Before I went to Dubai I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I’d heard that you could be arrested for kissing or holding hands with your partner in public, or for daring to show an illicit shoulder or kneecap, so I spent an inordinate amount of time worrying when I really shouldn’t have. So, to make your life easier…
10 Things you should know when visiting Dubai:
1. The weather is not always 40 degrees and sunny. During the winter/spring months the temperature can drop down to an average daytime temperature of 25 degrees. Oh, and bring an umbrella. Apparently it does rain in the desert!
2. Don’t get too hung up about what you can wear. I was convinced that I would be flung into prison for revealing an illicit shoulder or kneecap out in public, but these days it is absolutely fine to wear short shorts and spaghetti straps out in public. The first time I ventured out in a singlet top, I felt sure that I would hear cries of ‘stone her….stone her’ (a la Monty Python), but I didn’t even garner a second glance.
3. You absolutely CAN hold hands with your partner when walking down the street. We spent the first day a respectful few inches apart, and every time our hands brushed we expected a tap on the shoulder and a voice saying “your nicked” in a Dubai accent. It’s fine though. Lots of people hold hands and hug in public.
4. Do check when Ramadam is. Even though Ive just said you can wear what you want and physical contact is ok, during Ramadam all bets are off. You must be appropriately dressed with shoulders and legs covered, you can’t eat, smoke, drink, chew gum or smoke in public between sunrise and sunset, and you most definitely don’t want to be holding hands or kissing your partner either, because yes…you can get arrested. Still, all is not lost as hotels are seen as ‘international zones’ where you can lounge around in your swimwear all day.
5. Alcohol is only available within hotel complexes as they are international zones. If you don’t mind going out to dinner in the evening without drinking alcohol then there are loads of absolutely amazing restaurants around, but it does feel a little like ‘Dry January’. The hotel bars and restaurants are plentiful but exorbitant in price with a glass of wine starting at £10. However, most bars do have happy hours from 6 – 8pm so a good plan is to have a few drinks first and then go on to dinner at an external restaurant. Staying with the alcohol for a bit (anyone would think I was a lush) every Tuesday and Wednesday night lots of hotel bars and restaurants host ‘Ladies Night’. Not to be confused with a British ladies night which is full of screaming women flinging underwear at male strippers. Dubai ladies’ nights generally involve us girls getting three free drinks and a huge discount on food. Sorry lads, you still have to pay full price, but it still cuts the bill down by half!! These nights are invaluable.
6. Travelling around the city could not be easier. Dubai has a fantastic Metro system which runs every few minutes from the top to the bottom of the city on a skyline track. It only goes two ways, the stations are clearly marked in both Arabic and English, and the ticket system is simple to use, so you can’t get lost. Try to get a spot at the front of the train as it offers great views and lets you imagine you are on a flat rollercoaster. Taxis are also recommended. They are really plentiful and reasonably priced with the fare starting at 5 dirhams. Exploring on foot is fine too, although try to avoid crossing the six lane motorway which runs beneath the Metro, unless you like playing chicken.
7. The Dubai ‘weekend’ is Friday and Saturday, and Friday is the religious day. You can still find plenty to do if praying isn’t your cup of tea, although some shops and smaller attractions may well be closed. We had the best time just walking along a deserted public beach, listening to the Mosque prayer leaders, whose chants are piped out from towers around the city. It’s a beautiful, haunting sound, well worth hearing. If you fancy something a little more ‘Western’ then Dubai is well known for its Friday Brunch. Dress in your best to graze for hours on delicacies while washing it down with copious amounts of alcohol. Brunches start at around noon and continue into early afternoon, and its definitely best to book in advance.
8. People seem to smoke EVERYWHERE in Dubai. I quit the habit years ago, but after a couple of nights out, smelling that addictive scent I wanted to jump right back on the band wagon. The weirdest thing after eleven years of the smoking ban in the UK, was going into bars and seeing people smoke. I didn’t have any cigarettes in the end, but I did enjoy sniffing everyone else’s.
9. Even through Arabic is the official language of the UAE, English is the most commonly spoken language in Dubai. All roadsigns and shop fronts feature Arabic and English, so you wont ever feel confused, unless of course, that is your natural state.
10. In case you didn’t know it already, the architecture is mind blowing. You can walk down Sheikh Zayed Road and see buildings with purpose built holes through them, sky scrapers resembling Big Ben, curved monoliths, glinting silvers and golds, angles that shouldn’t be possible and heights that surely lead a path to Heaven.
So there you have it. Ten things to make your visit even more perfect than it was already going to be.