When to Visit:
The best times to visit Dubai are late fall through early spring—anytime from November to March—when average temperatures range between the high 70s and high 80s Fahrenheit and you can enjoy the outdoors (provided you’re armed with sunscreen). Summer temperatures hover around 100°F and come with high humidity, making Dubai something of a sauna from May until September, but hotel rates also plunge by up to 75 percent, and you can simply hop from one air-conditioned attraction to another.
Arriving and Departing:
You have several options for reaching Dubai from its airport: metro, taxi, or bus. Take a metro train from Terminal 1 or 3 for key areas such as Deira, Downtown, and Dubai Marina—the trains operate roughly every 10 minutes from around 6am to midnight, but don’t run Friday mornings. Otherwise, taxis leave from each of the three terminals: Expect a 25-dirham standing charge, plus a metered fare of about two dirhams per kilometer. If you’re on a budget, buses are your cheapest option. Catch them at all terminals, but do your homework beforehand—the route network can be daunting for newcomers.
Dubai’s heat and highways work against walking, although it’s easier to go by foot in Deira and other older districts. The easiest alternative is a taxi, with plenty to flag down and reasonable rates—think about $1 to $2 per kilometer, plus an initial standing charge. For longer distances, use the Dubai Metro, which runs between Dubai Airport and the Creek, and on to Jumeirah, Dubai Marina, and Downtown. To save hassle, buy a Nol card, and pre-load it to avoid the often-long ticket lines at stations. You can also use your Nol on Dubai’s buses, trams, and waterbuses.
Hotels and restaurants automatically add a 10- to 20-percent service charge to bills, and sometimes an extra tourism levy of around six percent. That’s quite a sting, but it’s still customary to leave a 10- to 15-percent tip at restaurants, and to give porters and hotel room cleaners a few dirhams. Bear in mind that service charges don’t usually get to waiters and that hospitality worker earnings in Dubai are usually low. In taxis, it’s customary to round up fares to the nearest five dirhams at least.
What the Locals Know: If you’re after cheap souvenirs away from Dubai’s upscale shops, the Karama Market in the old town is the go-to of savvy locals, and does a roaring trade in low-cost clothes, gifts, and accessories. Don’t be surprised if you’re invited into backrooms filled with replica designer handbags and watches, and brace yourself for lots of elbow-tugging and pleading from the vendors. One rule: There’s no point in shopping here unless you haggle—and haggle hard.
Located in a fashionable part of the city on the eastern side of Dubai Marina, the Marina Mall offers more than 130 retail outlets across four levels. It’s a modern and convenient shopping and leisure destination for residents and visitors of the marina, although by Dubai standards it certainly isn’t the largest of malls.
In terms of retail outlets, Marina Mall features a mix of high street and designer brands, with a number of boutique fashion offerings thrown in too. It is also a place to visit for al fresco dining, with a promenade that extends onto the waterfront. There are a variety of other food and drink options throughout the complex, and it also features a cinema, a supermarket, and a children’s play area. The five-star Address Dubai Marina Hotel also links directly to the mall.
In front of the iconic Burj Al Arab, Wild Wadi Water Park has 30 rides and attractions themed around the tale of Juha, the Arabian folklore character. Nearly a million visitors come each year to play in the wave pool, ride the artificial surfing machines, soar down over 20 water slides, and splash in the 18-meter high waterfall that goes off every 10 minutes. Apart from its views of the Burj Al Arab and out to the Persian Gulf, Wild Wadi Water Park is probably most famous for its Jumeirah Sceirah ride. Climb up the 32-meter high tower with a friend, cross your arms and legs, and the floor beneath will open to slide the two of you down tandem water slides at speeds of up to 80 km/h.
For a more relaxing trip to Wild Wadi Water Park, float around Juha’s Journey Lazy River in a tube, or book one of the six VIP cabanas by the lazy river. There are also gift stores, fast-food and barbecue restaurants, and food stands that serve regular snacks as well as smoothies.
The lovely Bastakia Quarter, or Bur Bastakia, is Dubai’s historic heart. Here, in the narrow whitewashed lanes overlooked by lofty windtowers of traditional courtyard houses, the glitz and glamor of Sheikh Zayed Road and the Mall of the Emirates feel centuries away.
This is a place for wandering and soaking up the atmosphere, catching glimpses through shuttered gateways into the tranquil courtyards of traditional homes, hearing the sound of trickling fountains, and seeing sprays of purple bougainvillea add a dash of color to the passageways’ high whitewashed walls.
Several of the gorgeous courtyard buildings host art galleries showcasing the work of local artists, and their garden cafes provide a relaxing oasis. A colorful souq market is held here on Saturdays, featuring books, arts and crafts, and fashion.
The Lost Chambers Aquarium in Atlantis, The Palm takes visitors through a series of mazes and tunnels as they explore the underwater ruins of Atlantis. This imaginative aquarium houses some 65,000 aquatic animals, including 12 species of rays and sharks.
Unlike most aquariums, The Lost Chambers has a complete backstory, adding a cinematic quality to the visit. According to the hotel’s “myth,” a series of passages and ruins were uncovered as the resort was being built -- ruins that were later determined to be the Lost City of Atlantis. As you walk through the different marine exhibits, you’ll not only read information on the marine life but on Atlantean history and culture as well.
Dubai Parks and Resorts has grown to become the region’s first integrated resort destination, comprising three theme parks, a waterpark, entertainment district and a Polynesian-style family resort. For many visitors, the highlight of the resort are the twin parks LEGOLAND Dubai and LEGOLAND Water Park, each with its own set of rides, water features and LEGO building experiences.
