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20 important travel tips when heading to Dubai

When my husband and I moved to Dubai, we had no idea what to expect. We read horror stories in newspapers about people getting arrested for the smallest things. We also read lists and lists of things that are forbidden to bring into, use or even say in Dubai.
 
Needless to say that we were a bit scared. I am quite outspoken and I was already imagining myself in an Emirates version of Orange is the new Black.
 
Luckily enough - Dubai is actually very open minded. As long as you do not offend or harm other people, break important laws or have a bad run in with an Emirati you're fine.
 
With countless shopping malls, luxury hotels and crazy architectural projects, Dubai is a great tourist destination. Holiday makers can sit on the beach, do some shopping or eat at exuberant restaurants. This makes that I receive a good deal of emails every week of readers and followers asking me how life in Dubai is. They ask what they should/should not bring as a tourist and if I have any tips for people going to Dubai for the first time. I have compiled a list of 20 important tips to keep in mind when traveling to this beautiful city. 

Respect the dress code

dubai tourist tips dress code in dubai women men girls boys
Although Dubai doesn't has a dress code, it is important not to wear any clothing that is too revealing. 
 
I see tourists walking around in malls wearing super short shorts and very revealing tank tops all the time. Even I feel a bit uncomfortable when passing them. 
Not because of what they are "showing", but because it is disrespectful toward Emirati culture
 
I am the last person to say that cleavage is unlady-like or that short skirts should be banned - but there is a time and place for everything. When going out for a drink or a brunch you can wear whatever you want. You can wear open dresses and short skirts as long as it fitswithin the dress-code set by the restaurant. When walking around Dubai, visiting the sites or shopping in the mall, it is better to cover up shoulders and wear a dress or shorts to your knees
 
Emirati people are very welcoming and hospitality might as well be one of the most important pilars of their culture. But you might find them less helpful and hospitable when wearing skimpy clothes. Some of the nicest people I know are Emirati and it would hurt me to see them hurt, embarrassed or offended. 
 
When it comes to beaches you can wear whatever you like - but I do think G strings are forbidden on most public beaches. Private beaches like Barasti and 0 Gravity don't mind what you are wearing. In the evening dress codes might apply even at private beaches. 
 
If you would cross the Dubai-Sharjah border, make sure to cover your shoulders and your legs up until your knees. This Emirate - even though right next to (maybe even glued to) Dubai, is quite strict. No  alcohol is permitted and you should always dress modestly as you can get a hefty fine for not doing so. 

Buy "The Entertainer" app

My husband and I saved £500 pounds in January and the start of February alone thanks to The Entertainer. 
 
It is the single best thing in Dubai. 
 
Because of The Entertainer, our lifestyle has changed drastically. We went from penniless in London to living the life in Dubai. We visit and dine at expensive restaurants we would not be able to afford without the app, and are able to go to amazing brunches every single week
 
But the Entertainer is more than only free food and free drinks, the app also offers a lot of amazing experiences. Josh and I spent a day at the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo in the Dubai Mall thanks to an offer on The Entertainer. We did a behind the scenes tour and had the time of our lives watching fish fight for the food our lovely guide threw at them
 
You can also find a lot of 2 for 1 desert safari's and theme park tickets!

 

the entertainer free save money dubai cheap drink food
Okay - sure. The app is not cheap. But it is very easy to earn back the money spent on the app. For instance - you can get up to three free ticket for Wadi Waterpark ( AED 336 / £70 / $91 per piece ) while The Entertainer App costs 395 AED  ( $107 / £83 ). Keep in mind you can get 2 for 1 meals in most chains (Nando's, Applebee's, Chili's). You can also 2 for 1 drinks or even sheesha in other great places (QD's, Bahayra Lounge). With this app you will save A LOT of money AND do amazing and expensive stuff while not breakng the bank. 
 
Also try going to one of the amazing brunches in Dubai! These all you can eat and drink extravaganza's are also on The Entertainer! 
 
