Paradise in the Desert: A Guide to Dubai

Oh Dubai..

My dad and stepmom took a leap of faith and moved abroad to Dubai back in 2014. So I have had the opportunity to visit every summer and make the grueling 16 hour flight to the UAE. Dubai is a stunning city and does a fantastic job of letting you forget you’re in the desert, the only way you can tell is from the heat!

Dubai offers various adventures and activities throughout the city and even out into the desert. Having visited 3 times now I wouldn’t call myself an expert but I am pretty familiar with what there is to do.

One of my favorite things to do was go to the top of the Burj Khalifa. I’m slightly obsessed with this building – partly for it’s remarkable architecture and partly because of my thing for spots where you can look out over a city. On the observation deck, the 125th floor, you can feel the building being swayed by the wind. If you want great shots of Dubai you might want to go early in the morning and on a day that has good visibility (if there’s too much sand in the air you won’t see much). We went at night looking out at the lights of the city.

We also watched the fountain show from above, they do one in the lake in front of the tower every 30 minutes starting at 7pm. You can also watch it from the plaza out of the Dubai mall. They play many famous Arabic songs and even songs like Thriller and I Will Always Love You. 

Another thing that I recommend doing while in Dubai is taking a Big Bus tour, especially if your short on time and want to see a lot of the main attractions. We did this during our first week and it brought us to places like the Dubai Museum where you can learn all about the history of the UAE and Dubai, the Jumeriah Mosque which is one of the only mosques that allows non-Muslims to enter and tour it, the gold souks where you can haggle for precious jewels, and it even brings you out to the Palm Jumeriah part of the man-made islands built by Dubai. If you do have more time another easy and affordable way of getting around is taking the city tram.

Strolling down the Dubai Marina you can find an abundance of restaurants to choose from and you can also go for a dhow ride along the canal. They also have a mall where you can look through all the shops and find some great souvenirs.

For all you beach bums Dubai offers many free public beaches, one of them being the Jumeriah Beach that has “The Walk”(very creative name right?) where you can find many restaurants and shops as well. One night we went and walked along the beach to find sand sculptures!

If you want to get away from the big city but still relax on the beach you can head north to either Ras al Khaimah or east to Fujaira both of which have awesome dive spots! I actually learned to scuba dive in Dubai and the first dive trip was to Fujaira where I got to pet a sea turtle (honestly one of the best moments of my life omg)!! The PADI dive-masters there were awesome and another girl said she even got to see a shark while on her dive. A lot of the beaches have many other water activities like jet skiing, parasailing, and water jet-packing. 

Another cool trip outside of Dubai is to the capital city Abu Dhabi. We went for a day and visited Ferrari World where we rode the world’s fastest roller coaster (it goes 150 mph). One thing we didn’t get to see but would of really liked to is the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, one of the world’s largest mosques. The architecture alone looks stunning. 

If you want to get out into the desert Dubai, and many other cities, have safaris where you can ride a camel, drive a dune bug through the sand, and enjoy a bbq dinner all in the desert. Some even offer overnight stays! Or if you want to go on your own you could always rent a car and drive out into the desert like my family and I did and just sit on the sand dunes. It was so peaceful and the sand honestly felt like silk. Also while driving around you will usually see camels on the side of the road and could even stop and take pictures of them (don’t approach them though they are still wild animals and could harm you).

And here are just a couple more things to keep in mind if you are planning on going to Dubai:

1. Stay hydrated. You are in the desert. It gets HOT, especially if you go during the summer months. I like to always carry a refillable water bottle on me at all times no matter where I travel. Yes there’s almost always somewhere you could buy a refreshment but why not save money and just bring one with you. It’s also very convenient while on the beach.

2. If you plan on renting a car, drive safe! The roads are probably the most dangerous thing about Dubai and the UAE in general. I thought nobody knew how to drive in the US but going here… I’ve seen people backing up on busy highways because they missed a turn. I’ve also seen car accidents and was almost in one ( a head on collision with a Lamborghini wouldn’t of been too bad of a way to go out though). There are plenty of reckless drivers in the country, don’t be one of them! And even if you don’t rent a car and find yourself in a taxi, if the driver is not being as safe as you would like – tell them.

3. Respect the culture. The UAE is an Islamic country. You’ll want to dress appropriately and pretty modest, as some public places have a dress code. No you don’t have to wear the hijab but try to keep the hemlines near the knee and the tank tops to a minimum. Also check to see if you are traveling during the month of Ramadan, as there are special rules during this time. There is no eating or drinking in public to respect the people that are fasting, and many restaurants are closed during the day as well. There are some places that either cover their windows to allow customers to eat or let you take it to go, and there’s usually a special food court for non-Muslims in the malls.

4. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Yes the UAE seems like a land for the rich but your trip doesn’t have to be expensive! There are plenty of free activities to do such as walking along the Marina, watching the fountain show in front of the Burj Khalifa, or just walking around the malls.  They also have free public beaches. Another way to save money is to look for deals on Groupon. My stepmom always used to do this before we did anything. They have coupons for restaurants, popular activities or attractions, and even hotels.

Dubai is what you make of it. You can come here to relax in the luxurious resorts and beaches, or go thrill seeking and take the world’s fastest roller coaster or sky dive, or be adventurous and trek out into the desert and ride some camels. Since Dubai is always expanding and building there’s almost always something new to try out!

Has anyone else traveled to Dubai or have any questions if you’re planning a trip? Comment below!

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