Motiongate Dubai takes visitors on a cinematic journey into the worlds of their favorite films, like Ghostbusters, The Smurfs and Kung Fu Panda. Bollywood Parks Dubai is the first amusement park on the planet dedicated to the iconic Indian movie industry. Riverland Dubai, the gateway into the parks, features shops and restaurants divided into four themed zones: a French village from the 1600s, America in the 1950s, the British Raj of the 1930s and early 19th century Europe.
Based in Mirdif City Center mall, iFly Dubai is an indoor skydiving center. If it’s your first time, you’ll start with a short one-to-one theory course from a fully qualified instructor, who’ll teach you how different positions control how you fly. After that, you’ll be kitted out in your skydiving suit, helmet, and goggles, and then you’re ready to go.
It’s time to go inside the 10-meter tall wind tunnel. You’ll feel like you’re free falling, but actually you’ll be about three meters high (higher after some practice), with vertical columns of air keeping you buoyant. Family and friends will be able to see your progress through the acrylic glass wall, and you can buy films and photos of your trip, too.
Founded by Sheikh Mohammed and opened in 1998, the Centre for Cultural Understanding in Dubai serves to promote awareness of Emirati culture, including food, customs, and religion, with the aim to educate visitors and expats and remove cultural barriers. Situated within the Emirati wind tower house in Dubai's Al Fahidi district, the SMCCU run guided tours of this historic area, including local mosques such as the Jumeirah Mosque.
The center operates under the motto, "Open Doors, Open Minds" and organizes various activities in addition to tours, including lectures and educational programs, cultural awareness events, Arabic classes, and Iftars during Ramadan. It also offers visitors the opportunity to learn about and experience Emirati food by hosting Cultural Breakfasts and Cultural Lunches, where guests are free to ask questions and exchange ideas with locals while sampling authentic Emirati cuisine.
One of the fastest and most convenient ways to get around Dubai is on the Metro. Opened in 2010, the metro features driverless, automated trains with five cars each, including one reserved for women and children.
So far, two lines are operational; the Red Line mostly parallels Sheikh Zayed Road and features 29 stations with a total one-way travel time of an hour and 12 minutes, while the Green Line services 20 stations between the Dubai Airport Free Zone and Dubai Healthcare City with a round-trip time of one hour and 23 minutes. Three more lines are in the works. Both the Dubai Metro and the local bus network use rechargeable Nol Cards to pay for fares. Every metro station has a ticket vending machine with instructions in English and a variety of card categories, including a 10-journey ticket or a day pass for unlimited travel.
Travelers finding themselves in need of some retail therapy while in the Jumeirah Beach Road area will find the strip’s most luxurious shopping complex in the Mercato Shopping Mall. Fashioned in the style of an Italian village, the mall is relatively small for Dubai standards — it only houses 140 shops in 643,067 square feet (59,743 square meters) — but it wins points for its ambience. At the heart of the two-floor shopping complex, which also houses a Spinneys supermarket, VOX Cinemas, Virgin Megastore and Fun City family entertainment center, is the Piazza Grande, an indoor “square” lined with cafes and European restaurants. Since it doesn’t get as crowded as some of Dubai’s bigger malls, it’s a great place to escape the heat during the afternoons.
Located in the middle of New Dubai on busy Sheikh Zayed Road, the Jumeirah Lake Towers comprise one of the city’s large developments — a series of 64 residential and commercial towers interspersed with hotels, shops and restaurants spread out over 500 acres (200 hectares).
The lakeside community houses a growing population of about 35,000 residents, but visitors often come to enjoy the four artificial lakes, four covered children’s play areas and abundant shopping and dining.
Located in the Gold Souk area of Dubai, the Bait Al Banat Women’s Museum opened in 2012 as a project of Emirati Professor Rafia Ghubash with the aim of preserving and sharing the history of women in the United Arab Emirates and breaking down cultural stereotypes and misconceptions about women’s role in the development of the country.
Three floors of exhibit space celebrate women throughout the nation’s history, including many female artists who were pioneers in their fields. An entire hall is dedicated to Emirati poet Ousha Bint Khalifa, nicknamed ‘The Girl of the Arabs.’ Highlights of the exhibit include her hand-written poems. The Women’s Studies Centre on the second floor of the museum maintains a library and database of documents available for research in the field.
The Gurunanak Darbar is a beautiful Sikh temple on the outskirts of Dubai that was modelled on the Golden Temple in Punjab, as well as the gurdwara in Southall, London. Visually striking from both inside and out, the temple features a large carpeted prayer hall, along with three smaller rooms, a meditation room, a library, and a large kitchen, which caters for over 10,000 worshipers who come to pray here each Friday.
To develop religious values among the next generation, a special three-hour session is held at the Gurunanak Darbar Sikh Temple in Dubai each Saturday to teach children about the Sikh faith. It’s a peaceful and serene place that welcomes both Sikh and non-Sikh visitors through its doors.
While often overlooked in favor of the newer Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates, Wafi City Mall is one of the most architecturally interesting (and least crowded) of Dubai’s shopping centers. The exterior of the Egyptian-themed mall borders on kitschy, but once inside, visitors find 350 shops and more than 30 restaurants, many of them international luxury brands.
A highlight of a visit to Wafi City Mall is the Souq Khan Murjan, a modern recreation of a traditional fourteenth century bazaar where 150 additional vendors sell arts and crafts from across the Arab region. Within the mall, families can play 18 holes of glow-in-the-dark mini golf at Tee and Putt and kids can run off some energy at Kids Connection, a large indoor play center and arcade. Each evening, the mall hosts a free light and sound show in its central courtyard.