You are missing out when you are not buying the Entertainer! For my husband and I it was the best thing that happened to us in Dubai, and we will miss it whenever we move to someplace new.

You can get 10% off the App (saving even more money) when signing up through this link! 

Don't buy a local sim

get local number dubai abu dhabi tourist

I am normally the first to say getting a local sim while travelling is the way forward. However, in Dubai, phone charges and rates are incredibly expensive. 

In my other article about getting a sim card and phone number in Dubai, I explained that it is impossible to get a normal deal or rate as a tourist in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. 

You always need to present a residence visa before getting a sim. This might be a problem for people who just moved or tourists. 

Etisalat, however, has special rates for tourists. I myself got one of these sim cards when I first arrived - and it was a waste of money. I did not feel the need to use the sim card or number and my phone was locked to Vodafone- which was a nightmare and is a story for another time
 
I wasted AED 100 / £20 / $25. 
 
One of the main reasons people buy local sim cards when travelling is because of data and internet. Most pubs, restaurants, malls, public places etc have free wifi. You also don't need to use Uber or Careem as Dubai Taxi's are everywhere in abundance. Taxis cost a fraction of the price of those two great transport apps. 
etisalat tourist sim visitor line prices packs internet data sim
As you can see in the screenshot above (06/02/2019) prices are quite high for what you receive. In the UK I would get 10 GB, unlimited texts, unlimited calls and free Spotify Premium for £27 a month. That's only £7 more than these plans. 
 
The tourist plans and numbers are only valid for 90 days (longest tourist visa available). Seen the high cost and price of these packages it might actually be cheaper to buy roaming packages (£6 with Vodafone) when needed while travelling the UAE. These roaming packages let you use your UK contract abroad. 

Always pay the taxi driver in Dirham

Taxi's in Dubai are everywhere. Even though my husband and I live here, we do not own a car, nor are we planning on owning or leasing one. In fact - we get around by taxi! 
 
But there are some things you need to keep in mind when taking a taxi in Dubai that might save you from a lot of pain. 
duba tips tricks tourists taxi
There have been reports of tourists getting scammed by taxi drivers in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Now, let me tell you: The UAE cracks down on these criminals quite hard! They do not want tourists to get scammed or scared. They want tourists to feel safe. Whenever there is a report of tourists getting scammed in taxi's, the UAE government will look into this
 
Now, when you get into a taxi, and the taxi driver asks you if you would like to pay in Dirham or in Dollar you need to get out. Before you get out you should check the taxi number or licence plate and call the police. All official taxi's in Dubai operate in Dirham. 
 
When a taxi lets his meter run in Dollar, the only thing that actually changes is the currency sign. For a trip from Deira to Downtown Dubai you will pay $30 instead of AED 30 ( £6.5 / $8 ). 
 
Another great tip is not to fall asleep in a taxi after a night out. You will most likely get dropped off at a police station and in case you have drunk alcohol you might get fined. Try to stay awake or always take friends with you in the cab that can stay awake. 

Use Airbnb to cut costs on lodging

dubai tips stay in bur dubai to save money

Using Airbnb can save you a lot of money when booking lodging in Dubai. 

As Dubai is a very rich and expensive city and emirate, hotels can be quite pricey. Yes - you can find cheap hotels as well! But more often than not you will have to put up with bed bugs and other nasty little critters. 

There are loads of amazing places you can rent on Airbnb for a fraction of the cost of a hotel room. 

There are some amazing places to rent on Airbnb for less than $50 a night! Such as this lavish 1 bedroom apartment at Jumeirah Beach Resort near nightclub and amazing party sport Barasti Beach. You can also opt for this great studio with amazing pool close to Dubai Festival City.  Or this absolutely stunning apartment on the (!!) 49th floor with stunning views and an amazing pool.  

Airbnb is an amazing platform and I do not know what I would do without it when I travel. There are so many amazing places to stay at in Dubai without breaking the bank! 

If you sign up to Airbnb via this link, you can get €30 off your very first stay! 

Using the Dubai Metro - travel gold class

Travelling first class on a third class budget? That's possible in Dubai Metro. 

