Dubai Travel Guide: Things to Know Before Visiting Dubai

If you are heading to Dubai you are probably looking for some DUuai travel tips because Dubai is different than any other city – whether in the west, east or any other city in the Middle East. With this Dubai Travel Guide, you will find all the information you need in one post.

Dubai – the city of superlatives, the city that polarizes. Not everybody loves the city in the United Arab Emirates, but I can say that I love it.

I have been to Dubai quite often, and have written a lot of different posts about activities, hotels, restaurant reviews, and travel tips. Now, I finally summarized all the important information for tourists and travelers visiting Dubai and prepared this Dubai Travel Advisory.

You’ll find general information, info on how to get around and about the different areas, top tips on what to do in Dubai, and some extra tips for female travelers. If you are looking for more detailed information click on the link you’ll find in this post.

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Facts

  • The biggest city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)
  • More than 2 million inhabitants
  • Only about 14% are actually from the UAE

Language

  • Arabic
  • English is very common and in all stores, restaurants, hotels, good English is spoken by most (basic English by almost all)

Money

  • Currency: Dirham, though € and $ are often accepted, I mostly used credit cards and had some change for smaller amounts and tips in Dirham
  • Credit Cards are accepted at most places (American Express, however, is not always accepted)
  • Tip: If you dine, the tip is often included in the bill (10%), have a look at the bill, if it is not included I always tip about 10%  ( don’t forget to tip taxi drivers and hotel housekeeping)
  • Dubai is expensive – not everything but accommodation, for example, is really expensive – however, you can buy food and do activities that are cheap and save money there. Here is my full budget travel guide to Dubai

Religion in Dubai / Don´ts in Dubai

  • Though there are many foreign workers the main religion is Islam, so Fridays are official rest days (most shops, malls, and restaurants are open, though and actually public places are even more crowded than regularly
  • Dress and behavior code for people: women can wear what they want at the beach (not topless, though), but should respect the dress code in other areas. More information about the dress code here. Also, men should follow dress rules
  • Intimacy between couples is not welcomed in public (it is forbidden to share a hotel room with a partner if you are not married. You could get in real trouble if you still do it – and though I have never heard of people being arrested for this, you should be aware that it is against the law. However, most people still do it and hotels turn a blind eye to this).
  • Homosexuality is illegal in Dubai
  • Sex before marriage is forbidden in Dubai – you might have heard of the case of foreigners that were raped and reported it to the police. And not only the alleged rapist got arrested but also the victim. So, thus it is even more important to be aware of your surroundings. Though, as mentioned Dubai is safe, you might have to deal with these issues – especially if you drunk alcohol and then report such a crime etc.

Is Dubai Safe?

  • I think Dubai is one of the safest places to visit – in every aspect. Even as a female solo traveler you are safe to visit. Dubai’s crime rate is among the lowest in the world, more about security and safety issues here.

Best Time to Visit Dubai

  • I am not a fan of heat, so I do not recommend visiting during summer (May – September), October was almost too hot for me already, but it depends on what kind of weather you prefer.
  • Check also for the fasting time (Ramadan) because life is different during that time and many activities cannot be done (also alcohol is less available).

How to Get to Dubai

Dubai has two airports – the Dubai International Airport is the main one and if you fly into Dubai then you will most likely arrive here. The airport is well connected to the rest of Dubai and you can find taxis in front of the airport (there is a small surhcarge for taxis starting at Dubai Airport). But there is also a metro station that you can use.

My most favorite airline ever si Emirates Airlines – a Dubai based airline. Check out their prices here and if you can, book via them (they are amazing!).

How to Get Around in Dubai

  • Public Transportation in Dubai 

Dubai is developing pretty quickly and so is public transport. The Metro is fast, reliable, operates regularly, and is super clean – it even has own women-only-departments and the prices are okay as well.

There are only two metro lines (the green and red line), and the main line starts in Dubai Downtown and ends after Dubai Marina. However, the stops are spread out quite far, e.g. the “Dubai Mall Stop” does not mean you are actually at Dubai Mall. It just means it is the closest station to Dubai Mall, and it includes another 1-kilometer walk.

In Dubai Marina, there is also a tram and there are many buses throughout Dubai. The metro ticket allows you to use buses as well BUT when I hopped on a bus I was not allowed to use it because I had not bought a ticket beforehand and tickets are not available on the bus.

