Dubai lies in the Southwest, on the Arabian peninsula’s East coast. In the North it is bordered by the largest emirate, Abu Dhabi. The emirate’s capital is Dubai City, around 85% of the population live here. The rest is wide empty desert.
The Dubai Creek divides Dubai City as a bay in the Gulf of Persia.
Ever since the discovery of huge oil deposits luxury and a bit of megalomania have been part of Dubai’s image. Just like the millions of migrant laborers, only 30% of its inhabitants are actual Emirates.
Dubai has opened up considerably in the last decades but is still is and will be a strictly Muslim country.
If you love the sun and want a guarantee for good weather then Dubai is your destination! There is sunshine all year round and water temperatures range between 22 and 31 degrees. The only problem is that it gets unbearably hot in summer, so hot you cannot stay outdoors. Temperatures go up to 41 degrees in July! But that doesn’t matter, the perfect time to travel is during the European winter from October to April.
Rain is one thing you don’t really need to worry about. There are only 5 days of rain in a year. Incredible, isn’t it?
The Emirates came up with an unusual solution for cooling off: there is air conditioning not only in buildings and vehicles but at some bus stops as well.
Arabic is the main language but English is pretty common too. Most of the migrant workers usually also speak very good English, communication with taxi drivers however can sometimes be a bit difficult. If you communicate well with someone, ask that person, the taxi driver, waiter, or the cleaning lady where he or she comes from and what brought them to Dubai. Most of them will gladly tell you about their background.
Dubai’s currency is Dirham. You are best off taking along Euros that you exchange on site. You will not need US Dollars, the currency is tied to the US Dollar. Exchange offices in the city or in malls will give you better rates than those at hotels or banks. Apart from cash almost all restaurants and hotels accept credit cards.
For German nationals there is no visa required to enter The United Arab Emirates, no matter if you came to Dubai for business or tourism. You are permitted to stay for up to 90 days. The same regulations apply for travelers from all other European countries, the USA, Australia, New Zealand or Japan.
However, your passport has to be valid for another 6 months after the planned departure date.
Officially there are no specific vaccinations required for staying in Dubai, but Hepatitis A and B are recommended if you stay for more than 3 months.
Dubai airport is considered one of the largest in the world. It is especially popular as a stopover for flights to Asia or Australia and New Zealand. And it really is worthwhile leaving the airport and spending a few days in this crazy city. All big airlines fly into Dubai, first and foremost of course Emirates.
Taxis are the most common means of transportation to get from the airport to the city and also to travel within the city. You will know official taxis by their creme color. They all run with a meter and are very cheap. A ride from one end of Dubai to the opposite costs around 20 €. Tipping the taxi driver is not necessary but expected.
There also is a metro (Red Line) that goes to the city every ten minutes. The metro was only inaugurated in 2010 but already covers a pretty good area. Trains run daily from 6 am to 11 at night Saturday to Thursday. On Fridays and Sundays they run from 1 pm to midnight. Every train has a special area for women. Tickets are around 50 cents for one zone and around 1,50 € for 5 zones.
Busses are an even cheaper alternative, but you have to take more time. The bus infrastructure is very good and a ride from one end of the city to another is around 1 Euro. Keep in mind that the first rows are reserved for women and families!
A special means of transportation are water busses. They are airconditioned and cover 5 different routes. And a ticket is only around 50 cents.
You should have an Abra take you from A to B at least once. They are small traditional wooden boats that seat around 20 people and go from one side of the river to another. The crossing costs 50 cents to 1 Euro. For around 25 € you can also rent a private Abra for an hour and go for a ride along the Creek.
Since many cultures and religions come together in Dubai many occasions are elaborately celebrated, Islamic and others too. Most of them go by the Islamic calendar which is based on the moon calendar. Fridays for example are official days of rest.
- National holiday: the most important holiday is the National Day on December 2nd, the day when the seven emirates united to the VAE in 1971. There are fireworks, parades through the city, traditional dances, races with traditional rowboats as well as parties on the beach.
- Eid-Al-Ada celebration: this sacrificial celebration is the highest Islamic holiday and celebrated as the climax of the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hadsch). All practicing Muslims are required to sacrifice an animal (often a sheep) for this holiday. In the mornings they pray together at the mosque, then people often visit the cemetery to honor their deceased.
