Here are some things to know about Dubai before traveling there, and some things to do in Dubai.
1. Dubai is kind of like Vegas, but on steroids
I went to Dubai expecting to have an authentic Middle Eastern cultural experience. That was not the case. Instead, I was met with massive amounts of fabricated landscape. In other words, Dubai is built largely for consumers, businessmen, and tourists, and has the fake (yet fun) feel of Vegas.
Even though Dubai wasn’t what I was expecting in terms of a Middle Eastern experience, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t cool. There is plenty of fun to be had in Dubai. For example, I enjoyed the following:
- Burj Kalifa – Tallest and coolest building ever. You will get dizzy looking up, and if you’re afraid of heights, probably don’t go up inside. Tip: Buy tickets in advance for $30, or make a reservation for the lounge, and spend $30 minimum on fancy food and drinks.
- Dubai Mall and/or Mall of the Emirates — shop your face off here. You can also ski in the Mall of the Emirates at Ski Dubai, or you could come to Utah and ski. The Dubai Mall also has the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, which is fun if you like sea life.
- Jumeirah Mosque — This mosque is awesome, but they only allow tours at 10am, so make plans in advance. Remember to cover your head and take your shoes off when you enter. If you want to see an even cooler mosque, take a taxi ($60.00) to Abu Dhabi, and check out the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It is so beautiful. You won’t regret it.
- Spice and/or Gold Souq — Shopping in the Gold and Spice Souqs is kind of a blast. Get prepared to bargain, and pressured into buying things. I’m an easy sale, so I always spend way more than anyone who is good at bargaining would. If you want gold, you can also check out the Gold and Diamond Park.
- Cultural Fun — If you are looking for more of a cultural experience, check out the Bait Al Banat Women’s Museum and the Sheikh Mohammed Centre For Cultural Understanding. I didn’t make it here, but my traveling buddy did, and she said it was rad, and that they let you ask questions, and answered quite openly.
- The Arabian Sea — The Arabian Sea is clear blue, salty, and it feels like bath water. Amazing.
2. Camel milk chocolate is not good.
The next thing to know about Dubai is that camel milk chocolate is expensive, and it’s not good. I bought a $21 box of choclate for my sweet husband, hoping to woo him with sweets, and instead it tasted like butt. In fact, my brother-in-law had a bite and described it as how he would imagine it tastes if he latched his mouth on to the backside of a camel for a while. V. accurate.
If you’re looking for a yummy souvenir, skip the camel milk chocolate, and get dates instead. In fact, they have some chocolate (regular chocolate) covered dates that are to die for. Nom Nom. They are much cheaper, authentic, and taste like yum.
3. The consumerism is overwhelming.
I don’t know why, but I didn’t expect to be thrown by the consumerism. I mean, after all, I’m an American, and live 6 hours from Vegas, so I should be used to it, but this was something else. The city is really centered on shopping. I was surprised, and a bit disappointed, to fly 1/2 way across the world to be swarmed with everything from Gucci to Aeropostale. If you’re looking to go shopping, however, this is a great place for it.
4. The taxis will try and rip you off.
Pretty much every taxi I got into tried to pull something sneak. The first day, I got majorly ripped off, because I didn’t know where I was going, or what I was doing. It cost 118 d. to get from the airport to the hotel, and it should’ve been around 30-40. Annoying. Let them know before you get in that you know how long it should take to get somewhere, and about how much it should cost. If you’re interested in saving money, take the metro. Just know that the walks from the metro to your destination are more like a New York Avenue, rather than a street. Yeah, you’ll be walking for a while.
Also, there is a 10 dirham minimum for taxis. I got into an argument with my taxi driver over this, but I guess it’s true.
5. You will melt into a pile of flesh and bone.
It is so hot there, you will want to die.
6. The architecture really is as cool as it is in the pictures.
You’ve seen a million pictures of the Burj Kalifa and the Burj Al Arab, and they really truly are as spectacular as they are in pictures. They are beautiful, enormous, ornate, and dizzying. In general, Dubai is not a place to visit if you’re afraid of heights.
7. Eat Shawarma, dummy pants.
Ditch the expensive hotel food, and find some authentic Middle Eastern food. It will be like a million times cheaper and a billion times more delicious. I ate a shawarma every day for like 7 dirham. It was awesome and cheap. I wish so badly we had good shawarma here at home. They also have great Lebanese and Indian food in Dubai. Chomp. Chomp. Yum.
8. Don’t pay all that money to go to just Dubai.
If you’re going to pay all that money for a Middle Eastern experience, make sure to combine your trip with more than Dubai. Check out Abu Dhabi, Oman, and maybe Qatar as well. In my estimation, Dubai is cool, but it’s probably not the best bang for your buck in terms of cool travel, unless you combine your trip with a few other destinations. I got a great deal, so it was a no brainer, but I wouldn’t recommend only Dubai to anyone, unless their company is paying for the trip.