When you are travelling to Dubai for the first time, it is always good to do a little research into the country you are visiting.
Dubai stepped onto the international scene not long after the founding of the United Arab Emirates in 1971. The 1966 discovery of oil was already pumping the black stuff out of the ground and the money into the national coffers, and the result has been spectacular. Bigger, better, and more expensive has been the rule.
Most of the oil has been found and sold now, but the city continues to attract tourists from all over the world, drawn by the near-legendary accounts of the unique supercars that drive the streets, the truly sky-scraping buildings that line them, and the exotic culture and traditions of this potentially harsh and stunning physical environment, now tamed by the ingenuity and will of human beings. The city has a great PR team, to be sure, but it’s also true that they have a great deal to work with.
Things to Do
Remember how much fun it is to ride a tube through a waterslide? Imagine doing it while surrounded – above and to both sides – by a huge aquarium teeming with exotic species of fish: sharks, eels, rays, and more! There are more than 65,000 marine animals there for you to see, up close and personal.
If the tube ride is enough adventure for one day, you can kick back at the private beach or hang out with the dolphins. If the tube ride was just the appetiser, maybe a romp on the jet-skis is just what the doctor ordered.
Red Dunes Safari
Water not your thing? You can’t get more different than the Red Dunes and Camel Safari. You’ll spend six or seven hours under the bright sun, with glorious red sand beneath your feet… or wheels… or hooves!
You can drive the dunes by car or quad-bike, try sand-surfing, experience some traditional Arabian culture – including meeting a falcon or getting some henna painting – ride on a camel caravan, and top it all off with a BBQ complete with genuine belly dancing show. It’s a great introduction to the desert, and everything is planned for you – they’ll even pick you up at the airport if you wish.
The Burj Khalifa
Want something other than land or sea? No problem. How about taking a trip to the top of the world’s tallest building?
You simply can’t put into words the way it feels to be 125 floors above the ground, looking out of a window. It doesn’t feel like a plane – you’re not moving – it doesn’t feel like a helicopter either – it’s quiet and has that genuine indoor feel. At the same time, being up so high, looking out on panoramic views of the glittering city of Dubai, the waters and the desert beyond it… there’s simply nothing else like it.
Until you’re in a skyscraper, looking down – way down – onto the roof of another skyscraper, you really don’t comprehend what 125 floors means. The Burj Khalifa will show you.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
With sea, land and air covered, it is time to admire the masterpieces of an older time. You can get picked up at your hotel and taken to Abu Dhabi where, among other sights, you will get to see the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
It is the fourth largest mosque in the world, but arguably the most beautiful. White domes supported on archways reveal golden interiors peeking out between the columns. Bright, gold pinnacles point skyward from domes and minarets alike, and all of it is surrounded by snow-white medieval-style walls and lush, green grounds. Inside, colonnades and the wide central courtyard will inspire awe and reverence, both for the architecture and for the devotion of those who built – and financed – such an elegant structure.
Spend the day in Abu Dhabi, or just a few hours; either way it will be time well spent, as there is a lot to see.
For some, the sun, heat and sand, sand everywhere, may get to be too much. Others simply can’t ignore the chance to ski in a part of the world so far from the natural occurrences of snow and cold.
Spend a couple of hours skiing or boarding these indoor slopes and you’ll be ready for the Arabian heat once more. The abrupt change in environment – both when entering and leaving the ski area – will be a profound, and pleasant, surprise.
Things to Know
Dubai is part of a conservative Islamic country, so there are behavioural norms that may be different from your own. The two big ones involve alcohol and public behaviour. When in doubt about a rule, do the more conservative option.
As a tourist, you’ll be able to drink alcohol in any venue with a license. This includes many hotels, restaurants and clubs. Do be aware that public drunkenness, even if technically consumed within a legal venue, may result in trouble.
Public kissing and/or hugging is not allowed in Dubai.
Married, heterosexual couples are allowed to hold hands, but be aware that police may stop and ask a couple for proof of marriage in such situations. Unmarried couples holding hands can get into legal trouble for it. If you are a same-sex couple, you will need to act like you are not a couple at all, or you may hit very serious legal trouble.
It is illegal for unmarried couples to share a hotel room (or even to ride alone in a cab together), but in more expensive hotels, this is often ignored. Most people operate on a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ sort of system. If you are willing to call your partner ‘husband’ or ‘wife’ while there, it’s best to do so.
These limitations may put some off from a visit to Dubai, but a trip to the city will be remembered for friendly and warm interactions with locals of all kinds, an array of fun and often unique activities, and for the stunning backdrop of natural and human-made structures, activities, and scenery.
Just seven hours from London and you can be in a truly different world. Experience a gem set between the green-blue waters of the Persian Gulf and the red sands of the desert: experience Dubai.
Top 5 Hotels We love…
Our expert travel consultants have visited Dubai on numerous occasions and are well versed in where to stay, where to go and what you definitely must go and see. What they don’t know about Dubai isn’t worth knowing…
- Jumeirah Al Naseem – great for couples
The newest hotel at Madinat Jumeirah, on a stretch of private beach overlooking the iconic Burj Al Arab Jumeirah. Beautifully appointed suites and beach villas with club access.
- Al Maha Resort & Spa – great for couples
A private, guest-only oasis nestled among the lush palm groves, emerald canopies and iconic sand dunes of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.
- Atlantis The Palm – great for families
A majestic 5 star hotel situated on the Palm, a man-made island that has captured the world’s imagination with its magnificent scale and ingenuity. When staying at the Atlantis, The Palm you get unlimited access to Aquaventure Waterpark for the duration of your stay.
- Anantara The Palm – great for couples & families
Float on water, with lagoon access rooms and home to the only over water villas in Dubai, beautifully Thai themed.
- Nikki Beach Resort & Spa – great for couples and groups
Located on the waterfront of Pearl Jumeira, allows guests to enjoy the Arabian Gulf’s blue waters and stunning panoramic views from every corner of the property.
Call us on +44 (0)1730 711010 or email [email protected] for more information on travelling to Dubai for the first time.