What to do in Dubai
Everyone knows Dubai as a small Arab state that has constructed artificial islands, extremely tall buildings (the world’s tallest building- the Buj Khalifa is located there), and where wealth and luxury are signature distinctions.
We must say that our memories and impressions of Dubai are more than that of the wealth and luxury, but rather the surprise that there is much more to Dubai beneath the surface that is well known around the world. In our opinion Dubai is very distinct.
Taking advantage of our connecting flight to China, we stopped in Dubai for four days.
What surprised us the most is that Dubai is slightly less luxurious than we had expected. In fact it reminded us of Morocco, although much more modern (money always helps to make things seem more modern) and, depending on where you go, there are areas that look a lot like the tourist areas in the south of Spain.
Something that caught our attention was the number of Russian tourists, or rather Russian female tourists, which make up the largest number of foreigners traveling to the Dubai. There is even a beach named “Russian Ladies Beach” that many men frequent merely to sneak a peek. In Dubai, even at the beach, many women are covered from head to toe.
The feeling that we got from Dubai is that it is a place we will have to return to in ten years time. Today, even though the image of modernity and luxury are promoted throughout the world, it appears to be only half way completed.
The world’s tallest building, the world’s largest commercial center, and the world’s only 7 star hotel all showcase the luxury Dubai tries to exude throughout the world, but all of these things are contained in one area. The rest of the city is very distinct and more authentic with bazaars and a river for cargo ships to cross. A very different view from the one of luxury the tourism board wishes to promote.
In terms of price, everything is very accessible for the Spanish tourist, in fact many things are cheaper than in Spain, another thing that surprised us. One could go to Dubai for a week and expect to spend the same amount of money as traveling to Islas Canarias for the same amount of time during the high season.
The destination is surprising and in a good way! You will find more than you expected. Aside from the financial district and the malls you can enjoy exquisite beaches and enchanting bazaars. We found the ideal travel destination to relax and be within a culture completely different from ours, and we recommend that you get to experience it too.
Suitcase for Dubai: The necessities that you cannot forget
During most of the year light summery clothes will suffice, but during the winter months you will probably need a sweater or jacket, especially at night.
Especially for the ladies, it is difficult to know what to pack in your suitcase when you are travelling to the Middle East. In Dubai there is a very relaxed dress code especially for tourists. They are very permissive, so ladies can dress as they feel most comfortable. You will find some women covered from head to toe and others in miniskirts and there is no problem as they are more tolerant in that aspect of daily life
You can dress as you wish although you do have to be careful not to wear articles of clothing that may be offensive especially at religious sites. Wearing short dresses or tops where your shoulders are exposed should present no problems.
At the beach or at the pool, shorts, bathing suits, and bikinis are items you will regularly see foreigners wearing.
-We recommend taking good quality sunglasses.
-Sunscreen and a hat are also recommended to protect yourself from the sun.
-A fan. This may sound peculiar, but in this destination a fan quickly becomes a necessity.
-A pashmina would not be a bad idea for the ladies. It could help to cover you up if at any point you would feel like you would like to, but it would be something completely optional as nobody will get offended if you don’t. If you don’t have one, don’t worry because they sell them by the thousands there.
-An electric adapter. It is something very important to have in case your hotel doesn’t have plugs that fit your appliances.
-We normally recommend the Lonely Planet travel guides as we feel those are the best, although for this trip we didn’t travel with it. We simply went with a notebook full of handwritten notes that our friend Pedro’s aunt gave us. Between the notes and the information we found on the internet, we didn’t have any problems.
Visa to Travel to Dubai
For stays of less than 90 days you do not need a visa if you have a Spanish passport nor do you need to fill out any paperwork.
Best Time to Visit Dubai
The city is in the desert and we have read that in the summer the temperature can reach 50°C, which can make a trip in the summer less than enjoyable. You won’t get the experience or enjoyment out of the city when you are running from air-conditioned place to air-conditioned place.
The best time to visit may be from February to April. We were there in April and the temperature was a phenomenal 24°C-very comfortable. For this reason we recommend this time of year to visit.
