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12 things I wish I’d known before I went to Dubai

Travel2017-08-03

Dubai's tourism boom shows no sign of slowing. The city welcomed more than eight million international overnight tourists in the first six months of the year, an increase of 10.6 per cent on the same period in 2016.The rise of Dubai | Annual international overnight visitorsFor anyone planning to visit in the coming months, here are some things I've learned from my numerous trips that you really ought to know.1. There's life beyond the skyscrapersDubai has a rich history, and the UAE culture is fascinating if you scratch beneath all that gold. Weren’t expecting that, were you?Head to the souks that flank Dubai Creek, the original heart of the city, where traders from all over the Middle East come to flog their wares. Here you can haggle for turquoise trinkets from Iran, silver treasures from Oman, anddates from Saudi Arabia. There's even a spectacular souk dedicated to gold – worth a look, even if you're not buying.Dubai Souk Credit: alamy2. The food is fantasticOne of the benefits of having such a huge expat population is a wealth of dinner choices: Dubai has an exciting food scene.And it’s not all about luxury restaurants, either – although there are plenty of those. In the Bur Dubai area, you can feast on Iranian, Filipino, Yemeni, Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani, and even Afghan food. Frying Pan Food Adventures offers some fun foodie tours.Indian street food in Bur Dubai Credit: alamy3. You don’t need a burkiniA bikini will suffice. While the UAE is a Muslim country, it’s not as conservative as you might expect. Dress as you would do in Europe: shorts and skirts are fine. There’s no need to cover your hair either.Burkini not essential Credit: alamy4. But bring a coverupThe shopping malls are cold – it’s all that A/C. You’ll also need one if you plan to visit Jumeirah Mosque, on a (highly-recommended) guided tour.5. Taxis are cheapThe Metro is cheaper, but most of the stations are in inconvenient locations. Take a taxi instead – and tip your driver.The best way to beat traffic on The Palm? Helicopters. Credit: alamy6. The Palm is underwhelmingTown planners, take note: a palm is not a suitable shape for an island. The traffic! If you’re staying on one of the fronds, it’ll take you an extra half-hour to get to Dubai Marina or Downtown – aka Dubai’s fun bits.7. There is alcoholAnd it is plentiful. The sale of alcohol is limited to hotel restaurants, bars and clubs, which might sound odd but in reality it’s not. From pubs with great live music to high-end Champagne bars, there’s a watering hole to suit every occasion. Ask your concierge for recommendations, or consult Time Out Dubai.When catching a taxi or walking home, make sure you’re not staggeringly drunk. This is severely frowned upon, and can lead to police intervention. Keep it classy.Not your average hotel bar Credit: Alamy / Madinat Jumeirah Al Qasr8. Kissing is a no-noAvoid smooching in public, as this will attract unwanted attention too. This includes nightclubs, hotels, the back of taxis and the beach. We’ve all heard the stories of couples being arrested for “having sex” in public places. A simple kiss in public can get you in just as much trouble.9. When it’s hot, it’s HOTThe temperature in summer is, quite frankly, ludicrous. When it’s 55C+ in the shade, you’ve essentially got a 60-second window until you turn into a dripping, puce-coloured mess. Visit between November and March for a less sweaty experience.10. Stop looking at the skyscrapersPavements in Dubai are sketchy at best, and non-existent at worst. Keep your eyes on the ground, or take a taxi like the locals do – and gawp to your heart's delight.11. The spas are amazingEven the pickiest spa aficionado will find something to write home about – and for those unaccustomed to luxury spas, well, nothing will quite measure up after Dubai.Avoid the beauty clinics you find in the malls (although they do a fine mani-pedi), and head to the luxury hotels instead – they’re pricey but worth it. Jumeriah Zabeel Saray and The Palace Downtown Dubai are particularly fine, and (in summer especially) there are often discounts to be had.The hammam at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray Credit: jumeirah12. Malls are actually quite funIgnore the people who sniff at Dubai’s epic malls. Sure, they’re not “culturally-enriching”, but they are great fun. Aquariums, ski slopes, ice rinks, cinemas… it’s easy to lose a day in one of these glittering temples of capitalism. Dubai Mall is the most epic, with a whole ‘district’ (district!) devoted to shoes.(THE TELEGRAPH)

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Dubai's tourism boom shows no sign of slowing. The city welcomed more than eight million international overnight tourists in the first six months of the year, an increase of 10.6 per cent on the same period in 2016.

