While most travellers associate this burgeoning metropolis with glitz and glamour, there’s much more here than meets the eye. From fine dining to rustic markets, non-stop shopping to pristine coastline, family fun to high culture, Dubai has it all. Here are a few things to know before entering this utterly unique destination.
1. It’s a foodie’s paradise
When it comes to dining, it just doesn’t get better than Dubai. The city boasts a thriving food culture steeped in centuries of culinary traditions. Feast on candy-sweet dates, sumptuous mezze spreads, and artfully spiced grilled meats. While trying the local dishes is an absolute must, there are restaurants here to suit every palate. Whether you’re craving superb sashimi flown in from Tsukiji Market that morning or have a hankering for tagliatelle sprinkled with fresh truffle shavings, you’re bound to find it.
2. Taxis are cheap
Despite Dubai’s abundance of luxury shopping options and high-end restaurants, certain elements of life in the city remain surprisingly affordable. Avoid sweating your way across the expansive downtown and flag one of the many cabs instead. Drivers tend to speak English and rates start at AED 3 during the day, with an extra AED 1.6 for each additional kilometre. A few fees apply for airport pickups and late-night rides, but all together cabs provide a cheap, efficient, air-conditioned means of transportation.
3. There is a whole other world beyond the skyscrapers
Dubai features some of the world’s tallest buildings, including the spectacular 160-storey Burj Khalifa. As dazzling as these glittering monoliths may be, the soul of the city lies closer to the ground in ornately decorated mosques and souks selling everything from fragrant spices to precious textiles. Check out historic architecture in Bastakiya, the old Persian quarter, or make a beeline for the dreamy, white-sand beaches.
4. Kissing in public is a definite no-no
As with any country, it pays for travellers to respect the local customs. That means PDA of any sort is out and visitors should dress modestly. Western garb is perfectly acceptable, but both men and women should steer clear of sleeveless shirts, shorts, or anything overly revealing. Note that Dubai is a warm, hospitable place and locals may well invite you into their homes or offer you refreshments. It’s considered impolite to refuse. When offered food, be sure to take it with your right hand, as the left is considered unclean.
5. You can buy pretty much anything from a vending machine
Looking to pick up upmarket cosmetics or perfumes? How about a laptop or maybe a solid gold bar? Whatever your wish, the odds are high that you can find it one of the Dubai’s extra-well-stocked vending machines.
6. The Dubai Mall is the largest shopping centre in the world. It even has an indoor ice skating rink.
There are ordinary shopping centres and then there’s The Dubai Mall, a sprawling treasure-trove of wonders with more than 1,200 retail outlets. Situated at the foot of the majestic Burj Khalifa, the space houses one of the largest aquariums in the world, with 10 million litres of water and a wide array of marine life, as well as an Olympic-sized ice skating rink.
7. Dubai is one of the safest cities in the world
Strictly enforced laws mean that travellers should feel at ease wandering the streets of Dubai. Crime rates are low across the board, meaning you can relax and enjoy exploring all that this vibrant metropolis has to offer.
The best time to go is November through March, when the weather is relatively cool and pleasant. Temperatures skyrocket during the summer months between June and August.
The local currency is the United Arab Emirates Dirham, or AED.