Obviously I had certain expectations when stepping on the plane to Dubai but the world I dove into for a whole week was beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Dubai is a place that constantly leaves you astounded by mankind’s abilities and it feels like you’re leaving your own reality behind for a short while. When you are coming from a part of the world that is still more rural than modern and urban in most places the intense and futuristic atmosphere of Dubai is overwhelming at first. In order for you to maybe be less floored than I was I’ll be sharing all my experiences with you in the following Dubai travel guide.
Dubai’s airline Emirates is amongst the list of airlines with the biggest fleet in the world. Most of their planes are A380s, which is the largest passenger plane in the world. Due to their big fleet and their goal to become the world’s biggest hub for connecting East and West, they cover numerous airports all over Europe. They land and depart twice a day at Vienna airport and take you directly to Dubai within 5 1/2 hours.
I have been flying frequently all across Europe in the last couple years but have never been on a plane for more than 2 1/2 hours. As flying such a long distance was something entirely new to me I tried to prepare as much as possible as it was additionally a night flight, departing at 10 PM. (There’s a list of things I packed into my hand luggage in my Dubai preparation post)
The Food is DELISH!
I was pleasantly surprised by the flight experience and would have never thought I’d enjoy it so much. Our plane was a Boeing 777 which was the biggest plane I had ever sat in in my life and I was absolutely in awe by the details of the plane interior, especially the ceiling that lit up like a night sky when it got dark. I didn’t really make use of the entertainment system on the flight to Dubai as I was trying to sleep and only ended up watching half an episode of Sherlock. The food Emirates serves is delicious and I wouldn’t have expected such high quality food in economy class. I properly tested the entertainment system on the way back and loved the huge variety of films, they even had new releases available.
Especially on long haul flights I would therefore definitely recommend choosing high quality airlines over low budget airlines as there is indeed a massive difference in terms of service and comfort. I am 1,64 metres (5’4″) and had so much leg room to spread out and get comfortable.
We stayed at the Jumeirah al Naseem for the week and saying it was like paradise would still be an understatement. The hotel is part of a resort with a beautiful private beach with a direct view of the infamous Burj al Arab, translated to „the Arabian Tower“. The hotel itself is part of the Madinat Jumeirah resort which consists of multiple hotels and villas with exclusive benefits for their guests. We stayed in a the Ocean Club Superior room from which we had an incredible view of Burj al Arab and were able to overlook the whole pool area of our hotel.
Additionally, as guests in a suite we had exclusive access to a lounge were we could have breakfast, afternoon snacks and drinks for free during happy hour. The staff was exceptionally friendly and handled check-in and check-out for us so we didn’t have to go to the normal check-in desk at the main entrance of the hotel. Another convenient feature was that the staff in the lounge would also book our dinner tables for us as you could choose your place to dine from a list of various different restaurants all around the resort. Most of them were free of charge for those who had booked half-board, some required a small additional payment. The variety of restaurants that are free of charge for half-board guests was so big though that we didn’t really think of opting for a different restaurant. In the week of our stay we tried traditional arabic cuisine, went to a Lebanese, Italian and Mexican restaurant and even had fish and chips one night at a British restaurant at Jumeirah Beach Hotel, which is also part of the hotel group.
Getting Around – Golf Carts and Boats
As the resort is so big you have multiple ways of getting around the site. There are multiple pathways you can take a walk on but you can also choose to get around by golf cart. Especially when heading out for dinner the golf cart turned out to be rather convenient when wearing high heels. All around the site you’ll find pick up stations with staff who are there to help you and call you a cart that brings you to your destination. Something I had never seen before was the artificial canal they built all around the resort which gives you the opportunity to take a boat ride all around the resort. Usually it is seen as a way of transport but on our day of arrival we wanted to explore the whole resort a bit and asked if we could be given a tour through the canals and the guy who was in charge of the boat gave us our very own private tour, providing us with lots of useful and interesting information about the history of the resort.
In general, the whole staff was just so welcoming and kind and they really made us feel incredibly comfortable. When you reside in one of the hotel in the resort, you also have the opportunity to reserve a table in the rooftop bar at Burj al Arab from which you can overlook Dubai. We turned it into a special treat to ourselves I am still mesmerised by the colours and the splendour I got to witness when first stepping into the hotel.
The way we were treated this whole week made me feel like a princess and even though it felt rather strange first to have everyone take care of things, by the end of the week I felt entirely grateful for the opportunity of such a luxurious stay – as it was part of my uni graduation present as well.
