Dubai UAE for tourists
Dubai is an easy place to visit for tourists wanting a beach, sun, shopping holiday. Those looking for a comfortable hotel, lots of pampering, and a good selection of restaurants to spend their dirhams in, will usually enjoy the place. Those looking for an adventure holiday or cultural trip might find enough to satisfy their desires, but remember that Dubai is a modern cosmopolitan city, not Mt Everest Base Camp or the historical city of Carcassonne.
Getting to and from Dubai
- Most visitors to Dubai arrive by plane at Dubai International Airport, but an increasing number of tourists are arriving by boat at the Port Rashid Cruise Terminal as part of a cruise ship tour.
- Some nationals and residents of nearby GCC countries arrive by road, usually from Oman and Saudi Arabia, the only two countries sharing a land border with Dubai. Qatar appears to share a border with Dubai but the border crossing is with Saudi Arabia, at least until a bridge is built between the UAE and Qatar.
- Apart from GCC nationals, all visitors to Dubai need some sort of UAE entry permit. The choices are usually a Dubai entry visa on arrival, a Dubai visit visa sponsored by someone living in the UAE, or a Dubai tourist visa sponsored by a hotel, airline, or travel agent in Dubai. There is also a Dubai transit visa option for a short one or two day stay.
- Leaving Dubai is usually straightforward, and no special arrangements need to be made with regard to visas and other bureaucracy. Unless you have misbehaved and been detained by the authorities.
Getting around in Dubai
- Walking - Dubai is not a pedestrian-friendly city, with aggressive drivers and a lack of footpaths. However, that is improving with more and more footpaths, and new developments being designed with foot traffic in mind. Walking around areas like Dubai Marina, Jumeirah, Downtown Bur Dubai, Bastakia, Bur Dubai, Deira is possible, and pleasant during the winter, with only occasional detours through sand due to construction activity. Watch out when crossing roads though, even at zebra (pedestrian) crossings. Drivers will rarely slow down unless they're forced to.
- Bus - there is a comprehensive network of public buses and they are cheap. Airconditioned bus shelters (with route maps) at many stops make waiting more comfortable in the summer. However, the biggest negative is the unreliability of the timings. Even if the schedule says buses are 10 or 20 minutes apart, you can end up waiting an hour, at which point several buses will all turn up at once. Most western residents are unlikely to have ever caught a bus in Dubai.
- Metro in Dubai - the Dubai Metro or subway opened to the public on 10 September 2009 with one route along Sheikh Zayed Road, a main arterial route in Dubai, and under Dubai Creek to the airport and the suburb of Rashidiya. With a limited number of stations operating until mid 2010, and baggage restrictions, it has less appeal for tourists at present. However, once more stations open up, and the second Green Line starts operating in late 2010, it should prove to be more useful. It's worth going for a trip on it anyway, just to get a different perspective of the city along the elevated track.
- Rental Car or Private Car - unless you are familiar with Dubai city and the driving habits of the residents, driving yourself around is likely to be more hassle than it's worth. Navigation is difficult at first, and driving standards are poor with a large number of aggressive drivers driving powerful cars at high speed. At least put off driving for a day or two while you get a firsthand impression sitting in a taxi. Rental car prices are not much different in-country compared to pre-booking anyway. If driving a private car, check carefully rules about insurance and driving licences - they are complicated and change often.
- Taxis in Dubai - Dubai Taxis are a common choice for tourists. Cost is not unreasonable, especially for shorter journeys (although there is now a minimum of 10 dhs per trip), and there's no difficulty with trying to find your own way around, usually. Disadvantages are that cost does add up if you're staying in a hotel far from where you regularly visit (don't make the mistake of staying in a cheaper hotel in Sharjah or Deira if you want to visit beaches and shopping malls in Bur Dubai for example), many newer taxi drivers don't know their way around very well, some drivers have yet to learn about personal hygiene, and there are sometimes drivers whose standard of driving is appallingly bad. In the last case, assertively tell them to slow down or you'll call the RTA (the governing body of roads, traffic, and transport in Dubai), and have the phone number at hand. Or stop the taxi, get out, take the taxi number, and complain to the RTA.
