DUBAI | TRAVEL GUIDE BY A FORMER EXPAT

Updated: Jul 24, 2018

Year round sunshine, white sandy beaches, captivating desert landscapes, delicious eats, nightlife, entertainment, arts and culture. This may not be what you typically hear about Dubai, however, after experiencing Dubai as an expat I can confirm this is all true. In fact, there is always so much going on in Dubai, spend enough time there and you may suffer from Fear of Missing Out.

Situated on the southeast coast of Persian Gulf, Dubai is a city of ultramodern architecture and luxury lifestyle. Dubai is, what I would call a melting pot of futuristic ideas and years of tradition, peacefully shared by various cultures from all corners of the world. Emirati nationals are far outnumbered by expats in Dubai by almost six to one. The majority of the population is Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Asian.


Before tourism, Dubai made its money with oil. But before oil, fishing, farming and pearl diving were the emirate’s main trades.


Due to its location, Dubai features a tropical desert climate, with extremely hot and dry summers and mild winters. While the temperature usually goes higher than 45 degrees Celsius during summer, it ranges from 14 to 23 degrees Celsius in winter. The best time to visit (if you want to avoid the warmer months) is from December through March.


The days are mostly always sunny, and it rains about twice a year. There is minimal drainage in Dubai, so, be prepared for flash floods and chaos if you are lucky enough to see a rainy day.


The working week in Dubai is Sunday to Thursday. The weekend is Friday to Saturday.

The crime rate in Dubai is very low, virtually it is 0 per cent across Dubai. That is why this city is considered one of the safest cities on earth. That said, Dubai is a big world city and common-sense precautions should be observed.


Overt displays of affection in public is considered disrespectful and offensive. So, if you’re feeling like a teenager and can’t keep your hands to yourself, go behind closed doors. The same goes with any behaviour that is aggressive, such as shouting, swearing or drunk and disorderly. It won’t be tolerated in public. You will most likely be told ‘politely’ to refrain and move on.

Shorts, T-shirts, etc are fine, especially in the touristy areas. Although Dubai is generally permissive, in the traditional areas and shopping malls it is advised to be respectful and wear more moderate dress. Wearing boardies and bikinis is fine on a public beach, however as soon as you leave the beach area you’ll need to change into something more conservative. Winter evenings can be cool, and it is best to come equipped for extreme air conditioning.


You can drink alcohol In Dubai. However, you will only be able to purchase alcohol in licenced establishments. There are no ‘bottle shops’ in Dubai and to drink alcohol in a location other than a licenced establishment you will need a licence. There are many bars and nightclubs in Dubai and the party scene is well established.

Tips are not necessary, however they are appreciated as the staff are usually on a very low wage. Don’t expect to see beggars or homeless people, Dubai is very ‘unrealistic’ in this respect. Everywhere that you are likely to go/see will be immaculate and the people will be glamorous. Speaking of glamorous, with so many supercars on Dubai’s roads, its law enforcers couldn’t just drive around in Fords. To keep up with the locals, they drive around in Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bentleys, McLaren and Bugatti.


There are many transport options in Dubai. If you’re feeling confident, then rent a car. It’s the best and most convenient way to get around the city. The roads are great and as long as you use a GPS you will be able to navigate around without many issues. However beware, locals drive fast and rarely indicate, so check your blind spot and stay out of the left lane, unless you want to be abused for driving to slow.

Dubai’s taxis are available to hail nearly everywhere at just about any time, day or night.

Taxis are reasonably priced in Dubai. If you prefer to use an app to book a ride, Uber or Careem are available. Feeling extravagant? Book an Uber chopper for a bird’s-eye commute.


The Dubai metro is a very reasonably priced, driverless system. Most of the metro ride provides a great view while you travel to landmarks like the Dubai Mall, Dubai Marina, the Gold Souk and Dubai's financial district (DIFC). Dubai Metro tickets can be purchased in the form of a NOL card from any station.

For tourists, the best beach locations to stay are the Dubai Marina, JBR, Palm Jumeirah or Jumeirah Beach. If you don’t want to spend time soaking up the sun, stay in Downtown Dubai or Business Bay.


Organise a local sim card when you arrive. There are three options in Dubai for prepaid mobile sims, Virgin UAE, DU or Etisalat.


Coffee

If you’re anything like me, you’ll need some caffeine soon after arrival. Dubai has four main roasters:

  • Seven Fortunes. These guys are cool cats, and only more than happy to share their knowledge with you.

  • Encounter. Established by Bull & Roo which was jointly founded by two guys from Madrid and Melbourne. Bull & Roo also operate Tom & Serg, The Sum of Us, Common Grounds and a few more venues. Encounter roasts their beans inside The Sum of Us.

  • Gold Box. Located in an industrial area, you will find the hipsters drinking cold drip here.

  • The Espresso Lab. This schmick venue is a must if you’re heading to the Dubai Design district.


Breakfast / Brunch / Lunch

  • Tom & Serg (Al Quoz), The Sum of Us (Trade centre), Common Grounds (Mall of The Emirates), Arrows & Sparrows (The Greens) and Brunswick Sports Club (Mall of The Emirates) are all casual cafes that serve good quality western food. Think smashed avocado, burgers, and salads.

