First time Dubai: tips for your 1st visit to Dubai (the city of gold)
Prepare yourself for a town of extremes: Dubai is home to the world’s tallest building, the most gargantuan mall and the largest indoor ski slope. There are restaurants for everyone on the planet beaches where both the bikini and burkha come relax.
So where to begin? Make sure you are aware of local laws and etiquette before you leave then slap on the sunscreen and start with these must see sights.
The world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, is visible from just about anywhere in the town – on a clear day, you’ll see it from 95km away. It’s currently home to the world’s highest observation deck at a vertiginous 555m. At walking distance you’ll find the Dubai Mall the world’s busiest as well as the all-singing, all-dancing Dubai Fountain which is the world’s best.
The distinctive sail-shaped Burj Al Arab is the city’s emblem and homes the so-called world’s only seven-star hotel. It sits next to the sprawling Madinat Jumeirah complex, an atmospheric take on an old Arabian town with high-end hotels, restaurants, bars, shops and Venetian-style waterways that offer top views of the iconic hotel.
Whatever is your age, Dubai’s water parks should be on your itinerary? The 2 most popular and rightly so are Wild wadi, situated in front of the Burj Al Arab, and Aquaventure, found in the Atlantis resort at the end of Palm Jumeirah. They boast adrenaline-pumping slides, lazy river rapids and brilliant kids’ areas, while Legoland Water Park at Dubai Parks Resorts is designed especially for 2 to 12 year olds.
For a hint of what Dubai was like, before the oil boom, head to Dubai Creek. Take an abra across the creek from Deira to Bur Dubai (or vice versa) and explore the various souqs, where you live and die by your ability to haggle for gold, spices and clothes. Delve into the emirate’s fascinating history at the Dubai museum in the Al Fahidi Fort, the oldest building in the town and then take a short taxi ride to the new Etihad museum in Jumeriah, which looks at the formation of the United Arab Emirates in the Seventies.
It will seem like the only thing that ne’er changes in Dubai are the large desert, but actually it’s perpetually evolving, the wind sterilization and restorative it every day. There are many firms providing excursions into the red dunes, variable from wild off-roading trips to more educational tours designed to help you better understand life in the sand.
Where to eat
Dubai has an incredibly diverse and multicultural eating scene, ranging from fine-dining restaurants from the likes of Yannick Alléno and Heinz beck to hole-in-the-wall shawarma joints. For the inside track on the city’s melting pot of cuisines, take a walking tour of old Dubai with frying pan Adventures, which offers fantastic foodie itineraries year-round.
Popular dining districts include The Beach and the Walk at JBR for unlicenced, midrange restaurants; Dubai International financial Centre (DIFC) and town Walk for high-end licenced restaurants; and Deira for affordable eats (head to Al Muraqqabat Rd and Al Rigga Rd). The Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates also have a wide choice of unlicenced restaurants, cafes and fast food retailers.
As you’d expect, there’s a wonderful choice of Middle Eastern cooking. try succulent grilled kebabs at Aroos Damascus in Deira, Lebanese street food at hip chain Zaroob and authentic Emirati fare at Al Fanar in festival city Mall. The town is also awash with great-value Indian and Pakistani cuisine, thanks to its substantial population of expats from the sub-continent. Top options include the legendary Ravi in Jumeriah, Karachi Darbar in Satwa and for something fancier Indego by Vineet in the Grosvenor House hotel.
While Dubai has many foreign eating house concepts, there’s also a growing range of exciting native eateries serving fuss-free food in cool surroundings. Make a beeline for 3 Fils at Jumeriah Fishing Harbour and Salt’s silver food trucks parked permanently at Kite Beach, or push the boat out at Play, helmed by ex-Zuma cook Reif Othman at the H hotel.
If you’re in city on a Friday – the first day of the weekend in Dubai – head to 1 of the city’s splendidly hedonic brunches. 2 of the most decadent all-you-can eat-and-drink choices are Bubblicious at The Westin and Giardino at Palazzo Versace, with more relaxed affairs at marina Social and Bread Street kitchen.
Where to stay
Dubai is known for its palatial hotels and five-star beach resorts, however there’s a good choice of hotels and flats to suit all budgets.
The city is roughly split into 2 parts: ‘Old Dubai’ in the north, encompassing the districts of Deira and Bur Dubai around Dubai Creek; and ‘New Dubai’ towards the south, including the strictly trendy skyscrapers of Downtown Dubai, DIFC and Dubai dock. It’s a fairly compact town that’s simple to get around, thus you’ll stay at the beach and still sightsee comfortably. Luxury desert resorts, like Al Maha and Bab Al Shams, are destinations in their own right and situated less than hour’s drive from the town centre.
Downtown Dubai has a number of the swankiest town hotels including the Armani hotel and the Palace Downtown, while close Business Bay and Al Habtoor town across the Dubai Canal also provide top hotels with quick access to the main sights. Beach resorts are concentrated around Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR), Dubai dock, Palm Jumeirah and Umm Suqeim, though the latter’s man-made beaches are not as good because the coastal stretches.
More modest digs can be found in the older parts of city around Deira and Bur Dubai, while the neighborhood of Al Barsha, home to the Mall of the Emirates, is becoming a hub for midrange hotels. Government inspectors keep a close eye on hotel standards, so you’ll rest assured that even budget hotels are clean and cozy.
Dubai’s tube system is affordable and wonderful, linking the airport with several of the city’s key spots. You’ll need to buy a pre-paid smartcard (available at tube stations), which may be used on the tube, tram and bus network.
Taxis are abundant, metered and fairly priced (the minimum fare is Dhs10). There are taxi stands at malls and hotels, or you can flag down a cab on the road. They’re the fastest way to get around, except during rush-hour traffic when you’re better off taking the tube.
Uber and local ride-hailing service Careem are common alternatives to traditional taxis. You’ll hail a ride using either app, with fares calculated on factors such as distance, wait time and demand.
You can also rent a bicycle with Dubai’s public hire scheme, Byky. There are stations dotted around traveler hubs like Dubai dock and Downtown, and a simple route is the 11km-long ride around the Palm’s crescent.
1 Best time to visit is November to March, when temperatures are around 30°C. If you’re visiting in summer, keep cool at indoor amusement park IMG Worlds of adventure or hit the slopes at Ski Dubai.
2 Buy a prepaid local SIM card with a data package so you’ll use maps and websites when you’re out and about. Mobile providers named etisalat and du have stores at the airport and most malls.
3 Pre-book tickets for the Burj Khalifa online and you’ll pay less than half the value of an immediate entry price ticket during non-peak times (and save yourself a 3rd during peak hours).
4 Go for a cultural meal at the sheikh Mohammad Centre of Cultural Understanding that involves an Emirati feast followed by a frank discussion about native culture and religion
5 Don’t worry if your budget won’t stretch to a beach resort, free public beaches like Kite Beach and JBR Beach have sunloungers, showers and cafes are an option for you.
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