Accommodation in Dubai
- Most visitors to Dubai will end up staying in a hotel, or with friends who live in Dubai. There is a Dubai Youth Hostel but it has limited appeal, especially for women. There are no motels, bed and breakfast (the French one in Jumeirah closed in January 2010), or any backpacker type accommodation facilities. Budget accommodation is available in either the chain hotels such as Rotana Centro, Holiday Inn, or in fleabag 1 and 2 star dives, usually in Deira but there are a few in Bur Dubai also.
- Cheapest way to get a hotel is usually to find a flight-hotel package deal to Dubai.
- At the other end of the scale are the most luxurious establishments you are likely to find anywhere, such as the Burj Al Arab at the beach, Atlantis on the Palm Island, and Al Maha Resort in the desert.
- You won't find many quaint little guesthouses with character, such as the B&B run by Mr Fawlty, or a charming Pension in the Swiss Alps. But the Bastakiya area does have a couple of hotels worth investigating if you want something a little different. But don't get too excited, chances are you'll probably be happier at the beach hotel with modern plumbing.
- Campgrounds and camping areas don't exist. You would be unlikely to ever see an RV or motorhome, let alone find somewhere that rents one. Residents and tourists do go camping in the desert on occasion but as a recreational activity, not as a way of finding cheap accommodation, despite what Johann Hari thinks.
Climate and weather in Dubai
- Temperature during the winter months (from December to February) is perfect during the day, unless it is raining, and sometimes a little cool in the evenings - an extra shirt, pullover, or jacket should be enough for most people.
- Three months either side of winter it is still pleasant, although midday temperatures will be warm to hot, but evenings will be just right.
- May-June and September-October will be unpleasantly hot during the day but tolerable in the evenings unless it is very humid. Chance of rain is almost nil.
- July-August is diabolicaly hot during the day (dangerously so if you walk around unprepared) and severely unpleasant at night. Assume you will spend all your time inside your hotel, taxi, or shopping center. If you want to do things outside, don't come at this time of the year. Some visitors happily spend a week by a pool getting a tan but this only works if the hotel has a temperature controlled pool. Swimming in the sea is not enjoyable - water temperature is about the same as a warm to hot bath.
What to watch out for in Dubai
- Crime is much less than in other parts of the world. Dubai is not a zero-crime city but you can generally walk around shopping centers with your wallet in your back pocket and not be too concerned about being pickpocketed for example. You can walk around most areas of Dubai at anytime of day or night without fear of being mugged or robbed. However, if you go looking for trouble, you'll probably find it. Walking around Naif Square at 3 in the morning while drunk with thousand dirham notes spilling out of your pockets is likely to draw attention. Or females (and sometimes males) trying to hitch a ride home on the main road after a night out at a club would be wise not to accept offers of a lift from friendly gentleman in large 4wd vehicles - pour yourselves into a proper taxi and get home safely.
- Driving standards are bad to abysmal in Dubai. The UAE has one of the highest death rates due to traffic accidents in the world per head of population. Make sure you have travel insurance that covers you for accidents. Unless you're driving a private car, you'll be most at risk when in a taxi.
- The heat during the day in summertime is ferocious. Temperatures of 40-50 Celcius are bad enough, but with the close to 100% humidity, you will be at risk of heatstroke if you spend any length of time outside. Take a bottle of water with you whereever you go. If you do visit in the summer, do not plan to do anything outside except sit in or near a pool, or walk between air-conditioned containers.
- The risk of sunburn is not excessive. Of course, if you come from a European winter, have white skin, and sit outside without suncream for a couple of hours then yes you will get burnt. But compared to some of the southern hemisphere countries like Australia, South Africa, NZ, it takes a bit longer to become well done. Perhaps due to the amount of dust and haze in the air - which increases in the summer time. Nevertheless, bring hat and suncream.
- Terrorism in Dubai - not really anything to worry about. You are likely to be safer in Dubai than in London, New York, or any other large capital city in the world.
