Last Updated on September 16, 2020 by hungryoungwoman
Traveling to any country for the first time ignites excitement in some, and nervousness in others. Especially if you’ve heard not so good things about that country. Know that feeling? In this post, I write about everything you should know before travelling to Dubai for the first time.
I’ve faced the initial nervousness before exploring Iran in my teens and visiting Europe for the first time. As a person from the Middle East, the worry I had with the former country was about the political condition there. While with Europe, I wanted to know how prevalent is Islam there and if there are any racism cases. Thankfully, both hesitations were just a result of myths and I loved the time spent there.
However, political conditions do change and you have to follow the latest happenings of the x country you are bound to visit to be updated. Honestly speaking, I wouldn’t recommend you to visit any country without doing proper research about it first. The most common things I google beforehand are “misconceptions about x country”, “scams in x country”, “locals in x country”, and “Islam in x country” to know exactly everything I need to know.
Let’s get started then! So you are…
Travelling to Dubai for the first time?
If yes, perfect! If not, read on to see if I can change your mind 🙂
First things first, do you need a visa to go to Dubai?
Unlesss you are a GCC citizen, you will need a Dubai tourist visa. While some nationalities can get a visa on arrival, others have to apply in advance. Check for your nationality here.
Since Dubai is located almost at the center of the Earth, it is a layover stop for many destinations if you are traveling from Europe to Asia or vice versa. I recommend getting a transit visa even if you only spend a day in Dubai to get a taste of this city. Maybe next time, you will want to come back? 😉
Flights can be pretty cheap depending on the season you are visiting. To just get an approximate rate from the place you are traveling, try searching here for the latest flights.
Best season to visit Dubai
Undoubtedly the best time to visit Dubai is during winter or what is called Spring in most countries. The temperatures cool down to about 13-15 degrees Celcius and it is pleasant to go outdoors. However, this is also the most expensive time for planning a trip to Dubai.
I have detailed down an entire post about what to see in Dubai for each season. Click here to read it.
Where to Stay in Dubai
Alright, the next big thing to decide when planning a first time to Dubai trip is the accommodation! Really, this is something I don’t really like much. Especially because I am a person who likes to scour until I get the best for my buck.
Also, it is hard to find the best area to stay in Dubai as it has no city center. All tourist attractions are located in different places. However, a tip I would suggest is to book yourself a place next to a metro station.
These hotels/hostels may be a little expensive but will save you so much time walking or money for taxi in case you are really tired. For a guide on where to stay in Dubai for all budgets, click here for the best places to stay in Dubai.
How to Travel in Dubai
Dubai has very convenient metro access that can take you the best places to visit in Dubai. However, if you want to explore some off the beaten track areas, you might have to rely on the public bus or taxi. The latter is expensive in my opinion so try to pre-download apps like Uber and Careem which have discounts for first-time users.
The Dubai metro is very easy to figure out as it has only 2 main lines. Red and green. To ride on the metro, you will need to have a prepaid Nol card and the cheapest one is the Silver Card at AED 20 ($5.45) giving you a credit of AED 19. Click here for a full guide to Dubai public transport.
Dubai is known for its traffic! The peak timings on weekdays are in the morning from 7 pm-9 pm and evenings from 4:30 PM – 6 PM. These are mostly office goers and the school crowd. Of course, traveling to Dubai in June – August will be much quieter due to summer vacations.
What to wear in Dubai
Dubai being a Muslim country is quite different compared to its neighbors. What initially people think is that the Dubai dress code only involves a long black dress for women (called abaya). But this is wrong.
Women here are not bound by such rules at all and it makes me very sad when I hear statements such as this. Abaya is a long gown dress usually black but also in a range of colors that women who follow the Islamic religion wear. It is not imposed, but the main idea of the religion is to be modest and not display ourselves in front of strangers. Of course, it is our right to look pretty and beautiful but not necessarily by dressing up indecently.
I wear the abaya by choice as it gives me comfort and makes me confident. It is up to each person how they would like to dress and cover-up.
This is the same concept that the UAE as a country shows for its residents and tourists alike. Showing excessive cleavage and wearing shorty shorts are not allowed in public places like malls. You can, of course, wear them in the right places like the beach and some clubs here.
