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*I spent 6 days in Dubai in July 2012 and I really enjoyed it! In this blog post, I am going to give you an overview of the city, and provide travel tips and recommendations for things like culture, attractions, food, nightlife and more. Everything you read is based off my own experiences.
Dubai is one of the most spectacular, awesome and impressive cities in The Middle East.
Before my trip, all I knew about Dubai was that it has the “world’s biggest _____, the world’s largest _____ and the world’s most expensive ______.”
Lets just say that my mind was completely blown in every aspect, from the moment I stepped off that plane.
First of all, I didn’t realize that only 15% the entire population is made up of UAE nationals. The other 85% of the population are expats, with 75% of Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi descent. There are so many Indians living in Dubai that I really felt like I was walking around India when I first got there.
The weather in Dubai is very HOT, so prepare yourself for a lot of sunshine and scorching weather. Being from Arizona myself, I thought that I could handle the heat, but this Middle Eastern desert was much hotter. Just make sure that you drink a lot of water, and try not to visit in the hottest months of May – August.
Get prepared to spend some money because nothing is cheap in this city, but everything is eye opening.
I’ve never seen anything like it.
Let’s get into some quick facts:
– Currency: UAE Dirham (AED)
– Language: Arabic is the official language, but English is commonly spoken
– Population: 2.1 million people
– Nationality Breakdown: 53% Indian, 15% Emirati, 14% Pakistani, 8% Bangladeshi, 3% Filipino, 2% Sri Lankan, and 6% other nationalities
– Dubai is the most expensive city in the Middle East, and among the top 20 most expensive cities in the world
– In 1991, Dubai had just 1 skyscraper. Now, it has over 400 high rises and skyscrapers.
– The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world, at 164 floors
– The Dubai Mall is the largest shopping complex in the world, with over 1,200 stores
– Dubai attracts over 10 million tourists every year
– The Burj Al Arab is the most luxurious hotel in the world, and the only 7-star hotel
– The biggest indoor skiing resort is inside the Mall of Emirates
– In the last decade, Dubai has been the fastest growing city in the world
– Dubai is recognized as one of the safest cities in the world, with virtually zero crime rate and no racial tensions
Culture & People
As you might expect, there are a LOT of rich people in Dubai – either as expats living there or on a business trip. When I was there, I remember seeing dozens of Lamborghinis, Bugattis, and I even saw a few Rolls-Royce. It was pretty insane.
The culture in Dubai is closely related to its Islamic roots and traditions. I don’t know much about Islam, but I do know that family is the most important part of their lives. Also, the people of Dubai are considered very courteous and hospitable. Every time I stepped into a restaurant, a shopping mall, or a hotel, I was always greeted with a smile and a “Hello Sir.” I found that to be very polite and it made me feel comfortable with my surroundings.
Due to the high volume of tourists, the people in Dubai are very used to seeing foreigners and white people around them. Even though I stood out like a sore thumb on the metro system, people didn’t give me awkward looks. Honestly, I got stared at more while living in Korea than I did when I visited Dubai.
I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and make some new local friends! Click this link to learn the Top 10 Arabic Words to keep in your back pocket 😉
What to Do?
Despite only having 6 days in Dubai, I feel like I accomplished most of the things to do around the city.
First and foremost, I went to the top of the Burj Khalifa– the tallest building in the world. It was amazing to see the views from the top, and elevator up was the fastest in the world. The entire experience of going to the top is unbelievable and futuristic. No matter where you are in the city (and the countryside), you will be able to spot the 830 meter skyscraper because it sticks out like a sore thumb. I guess it is good for learning the layout of the city.
At the base of the Burj Khalifa is the Dubai Mall– the largest mall in the world. This place puts the Mall of America to shame (sorry Minnesotans). Spend an afternoon there, and get your mind blown by the thousands of stores and one of the largest aquariums in Asia. Just outside of the Dubai Mall, there is a really cool fountain show at night that is like the Bellagio but 10X bigger. You must experience this!
Another awesome to check out in Dubai is the Burj Al Arab, the most expensive building in the world. It is the only 7 star hotel in the world. If you have $20,000 laying around, then you can stay in the royal suite for 1 night! My friends and I tried to take a sneak peak of the hotel, but they wouldn’t even let us within 50 meters without proving that we were guests. Despite not going inside, it is really cool to hang out on the beach next door (Jumeriah Beach) while having the awesome hotel in the background.
You must check out the man-made islands around Dubai. The first set is called the Palm Islands, and they are laid out in the shape of a giant palm tree. The famous Atlantis Hotel is at the farthest point of this island. The other man-made island is called the World Islands, which looks like a map of the world (the islands are the continents). Both sets of islands are easily accessible by metro, and recommend taking a tour!
For a more complete list, check out my post on 10 Things to do in Dubai.
Local Emirati Food was hard to come by. You must look for the hole in the wall places and ‘mom and pop’ stores on the street corners to find the best local foods.
On the flip side, there were plenty of Western Food chains in Dubai that it made it feel like a city in the USA. I saw places like KFC, A&W All American, Dunkin Donuts, TGI Fridays, Fatburger, Potbelly’s, Tony Romas, Burger King, Subway, McDonalds etc. This sort-of made me upset because I wanted to eat the local foods, not American fast food places!
The reason that there isn’t really a local “Emirati” cuisine because so much of their population is made up of expats. That being said, there are many near-by cultural influences- like Mediterranean and Indian- that provide great tastes around the city. I managed to find some decent meals at some Indian restaurants around town. Also, you can find some pretty good seafood because the UAE is along the coast of the Indian Ocean
If you want to learn about the food to eat in Dubai, then please read my post on 5 Dubai Foods to Try!
The nightlife in Dubai was pretty difficult to enjoy, due to the fact that the UAE is a completely “dry” country, meaning they DO NOT sell alcohol anywhere except inside hotels.
Around the city, you can actually find some really nice and swanky clubs. The only problem is that they are all attached to hotels (because hotels are the only place where alcohol can be served legally) and they are very expensive. I went to one club and it was a blast, but I couldn’t afford to buy any drinks there. That’s why it’s so important to buy a bottle duty-free at the airport!
I recommend at least going out one night while you are there and check out the scene. Random side note: There a lot of African prostitutes everywhere, so be careful with who you flirt with..
Enjoy your time in Dubai and realize that there is no other place like it in the world.
*Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to book your hotels in Dubai on this link 🙂