One and Only Dubai
Intorduction to Dubai
“Attracting entrepreneurs and adventurers from around the globe, this high-rise emirate has erupting out of the Arabian Desert to become a top-tier city break destination… Think Dubai, think superlative.”
For sheer dash and dazzle, Dubai is a place apart. This high-rise emirate has erupted out of the Arabian Desert to the top tier of city break destinations and there’s much more to come – you could call it the world’s biggest ‘work in progress.’ First some facts: Dubai refers either to one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates on the Persian Gulf or that emirate’s main city, sometimes called ‘Dubai City.’ With a population of just under a million, it’s the most populous and second largest emirate of the UAE after Abu Dhabi.
A sleepy fishing village not half a century ago, the dust of the desert has now cleared to reveal a thriving metropolis with a sophisticated network of highways and high-rises, a plethora of glittering malls and an awesome concentration of top-rate hotels and attractions.This is a city built on the visionary determination of its rulers, the Maktoums, whose zeal has attracted entrepreneurs and adventurers from around the globe in search of a slice of the action.
Welcome to the desert’s most exciting city. Think Dubai, think superlative.
Getting to Dubai
Dubai FlightThere are daily services to Dubai from most European hubs including London (British Airways and Emirates); Amsterdam (KLM); Frankfurt (Lufthansa and Emirates); Paris (Air France, British Airways and Emirates) and Rome (Emirates). The flight time from London is seven hours. Emirates introduced the first direct flight to the USA in June 2004 with a Dubai-New York route (14 hours). Otherwise, North America is served by a variety of carriers, which stop en route in Europe. Malaysian Airlines also operates a service to Los Angeles and New York via Kuala Lumpur.Dubai’s international airport has won numerous awards for its excellence in design and services. It’s located only two-and-a-half miles from the city centre. Most major airlines arrive at Terminal 1 and onward transportation is possible by bus, taxi, limousine and hire car.
Buses 401 and 402 run every 30 minutes through two of the most popular corridors of the city, taking in many of the major hotels. The journey time is about half-an-hour and the cost per person is 3 dirhams. The taxi service is government-run and works on a meter basis. The journey into the centre of town will take about 10 minutes and cost around 35-40 dirhams.
There are 15 car rental companies with offices at the airport, and the majority of them provide chauffeur services. Limousine services are present at the Dubai airport through Siji Limousines and Dubai VIP Limousine Service.
Dubai Tips and Advice
The official language of the country is Arabic, although most people in and out of the workplace communicate in English. There are many different nationalities in Dubai, but English finds common ground with most people. The majority of road and shop signs, restaurant menus etc. are in both English and Arabic.
Currency And Tipping
The basic monetary unit of UAE is the dirham, which is made up of 100 fils. The paper currency comes in denominations of 500, 200, 100, 50, 10 and 5. As in most modern cities, tipping is considered the norm in Dubai, especially when you’re eating out at any of the swish restaurants. Hotels include a service charge, which is a municipality tax and is used for staff medical care, but porters, valet parkers and housekeeping staff will appreciate a small gratuity.
Many restaurants offer a general tipping box, the contents of which is shared equally among all staff. For a sit-down meal where service is very good, 10-15 dirhams, if the meal and service were superior, 20-25 dirhams would be fine. Taxi drivers generally accept a few dirhams with a wide smile. Places providing a personal service such as hair salons, manicurists and masseurs do not expect a tip.
On the whole, Dubai is a very safe city, but you should exercise the same sort of caution with your personal safety as you would anywhere. There are some horrific murders and assaults, but these are largely confined to family disputes and organised crime. Dubai’s status as a trading hub makes it a natural conduit for drug trafficking from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Europe, but this has little impact on Dubai society.
Drug abuse in the emirate is rising, but from a low base. Penalties for drug use are severe — four years in jail is mandatory for possession of soft drugs such as cannabis (including traces in your bloodstream).
Prostitution is a problem in Dubai, but can easily be avoided. Since the early 1990s, women from the former Soviet republics have flocked here for the profitable trade — joined recently by Chinese women, who work the streets and beaches. If you don't care for such company, avoid Rolla Street and the Golden Sands area, off Bank Street.
Summer – June to September – can be oppressively hot, with humidity sometimes hitting 90 per cent. Temperatures can reach 118F (48C) in the midday sun. October to April sees the most pleasant weather with temperatures ranging between the 70s and 80sF (20s and 30sC). This is when Dubai receives the majority of its visitors. The holy month of Ramadan (September/October), during which Muslims fast from dawn till dusk, has a significant impact on the whole city. There’s a ban on live music, many hotels won’t serve alcohol and everyone, regardless of their religion, is required to abide by the fast in public.
