If you follow me on Instagram or you’ve read my past couple of posts you probably know I was just in Dubai. I’ve been dying to go to Dubai for ages, so it was super exciting for me to finally realize that dream. The city is truly incredible from the architecture to the shopping. Since we were just there for a long weekend we by no means did everything there was to see in the city, but sometimes we don’t always have the time to spend a whole week in certain places so we have to make do with what we have. With both Michael and I working full-time, we try now to only do trips on the weekend, but combining that with public holidays works very well!
Although Dubai is a huge, sprawling, very spread-out city, it is definitely possible to see all of the major sights in one short weekend, even if you fly into Abu Dhabi. (Alternatively, you can spend three days in Abu Dhabi easily!)
Before you embark on your epic weekend trip, you will definitely want to read up on the best free Dubai apps to download. It will definitely improve your trip.
Dubai is a really spread out city, essentially, as you can see from the map, in a very vertical manner. Although things are awkwardly spread out and it’s too hot to walk anywhere, the metro in Dubai is fantastic. Quite cheap and very reliable, you can easily get from point A to point B in wonderful air conditioning. There are two metro lines in Dubai, the main one is the red line and it goes straight down the main road, Sheikh Zayed Road, and the other is the green line, which goes around the Deira area. The road is absolutely massive and you could never cross it on foot. Instead, the metro line has these impressive air-conditioned stations and long, winding air conditioned walkways that take you both across the road and also from the station to the nearest site. It makes going out and sightseeing so much easier because you don’t need to spend as much time in the blistering heat.
On the red line, the metro stations are these cool domes that Michael and I christened “The Golden Eggs.”
The metro lines are above ground so you get some pretty awesome views of the city from them, which is a definite plus. Not only is the metro great, but as I mentioned it is really affordable as well. The system is made up of seven zones, but you can buy an all-day pass for all zones that’s only 20AED, which is about $5.50. And when you consider the fact you’re unlikely to get anywhere without taking the metro, it’s a pretty stellar deal. Anyway, enough about the metro, as it’s definitely not the most interesting part of the city.
The first thing we did upon arrival was to go to Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa, which are next to one another. From the station, you walk about 10 minutes in one of those air-conditioned passageways, complete with moving walkways. Once you reach the mall, you’re probably going to be a bit overwhelmed because it is truly massive. The mall has pretty much every western store and restaurant imaginable, but the coolest part is the fact that it’s all written in Arabic as well. Tim Hortons and Red Lobster included.
This mall does not only have shopping, this is the UAE, what did you expect? It also has a huge aquarium. Yes, you heard me a right, an aquarium, with a wall the size of a small house. You can pay to go inside and walk in a tunnel that goes underneath it, but you can view a good portion of it from the outside for free. Complete with massive fish and sting rays, it’s an impressive sight, and definitely not something you expect to see while eating at the Cheesecake Factory.
I could go on and on about this mall, but at the end of the day, it’s just a mall so it’s time we moved on. As impressive as it was. From inside the mall you can follow the signs to the fountain, which is directly in front of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Standing at a towering 829.8m, this building was finished in 2009 and only took five years to build. You might think, five years, that’s a long time. But this building is taller and more intricate than the Empire State building, not to mention you have to think about the circumstances in which it was built– insanely hot and humid weather, so it must have been pretty brutal. If you’re interested in how tall this building compares to other well-known tall buildings in the world (including the Empire State and the Eiffel Tower) check out this fascinating graphic from Wikipedia.
There’s actually a sign that says no photos of the fountain can be used for commercial purposes (that would include this blog), but seeing as we didn’t actually see the fountain I’m safe just sharing a photo of the Burj Khalifa itself. The fountain goes on and off in intervals, and we weren’t sure what those were, but rather than standing in the sun waiting (something my fair skin can’t tolerate) we just took our photos and went back through the mall.
Unfortunately, it was that awkward time of day where the sun was in totally the wrong spot, but even with the glare you can see just how massive and intricate this building really is.
While on the metro I got a great view of the Burj Khalifa as well compared to the other buildings around it (it’s on the far right).
At this point we were hot and tired, having arrived into the UAE early that morning, so we headed back to the hotel, which is by the Dubai World Trade Centre. From that area you get a magnificent view of some buildings with that unique UAE architecture. Though, what they are exactly I can’t tell you.
The next morning, after spending some much-wanted time by the pool, we headed out to go to the Mall of the Emirates, Dubai Marina and Jumeriah Beach. Much like the Dubai Mall, the Mall of the Emirates is very impressive. And it has a ski slope. Yes, a ski slope.
