Dubai is hands-down one of the coolest cities we have ever visited. If you read our other posts about this country, you know how much we love the United Arab Emirates, from the mix of Arab culture and the huge immigrant population to the glamour and luxury that is found in all of its major cities. On our trip to the United Arab Emirates we spent a good amount of time in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and this trip put the country easily onto our list of the most unforgettable destinations that we’ve been to. If you’re interested in visiting one of the most international, glamorous, and developed cities in the world, keep reading!
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Best Things to Do in Dubai
Dubai is out of this world. While many think it is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, it actually isn’t. Much like New York City in the United States, it is the biggest and most well-known city in the country, but isn’t the capital. Abu Dhabi is. Either way, this city is absolutely mesmerizing and jam-packed with things to do. Kind of like Texas, everything is bigger in Dubai, and this list will show you what I mean.
1. Check out Burj Khalifa, the Tallest Building in the World
I can’t describe how big the Burj Khalifa is. It is so big that you can’t see the top on a cloudy day, and unless you stand several blocks away you can’t fit the entire thing in an iPhone picture. The sheer size of this thing is awe-inspiring and you need to see it to believe it. In my Shanghai Travel Guide, I said that the Shanghai Tower is the second tallest building in the world.
The Burj Khalifa is so big that you can take the entire Shanghai Tower and add half of the Empire State Building to it and it would still be shorter. You can either view it from outside like we did, or you can take an elevator to the top and see the city from the observation deck.
2. Have Lunch on a Yacht in the Bay
Dubai is a port city sitting right on the Straight of Hormuz, and it built its wealth by being on the water. As one of the wealthiest cities in the whole world, you can imagine there are a lot of yachts sitting in Dubai’s famous harbors. One of the best ways to enjoy an afternoon in Dubai is to have lunch on a yacht out in the water. To celebrate getting engaged, we found a tour that left from the harbor and circled around the water for two hours and had an absolute blast. The weather was great, the views of the city and its skyline from the water are the best you can get, and the time away from the hustle and bustle of the city is very peaceful and restorative.
3. Stroll the Luxury Malls
Most people, like us, can’t afford to actually buy anything in the stores in most Dubai malls. The Dubai Mall, which is the biggest in Dubai, is absolutely stuffed with the most expensive stores you can imagine. Emiratis are very wealthy thanks to subsidies from the government, and it’s on full display in the malls. Versace, Gucci, Louis Vuitton – any luxury brand you can think of has a large store in The Dubai Mall. Just seeing the beauty of the buildings is worth the visit, even if you can’t drop $500 on a belt. Strolling through the luxury malls will give you a really good idea of just how wealthy of a country the United Arab Emirates is!
4. Admire the Grand Jumeirah Mosque
Islam is a beautiful religion. As very devout Catholics ourselves, we have a great appreciation for and interest in religions around the world. While many view Dubai as a very worldly and more secular place, the Islamic roots of the city are undeniable and absolutely worth exploring and learning about. If you’ve never visited a mosque, I highly recommend doing it while you’re in Dubai.
Be sure to dress conservatively, as head coverings and full length attire is either required or strongly suggested depending which mosque you visit.
5. Take a Day Trip to Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi has all the glamour of Dubai but in a more toned-down, subtle way. Everything in Abu Dhabi is still big and shiny, but the city is much more traditional and conservative than Dubai. As the capital of the country, there is so much to see and do here and it honestly deserves so much more than a day.
For more information on Abu Dhabi, including where to get a cappuccino made of gold and how to fly a Ferrari, check out my Abu Dhabi Travel Guide.
6. Visit Old Dubai to Learn about its Arab Roots
Old Dubai looks like it is straight out of Aladdin. This part of the city is preserved to show what Dubai used to be like before the addition of skyscrapers, and it honestly feels magical. Whenever we travel somewhere, we are very interested in learning about the history of the place we are in and how it came to be, and visiting Old Dubai is the perfect example of living history.
How to Get to Dubai
Getting to Dubai is really straightforward. You really don’t have any option other than flying right into the city. Flying from the United States, Dubai is one of the most accessible and affordable destinations in the entire Arab World. Dubai has two large airports, but if you’re arriving on an international flight, you’ll probably land in Dubai International Airport (DXB), which is Dubai’s bigger hub airport. Depending where you are flying from, you may even find a direct flight from the United States! Washington D.C. and New York are two places that offer direct flights, and there are definitely more. For some tips on saving a little money on your flight, I’d recommend that you check out my detailed guide to finding cheap flights.
Dubai is also an incredible place for a stretched-out layover. DXB is one of the busiest airports in the world for connecting flights, and this makes it a perfect candidate for an extended layover. This is actually what we did one of the times that we visited Dubai. An extended layover is basically when you look where a flight route’s layovers naturally occur, and you then book the flight to follow the same route, but with a 2 or 3 day layover instead of a 2 or 3 hour layover. I wrote a full blog post on extended layovers here.
However, we found that coming from the United States you’ll get a much better flight deal 99% of the time if you fly into Dubai, which is only an hour and a half east of Abu Dhabi. Dubai has two large airports, but if you’re arriving on an international flight, you’ll probably land in Dubai International Airport (DXB), which is Dubai’s bigger hub airport. While this option requires you to then make your way from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, it can actually still be faster and cheaper than flying directly into Abu Dhabi!