Thus, the metro/public transport is not my preferred means of transport, but it is pretty good for long distances, especially because the red line travels along Sheikh Zayed Road for most of its length. (Btw: Sheikh Zayed Road is THE main road in Dubai.)

  • Taxis in Dubai

There are several kinds of taxis: the black Lexus taxis are a bit more expensive and apparently more service-oriented, but the other, the “normal”, taxis are totally fine to use. A display shows you not only the price but also the driven kilometers.

Petrol is cheap in Dubai – and so are taxi rides. There is a minimum charge of about €4, but it gets you some kilometers, other than that taxis charge about €0,50 per kilometer. I had some great conversations with taxi-drivers (mostly Afghans, Pakistanis, or Indians) and if they speak English they will actually give you a lot of insights and you’ll probably get a different view of Dubai.

A display shows you not only the price but also the driven kilometers. Petrol is cheap in Dubai – and so are taxi rides. There is a minimum charge of about €4, but it gets you some kilometers, other than that taxis charge about €0,50 per kilometer.

I had some great conversations with taxi-drivers (mostly Afghans, Pakistanis, or Indians) and if they speak English they will actually give you a lot of insights and you’ll probably get a different view of Dubai. However, if you do not want to visit

However, if you do not want to visit a main attraction or a very famous hotel, I would advise you to google the address beforehand and/or take a screenshot of the route since most taxis do not have a GPS. Many drivers might be not aware of less famous hotels/places.

Hop On and Hop Off Buses in Dubai

I admit I am a huge Hop On and Hop Off fan and can recommend getting a ticket for there as well if you stay a bit longer and want to see several places and do more activities (review of hop-on and hop-off bus in Dubai here).

Check out the best prices for your hop-on and hop-off ticket.

Female Travel Tips for Dubai

Other than that, Dubai is one of the best places for (solo female) travelers, as it is safe and women are free in their daily routine. Women can go to clubs, can dress as in many western countries, have their own compartments in metros, can use the pink taxis which are for women only. However, as in all parts of the world, I can only recommend using common sense if traveling alone – even in Dubai.

More Things to Know

  • If you take medication, read this post on “Traveling to the Emirates with Medication” it will help you to find out what you are allowed to take and what not. Find some unusual Dubai facts.
  • Alcohol is allowed in Dubai – however, only in certain hotels and restaurants. To be on the safe side, don’t take any bottles/glasses of alcohol and drink it on the streets
  • Nightlife is also big in Dubai – if you like to party, then Dubai is the perfect place for you (though you shouldn’t get totally drunk). Here are my favorite places to visit in Dubai at night (though there are non-party places.
  • Use these free Dubai apps to plan your trip

Areas in Dubai

My favorite areas in Dubai are:

Dubai Downtown

Dubai Downtown is home to some major tourist attractions like Burj Khalifa, Dubai Fountain, or Dubai Mall, as well as some top-notch hotels, like the Armani Hotel etc (inside Burj Khalifa).

Though I do not think it is the most charming part of Dubai, it is a must-visit area, and it is not far to Dubai Deira or the public beach.

Dubai Downtown, Burj Khalifa @shutterstock
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Dubai Downtown, Burj Khalifa @shutterstock

Dubai Deira and the Creek

The old part of Dubai is located in the eastern part of Dubai and is very charming.

You’ll find the lively Gold and Spice Souk. There are also some museums to visit, and you can spend much more time in the Souks. Dubai’s oldest part is located more or less next to the airport (9km). It is a busy area and the small and narrow streets of the Gold and Spice Souks give you probably one of the most authentic feelings – though the shopkeepers are mostly non-Arabs.

As a solo female traveler strolling through Deira I definitely felt safe, BUT not always comfortable. It is very common to be constantly approached by men – either by people are trying to sell you stuff or because they are hitting on you. I met a couple of female expats who told me they do not visit Deira anymore because of that reason.

If you are in Dubai, I still think it is a lovely place and you should not miss out on it. They are also some museums and riding an abra from the one side to the other is a lovely experience (and very inexpensive).