Dubai may be very Western in orientation but it is still Muslim. So you should always pay attention to your clothes. Women in hotpants and spaghetti strap tops and men in short pants are not appropriate. You would feel uncomfortable yourself among all the covered women and men in their long clothes. Chose something modest with long sleeves!
You should also be careful with public tenderness in Dubai, even just holding hands. It is forbidden.
If you see only men on the ground floor of a restaurant, don’t be surprized, in this case the first floor is for families.
Eating (even chewing gum!), drinking and smoking in public is prohibited from sunrise to sunset, for Muslims as well as non-Muslims. You should be especially conscious of your behavior during the fasting month of Ramadan and show even more respect for the Muslim culture. Be prepared for certain restrictions in day to day life like restaurants staying closed and things in general going more slowly.
When invited by an Arab family there are a few things to consider. Men are normally greeted first by shaking their hands. You should be careful with the choice of your gift for the host too. Flowers are a no-go, books are always welcome.
If you are left-handed, concentration is required: never ever use your left hand! Not for handing over your gift, not for drinking, not for eating, simply don’t! Muslims consider the left hand dirty and it is more or less nonexistent.
The week has 6 workdays in Dubai with Friday being the day off.
Arab food is a celebration of spices: cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and many more combine to a delicious explosion of taste.
Lamb and chicken are pretty common, beef is rare and since Dubai is Muslim you will never find pork there. Don’t forget that!
Rice, especially basmati rice is the main basic. Arab cuisine uses a lot of vegetables like beans, pumpkin, eggplant, fennel, carrots, cauliflower or chickpeas.
Some dishes you may recognize from Turkish or Oriental restaurants such as ‘Baba Ghannush’ (eggplant puree with sesame oil), Humus (chickpea puree with sesame oil) or Shawarma (thinly cut lamb or chicken with salad in pita bread).
Fresh fish like king prawns or octopus come directly from the Indian Ocean.
Desserts are sweet, made of almonds, pistachios and honey. You probably know Baklava (sweet puff pastry of almond and cardamom) or Harissa (corn porridge with nuts and rose syrup).
Apart from Arabic restaurants you will also find Asian, African and Western places in Dubai. A 10% tip is usually included in the bill.
The most common drink served in Dubai is water. The tap water is ok but due to the fact that it is desalinated sea water it has a sulfury taste to it. If you want something healthy and flavorful then juice bars are the place to go. Or you get yourself a Basta, a refreshing drink of mint and lime.
Coffee and tea are also very popular. Both are served in small glasses or cups without handles. The tea here is often very sweet.
Since alcohol is prohibited in Islam only hotels and licensed restaurants and clubs will serve booze. It also is pretty expensive. Beware that alcohol is strictly forbidden in public!
It will almost always be warm and sunny in Dubai. So pack enough sunblocker, a hat and swimming shorts or a bikini!
For trips to the city, the mall or the desert you should bring light, thin, long clothing to show respect to the locals.
Gastrointestinal problems can be a result of the Oriental cuisine. So bring pills for that to be on the safe side. As already mentioned you can drink the tap water here. It may just not taste as great. Always wash fruit and vegetables and clean your hands before you eat. This way you avoid ingesting germs and bacteria.
To discover the real Dubai you should plan a little time for your visit. These are our highlights:
- Riding a Dhau and buying spices: when downtown definitely take a boat along the Creek and then go to the Souk and buy spices. You can make wonderful meals at home with Baharat, curry and saffron that will remind you of your holiday in Dubai!
- Burj Khalifa: currently the highest building in the world, it was opened in 2010 and with 828 meters it really defines Dubai’s skyline. The view from the top is stunning!
- Bastakiya: this is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Dubai. Winding alleys, traditional architecture, art galleries, cafes - you should definitely plan for a walk here!
- White mosque: this is a dream from 1001 nights and at first seems totally surreal. Women and men come here daily separate from one another for prayer. The mosque is partly opened to visitors and for guided tours.
- Desert adventures: how about a bit of adventure in the middle of the desert, right out in nowhere? Just a little outside the city you can rush through the desert in jeeps or ski down mountains of sand!
- Camel racing: a camel race is a serious sporting event for the locals. A good racing camel is worth tens of thousands of Dirhams. Camel races take place every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday mornings between 7 and 10 during the winter months from October to April.