Flight Times From Madrid to Dubai
A non-stop flight, which is the one we got, from Madrid to Dubai is 7 hours.
Time in Dubai
Two hours later than in Spain.
Currency in Dubai
The ‘Dirham’ (abbreviation DHS)
As in all of our trips, we took Euros and changed them in our destination. For ease we paid everything that we could with a credit card. In restaurants you can use a credit card without any problems, but for the bazaars it is best to pay in cash.
We never exchanged currency in a bank. When we entered the first bank, we were told they do not do currency exchanges and to go to the mall across the street which we did without any problems. You won’t have any trouble finding currency exchanges in the bazaar zones or in the malls. We always changed small amounts, 50 or 100 Euros, and we did so without having to present our passports.
You can get the metro, but we were there with our suitcases loaded for our trip to China so we opted for a taxi out of convenience. The taxi stop is just outside airport exit.
We were directed to a ‘lady taxi’ which are chauffeured by women in pink and white uniforms. The taxi itself was very new and also pink and white. These ‘lady taxis’ were very interesting, because during the rest of our trip all we saw were red and white taxis being driven by men.
The trip to Bur Dubai will cost you more or less 10 Euros (47 Dirhams). The return trip to the airport was cheaper as we didn’t have to pay the exit tax at the airport.
How to Move About in Dubai
The metro is modern with very small stations.
It is not very practical as most of its stops leave you far away from your intended destination; as in the case of Jumeirah Beach and Buj Khalifa, you will have to get a bus or a taxi after exiting the metro to avoid walking in the heat. This was another surprise and another illustration of how this city is not what it appears to be. The metro is very modern and well made, but it does not feel very complete as you still have to get a taxi or a bus to get to the most touristy of sites.
One thing to take into consideration is that on Monday mornings businesses are closed and do not open until 14:00 because it is their day of rest, as ours is Sunday. The rest of the week the normal operating hours are 6:00 to 23:00, except for Fridays when they close an hour later at 24:00.
The metro only has two lines, red & green, with numerous stops. To name the stops for each locale, I am posting the color and the number because the names are very difficult to understand (in Arabic…).
Each ticket has different prices based on your destination. The train system is divided into zones and the prices are based on these zones. The prices in 2012 varied from 2 Dh (less than 50 centimos, within the same zone) to 6.50 Dh (a little bit more than 1 Euro to travel across all 3 zones).
You can purchase your tickets at the automatic kiosk which offers English as one of its languages. They offer gold class tickets as well, but as Jose says, having first class on a metro is over the top. Once down in the subway, women and children have their own designated cart, but women are not obligated to ride in it. It is merely an option for those that do not want to ride with men. This difference was a surprise to us.
The ticket functions by tapping it on the top of the stall when you enter an exit. You do not need to slot it in a hole like you do in Madrid.
This is a very cheap way to move around compared to Spain and it is well worth it because the heat and the distances between locations can be brutal. The price of gasoline was 35 centimos, think about that… Furthermore, there isn’t any traffic and the taxis are able to move quickly without getting trapped in a jam. You can get anywhere in no time at all.
The taxis are equipped with meters that are turned on and operated in a very legal fashion, which is great because it eliminates the need for haggling over the price like in many other countries which can be exhausting.
With the ease of the metro and the price of the taxis, we never used the bus although we did the bus stops. I’m sorry, but we cannot give you any information about the bus system.
These are open wooden boats that the locals use to cross the river. There’s a space in the middle for you to sit down, although you will be very close to you neighbor. We rode the boats to get to the gold bazaar and the spice bazaar which are in the Deira zone and to walk along the river. The boats were the cheapest method to get there (1 Dh, 10 centimos) and gave us the opportunity to ‘travel like a local.’
They embark from the old bazaar and you don’t have to buy a ticket at any kiosk, you simply pay once onboard. They run continuously and once one boat fills up, they direct you to the next. The voyage is short and it is the fastest way to cross the river.