The Mall of the Emirates was the original “go-to” mall of the city, but after the Dubai Mall opened in 2008 it became the new must-see and the Mall of the Emirates kind of fell to the wayside. It’s a bit frumpier than the Dubai Mall, but it’s still impressive and it’s not everywhere in the Middle East where you can go into a mall and have a “Peng-Friend Experience.” That’s right, this ski slope even has penguins. That you can actually meet, play with, hug, whatever. I was so excited by this prospect, but I didn’t actually end up paying for it. Though part of me definitely kind of wishes that I had. To go in is not cheap, neither is the penguin experience, but if you’re looking for some relief from the heat and want to do something odd and unique, go for it!
This photo was just taken through the glass wall from inside the mall where you can look through to the ski slope and this odd little snow-hut.
From the mall, we went straight to the Dubai Marina. Also on the metro (because the metro was essentially built to minimize your need to walk), the marine is large with impressive views of more Dubai architecture. My personal favorite was this twisted building that looked like one of those cheesy bread sticks. Although you might think the Dubai Marina is old and comes from the time when Dubai was still just a fishing village, the complex was only built in 2003. Like much of Dubai, the marina complex is its own little community, with its own grocery stores, restaurants, shops and residential buildings.
Depending on how ambitious or how good your stamina is, you can either walk to Jumeriah Beach and the JBR (the walkway/boardwalk along the beach) or you can just take the tram a few stops along. As far as beaches go, it’s no the prettiest, but it’s quite pleasant at sunset and even though we were there towards the end of the day there were still tons of people out sunbathing and swimming in the water.
If you have the time and inclination, be sure to check out the opportunities the Palm Inner Circle Cruise as well if you want a real taste of luxury and a unique view of the city.
The JBR has lots of cool restaurants and shops, none of which are super cheap, but have some interesting options. Of course, nothing is really all that cheap in the UAE, because it may feel like South East Asia, it’s not nearly as inexpensive.
At this point we were so hot from the sun we decided to head back to the hotel and refresh and relax a bit before going out for dinner. The last things we did and saw in Dubai were the souks in the Deira area. Whether you’re looking for a knock-off Rolex, some awesomely cheap clothing or just some great food, Deira has some really awesome souks where you can buy pretty much anything. The souks aren’t nearly as confusing as ones in other cities (like Marrakech, where we got so hopelessly lost and kept walking in circles), but it has just as awesome stuff. We first walked around the gold souk, which gave me some serious shiny-object-syndrome, but I made it through without buying anything.
I was quite close to buying lots of things in the clothing souk, but I managed to keep my wallet in my purse. The souks for varying items (such as gold, clothing, spices, etc.) all kind of run together so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where one ends and others start, but it’s a great place to wander and enjoy the cheap things you can buy. Although it’s good to keep note of as many unique landmarks as you can so you can find your way back out!
We went quite late in the evening so some stalls were beginning to close up, but there were still tons more open. It’s not all in covered areas like this, some of it is just narrow alleyways with tiny little shops crammed in.
From there we ended up taking a boat across the river for under 50 cents to around where the Al Ghubaiba metro station is. The boat was small and we sat on the edge with our feet over the side, mere inches from the water amongst the locals. It was definitely a strange, but very fun experience, and you get a nice breeze off the water and a nice view of the lit up buildings.
We may only have been in Dubai for a few days, but I feel like I saw and experienced so much, and I don’t feel like I particularly missed out on anything. I think it’s important to remember that you don’t need a whole week to see somewhere and have an amazing time, as sometimes a few days is all you really need. For those of us who work full time but still are passionate about traveling and seeing the world, it’s not one or the other, it’s very easy to do both. Dubai was such a cool city and I’m so thankful that I was able to go and experience it.
However, if you’re looking to be in Dubai for a more extended period of time, head over to Arzo’s website and see what she ranks as the top 50 things to do in Dubai.
To wrap up this post, here are some other things to note about Dubai and the UAE:
- The UAE overall is relatively conservative when it comes to clothing. Typically, you’ll be fine wearing whatever you normally wear, and while I did see some women wearing shorts I opted for light-colored jeans and dresses. If possible, keeping your knees, shoulders and cleavage covered is the best choice. However, bikinis while swimming is totally acceptable.
- Public displays of affection are seriously frowned upon, and in most states totally illegal. Dubai is a bit more liberal about it, as in holding hands the occasional peck probably won’t result in anything, but it’s really not worth trying your luck. In the Emirate of Sharjah, kissing and holding hands is strictly prohibited, so it’s best to keep these things in mind.
- During Ramadan you can’t eat or drink in public until the sun goes down, so it’s typically best to not travel during this time period.
- Being under the influence of alcohol in public is prohibited, so although certain places can and do sell alcohol, just be wary and careful on how much you’re consuming. If you do choose to get totally inebriated, it’s probably best to do so in your hotel, out of sight.
Dubai and the UAE is a fascinating place, so don’t let any of the above information intimidate you. It’s a different culture, but at the end of the day, as long as you’re being curtious and you use some common sense, there’s no reason why you won’t have a fantastic trip.