The best way to get from the airport to your hotel in Dubai is by booking a private transfer with our partners at Welcome Pickups. Welcome Pickups offers personalized, private, comfortable rides from the airport into the city for about the same price as a standard taxi. They monitor your flight status while you are in the air, and a driver will be waiting for you holding a sign with your name on it as soon as you arrive.
How to Get Around Dubai
BUS | METRO | UBER
First things first, the public transportation in Dubai is pretty good. The bus network is expansive and there are also two metro lines, one of which is the longest driverless train line in the world! To use any form of public transportation, you’ll need to buy a Nol Card. This is essentially a Dubai public transit pass that you can reload as you go. You can buy this at the bus or metro station, and there are plenty of multi-lingual machines where you can top up your balance. Be sure to put enough on the card to cover your travel route, as you don’t buy tickets as you go – you just tap your card as you board the bus or metro, and it automatically deducts from your balance.
If you’re not a fan of public transportation or public transportation isn’t very convenient to your day’s schedule, we fully recommend calling an Uber. Uber is one of our favorite creations of the past decade, and we use it almost daily while traveling. It is always safer than a taxi due to the GPS tracking and background screening of all of the drivers, and it usually is cheaper than a traditional taxi, too. The app works the exact same in the United Arab Emirates as it does anywhere else in the world. If you’re apprehensive about using Uber during your trip, check out my post on using Uber in foreign countries.
While you could rent a car, I almost never advise this unless you’re going somewhere that will inherently require a lot of driving, like any kind of wine country. When you plan on visiting a city and only venturing out a couple of times, avoiding a rental car can save you from spending hundreds of unnecessary dollars.
Safety in Dubai
If you read my Abu Dhabi Travel Guide, you’ve seen this exact same section. If you haven’t read that, read it here. Some people wonder about safety for their next trip to the United Arab Emirates. After all, it’s in the Middle East.
There are some parts of the Middle East that are in conflict, and sadly the region as a whole has been plagued by some sort of constant conflict over the past century. But trust me – the United Arab Emirates is extremely safe, and there is very little to fear. There is a high police presence, but it doesn’t seem like they need it at all. The country as a whole and the individual cities that we visited could not have felt any safer. If you take normal precautions like you would in any big city, you have nothing to worry about.
In a lot of places, I’d say “leave the Rolex at home.” Yet, in the United Arab Emirates, half of the population is wearing one! I won’t advise you to show off any wealth or name brands, but realistically, carrying a Gucci bag and driving a Ferrari doesn’t really make you stand out in the United Arab Emirates; it makes you blend in!
What to Wear in Dubai
A lot of people who are traveling to the Middle East for the first time wonder what they need to wear. While every country in the region has its own laws and level of conservatism, a generally modest dress code is universal across the entire area. Yes, Dubai has in some ways earned the title of the “Las Vegas of the Middle East.” Don’t let that fool you in the slightest bit. It is a ton of fun, and everything is big and shiny, but the United Arab Emirates is still a Muslim country and there are certain modesty standards that need to be met. If you want what you imagine when you think of Las Vegas, then just go to Las Vegas! (Check out my Las Vegas Travel Guide first though). In Dubai, you might see some people walking around in some not-so-modest things, but you really don’t want to be that kind of person. You want to respect the country that you’re visiting, right?
In terms of what to wear, I’d say try to cover your shoulders, wear knee-length bottoms, and if you’re a woman, try to minimize the amount of cleavage that you show. Doing a little bit to show respect goes a very long way. I think that the dress code in Dubai lines up somewhat comparably with the dress code in Morocco, and I wrote an entire post about that which might be helpful to read before you travel.
But what if you’re going to the beach? Dubai has a great beach scene, and you will definitely want to visit! There’s no need to buy a whole new bathing suit to try and show respect. There are plenty of bikinis on the beaches in Dubai – just try to pick your most conservative one, if you can, and be sure to cover back up before you walk along the boardwalk area or into the city, as the police turn a blind eye to the people on the sand, but are much less accepting once you leave the beach.
Is Dubai Worth Visiting In 2022?
Dubai was always near the top of my bucket list, and visiting Dubai did nothing but make me want to return. This city is one of the coolest places I have visited throughout all of my travels, and I fully plan to return as soon as possible. Not only is the United Arab Emirates a really interesting country, but it is also one of increasing importance on an international level. Dubai is on track to be one of the most important cities in the world very soon, and I can’t wait to return in the future. From incredible things to do, to glamour that is unmatched elsewhere, to a rich heritage and culture, Dubai is absolutely worth visiting, regardless of what you’re into.
Our Final Tips for Visiting Dubai
Dubai rocks, and you won’t regret the long flight. To make the most of your vacation in Dubai in 2022, we have a couple more recommendations for you.
That’s all I have for you about Dubai! Hopefully you learned a few things from my Dubai Travel Guide and are looking forward to your next trip to the United Arab Emirates. If you have any questions be sure to drop a comment in the comment section or shoot us an email.
If you’re planning a trip to Dubai, let us know! We’d love to chat ahead of time and answer any questions you have. Otherwise, have a wonderful day and stay present!