There is currently a massive Dubai Metro project under construction for the emirate. The system is expected to be partially operational by 2009 and fully operational by 2012.Dubai Municipality (www.dm.gov.ae) operates a reasonable public bus service on 62 routes, daily from 0600 to 2300. Adult fares are 1.50-4.50 dirhams depending on destination and are paid to the driver upon boarding; it is useful for travellers to have the exact change ready. Routes and bus numbers are posted in both Arabic and English.Air-conditioned taxis can be hailed on the street or pre-booked by telephone. Metered taxis, operated by the Dubai Transport Corporation, are distinguishable by their cream colour and uniformed drivers. Occasionally, drivers do not have detailed knowledge of the city and might ask passengers for directions. For metered taxis, the pick-up fare is 3 dirhams (3.50 between 2200 and 0600) and 4 dirhams for pre-booked metered taxis. The rate is then charged at 1.17 dirhams per kilometre. Fixed fares are applied to journeys outside the city boundaries. In non-metered taxis, the fare is generally 5 dirhams for short journeys and 10–15 for longer journeys within the city, but should be negotiated in advance. It’s also possible to rent a taxi for 12 hours, for a fixed fee of around 500 dirhams. (From File – “Tour of Dubai bus”)Dubai has an excellent and well-signposted road network and the majority of roads have two to four lanes. Unfortunately, driving standards don’t quite match the quality of the roads. Many local drivers travel at speed and change lanes with wild abandon. In addition, drivers are prone to make sudden and dangerous manoeuvres. Accidents occur frequently and visitors are advised to drive defensively. Outside the city centre, signposts are rare, making a good road map essential to avoid heading aimlessly out into the desert. Increasingly, traffic congestion is also a problem, particularly in Deira and along Jumeirah Beach. Drivers should note that there’s a 20 dirham tax to pay for driving out of the UAE. Travel Tip 1Period passes are useful for those staying more than a week in Dubai, allowing cheaper bus travel on a smart card. Passes, timetables and bus maps are available from the bus stations in Deira and Bur Dubai.
Visa RequirementsCitizens of the UK, the United States and 32 other privileged countries may obtain a free UAE visa on arrival in Dubai. It’s valid for 60 days and can be renewed for a further 30 days for a fee. Full details of visa matters can be found at www.guide.theemiratesnetwork.com/living/visa.php
Dubai is rooted in the Islamic traditions that form the lifestyle of UAE nationals. However, the UAE is tolerant and welcoming to foreigners who don’t practise the religion of Islam. Expatriates are free to practise their own religion, alcohol is served in hotels and the dress code is liberal. Women don't face discrimination.
Courtesy and hospitality are two of the many virtues of Dubai. It’s a cosmopolitan city and visitors can dress how they like. Even so, respect for local customs is appreciated. In deference to local customs and norms it’s a good idea for visitors not to wear very short, tight clothing. UAE nationals usually wear their traditional dress. For men this is the dishdasha or khandura, a white full-length shirt-dress. It’s worn with a white or red checked headdress known as a gutra. In public women wear the black abaya, a long black robe that covers their normal clothes. They also wear a headscarf.
Tourist photography is acceptable and expected with all the beautiful things to photograph in Dubai. However, in general, photographs of government buildings, military installations, ports and airports should not be taken. Like anywhere, it is polite to ask permission before photographing people. It’s considered offensive to take pictures of Muslim women.
Top 10 Dubai Attractions
A fine example of modern Islamic architecture, it’s one of the most visited and photographed sights in Dubai. A guided tour is possible. http://www.cultures.ae/
Nothing should surprise you about Dubai, least of all that it has one of the biggest indoor ski slopes in the world. It’s at the huge Mall of the Emirates and gets very crowded, so book an early slot. http://www.skidxb.com/
Jumeirah Beach and Beach Park
The public beach here boasts clean white sand and crystal clear seawater.
Wild Wadi water park
Next door to the famous Jumeirah Beach Hotel, this famous water park is a great family day out. http://www.wildwadi.com/
Dubai National Museum
Housed in an old fort dating from 1787, the museum has interactive exhibits showing how the city has changed and what’s in store for the future.
The river is still used by traders in dhows. Tourists can cross from Bur Dubai to Deira on the other bank by an open-sided water taxi called an abra. It costs just 1 dirham.
The Burj al Arab
You can’t miss this seven-star hotel … it’s the one shaped like a billowing sail that dominates the skyline. If you can afford it, book a table in the restaurant at the top; otherwise, just gaze up and marvel. http://www.burj-al-arab.com/
There are a number of souks (traditional Arab markets) in Dubai. The Deira Covered Souk, located in the Al Sabkha Bus station area, specialises in textiles and is well worth a wander. The Gold Souk, also in Deira, is a gold and jewellery lovers’ heaven and the prices are cheaper than in many other places in the world. The nearby Spice Souk is a good place to buy Arabic souvenirs. Haggling encouraged!