  • Wild and the Moon. (Alserkal Avenue) is a cold-pressed juice and smoothie bar which also serves mostly raw, plant-based food and desserts.

  • Nourish. (Dar Al Wasl in Jumeirah). A holistic ‘clean eating’ café which prides itself on sourcing and harvesting produce from local farms.


Lunch/ Dinner

  • 3 Fils (Jumeirah Fishing Harbour). Modern Asian cuisine with a Japanese influence. Smart casual setting in the city’s fishing harbour district. Affordable. Book before. No Alcohol.

  • Zuma (DIFC). Chic Japanese restaurant with steel and granite decor, serving sushi, grill dishes and sharing plates. Splurge. Book before. Alcohol.

  • Bu Qtair (Umm Suqeim 2). Casual beachside fare, bit of a local institution. Plastic picnic table style seating . There’s no menu, you’ll get the catch of the day, or prawns, in a curry sauce. Simple, fresh and delicious. Fast and friendly service. Cheap. Local Experience. No bookings. No Alcohol.

  • Lima (City Walk). Authentic Peruvian, contemporary cuisine, fun, relaxed experience in a stylish setting that is refined with a youthful, urban vibe. Affordable. Book before. Alcohol.

  • Al Mallah Dhiyafah (Al Satwa). Arabic and Lebanese street food such as shawarma and falafel served in a simple venue with outdoor tables. Located in Al Satwa area which has an old Dubai town vibe. You can get a traditional chicken shawarma sandwich here for around $3. Cheap. Local Experience. No bookings. No Alcohol.

  • Operation Falafel (Various locations). Arabic casual chain restaurant providing good quality food. Shawarma, falafel, manaeesh etc. Affordable. No bookings. No Alcohol.



Rooftop / Bars with a View

  • Gold on 27 (Burj Al Arab). Technically not on a rooftop, however this bar is a must when visiting Dubai (and the cheapest) way to see the Burj Al Arab – Dubai’s most extravagant hotel. The cocktails are impressive and cost about $30 so you’ll probably want to just sip on one for a while and take in the views of the city skyline. Splurge. Bookings via their App. Dress code.

  • Pure Sky Lounge and Dining (Hilton JBR). An affordable option if you’re in the JBR/Marina area. Fantastic views of JBR and the soon to be complete Ain Dubai (world’s biggest Ferris Wheel). Go between 6-8pm for happy hour. Affordable. No Bookings. Smart Casual.

  • Level 43 Sky Lounge (Sheikh Zayed Road). Top spot to check out Sheikh Zayed Road and Downtown Dubai. Affordable. No Bookings. Smart Casual.


Brunch

On Friday’s, most establishments turn into a party scene. Typically starting at midday (there are some evening options), they offer all-inclusive food and drink packages for around 3-4 hours. Ranging from $70-500 there are plenty of options to choose from. Expect plenty of food, drinks and fun, and don’t be surprised if you or someone close ends up dancing on the table. Some places also do a Saturday brunch. As every week is different, you should pick your venue via Time Out or What’s On (local weekend magazine's found at most supermarkets or online).


Activities

Indoors

Outdoors

  • Hang out at a beach club. Zero Gravity, Rixos, or Barasti

  • Swim, soak up the sun or relax at one of the many beaches. JBR and Kite Beach are the most popular for tourists. La Mer is a Caribbean style beach area well worth a visit

  • Try stand up paddle boarding (SUP) or hire a Jet ski

  • Visit a water park. Wild Wadi or Aquaventure (you can swim with Dolphins here)

  • Watch the impressive water fountain show outside the Dubai Mall

  • Rent a yacht or take a boat tour

  • Get cultural. Visit the Spice Markets, Gold Souk, Dubai Museum, Dubai Mosque or sail on an Abra across the creek

  • See something different. Miracle Gardens, Green Planet, Global Village or Legoland

  • Explore one of the many shopping/food/arts precincts. City Walk, Box Park, Design District, or Alserkal Avenue

  • Cycle along Al Quadra through the desert

  • Venture into the dunes for a safari, sand-boarding, quad-biking or a horse ride

  • Stroll along the Dubai Canal

  • Take a day trip to Abu Dhabi. Visit the Louvre, Grand Mosque, or Ferrari World

  • Watch camel races, where the jockeys are robots

  • Hire a bike and ride around the Palm or Marina area

  • Get your adrenaline pumping on one of the zip lines or see the best views of Dubai by jumping out of a plane


A Day in Dubai. ‘Hello Sir’ recommendations


Culture

Head to the Sum of Us for breakfast. Make your way to the Dubai Museum and take an Abra over the river to Deira Old Souk. Head to Al Satwa for an explore and have lunch at Al Mallah Dhiyafah. Watch the sunset from Gold on 27. Have dinner at Bu Qtair. Walk over to Jumeirah Public Beach and view the Burj Al Arab at night.


Adventure

Make your way to Arrows & Sparrows for breakfast. Skydive, zipline or head to a waterpark. Lunch at 3 Fils or Zuma, followed by a sundowner Desert Safari.


Chilled

Breakfast at Tom & Serg. Relax on JBR or Kite Beach. Enjoy a casual lunch at one of the beach side venues. Have a sunset cocktail at Pure Sky Lounge (JBR) and dinner at any of our recommended places.


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