Dubai Travel Highlights
Dubai is a place that cannot really be described with words as its so different from everything I had seen up to this point. It’s a metropolis in the middle of the desert with new buildings glistening in the sunlight and skyscrapers reaching from the sandy grounds to the sky like fingers. The whole week I was trying to comprehend and process all the impressions I was confronted with and really felt my head spinning every once in a while due to the surrealness of my surroundings. We spent all week exploring the UAE, visiting the corners of the city. Therefore I want to share my favourite spots and what I loved most about them in this Dubai travel guide.
Dubai Creek & the Souqs
When you take a boat across the Dubai Creek (an arm of the Persian Gulf parting the city) you’ll be amazed by how busy it gets on this main waterway. The boats which are used by both tourists and locals are called Abras and are often packed with people wanting to get to the other side. Using these boats as public transport is very common and not expensive
Stepping off on the other side of the river, after having been passed by not only boats but numerous sea gulls, you find yourself in the middle of one of Dubai’s busiest and most traditional quarters Deira – the home of the Gold and Spice Souq.
My first advice is to not go there when it’s raining because you’ll get both wet and dirty when you’re out and about without an umbrella as the Spice Souq is not roofed in most places. (To be honest, I really did not expect that I’d be needing an umbrella in a desert country but oh well you gotta embrace the unexpected I guess)
Even though Dubai has become a very Western oriented city where you can basically wear whatever you want as long as you’re not being flashy, the Souqs are still an area where it’s frowned upon to be too revealing in terms of clothing. Which is why I highly suggest women to cover their shoulders with a light scarf or wear a cardigan. It additionally makes you feel more comfortable amongst the many locals roaming the tiny alleyways of the Souqs.
Personally, I was more interested in the spices than the gold but as it was raining we chose to abandon the beguiling scents of the many herbs and spices and took a look at the roofed shops which sold necklaces and jewellery the size of my entire body. If you have never seen anything like this before, stepping into a store will definitely send you into sensory overload. Everything is shiny, bright and glistening in the shop lights and it can get immensly crowded in the small stores. (Keep your bag close to you and best wear a belt bag or a crossbody bag that you can carry over your belly for safety. I didn’t have any bad experiences whatsoever but you really never know)
Never just buy things on the Souqs for the price the merchants offer, always try to negotiate. You could manage to land a big deal and reducing the price to half of the original offer. Always be aware of your surroundings as they sometimes try to lure you into their shops. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to say No and walk away.
Dubai Marina is another Must-See on my Dubai Travel Guide-list, The artificially built harbour is home to 200 skyscrapers and a 7 kilometre walkway next to the sea decked with restaurants and bars. Taking a walk in-between the massive buildings that all look different and more like gigantic pieces of art than work and living spaces is a surreal experience. You find families enjoying dinner by the waterside and traditional Dhows carrying passengers over the water while serving Arabic food.
Currently the tallest building in the world, standing on one of the platforms of Burj Khalifa really is something that cannot be missed when travelling to Dubai. The sheer size of the building and its shining steal and glass construction is both intimidating and fascinating.
For someone who loves shopping, Dubai Mall literally is heaven on earth. With 1500 stores there’s something for everybody. Just be aware that you won’t be able to even get through a quarter of the whole building as it’s simply too big to explore everything in one visit. I have to say that I didn’t splurge as much as I usually do as the prices are higher compared to European standards and I didn’t want to buy something just because I was on holiday. (I did stock up my makeup collection in Sephora though because Austria still hasn’t received the memo)
For a quick coffee stop we dropped into this cute café called L’Eto that can be found in the Mall. It has a gorgeous balcony from which you can overlook the water fountains and the pedestrian area. We were offered to try a sample of Arabic coffee for free but ended up going for an Iced Latte because the taste of the spices in the UAE’s signature drink just wasn’t for me.
I also had the most delicious avocado bread I have ever tasted in my entire life and I am honestly not exaggerating. The combination of the spices, the avocado and the soft spread underneath were a dream – I highly recommend.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Those who have seen my instagram post about the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi might already know how incredibly impressed I was by this building. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque definitely was my ultimate highlight of the whole trip and I cannot even put the experience into words.
The beauty of this building is mesmerising and I have honestly never seen anything remotely comparable ever before. Even though women are asked to cover up their body with so called Abayas, you don’t feel restricted at all. The soft gown feels amazing on the skin and is surprisingly cooling in the desert heat.