Read some FAQ’s here about what to wear in Dubai that should answer some questions in your mind.
Dubai Rules for Tourists
Some common do’s and don’ts of Dubai are:
- Do not eat on public transport. There is a small fine for this and it is mainly done to keep the trains and buses clean
- Avoid public display of affection. Hand holding is alright but public areas are where you should kissing
- Do not use swear or cuss words in public
- Do not drink and drive
- Do be mindful and dress modestly in public
- Do respect the culture and traditions of the country
- Do your best to have a lovely time in the United Arab Emirates!
Ramadan is a month to note when traveling to Dubai which is a religious observance for Muslims here. Muslims fast from dawn to dusk as a reminder of those less fortunate and to count one’s blessings. A detailed post on what to know when visiting Dubai during Ramadan can be found here so that you can understand more.
A question that is often asked by tourists when preparing for a Dubai travel guide is to think whether is Dubai safe for women? Or, is it safe to travel to Dubai at all?
As a local here and a person who has lived here for all of my life, Dubai is the safest city I have known. Of course, the does exist a crime rate here but that is very very low compared to other metropolitan cities.
As a woman, I can travel home alone late at night and not be scared of getting mugged or worse. In an unfortunate case, if an accident does occur, the police here do a commendable job of acting quickly and punishing the right person.
It is why when misconceptions about Dubai come up, I ask people to banish them by actually coming down here and experiencing the city for themselves. So many people have had their opinions changed and so will you 🙂
Food in Dubai
Being a country with more expatriates than Emiratis, the UAE serves up a nice meal with plenty of choices for the ultimate foodie. Be it fine dining or street food, eating in Dubai can never be a bad experience.
It is why I first started this website as a food blog in Dubai but then slowly expanded to a travel blog as I wanted to cover more of my personal experiences.
My favorite dishes that I would recommend to really understand the working population in Dubai is to head to Deira and take a DIY food tour. All information up here in this post so click here to know exactly what to eat in Old Dubai.
If you like getting up and early to sample a nice breakfast, visit any of these best breakfast places in Dubai which are my current favorite.
If you are a ravenous eater and would like to explore the brunch scene in Dubai, find some of the best brunches in Dubai here. Or, if you’re visiting during Ramadan in Dubai, then click here for an Iftar to remember.
Things to do in Dubai
Whether you are spending a week in Dubai or want help with planning your itinerary, let me do it for you! After spending more than 2.5 decades in Dubai, I can say that I know the city like the back of my hand 🙂
By all means, do all of these Dubai must see activities but, don’t forget to also do some non-touristy things if you are wondering what to do in Dubai that is unique.
I would say, start with a trip to Old Dubai and cover the main museums to understand how this country developed from a mass of sand and dessert to a thriving hotspot of skyscrapers. I’ve highlighted some activities for Dubai on a budget or if you’re more of a photographer, you can check the most Instagrammable places in Dubai that are must visit places in Dubai
CLICK HERE TO BOOK A TOUR TO VISIT AT THE TOP AT BURJ KHALIFA AND SKIP THE LINE!
Places to go from Dubai
If by now you’ve been thinking that Dubai is the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, you are wrong!
Abu Dhabi is the capital emirate and which is not often heard by many tourists to Dubai as the latter city brings in a higher rate of tourism than the former.
The easiest places to go from Dubai would be all the six emirates which are at a distance of two hours or less. Each emirate is different in its own way and there are distinct sets of activities to do there.
By far, my most favorite emirate is Abu Dhabi as it is so much quieter than Dubai and just an hour and a half drive from the main city. It is mostly famous for having its own version of the Louvre from Paris and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Both are easy to visit as a day trip from Dubai.
No matter how long you are here, there isn’t any particular best time to go to Dubai as each season can be taken advantage of. I hope this guide has been beneficial for you as a first timer to Dubai covering basic Dubai laws for tourists, the best area to stay in Dubai, where to go in Dubai, and general Dubai travel advice.
So, when are you off? 🙂
Until then, happy traveling! xx
P.S. If you want to save and read later, here are some pinnable versions 🙂
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