Dubai Metro was first taken in service in 2009 and its elevated tracks span the length of the city. My husband and I use the metro all the time as it is cheaper for us to travel from and to the center than taking a taxi. 

 

dubai tips travel gold class in dubai metro
When we moved to Dubai, one of my husband's colleagues told us to use Dubai Metro Gold Class. He said the other carts get smelly, hot and stuffy.
 
Why would we travel first class? Isn't that expensive? No . We pay 9 AED ( $2.45 / £1.89) per person to travel 30 minutes on the train in Gold Class. We pay 15 AED ( $4 / £3.15 ) go from one side of the city to the other (+- 1h). 
 
Gold Class cabins are very comfortable. You hardly ever have to stand up, and there is good airconditioning. 
 
If you are not very inclined to travel Gold Class, you can also travel in Silver Class. In Silver Class you can choose between the women and children carriage or the normal carriage. These cabins might be quite full (think London during rush hour), warm and smelly.

Don't take pictures of planes, the military, the police or strangers

dubai tourist tips dont take pictures of planes military police or strangers
You might already know that taking pictures of the police and the military is not a great idea when travelling. But in Dubai it is also forbidden to take pictures of planes. 
 
You also should watch out photographing people. Even though you might have accidentally snapped a picture of an Emirati woman while taking a selfie with the Burj Khalifa, she might get offended and call for security or the police

Gay in the UAE: Dubai and LGBTQ

As the UAE and thus Dubai use Sharia law, being Gay is seen as a great offense and is illegal. 

This does not mean, however, that you cannot be a gay tourist in Dubai! 

I am going to be very straight here (no pun intended) and put it out there that the same rules are in place for gay couples as there are for straight couples. 

lgbt in dubai tips for tourists

As a couple, it is best not to hold hands and you should definitely not kiss as this might get you in massive trouble. When you are not married you best ask for a room with separate beds and don't show PDA - even in clubs. 

And the same is true for Gay Couples. 

My husband and I wait to give each other a kiss until we are in the elevator of our building - and even then I am a bit scared to kiss him on the lips. We hardly ever hold hands and even when we have had a few drinks we keep our distance. 

Research Ladies nights for free drinks

dubai ladies night tourists tips

Drinks are unimaginable expensive in Dubai. Until recently Dubai was the most expensive place on earth to buy an alcoholic drink - and that's not an understatement. 

When going out you pay between 50 AED (£ 10.50/ $13 ) and 80 AED (£17 / $22) for a beer, a cocktail or a wine. My husband and I seldom go out and prefer brunches over nights at the bar because of this. However, a lot of our female friends go out for ladies night!

There are loads of great Ladies Night deals offering free alcoholic drinks. They might also offer free food and free sheesha to ladies and sometimes even their partner. It might be a good idea to research these ladies nights as they can often change days or even theme and offer. 

Eat Local : Cafes are very cheap!

Dubai is a city of extremes - it can be extremely expensive but just as well extremely cheap. Depending on what you do and where you go. 
 
You can go to expensive restaurants quite cheaply using the Entertainer App. I talked about the app earlier in this article. Your cheapest bet will be to go to local cafes.
 
tourist tips dubai cheap food indian restaurant cafes
These local cafes are literally everywhere and all serve more or less the same food. You can get nice shawarma, grilled meats and hamburgers for no more than 12 AED / £2.50 / $3.
 
You do need to watch out where to go as the food might be too authentic for your taste. Your best bet would be to check the cafe on an app such as Zomato.
 
Food from cafe's I can recoomend: Zinker burgers (like a KFC Zinger), Poratha's, Shawarma and the Biryani.  

Go to brunches to save money

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When I first arrived in Dubai, I had no idea what a Dubai Brunch was. Now I love them! Alcohol in Dubai is very expensive and unless you are going to a ladies night, you will be breaking the bank in pubs and clubs.
 
At a brunch you pay a one off fee and you get 3 to 4 hours of unlimited drinks and food. You will often be able to chose between soft drink packages, alcoholic packages and champagne packages.
 