Behaviour & Dresscode
As I mentioned earlier, due to Dubai being so heavily influenced by tourism and the Western economy, the city has become a very accepting place in terms of culture, religion and dress code. People from 200 countries all around the world live in Dubai and only 10 percent of the citizens are actually originally from the UAE.
It is usually absolutely accepted to run around in short sleeves, dresses and skirts as a woman and you don’t need to cover your shoulders when you’re in public. Reliogious spaces, however, are obviously tied to rules but it should be natural behaviour to be accepting and appreciative of each religion’s practices and beliefs.
I decided to wear long skirts, colourful trousers and dresses all week long as I wanted to show respect towards the culture of the locals and still got to incorporate my very own style. It made me realise that I have a soft spot for long, soft and flowing skirts which I’ll definitely be wearing a lot more from now on – and they are office approved as well.
Abu Dhabi, however, is a lot more traditional and sticks to the culture’s original beliefs a lot more, which is why I recommend covering your shoulders by wearing a simple t-shirt or a soft blouse with longer sleeves. Tourists will get away with their clothing more easily but it is still much more respectful to just try and not be too bold in terms of outfits.
Especially in the Grand Mosque, the dress code is VERY important. I thought I was going to be able to enter with my big scarf wrapped around my entire upper body, but my short sleeves underneath were not accepted which is why I needed to wear an Abaya they were offering at the entrance.
If you don’t want to wear the Abaya, just wrap a scarf around your head and wear a jacket or a cardigan and long trousers, then you will be fine without the Abaya.
Tips & Tricks
It wouldn’t be a Dubai Travel Guide without including a couple tips and tricks that might be useful to know before heading off to Dubai.
Airport Taxi and Public Transport
A lot of hotels in Dubai offer a complimentary airport service, which is definitely one of the best inventions ever. Don’t hesitate to ask about it because websites often do not include this kind of information and then you end up either dragging your luggage through the wildness of Dubai’s public transport or paying a horrendous amount of money to an external company – both options don’t sound very satisfactory to me.
Public transport in general can’t be compared to European standards. There are busses spread all across the city as you go long distances in Dubai and can barely reach any place merely by foot. I personally didn’t use busses or the metro as we decided to stick to the insanely cheap taxis that take you all around town. While you easily pay 12 euros for 5 km in my hometown, you pay the same price for 30 kilometres in Dubai, which is insanely cheap if you split the charge with your friends/family. The next metro station was about three kilometres/two miles away from our hotel and you don’t want to walk for an hour in this heat, believe me.
Taking the bus might still be an option if you really want to cruise around the city a lot. We were fortunate enough to cover all the major sights with prebooked tours including a coach, which is why we didn’t need the tour bus either. I am usually not a fan of these guided tours as it annoys the living hell out of me to be tied to a time schedule.
However, as I previously mentioned, Dubai can be insanely overwhelming during the first visit and having someone show you around can be incredibly helpful. You get to cover all the main sights in an effective amount of time and when I come back to Dubai, I’ll have much more freedom, knowledge and opportunities to focus on further exploring places I enjoyed a lot this time.
When you’re on holiday, you usually want to enjoy a tasty drink before heading to bed. Especially in local restaurants, however, you won’t be getting any. In international hotels and bars in rather touristy areas, however, you can usually order alcoholic beverages if you’re 18 and older. Dubai is not as strict as it used to be, you should avoid getting drunk though and consume alcohol with care.
I initially thought food would be a lot more expensive than in Europe but I was proved wrong. Even though eating out is pricier than average you won’t be paying a ridiculous amount of money if you inform yourself about the general prices in the restaurant first.
On average you’ll pay between 20 and 30 Euros per person, non-alcoholic drinks included, which I don’t consider bad in an environment such as Dubai, as you’d pay between 15 and 20 Euros for a normal dinner or lunch with drinks as well. Due to many Western food chains having found their way to the UAE, you’ll definitely find something you like even if you’re not really into Arabic coffee and tea in general.
I highly recommend giving arabic dates a try as the variety is a lot bigger than in Europe and the taste is incomparable as well. I was able to try dates filled with nuts and covered in chocolate and was amazed by the flavour.
Dubai was an experience I certainly won’t forget and am sure I’ll find my way back to the Emirates at some point to explore this wondrous world more,