Dubai: The Essential Travel Guide

Dubai is unlike anywhere else on the planet. With its bold architecture and risky style, the United Arab Emirates’ largest city is a distinct fusion of its Bedouin heritage and an ultramodern style all its own. Dubai doesn’t just live up to its reputation; it will completely exceed your expectations. Explore the glamour, and then uncover the ancient traditions of this multifaceted city.

What to Expect in Dubai?

Language: While Arabic is the UAE’s official language, English is the language of business and is spoken by almost everyone in Dubai.

Currency: Dirham (Dhs). The exchange rate as of the time is Dhs 3.67 to USD 1.

Credit Cards and Banks: Cash is still king here. While most places accept credit cards, it’s best to always carry small change.

Climate: Summers are extremely hot in Dubai. Daytime temperatures are sometimes over 106 degrees while nights rarely fall below eighty-eight degrees. Winters are much more comfortable with temps between sixty and seventy-five degrees.

Drugs and Alcohol: Alcoholic drinks are served in licensed hotels and clubs, but it is a punishable offense to drink or to be under the influence of alcohol, in public. There is zero tolerance for drugs-related offenses. The penalties for trafficking, smuggling, and possession of drugs (even residual amounts) are severe

Hotels: It is normal practice for hotels to take a photocopy of your passport or Emirates ID. You can’t stay in a hotel if you’re under 18 years old and not accompanied by an adult.

Offensive behavior:  Swearing and making rude gestures (including online) are considered obscene acts and offenders can be jailed or deported. Take particular care when dealing with the police and other officials.  Public displays of affection are frowned upon, and there have been several arrests for kissing in public.

Relationships outside marriage:  All sex outside marriage is illegal, irrespective of any relationship you may have with your partner in the UK/ USA. If the UAE authorities become aware that you’re conducting a sexual relationship outside of marriage (as recognized by them), you run the risk of prosecution, imprisonment and/or a fine and deportation. It’s against the law to live together or to share the same hotel room, with someone of the opposite sex to whom you aren’t married or closely related.  Please check out this article from USA Today Rules for Unmarried Couples Staying in Dubai Hotels Per the article, Once you’ve checked into a hotel, refer to each other and “husband” and “wife” rather than saying “my boyfriend” or “my fiance.” This could help prevent potential problems.

Same-sex relationships: All homosexual sex is illegal and same-sex marriages are not recognized.

What to Wear in Dubai?

Dress code: Women should dress modestly when in public areas like shopping malls. Clothes should cover the tops of the arms and legs, and underwear should not be visible. Swimming attire should be worn only on beaches or at swimming pools. Cross-dressing is illegal.

Islamic Women Wardrobe: Abaya and hijab are two different kinds of clothing that are available to Islamic women. A hijab or hejab actually refers to the rules of covering up. However, in the usual everyday context, the word is used to refer to a scarf which covers the head. An abaya, on the other hand, can be described as a long robe or cloak, usually black in color. It is worn over the clothing and tends to cover the whole body.  During my 4-days, I adhered to Muslim traditions for women and packed maxi dresses and long scarf to cover my shoulders, arms, and head.


 Getting Around Dubai

From the Airport: Book Viator -Dubai Private Arrival Airport Transfer.  “Meet and Greet” service was phenomenal especially when arriving around 1 am Dubai time.

Public Transport: It’s forbidden to eat or drink in the metro (and that includes chewing gum!). Cabins are reserved for different categories, like women only and gold class, so watch the signs. Sleeping is not allowed in stations.

Uber: Uber is available in Dubai and the majority of the uber drivers drive in Mercedes.

Where to Stay?

My preference is staying at hotels especially the chains such as Marriott or Hilton.   During my visit, I stayed at the JW Marriot Marquis.  Depending on your dates of travel, you can get a great rate.  By the way, this hotel is spectuclar.

What to Do?

Full Day Abu Dhabi Tour from Dubai including Lunch:  See top sites like Sheikh Zayed Mosque, downtown, Heritage Village and Yas Island.

Dubai City Half-Day Sightseeing Tour:   The tour includes a photo by Burj Al-Arab hotel, on Jumeirah Beach.  Take in views of the white marble dome and minarets of Jumeirah Mosque.  Tour the old quarter of Dubai, Bastakiya, with your local guide.  Enjoy a water-taxi ride across Dubai Creek. Visit the exciting Spice Souq and shop for bargains in Deira Gold Souq


Dubai Desert 4×4 Safari with Quad Ride, Camel Ride, BBQ Dinner and Belly Dancing  This is one of the best tours as you get to experience being in the desert.

Dubai Mall: is one of the world’s largest shopping malls in UAE.  You can spend hours exploring and shopping.

What to Eat in Dubai?

Brunch: My absolute favorite bunch is from the Jumeirah Al Qasr Resort.

Best Romantic Atmosphere: For a night with that special someone, there’s nowhere like Pierchic.

Persian Food: For some great Persian food, the Shabestan in Radisson Deira is one of Dubai’s top hidden gems.

Best Ambience: Get to Zuma! I also adore Coya and Le Petite Maison.


Nightlife in Dubai?

Below are several spots to check out.  Also, several of the large hotels will have clubs such as the JW Marriott Marquis.   Just remember the rule about alcohol.

10 places to hear jazz in Dubai

Neo Bar

Cargo Bar



(10) Comments

  1. Kavita Favelle

    Handy reference summary about Dubai, thank you. I’m in two minds about visiting because of the restrictive culture when it comes to womens’ freedoms and also because I’m not sure how much traditional activities one can still enjoy as opposed to modern hotels and malls? Would love to know your thoughts!

  2. interNATionalcaty

    Not as much. It is still a Muslim country that allow certain areas to be a little bit modern.

  3. Brianna

    Great overall guide and tips for Dubai. I had no idea you could do a day tour to Abu Dhabi but I would love doing that desert tour.

  4. Jenn and Ed Coleman

    We were recently thinking about routing through Dubai on the way home from Sri Lanka. There seems to be some fun, outdoor activities like camel rides and ATV’s. There also seems to be a lot of opulence in the city centers as well that would be fun to check out.

  5. Bella WW

    I like how you synthesized all the essential information about Dubai in this mini guide. I was there last year in April, and I really liked it. Big thumbs up especially for the delicious food.

  6. Shweta

    Like the handy information that you have here for a first-time traveller. I have lived and worked in Dubai for 3 years, but that was a decade ago. So time to go back for a short trip!

  7. Medha Verma

    I am glad you pointed out the fact that all sex outside marriage is illegal. Although nobody really goes to jail for it, but if you’re ever in a situation where you might need to report a wrong-doing to the police, it can be tricky if they find out something related to your having sex with someone you’re not married to. For example, I remember there was a case when a tourist reported being raped by another tourist but she also got into trouble for firstly agreeing to go to a hotel room alone with a man she wasn’t married to! It’s a pity but its the law of the land and you’ve to know these things before travelling here!

  8. Alli

    Great tips here! I especially appreciate the tip re: how women should dress when in the area. I agree that it is best to dress as the locals do so as to show respect for their culture 🙂

  9. Lydia Smith

    I think everyone should abide by the rules and love like Romans when in Rome. Many troubles will be avoided and that way one can even get to experience the culture of such area firsthand by behaving like locals. Good to read this gudie here. I’ll be sure to reference this evening travel to Dubai

  10. Vicky and Buddy

    There is a lot of great information here. Especially the information on behavior and relationships outside marriage. The last thing you want is to be arrested while on vacation!

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