In this Dubai travel guide we'll take a look at the best things to see and do there and also look at the best shopping areas and restaurants. Both Singapore and Dubai have a glamorous airport and glimmering skyscrapers, and many who are unacquainted with Dubai might think about it as an international city with lots of expats. Some people even say that it's the Hong Kong of the Middle East. To some extent, that's not too far from the truth.
Before this trip, I'd only been to Dubai and stayed within the airport for transit, but because of a friend staying there, I was able to stop over for 2 days before continuing with my journey. Let's say the city was a little different from what I had expected to be and that it's pretty unique on its own. Here's GET.com's Dubai Travel Guide which will take you on a journey through this sizzling city.
Top Things To See In Dubai
Since Dubai has a tropical desert climate, choosing the right time to visit is essential.
The average summer temperature is around 41 °C in the day and 30 °C at night, while its historical high was at 52.1 degrees! Try to visit towards the end of the year which is "winter season", where the temperature hovers at a more comfortable 25 degrees celsius.
Another important thing to note about Dubai – I've learnt that it's not the best city to walk around in. Two things hit you after you've exited the airport – you'll see lots of expressways and deserts. It's amazing to see that there's almost zero pedestrians so be prepared to stay indoors a lot.
Expect nothing mediocre in Dubai. The city is known to take things to the extreme and looking at some of its world-famous attractions, you'd know that there's no halfway effort.
When they set their mind to something, they literally make it the best. Just take a look at the world's tallest building (Burj Khalifa), the world's biggest mall (Dubai Mall) and the infamous Palm Jumeirah.
The Burj Khalifa is currently the tallest building in the world – a massive infrastructure made out of stainless steel and glass that reaches 828 metres high. You can't say you've been to Dubai without seeing this amazing building!
You can choose to enjoy it for free by just standing outside the Dubai Mall area and admiring the man-made wonder, or you can book tickets to the observation decks to enjoy a bird's eye view of the cityscape.
There are 3 levels of "heights" to challenge yourself with:
- At the Top, Burj Khalifa is located at level 124, providing a breathtaking and unobstructed view of the city.
- Level 125 is one level above the At the Top observatory and houses the Falcon's Eye View that allows you to explore the city from a unique perspective.
- Or go the extreme to reach level 148 – at 555 metres, you are truly at the top of the world.
The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence is a 1.7 kilometre strip of promenade lined with shops, cafes and restaurants. While such promenades are not exceptionally unique, what's different here is that you can't easily find something like this in Dubai!
The Walk remains one of Dubai's outdoor tourist attractions, simply because pedestrian walking is quite uncommon in the hot and sandy city.
Over here, you'll feel at home in a nice cafe enjoying a meal with a beach view. Because Dubai is a Muslim country, this is probably one of the few areas where you'll see tourists in bikinis and dressed in sleeveless tank tops and shorts.
Top Things to Do in Dubai
The Madinat Jumeirah is a modern interpretation of a traditional Arab village. This man-made structure simulates a historical moment, complete with a souk (open-air marketplace) and a desert-coloured infrastructure.
At the Souk Madinat Jumeirah, a bazaar with meandering pathways of shops lining narrow corridors, you'll find a variety of traditional items as well as modern designer stores. Personally, I found the atmosphere a little contrived but it's nevertheless a great introduction to Arabic culture.
The Dubai Fountain is considered part of the Burj Khalifa but you only get to see the magnificent performance of the Dubai Fountain when you are there at the right time.
Set on the 24-acre Burj Lake, the Dubai Fountain features a spectacular performance of light, sound and water that jets up as high as 140 metres.
Accordingly, the beam of light shining upward from the fountain can be seen from space! The Dubai Fountain performs daily with a repertoire of over 30 songs including Arabic songs, as well as international classics.
The fountain performs daily at 1 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. in the afternoon, but I recommend that you go for the evening shows in order to enjoy the full splendor of the lights at night.
Think you aren't gonna find green in the middle of the desert? You'll be proven wrong with the Dubai Miracle Garden!
The Dubai Miracle Garden is a flower garden located in the district of Dubailand. The garden spreads over 72,000 square metres and features some 45 million flowers.
Before you go there, remember to check their website to see if it is open though, as summer weather makes it quite unbearable to walk in the hot sun.
I was lucky to be there on the opening weekend and got to see some amazing structures decorated with flowers.
With admission at just 30 AED (around $10), it's a great way to spend an afternoon/evening and be amidst the greenery. Do be aware though, the place can get very crowded, so forget about having a picnic.
What to Eat in Dubai
Weekends in Dubai start on Thursday nights and it has almost become part of their culture to have a relaxing brunch on Friday.
If you are in for a luxurious brunch, various hotels and restaurants battle for the most elaborate display of dishes.
And if you've been deprived from alcohol during your trip in Dubai, this is the one time the tight drinking laws seem to be thrown out.
The one that tops the list is undeniably Al Qasr at the Medinat Jumeirah. It's most likely the biggest brunch in Dubai, offering a buffet spread spanning across three restaurants, it's so large that diners are given a map upon arrival!
Middle Eastern Food
Love your kebabs, hummus and pita bread? You'll find lots of great Middle Eastern food in Dubai. I tried out Times of Arabia located at the Madinat Jumeirah, which had a great atmosphere at night next to the water.
Order away for affordable Lebanese food such as shawarma, fresh salads, mezze platters and meat kebabs. You can also smoke shisha here out in the open.
I'm a falafel lover and it's difficult to find good falafels in Singapore so I had my fill in Dubai! One of the best places to eat great falafel was at a casual restaurant at The Walk called Operation Falafel.
The place is considered cheap compared to the other food establishments in the area and they serve great quality food!
Other than the falafel which is a must-eat, try out the manakeesh which resembles a pizza, as well as their generous salad and the unique Arabic lime-mint drink which is oh-so-refreshing to drink in the hot weather!
What To Buy In Dubai
Along with its mega structures and sandstorms, Dubai is known for something else equally glittery: gold! Thanks to an non-existent import tax on the shiny metal, locals and tourists alike can seek out lots of gold here.
One of the best places to see and buy gold is at the traditional gold souk in Dubai. Even if you are not thinking of buying gold, a trip there is definitely worth it.
Cross the Dubai Creek via a boat to take on a different side of Dubai. Here, you'll find rows and rows of jewellery shops selling diamonds and gold.
For 1 Dihram, the water taxi is a great way to get to the spice and gold souks from the other side.
Nearby the gold souk, you will find the spice souk as well. It's an interesting place with alleys of stores selling spices and other food items in bulk.
Buy all sorts of spices such as saffron and nutmeg, or foodstuff such as tea, dried fruits and nuts as well as small souvenirs and trinkets. What's my must-buy here? Dates!
Dates have played an important role in Middle Eastern cuisine and they are particularly prevalent during Ramadan, where they are traditionally eaten to break the fast.
Dates here come in a huge variety – you can find them plain, stuffed with almonds, walnuts or even chocolate-coated!
And finally, to save money on your trip to Dubai make sure to check out the cheapest hotel rates on Agoda.com before booking your trip.