There are a lot of different kinds of brunches in Dubai. You have party brunches, themed brunches and even haute cuisine brunches. My husband and I try to go to a brunch ever single week. We use the entertainer to get 2 for 1 deals on our brunches. This makes going to a brunch very affordable.
 
During the week I do not drink any alcohol. I look forward to go to these brunches so I can get a glass of wine. Although I drank a pint a day in the UK, I have not been missing alcohol since I moved to Dubai.
 
No - that is a lie. I miss having the possibility to pour myself a big glass of wine at the end of the day. But all in all it has not been too bad. Not drinking any alcohol during the week even allowed me to lose weight fast.
 
I have reviewed some of the brunches my husband and I love going to. Al Dawaar is a revolving restaurant in Deira. The food is amazing, the views are breathtaking and the staff is very attentive and polite. We have been five times so far. And we will keep going back. If you decide to go to Al Dawaar, try the Sangria!
 
Another great brunch we have been to is the Bayside brunch in the Steigenberger hotel at business bay. I would also recommend 0 Gravity when you want to party or lie on the beach. And I loved going to the Cheeky Tiki brunch by Trader Vic's!

Visit Dubai in Winter

Dubai can be bloody warm. Temperatures rise to 45 degrees in summer. This is very warm, and believe me when I say you will not want to walk around in that heat.
 
That is why it is best to visit Dubai in winter. In winter temperatures fall to 21 to 26 degrees celsius. The city comes to life. People walk in parks and sit outside to eat or drink. It is by far my favourite time of year in Dubai.
 
 
dubai bucket list
It is a very good idea to visit Dubai in the winter. You will be less tired as heat tires you out. You also have less chance to burn your skin or to get heat stroke.
If you are looking to go on a desert safari, you best do this in winter as the desert can be very hot.
 
The very first time we arrived in Dubai we could not stand the temperature. The longest we were able to walk outside was 10 minutes. We would be bathing in sweat and needing the airconitioning when getting home.
 
It is best to visit Dubai in winter as you will have a lot more chances to walk and you will be able to enjoy the weather more. I know summer might be cheaper but you will not be able to do any touristy things outside.

Haggle at the souks

dubai souq tips tourists
The dubai Souqs are an amazing place to get souvenirs or to buy spices and clothes. A lot of these souqs are completely geared towards tourists. This means you need to watch out and haggle. A lot of sellers will try and sell their goods at very high prices.
 
 
 
Try to look up some guides on how to haggle and find out what the acceptable prices are for certain spices or items before heading to the souq.
 
Sellers in Dubai Souqs are also very pushy. My husband still refuses to go back there as three sellers ambushed him, trying to sell some Dubai tourist tat. We were just on our way to the creek to look at the water. We did not want to buy anything.
 
There are many different kinds of souqs and I recommend researching what souq to go to. Naif souq is good when you want to buy traditional dress. The gold souq is the place to go when you are looking for jewelry. The old Souq is very touristy and sells all kinds of tourist keepsakes.

Travel to other emirates by bus

There are many tour operators who will try to sell you expensive tickets to travel to Abu Dhabi from Dubai. Although the drive to the next emirate takes 2 hours, bus tickets are cheap. Travelling to Abu Dhabi costs about £4 one way. No need to pay £50 - or even more, to take a taxi to Abu Dhabi!

tourist tips dubai travelling abu dhabi fujairah other emirates

Book your desert safari on Groupon

tip dubai desert safari groupon
Groupon has amazing deals on desert safari's. You can have a great desert safari experience for 75 AED per person. 
 
The very first time we wanted to book a desert safari, we found prices of 250 to 300 AED. That's quite steep and as we just moved we did not have that kind of money to spend on frivolities. 

Although I do not always think the deals on Groupon are always the best, the Desert Safari's are very cheap and often a great deal. 

I would definitely research the companies and read reviews on TripAdvisor and other review websites so you can be sure you are picking a great company and get an amazing experience. 

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