They offered to rent the entire boat to us to tour the river and I could swear they said it would cost 20 Dhs, but I’m not sure. We didn’t do it but I am certain that it is a possibility to consider. Pretty interesting, right?
It’s a different way to cross the river in a covered boat. We didn’t use it, but we saw it from the Abras landing.
What to see in Dubai
Historic Area: Dubai Creek
Take the green line metro to stop 25: Al Fahidi. This is where the museum and the historic bazaar are located. You will have to walk about 15 minutes from the metro stop. Exiting the stop head straight until you get to the end of the street where there is a rotunda. Turn left at the rotunda and the first thing you will find is Heritage Village.
You will recognize it immediately with its adobe buildings and its wonderful narrow streets which are perfect to stroll through especially at dusk. You can enter and tour some of the houses which have been converted into mini-museum and several have exposed the insides of the buildings so that you can see the internal structure.
Heritage House (#13) is a typical style house where the entrance is free. Strolling around you will see several of these homes that you can enter, even though you may find no one at the door or even inside you can be curious and look inside. This is a tourist area so it acceptable to walk into these houses.
Most of these houses are museums such as coin museum & stamp museum. Even more interesting than the displays are the homes and patios themselves.
There we saw a café, Café XVA. We didn’t go in, but it looked very enticing.
This area is very beautiful and reminded us of Marrakesh. We honestly felt like the only ones there during our visit because there were few tourists.
A little further down from Heritage Village you will find a plaza where the Dubai Museum is located. You’ll be able to identify it by the large antique ship located in the plaza. The entrance fee is 3 DHs.
It’s an antique fort where you can still see the canon, ships, and traditional style homes. On the bottom level of the museum they reproduce what life was like for people of different professions in the 1950’s before the oil revenue of today. These displays were exactly like visiting a modern day bazaar in Marrakesh, but instead of real people, mannequins recreate the lives of cobblers, blacksmiths, and schoolteachers.
There was a display on the pearl industry explaining how they get the pearls which is similar to how it is in modern day Africa. There is a detailed video on how life has changed since the 1960’s with the advent of oil and how they began to transform the desert into the city of today. The video also depicts what they plan Dubai to be in the future, the projects of “Palm Beach” and “The World” which are artificial islands in the shape of a palm tree and the globe respectively. It is a very interesting visit that we recommend you do not miss because it gives you a view of Dubai that is different from the one that you bring from home. As a cultural experience it is valuable as well. In the end it makes you think about everything that could change simply because you have or don’t have money and how quickly that change could come. What if Morocco had oil? It would be a rich and luxurious country. What if Dubai didn’t have money? They would probably continue living as they do in Morocco. Even though these things may seem like common sense, it is still something worth pondering over.
Leaving there we ate at an Italian restaurant that is in the museum’s plaza. Risotto, salad, and a calzone all for 93 Dhs.
Between the museum and Heritage Village along the river there are a ton of old wooden boats that make trips on the rivers and where you can have a nice dinner at night.
From here you can also catch the wooden ships, Abras, that take you across the river to where the bazaars are.
Dubai Fountain and Dubai Mall
To get here you can take the metro: stop 25 on the red line. It is important to note that the metro will not take you directly to the mall. So after getting off at the ‘Dubai Mall’ exit, you will have to take a bus or a taxi. We mentioned this before, although it is a top tourist attraction, the public transit does not take you to its doorstep. In this regard the public transit is still rather poorly organized.
The Dubai Mall is the largest in the world. In it you will find an aquarium, an artificial waterfall, and a skating rink, which was interesting to see but not to my liking. Something that was very curious to us was that you would see women covered in black from head to toe shopping in stores like Mango and Gap. Alongside them are thousands of tourists many of them Russian.
Outside the mall there is a water fountain show at 7, 7:30, and 7:45. It is a spectacle that we recommend you see there at sunset at the foot of the Buj Khalifa. It is definitely worth your time.