Archaeological sites of Dubai
You can visit the excavation sites at Al Ghusals, Al Sufooh and Jumeirah and see artefacts from the 7th to the 15th centuries.
Al Boom Tourist Village
A 2,000-seat banquet hall, coffee shop, several restaurants, amusement park, ornamental lake and a marina with five cruise boats.
Eating and Drinking
As the meeting point of east and west, it comes as no surprise that so many different cultures are represented in Dubai. When it comes to eating out, you can choose from literally hundreds of restaurants showcasing dozens of different cuisines. Most of the more popular restaurants are in hotels and these are usually the only establishments with alcohol licences. There are very good Middle Eastern, South Asian and Oriental restaurants separate from hotels but they do not serve alcoholic drinks. The cheapest are the Indian and Pakistani restaurants, but eating out anywhere in Dubai is normally excellent value.
One experience that might be tried is a lunch or dinner cruise on the Creek. There are a number of companies offering cruises including Bateaux Dubai (www.bateaux.com) and Danat Dubai Cruises (www.danatdubaicruises.com). A more traditional option is the wooden dhow, where dining under the open-top deck is a wonderful way to spend a balmy evening – as long as you’ve remembered to bring a jacket.
Deira City CentreDubai is quite literally a shopper’s paradise It has in excess of fifty notable shopping centres and a great many souks which all offer consumers an incredible array of items at highly attractive tax-free prices.
The choice for the shopper is unlimited and those living in Dubai or taking a vacation in the emirate cannot help but spend their free time browsing around and looking at everything from luxury cars and designer labels to gold, spices, perfumes and Arabic souvenirs such as copper coffeepots, rugs and carpets. Prices in Dubai are so attractive because a) everything is sold tax free and b) Dubai is such a significant port that it imports great volumes and does so with low import duty.
The best value items are gold and jewellery but everyday things like furniture, clothing and food are affordable too. A number of the shopping malls in Dubai are exclusively ‘designer’ and prices, although cheaper than elsewhere in the world, are still on the pricey side. BurJuman Centre or Emirates Tower Boulevard are both good malls for those in search of designer clothing, handbags and sunglasses for example, or the Jumeirah Centre offers shoppers discounted designer items and it can be an excellent place to bag a bargain or two.
Probably the most popular shopping mall in Dubai is Deira City Centre. As the name suggests, it is centrally located and is home to around 280 outlets. All the big name retail and restaurant brands are here and the complex also houses a massive cinema and entertainment centre, so it’s a great place for all the family.
Those looking for something a little more unusual when shopping in Dubai might like to consider either the Ibn Battuta Shopping Mall or The Village. Ibn Battuta Shopping Mall is now Dubai’s second largest. It’s located a little off the beaten track but it has five themed shopping zones and the design influences throughout range from Moroccan to Chinese and make it a funky place to visit. It’s home to many international large chains as well as some exclusive outlets. The Village on the other hand marks a refreshing change for shoppers in Dubai because instead of housing retail store and international restaurant chains, it is home to independent shops and businesses. It’s been described as “an avant-garde shopaholic’s dream”. Dubai’s souks are also an experience not to be missed. Don’t be afraid to haggle over the price of any items you fancy but be prepared to be overwhelmed by choice! The Gold Souk, Perfume Souk, Spice Souk and Deira Covered Souk are all worth a visit.
Unlike many other major worldwide capital cities, Dubai doesn’t have a nightlife district – there’s no particular entertainment heart to this city, rather there are many varied venues dotted about across the amazing metropolis and it can take a good few nights out to explore them all!
All the major hotels have a variety of bars and many of them stay open until the small hours. They aren’t just the haunt of the businessman on tour - a lot of expatriates meet up in their favourite hotel bar particularly on a Thursday or Saturday night as these are the most popular times of the week for socialising. In recent years there’s been a decent flow of independent bars opening. There’s a good concentration of bars and clubs in the beach hotels and along Sheikh Zayed Road. In terms of alcohol, many bars, restaurants, pubs and clubs have special licences allowing them to sell alcohol to non-Muslim clientele over the age of 21.There are no casinos in Dubai as gambling is totally against the Muslim tradition. Nightclubs are varied and now plentiful. Many cater only for the over 25s, all have to shut by 3am and most are clearly divided into themes - from international to Arabic to African to Latin American!
Dubai is certainly not a place that promotes itself to the gay and lesbian market. Homosexuality is officially illegal in the UAE. Cultural codes mean simply that it’s neither tolerated, nor openly discussed, in the way it is in the West.
The doors of the Diamond Club were permanently shut in 2001 when it threw Dubai’s first public gay night, featuring a prize for the best-dressed transvestite. However, discreetly-worded inquiries levelled at bar staff in any of Dubai’s nightspots might help to locate an establishment catering for the gay scene. Providing attention isn’t drawn through displays of public affection, gay and lesbian travellers will be unlikely to face discrimination or legal complications.