palm is underwhelming
Town planners, take note: a palm is not a suitable shape for an island. The traffic! If you’re staying on one of the fronds, it’ll take you an extra half-hour to get to Dubai Marina or Downtown – aka Dubai’s fun stuff.
7. There is alcohol
And it is plentiful. The sale of alcohol is limited to hotel restaurants, bars and clubs, which might sound odd but in reality it’s not. From pubs with great live music to high-end Champagne bars, there’s a watering hole to suit every occasion. Ask your concierge for recommendations, or consult Time Out Dubai.
When catching a taxi or walking home, make sure you’re not staggeringly drunk. This is severely frowned upon, and can lead to police intervention. Keep it classy.
8. Kissing is a no-no
Avoid smooching in public, as this will attract unwanted attention too. This includes nightclubs, hotels, the back of taxis and the beach. We’ve all heard the stories of couples being arrested for “having sex” in public places. A simple kiss in public can get you in just as much trouble.
9. When it’s hot, it’s HOT
The temperature in summer is, quite frankly, ludicrous. When it’s 55C+ in the shade, you’ve essentially got a 60-second window until you turn into a dripping, puce-colored mess. Visit between November and March for a less sweaty experience.
10. Stop looking at the skyscrapers
Pavements in Dubai are sketchy at best, and non-existent at worst. Keep your eyes on the ground, or take a taxi like the locals do – and gawp to your heart’s delight.
11. The spas are amazing
Even the pickiest spa aficionado will find something to write home about – and for those unaccustomed to luxury spas, well, nothing will quite measure up after Dubai.
Avoid the beauty clinics you find in the malls (although they do a fine mani-pedi), and head to the luxury hotels instead – they’re pricey but worth it. Jumeriah Zabeel Saray and The Palace Downtown Dubai are particularly fine, and (in summer especially) there are often discounts to be had.
12. Malls are actually quite fun
Ignore the people who sniff at Dubai’s epic malls. Sure, they’re not “culturally-enriching”, but they are great fun. Aquariums, ski slopes, ice rinks, cinemas… it’s easy to lose a day in one of these glittering temples of capitalism. Dubai Mall is the most epic, with a whole ‘district’ (district!) devoted to shoes.