Madinat Jumeirah

Madinat Jumeirah is a re-creation of ancient Arabia and one of my most favorite parts. Once you enter Madinat it is like nothing of the hustle and bustle that is so common in Dubai. Little shops sell souvenirs, jewelry, etc. and some restaurants and cafes allow you to enjoy the lovely atmosphere. There is also an outdoor part and you get the best view of Burj Al-Arab. You could also ride an abra, which is much more expensive than in Deira though.

The Desert

The desert is actually my favorite area in Dubai. I have been to the desert the times (the hot-air balloon ride, a Sundowner Dune Dinner Safari, and a Morning Dune Bash) and I cannot wait to visit again.

Dubai Marina

Dubai Marina is a beautiful part of Dubai and was created in 2003. It is still constantly changing and expanding, and thus you’ll always have to see construction work almost everywhere you look. Currently, it is the second biggest man-made marina, but Dubai would not be Dubai if it did not plan to break records and make it the biggest in the world. It is home to many hotels, including the highest hotel in the world, and the perfect place for nice strolls and beautiful views.

JBR Walk

JBR Walk is, unlike Dubai Marina, located along the beach with many shops, restaurants, hotels, and bars. However, I also enjoy the proximity to Dubai Marina and love going there for a walk.

Palm Jumeirah

When I heard about the Palm(s) on TV for the first time, I was more than skeptical about the negative impacts on the environment. However, on my second and third trip to Dubai, I actually stayed at one of the hotels on Palm Jumeirah.

There were supposed to be three palms but actually, one got only finished, and a second one is supposed to be finished eventually. The third one was stopped as a result of the financial crises which also hit Dubai.

Dubai - The Palm @shutterstock
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Dubai – The Palm @shutterstock

Click here for more information on each area and the best attractions there

Best Places to Stay in Dubai

Accommodation in Dubai is top – even a 3* hotel is better than other 3* hotels throughout the world.

To get the best deals on your Dubai hotel click here. Not surprisingly, 5* hotels are better than in other parts of the world. Following are some hotels I have visited and reviewed in the past:

The Palm

5* Hotel and Resort: Atlantis Hotel – The Palm Dubai The hotel is a bit old (if you look at the interior you can tell at some parts) but after all, it is a very luxurious and fun place to stay in Dubai. It is also the perfect choice for families and people who want to indulge at a hotel property.

5* Resort: Review: Anantara The Palm Dubai: I really liked the vibe and the hotel itself. It is so different to all the other places in Dubai and perfect if you prefer a quieter place with a touch of Thailand.

Dubai Marina

5* Hotel: Review: Grosvenor House in Dubai – ond of my favorite hotels in Dubai. Elegant and quiet (not the perfect place for families with smaller kids) and a great location.

5* Hotel: Review: Intercontinental Dubai Marina – another of my favorite places. A modern and bright interior and a good location make IC Dubai Marina a fantastic place to stay.

JBR Walk

4* Resort: Review: JA Ocean View Hotel Dubai

Best things to do in Dubai

Before I visited Dubai for the first time, I thought Dubai is just skyscrapers and shopping malls, but I was proven wrong. There is soooo much to do and see, and there’s something for almost any taste.

  • Do a Dubai desert safari, either a Morning Dune Drive or a Sundowner Dune Dinner Safari
  • Take a hot air balloon ride in Dubai
  • Visit Dubai Deira and the Gold and Spice Souk and ride an Abra
  • Visit Dubai Mall, the biggest shopping center in the world (check out Dubai Mall Quick Guide)
  • Watch the Dubai Fountain (once or twice an hour)
  • Visit “At the Top of Burj Khalifa”
  • Stroll through Dubai Marina
  • Do a boat tour from Marina
  • Stroll along JBR Walk
  • Visit Miracle Garden
  • Discover The Palm and rent a bike (the Palm is perfect for a bike ride)
  • Check out Madinat Jumeirah and discover the souks and the best views of Dubai Burj Al-Arab
  • Spend time at Kite Beach
  • Visit the Gold and Spice Souks in Dubai Deira

Click here to book one of the tours now and save money.

Want to read more about Dubai? Head to my archives and read about the top things to do in Dubai.

Find out “How to spend a layover in Dubai (6,8, or 10 hours)” and if you are lucky and spend more time there read “How to Spend 3 Days in Dubai”.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, this means I might earn a small commission when you buy a product/service via my link (no extra cost at you). More about it here.

More pictures on Instagram