Dubai is HOT destination right now (literally and figuratively)! I connected with Neha of Dubai Wikia to share her local insight on what makes this city so hip. While a lot of the city is truly glitter and gold, Neha has plenty recommendations of things not to miss for all travelers whether you are backpacking with a limited budget or are ready to splurge on an awesome vacation! Take it away Neha...
Dubai is the best travel destination for people of all kinds, especially all hipsters-at-heart. Take it from us; you couldn’t possibly be visiting a trendier, glitzier, more fashionable location than Dubai. Extravagantly mod con, Dubai’s gleaming skyscrapers, man-made marvels, international shopping scene and sense of obscene luxury says hipster in big, bold letters. Welcome to everything bigger and better. Welcome to the desert that quenches and yet leaves you thirsty for more. Welcome to Dubai.
The Biggest, The Largest And The Boldest
Dubai was literally unknown as a global destination a mere few decades ago. Today, it’s the coolest spot for travelers – a high point in every one’s travel journal. Why? Enter the biggest man-made island, the world’s tallest building (Burj Khalifa), the world’s largest shopping paradise (Dubai Mall), and Dubai Fountain – you guessed it – the world’s largest fountain. Dubai is also home to some of the world’s best clubs, bars, restaurants, the biggest aquarium, biggest indoor skiing slopes and so much more. Big, bold and spectacular, imbibed with a unique style all its own, that’s Dubai for you.
The Dubai Mall is magnificent, but there’s something to be said for shopping at the Wafi Mall, situated within a recreated Egyptian monument! Enjoy the malls and hotels situated within the fake Abu Simbel and Great Pyramid of Giza monuments. On the Deira side of the Creek, go shopping for spice, gold and frankincense in the souks as people used to do 100 years ago. On the Bur Dubai bank, pick some Arabian style slippers and pashmina shawls for less. Don’t forget to bargain though.
Into The Desert, Nomad!
No visit to Dubai is complete without experiencing Dubai’s true soul – its vast, lonely deserts. Take a desert safari from one of the desert tour companies. You can rent a car and do your own thing, provided you have a proper guide with you. The desert is vast and you don’t want to lose your way. Dress like a Bedouin, enjoy a Dubai desert safari, ride a camel, and watch fire jugglers and belly dancers do their thing. If you’re the adventurous kind, try your hand at sand boarding.
Unique Off-The- Beaten Track Culture
Dubai’s culture is very unique; it’s an amalgamation of the old with the new, of progress with age-old customs and beliefs. Look through the glitz and the glamour of the malls and the lights and you’ll see the ages-old Bedouin culture looking back at you. Here’s how to truly enjoy the cultural feast that is Dubai:
Meeting Locals — If you want to experience the local Dubai culture, tour the Jumeirah Mosque with an informative guide. People-watching is best at Marina Walk. Rent a bike or peddle a quad along the Marina, mingling with wealthy expats. Sigh over the Marina view and enjoy coffee at international cafes.
Hitting The Downtown — Dubai has many mega-brand attractions but the newly-renovated, true Dubai style souks are worth exploring. Check out the fashionable clothes, multi-cultural jewelry, and other fabulous stuff that are cheaper for bargaining.
Exploring Old Dubai — Visit the Dubai Museum in the old Dubai Fort to get to know Dubai as it was before it became a shopping and tourist destination. Also explore the enchanting old labyrinth of alleyways in Bastakiya, lined with old small shops filled with everything you won’t find in the malls. Visit the nearby boating creek to see the traditional Arabic boats that are used even today to transport goods. Enjoy a lovely cruise across the creek in a dhow, to complete your cultural experience of Dubai.
Unbelievable Luxury Stays
Consider staying at the charming XVA, a 7-room boutique hotel located in the historic Bastakiya district. Here you have privacy, history, reasonable pricing, and a fabulous café approved by none other than Gordon Ramsay. On the other end is the 7-star Burj Al Arab, the most expensive hotel in Dubai. The native Bab Al Shams hotel is nestled cozily next to hot sand dunes and four swimming pools. You can eat in any one of the seven restaurants nearby and even get a full body treatment at a Spa!
A Veritable Foodie’s Mecca
You’ll find budget travelers heading over to the Al Mallah Restaurant on Dhiyafah Street, famed for chicken shawarma. Bu qtair Jumeirah is a seaside restaurant that offers Indian deep-fried turmeric fish, sour Assam curry, and basmati rice. Tom and Serg, Dubai’s best café, offers a nice veal or ham sandwich and good-quality cold brews.
For budget meals, look for food stalls in malls, near mosques and other sights. Do try some of the mouth-watering food at Zuma, Reflets Par Pierre Gagnaire and La Petite Maison. Zamin is a well-known Iranian café, while Ravi’s is a budget restaurant in Al Satwa Indian and Pakistani cuisines. Zaroob offers great budget chicken shawarmas as well. Dubai’s bars are expensive, but there are weekly ladies’ or gents’ nights, when you can grab drinks for free.
Dubai is a rich person’s playground; still, a budget traveler needn’t despair. The Metro travels to every landmark and you can also zip around on a rented bike. Visit old Dubai at Deira and Downtown Dubai for shopping and cultural interests. Stop at the Palm Jumeriah Island and admire its man-made magnificence. Stop at the Mall of the Emirates and play with penguins and go snow-zorbing and slope-skiing in Ski Dubai. Touring the Jumeirah Mosque is free, so take advantage of that. Jumeirah Beach Park costs Dhs 5 (roughly $1.30 USD) for entry. There are shady grassy areas here along with palm trees and a small and cheap fast food café.
The landscaped Al Safa Park opposite Business Bay is where families camp over the
weekends. There’s also a weekly flea market here that offers interesting items to buy. Visit the community centre-café, The Archive for some Middle Eastern food. Most of the art galleries in Dubai have free nights once a month, so take advantage. Take a trip to the Dubai Museum in the Al Fahidi Fort for a lesson on how life was like for the Bedouins and Emiratis.
The Coolest Beaches In The World
Dubai’s miles and miles of excellently maintained, clean as crystal beaches are a sun-lover’s joy. These beaches aren’t just about sand and water – several of them have landscaped dunes and greenery, and are dotted with beautiful restaurants and shops. Visit the Nasimi Beach at Palm Jumeriah, bordering the Atlantis Hotel. This is a fabulous location to obtain truly panoramic views of the city. Dubai’s finest beach is the 12-hectare Jumeirah beach park, with a fabulously large beach, kids’ picnic and play areas and BBQ corners.
There’s so much to see and do in Dubai that you’ll likely run out of time or money before you do it all. The best thing about Dubai is that no matter what your budget is, you can have a wonderfully satisfying trip. Whether your object is to experience the city spiritually, or take in the material delights, Dubai will not disappoint. Just be sure to visit the city when the weather is bearable, between November to February.