- Drugs in Dubai - stay away from drugs, and don't bring any, even your medicine bag is probably best left at home. Codeine for example is a banned drug in the UAE, and you'll cop a 4 year jail sentence if caught. And jails in Dubai are dire places to end up in for an extended holiday.
- Alcohol in Dubai - you'll find as much alcohol as you want in the hotels. Most bars and restaurants that serve alcohol are in hotels. As are nightclubs. Drinking in them is permitted, drinking or being drunk in public is not. If you are drunk, don't draw attention to yourself while waiting for a taxi back to your hotel, and it's unlikely you'll have any problems. Don't abuse the taxi driver either - it's very rare but it has occasionally happened that taxi drivers make a detour to the nearest police station with their drunk passengers.
- Sex in Dubai - Dubai has made the headlines in newspapers around the world with stories of visitors or residents getting into trouble over their sexual escapades. Regarding the infamous beach episode, if two people have sex on the beach in broad daylight anywhere in the world, they are probably going to at least draw attention to themselves, if not get arrested. Dubai was unfairly maligned over that episode. It is correct that sex outside marriage is illegal, however almost all unmarried couples who visit Dubai do so without any problems. The Dubai Police are not interested in knocking on hotel doors to look for bonking tourists without marriage licences. Just use common sense when engaging in horizontal recreational activities. Walking into a Dubai nightclub will reveal a similar atmosphere as anywhere in the world with regard to people hoping not to go home alone. With a higher proportion of men, and a lower proportion of drugs.
- Public Displays of Affection (PDA) - generally frowned upon but you are not likely to be arrested for holding hands, unless you are visiting a mosque. Kissing on the cheeks as a greeting shouldn't get you into trouble, and is commonly seen. A brief kiss on the lips in a shopping center or at the airport when greeting a partner might provoke a frown from a passer-by but shouldn't result in any unpleasant consequences. An extended kiss, French kiss, or obvious groping and fondling will probably earn at least a reprimand from passers-by or security personnel, and if the police have to come and deal with it then it is possible you end up down at the police station for a chat or worse. Police seem to be more tolerant at venues where there is drinking of alcohol, and a greater proportion of drinking nationalities, for example the Dubai Rugby Sevens, rock concerts, DJ events; but don't push it. Save your energy for the hotel room where nobody is looking.
Things to do in Dubai
- Big Bus Tour of Dubai - do it when you first arrive to get a general perspective of the city, aim to take all day and get off at several of the stops.
- Dubai Ferry - good value catamaran tours operated by the Dubai RTA. From either Shindhaga end of Dubai Creek (on the Bur Dubai side), or Dubai Marina near the Dubai Marina Mall.
- Dubai Metro - ok, since when is a public transport system a tourist sight? Well, it's a cheap, comfortable, safe, easy way to see much of Dubai at a glance. Especially since most of it is above ground, not underground.
- Things to do in Dubai - includes more details of many places to visit
Places to visit in Dubai
- Bastakia - sort of an old town Dubai - pleasant place to walk around. A few art galleries and cafes to keep you occupied, and you can also walk along Dubai Creek nearby.
- Burj Dubai Observation Deck ("At The Top") - the tallest tower in the world with a 360 degree observation deck halfway up to view Dubai from. Visit it halfway through your trip so you have some idea of what you're looking at, and still have some days to visit bits you saw from the top.
- Dubai Creek - walk along on Deira (Al Ras area, and near the gold and spice souks) or Bur Dubai side (from Al Seef Road to the mouth of the creek). Or catch an abra across.
- Heritage Island - new (in 2012) tourist attraction in Dubai showcasing Emirati history and culture.
- Palm Jumeirah - the first of the three large palm shaped man-made islands along the coast of Dubai.
- Shindagha - Heritage Village area at the head of Dubai Creek
- The Dubai Mall - not just a shopping center but a cinema theatre, giant fish tank, ice skating rink, indoor theme park, old souk (sort of), restaurants and cafes. You can easily spend a day or two here.
Art and culture in Dubai
Shopping in Dubai
Food, restaurants, and nightlife in Dubai
Visiting other emirates from Dubai
Tours and tourguides in Dubai
Last update Sunday 04-Mar-2012. Page development 3D 4L 5C.