An Expat’s Guide to Exploring Dubai.
Dubai is an intriguing mix of Arabian heritage and contemporary outlook. I have always been enamored by how some of the fanciest bars in the world coexist with some of the most traditional mosques. The three years I spent in Dubai as an expat allowed me to experience the Gulf city’s assortment of experiences. Luxury? Dubai has got it! Tradition? Dubai has got it! Charm? Dubai has got it!
Here is a travel guide that takes you through some of Dubai’s bustling hotspots – from Burj Khalifa to Dubai Marina!
What to see and do in Dubai
1. Dubai Mall and Aquarium
There is no better way to kick off your Dubai trip than by checking out the world’s largest mall.
The Dubai Mall is located in downtown Dubai and is home to some of the world’s most popular and premium restaurants, cafes and bars. One could spend hours marveling at the dazzling array of electronics, fashion and perfume stores in this mall.
But don’t get disheartened if you’re not into window shopping. The worlds’ largest mall is also home to the world’s largest aquarium!
The 10-million-liter Dubai Aquarium tank located within the Dubai Mall is one of the largest suspended aquariums in the world. Over 300 Sharks and Rays live in this tank, including the largest collection of Sand Tiger Sharks in the world. Shark Diving here is a once in a lifetime opportunity, bringing you within inches of these sea giants. Another crowd puller here is the 800Kg ‘King Croc’ from Australia.
2. Burj Khalifa
Every city has that one super touristy experience that you know is overrated but you just have to do it regardless. The Burj Khalifa is that tacky must-visit destination in Dubai and no Dubai Travel Guide would be complete without it.
Constructed almost a decade ago, the tower continues to be the tallest in the world and is an engineering marvel that takes you almost a kilometer in to the sky. Once at the top, you can spend time absorbing one of the world’s most beautiful skylines from the observation deck.
After spending time at the top of the Burj Khalifa, be sure to check out the musical fountains at the base of the tower. They’re a sight to behold.
Want a pro tip? Book your Burj tickets online, they’re thrice as expensive at the counter!
3. Old District
If you want to take a break from classic Dubai experiences and want to get down and dirty, you should check out the Old District in Bastakiya (the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood).
With over 200 stalls of clothing, spices and souvenirs, this market is pure chaos. You could easily spend a couple of hours navigating through the maze, haggling for a knock-off shirt you don’t even really need. Other must-dos in the area are the Dubai Museum and catching a traditional ‘dhow’ boat to cross the Dubai Creek.
4. Dubai Marina
Lovingly called the Middle Eastern Times Square, Marina is the heart and soul of Dubai. There is nothing like standing in the middle of it and absorbing its sights and sounds.
The Marina is an overwhelming experience for all your senses. Marvel at spiraling towers, take a sunset boat cruise or soak up the unique vibe with a falafel in hand. You can also rent a bike and ride around the waterfront, stopping only to gaze at skyscrapers that dot the skyline, or the expansive yachts docked at the harbor.
5. Kite Beach
One of the most scenic beaches in the world, Kite Beach is the perfect way to experience Dubai’s shores.
The beach is ideal for swimming and for spending hours of leisure. The water in the Arabian Gulf is usually warm and the waves are smooth. The long, pristine stretch of fine sand is perfect for the water-baby in you. You will also find several bars and restaurants along the coast that are ideal for getting a drink or six!
Best Day Trips from Dubai
1. Dune Bashing in the Hatta Desert
Dune bashing is one of the most popular adventure activities in the Middle East. It is a must for adrenalin junkies who want a taste of the desert.
The best spot to do this is in the heart of the desert in Hatta. Strap yourself into a Land Cruiser as a skilled instructor drives you over curvy sand dunes. But, be sure to have a sickness bag handy, it isn’t called the sand-rollercoaster for nothing!
Apart from dune bashing, entertaining belly dancing and Tanoura performances are staged against the backdrop of the desert and are guaranteed to leave you spellbound. This experience is one of my favorite day trips from Dubai.
2. Visit Abu Dhabi
UAE’s capital and its second biggest city, Abu Dhabi is located a mere 90-minute drive from Dubai.
Although the city was late to the party and let Dubai get ahead in terms of tourist attractions, it is catching up quickly and is now home to some of the most amazing activities and adventures in the Middle East.
My favorite spots in Abu Dhabi are the Ferrari World and the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. The Ferrari world is an absolute must visit for adventure junkies since it has the world’s fastest roller coaster that goes from 0 to 240Kmph in 4 seconds!
The Sheikh Zayed mosque on the other hand is a picture of Middle Eastern calm and tranquility. Built as a tomb for the country’s most popular leader, you will be amazed by the intricate architecture and the spellbinding craftsmanship on display
3. Check out Dibba Beach, Fujairah
Located in Fujairah (one of the other Emirates), a couple of hours from Dubai, Dibba Beach keeps a relatively low profile and attracts people who want to get away from the crowd.
The shore is covered in white sand and dotted with beach houses. The beach also has a playful, festive vibe to it. Most people on the beach are foreigners; swimming, tanning, walking along the shore or relaxing with a drink.
ALSO READ: 10 Crazy Facts About Dubai
Best Time to Travel to Dubai
The best time to visit Dubai, or the UAE in general, is during the colder months between November and March. This is when the Emirates are at their inviting best. You can spend time wandering around malls while also experiencing this country’s great outdoors.
The downside to visiting during this window is that all the popular tourist destinations are overflowing with people.
Getting there and around
You will have to fly into Dubai International Airport or Al Maktoum International Airport. The city is famous for its public transport and you can get to downtown in a few minutes using the metro.
Apart from that, the city has an extensive network of buses and water taxis. And even the cabs aren’t that expensive.
What to Eat and Drink in Dubai
Dubai is famous for bringing together flavors from all over the world so don’t be surprised to find nearly every kind of restaurant here. You will find some of the fanciest Michelin Star restaurants in the world here, as well as delectable and wholesome street food including shawarmas and falafels.
If you’re a fan of bar crawls, you will be pleased to know that Dubai has an eclectic collection of bars. This is also a fantastic way of exploring alien cities, meeting new people and letting your hair down.
My favorite bars are the Belgian Beer Café, where you should try their wide range of Belgian specialty ales, and the Buddha Bar which is world famous for its Maha Bodhi and Goa Masala.
I hope you enjoyed my Dubai travel guide and know a bit more about what to see and do in Dubai now!
Map of what to see & do in Dubai
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