First impressions of Dubai as you come into land are of a vast desert city with a central body of water running through, dividing Deira and Bur Dubai. Should you land in the summer months, the overwhelming heat will be a factor at any time of the day or night. You need to ensure when booking that you have airconditioned everything.
Dubai is good for a stopover and has first-world facilities at the airport for transit purposes.
There is such a lot to see in Dubai, we picked out what we think is genuinely worthwhile. Though it is well regarded by some for shopping we found it limited in choice in comparison with, say, Hong Kong, and while there is undoubtedly value to be found in the souks, it may take some searching.
The museum is in the Al Fahidi Fort which dates back to the eighteenth century and lays claim to being the oldest building in Dubai. There are artefacts on display in the rooms around the courtyard including military weaponry of old and traditional clothing. Heading downstairs, there are underground displays that include dioramas of life in Dubai before its current status as an ultra modern city with skyscrapers and many shopping malls.
The Burj Khalifa holds the title of tallest building in the world. As you may expect, there are already plans being hatched in a number of countries to take that crown away. Certainly it is a worthwhile photo opportunity and if you have a head for heights you can go zoom up to the observation deck on a 10-meter-a-second elevator. The observation deck is at a very heady level 124 storeys above ground. There are two shops that sell souvenirs, though you can also buy from another souvenir shop in Dubai Mall below. Though you can buy yourself a ticket on-the-spot , if you pre-book online 48 hours ahead of time you can save yourself 75% of the admission price! Tickets bought on the day cost AED400. The AED100 ticket gives you admission on a specified day at the time you selected when booking. Tickets can be booked online at the Burj Khalifa website by clicking here.
Souks are traditional markets in Dubai. The Gold Souk in particular is worth a visit as it is unlikely that the average person, before seeing it, has seen so much gold in one place in their lifetime. It is situated in Deira, close to the fish and vegetable market. This is usually included on city sightseeing tours and the guide will let you do a bit of exploring and some haggling and then you have to find your own way back to the where all the tour busses are parked. Crossing the roads can be hazardous.
Dinner Dhow Cruise
This is a great way to end off the evening. An evening cruise onboard a traditional dhow (perhaps safer because they are modern fishing boats that have been made to look like dhows), which includes dinner, one or two soft drinks and entertainment afterwards. On the cruise I was on, the entertainment consisted of a Chinese comedian who performed tricks. It was quaint, but the “vibe” onboard is really good. We took photos of a passing dhow covered in blue lights. As we did so, many flashes of light came from it – they were photographing us at the same time! You are collected from your hotel around 7pm and return around 10:30pm.
If you are the more adventurous type, you can take a desert safari that includes dune riding (being driven hell-bent over the dunes in a 4×4), followed by traditional face-painting and ending off with a barbecue in a Bedouin tent. This safari starts at around 3pm daily. Either the cruise or desert safari cost around USD60 per person, which is good value.
Travel tips Dubai
It is advisable to dress modestly. Islamic custom dictates that both men and women should be covered from the ankle to the neck. Strappy tops, mini skirts, tight-fitting or revealing clothing of any sort should be avoided by women. Or men, come to think of it. While foreigners are treated more tolerantly than it other states in the region (there is even a Hindu temple near the Grand Mosque), if you want to avoid somewhat unpleasant attention from certain of the male populace, it will be best to avoid “immodest” apparel, irrespective of how acceptable it may be back home.
Just being a foreigner can already be sufficient to attract unwanted male attention and we found that men at the airport gave you a very direct once-over and did not care that everyone noticed. One taxi-driver (in keeping with nearly all of the service industries, not a native of Dubai) was flirtatious to the point of being creepy.
The heat is quite oppressive and carrying a bottle of water with you while sightseeing will help you to avoid dehydration.
Note: The author travelled to Dubai as a guest of Emirates Airlines as part of an industry familiarisation group. Excursions were selected and paid for by the author.