Recently I have been seeing many people traveling to Dubai and while summer is not the best time to go, it stays a popular destination for many tourists. Having lived there for about six months, I would like to share with you ten things to know before going to Dubai to make sure you have the easiest and best experience possible.
This is a controversial point since many people debate if you should adapt to local culture or not. I genuinely believe that if you are the outsider, it is your job to cause as little trouble as possible and that includes clothing. While it may be okay in Europe to walk around in really short shorts, it is not in the Middle East. My second reason for suggesting this is actually your own comfort. Since most women dress modestly in the Middle East, even the UAE, you will stick out if you wear more revealing clothing. This will lead to stares and unwanted attention. I found that it was easier to wear longer thin pants and a full t-shirt instead of booty shorts and crop tops while in Dubai. Also they love air conditioning and indoors it tends to be freezing. Therefore wearing cloths that cover most of your body will also keep you a bit warmer.
Public Display of Affection Laws
If you have not heard of these, you might want to look them up. Because the UAE is a Muslim country following traditions they have outlawed any PDA in public. You are not allowed to hold hands, kiss, or touch the opposite sex in any other way. They are not always super strict about holding hands, but you can easily get arrested for kissing. Also unmarried couples are not allowed to stay in the same room. Most hotels in Dubai and Abu Dhabi don't follow this rule too closely, because it would be bad for business. However, you might want to be on the safe side and just refer to each other as husband and wife during the trip. If you are going to more conservative areas, such as Fujairah, you might want to be careful. Overall this law can have harsh consequences but they are not hard to avoid if you follow the simple guidelines.
It can also be done on a budget
So we all know Dubai as the place for luxury and extravagance, but there is also another size. While most tourists have the money to spend on expensive restaurants , most of the locals do not. Therefore there are many restaurants that cater to the locals with great food and low prices. You can get amazing Indian food for really cheap as well as most other Asian dishes. There are also hotels that have a lower price point and hostels are slowly starting to pop up in the big cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Public transport is also working well most of the time. I have used it plenty while there and never had any major problems.
Expect everything to be Indian
As stated before many of the workers are not locals but have come from Asia. Two of the most popular countries are the Philippines and India. There is such a large Indian population that it almost feels like you are in India. You can find all the ingredients and spices which in Europe you would never find in normal supermarkets and many restaurants and shops are Indian. It can be very surprising to end up in Little India when you are actually going to the Middle East.
Reasonable but not great public transport
As said earlier the public transport in Dubai is not bad. Google Maps actually does a pretty good job with the busses and metro and you can get almost everywhere with it. That being said, there are only three lines and they do not run too late or early in the morning. The buses can also be a bit confusing. I ended up sticking to the metro mostly which ran right in front of my place. Also all public transport has a women only section. On buses it is in the front and on the metro either the front on the back car. These are great especially in rush hour.
If you are trying to get from one city to another, you can do that from two stops in Dubai. The main one is Al Gubaiba close to the Dubai Creek. The second one is by the Ibn Battuta Mall, past Dubai Marina. They have buses going to Abu Dhabi every fifteen minutes to half an hour. You can also catch a bus to Sharjah or Ras Al Khaimah throughout the city. Getting the information is a bit tricky. The easiest way to get it is to ask someone because some of the websites are outdated.
There is no such thing as the city center
I remember doing research before going trying to find out where to stay in the city. I wanted to stay in the center to be close to everything. After having been there I realized there is no city center at all. Most sights are spread out around the city and each part has its own charm. The most city center like is the area around Dubai Mall, which is the most expnsive, but it is not nice to walk around in which is what I wanted. You can stay at the beach or in Bur Dubai and you are just as close to everything. The one part that is completely separate is Dubai Marina. While it is an adorable area and one of my favorite parts of the city, it can take up to an hour to reach other parts of the city and get anything done. So do not worry about finding a hotel in the center. Just find one you like.
Drinking and food laws
Here come more strange religious laws. In most supermarkets you cannot buy pork since Muslims do not eat it. Drinking alcohol is also forbidden in Muslim religion, therefore only international establishments have liquor licences. Therefore, if you want a drink, you need to go to a hotel or an upscale restaurant. It can be a bit pricy, but if you are a women most places have ladies nights at least once a week, so just look for those.
Another important information to check before your trip is the date of Ramadan. Ramadan is a period of one moon cycle where the Muslims fast. The dates change a bit every year. During this period most restaurants are closed before sunset since people do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. You will find some places open with a black curtain around them so they are not visible. It can be an interesting period to experience and you can still have a great time, so do not shy away from visiting during this period.
Haggling is a thing
So coming from Europe everything has a sat price. In Dubai most things to as well, but many of the things you will by as a tourist you can probably haggle for. Scarves, dresses, gold, basically anything you can buy on the street or in the market you can haggle the price down. Just stay firm and believe in your price. If you have someone who speaks Arabic that can be an even bigger advantage.
It is really safe
You have probably heard all kind of stories about the Middle East and how dangerous it is. Well Dubai is really safe and let me tell you why. As mentioned earlier 90% of the people living there are immigrants who are there on a work visa. Even if they have been there all their lives, they are still not citizens and therefore can be forced to leave the country at any time. Since you can be deported for the smallest thing, people stay out of trouble as much as possible. This leads to a very low crime rate and overall safety. I used to walk around at like 1 AM and never felt unsafe as you can see in the picture.
Those are some of the things to know before going to Dubai for the first time. It is an interesting city worth visiting and I hope you enjoy your time there. If you have been there and have thought to add, please do so in the comments below.