The rise of Dubai | Annual international overnight visitors

The rise of Dubai | Annual international overnight visitors


For anyone planning to visit in the coming months, here are some things I've learned from my numerous trips that you really ought to know.

1. There's life beyond the skyscrapers

Dubai has a rich history, and the UAE culture is fascinating if you scratch beneath all that gold. Weren’t expecting that, were you?

Head to the souks that flank Dubai Creek, the original heart of the city, where traders from all over the Middle East come to flog their wares. Here you can haggle for turquoise trinkets from Iran, silver treasures from Oman, anddates from Saudi Arabia. There's even a spectacular souk dedicated to gold – worth a look, even if you're not buying.

Dubai Souk Credit: alamy

Dubai Souk Credit: alamy


2. The food is fantastic

One of the benefits of having such a huge expat population is a wealth of dinner choices: Dubai has an exciting food scene.

And it’s not all about luxury restaurants, either – although there are plenty of those. In the Bur Dubai area, you can feast on Iranian, Filipino, Yemeni, Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani, and even Afghan food. Frying Pan Food Adventures offers some fun foodie tours.

Indian street food in Bur Dubai Credit: alamy

Indian street food in Bur Dubai Credit: alamy


3. You don’t need a burkini

A bikini will suffice. While the UAE is a Muslim country, it’s not as conservative as you might expect. Dress as you would do in Europe: shorts and skirts are fine. There’s no need to cover your hair either.

Burkini not essential Credit: alamy

Burkini not essential Credit: alamy


4. But bring a coverup

The shopping malls are cold – it’s all that A/C. You’ll also need one if you plan to visit Jumeirah Mosque, on a (highly-recommended) guided tour.

5. Taxis are cheap

The Metro is cheaper, but most of the stations are in inconvenient locations. Take a taxi instead – and tip your driver.

The best way to beat traffic on The Palm? Helicopters. Credit: alamy

The best way to beat traffic on The Palm? Helicopters. Credit: alamy


6. The Palm is underwhelming

Town planners, take note: a palm is not a suitable shape for an island. The traffic! If you’re staying on one of the fronds, it’ll take you an extra half-hour to get to Dubai Marina or Downtown – aka Dubai’s fun bits.

7. There is alcohol

And it is plentiful. The sale of alcohol is limited to hotel restaurants, bars and clubs, which might sound odd but in reality it’s not. From pubs with great live music to high-end Champagne bars, there’s a watering hole to suit every occasion. Ask your concierge for recommendations, or consult Time Out Dubai.

When catching a taxi or walking home, make sure you’re not staggeringly drunk. This is severely frowned upon, and can lead to police intervention. Keep it classy.

Not your average hotel bar Credit: Alamy / Madinat Jumeirah Al Qasr

Not your average hotel bar Credit: Alamy / Madinat Jumeirah Al Qasr


8. Kissing is a no-no

Avoid smooching in public, as this will attract unwanted attention too. This includes nightclubs, hotels, the back of taxis and the beach. We’ve all heard the stories of couples being arrested for “having sex” in public places. A simple kiss in public can get you in just as much trouble.

9. When it’s hot, it’s HOT

The temperature in summer is, quite frankly, ludicrous. When it’s 55C+ in the shade, you’ve essentially got a 60-second window until you turn into a dripping, puce-coloured mess. Visit between November and March for a less sweaty experience.

10. Stop looking at the skyscrapers

Pavements in Dubai are sketchy at best, and non-existent at worst. Keep your eyes on the ground, or take a taxi like the locals do – and gawp to your heart's delight.

11. The spas are amazing

Even the pickiest spa aficionado will find something to write home about – and for those unaccustomed to luxury spas, well, nothing will quite measure up after Dubai.

Avoid the beauty clinics you find in the malls (although they do a fine mani-pedi), and head to the luxury hotels instead – they’re pricey but worth it. Jumeriah Zabeel Saray and The Palace Downtown Dubai are particularly fine, and (in summer especially) there are often discounts to be had.

The hammam at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray Credit: jumeirah

The hammam at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray Credit: jumeirah


12. Malls are actually quite fun

Ignore the people who sniff at Dubai’s epic malls. Sure, they’re not “culturally-enriching”, but they are great fun. Aquariums, ski slopes, ice rinks, cinemas… it’s easy to lose a day in one of these glittering temples of capitalism. Dubai Mall is the most epic, with a whole ‘district’ (district!) devoted to shoes.


(THE TELEGRAPH)


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