You get there by getting off at the same stop as the mall. It is the tallest building in the world and the one that most people asked us about after our trip. But to be honest, we feel that the skyscrapers in New York, Shanghai, and the Petronas in Kuala Lumpur are more spectacular. Obviously it is very tall and we went through a lot of trouble to get a picture to get the building in its entirety, but it is not as impressive as others and the area it is in is still under construction and full of cranes…
The entrance fee is 125AED with a reservation. You also have the option to go up to the 148th floor, ‘At the Top of the Sky,’ for a guided tour for 500AED.
Beaches in Dubai
In Dubai you will find two types of beaches:
The most famous is Jumeirah Public Beach. From here you will be able to see up close the world’s only 7 star hotel, the Burj Al Arab, it’s the building that looks like a candle.
Metro stop 31 on the red line.
This is another instance where the metro does not take you directly to the beach and you will have to grab a taxi to get there. At the exit of the metro stop we caught a taxi that charged us 13 Dhs.
It’s a small beach with clear and transparent water. If you don’t like the cold (like me), don’t expect these waters to be like the Caribbean even though they may look the same (keep in mind that we visited in April and maybe in August it’s a whole different story). The beach has white fine sand, but no shacks to buy food or water from, no umbrellas or seats to rent, and the showers are few and basic.
Next to the public beaches is Jumeirah Beach Park.
We highly recommend it. Even though it is called a ‘private beach,’ the entrance fee is only 5 Dhs (1 Euro). It is loaded with people, but it has all types of services and is worth the money.
Inside there are showers, gardens, straw umbrellas, palms, a really cute park for kids, grills…and restrooms (and changing rooms). If you plan on spending the day, there is no need to bring food because they have all sorts of fast food (hamburgers 22 Dhs, less than 5 Euros) and restaurants. Some people do pack a picnic and eat on one of the benches in the gardens or under a palm tree.
For 5 Dhms you can rent a beach towel and an umbrella for 10 Dhms if it’s not too windy. There is no need to go to the beach loaded down; everything is available and affordable.
We did not notice if there were any signs advising swimmers about jellyfish. The water temperature when we were there was very cool. At first it is difficult to get in the water, but once you’re in it feels great (this is Jose’s opinion- if the water is not warm, I don’t get in. Besides, with the breeze that was blowing that day there was no need to get into the water to stay cool).
Inside the beach it is prohibited to take pictures. For pictures you will have to go to the public beach, although sometimes you might be able to sneak a snapshot…
White sands and clear water draw many people to the beach even though it is private. There are far less people at the public beach because there are no services available.
The majority of us that were there were foreigners (above all Europeans), although you could see some Muslim women covered from head to toe and some Hindu women fully dressed in their colorful dresses getting in the water. Forget about topless beaches here :$.
Perhaps the coolest thing about the beach was the multiculturalism you can find there: people from many races and cultures calmly enjoying the sun and sand in their own way.
This is the name of the water park located inside the Hotel Atlantis in the famous “Palmera” area. It’s a blast to spend the day there amongst the many attractions and its own small beach.
You can eat inside one of its hamburger shops or fruit stands.
To get here you must take a taxi; the metro line does not reach. In the Hotel Atlantis there is a monorail that connects the entire palmeras from end to end (15 dhs one way and 25dhs round trip). If you get the one way ticket, it does not connect to the metro line, so the only way to get there is via taxi.
They open every day from 10am to dusk.
You can buy your entry tickets right there on the same day. There is no need to make previous arrangements and they accept credit cards.
If you take a towel, great! If not, don’t worry. For 10 euros you can rent a towel and a locker to store your bags, backpacks, and clothes. If you forget sunscreen or any other aquatic need, don’t worry, they have shops there ready to gouge you for any of your needs ☺.
Throughout the entire park there are beach chairs to lounge around in (included in entrance fee) as well as inner tubes (single or double) to float down one of the lazy rivers.
Once again it was curious to see women covered from head to toe wearing leggings, swimsuits that reached past their knees and their heads were still covered. This time with brightly colored garments that seemed to be made of swimsuit materials most often aqua marine or black in color. The entry price is 260AED/person without the towel and locker rental or any food.
Traduced by Jorge Mejias
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