From United Arab Emirates

Dazzling Dubai

Dubai cover pictureThe city that’s home to the tallest building in the world, the largest fountain, the longest race camel track, the biggest one-window aquarium, the largest mall,… You get the point right? Dubai is, as many of you surely already know, the city without limits. If you can think of it, you can be sure they are trying to create it even bigger!

In May, my darling and I have spent 3 days in Dubai trying to grasp only a fraction of all the curious sights that Dubai holds. I have to be honest with you, Dubai and I, it was not love at first sight. What can I say, I had a really hard time trying to understand what Dubai was really about, their true spirit (of course besides the taller-bigger-faster-harder mindset). Because the emirate grew exponentially during the last decades, it sometimes felt like this place did not have an authentic face.

However, once I got over these first doubts, Dubai slowly but surely grew on me. We discovered great food, found colourful spices at the souk, enjoyed the always present sun at our rooftop pool, looked up at the great architecture and went back to where it all started with a boat ride on the Dubai Creek (Thanks for the tip Lotte!). Dubai has a great variety of different faces and we explored them all, from the new to the old and back. In the end, I am really happy that I was able to take a look at this curious place and take it all in. Even if Dubai did not completely appeal at first sight, it’s truly a unique city that you should visit at least once in your life.

Old VS new in downtown Dubai.
Old VS new in downtown Dubai.

TO DO

The malls// It doesn’t only offer a great, cooled atmosphere (hooray for air conditioning!) but is also ideal for people watching and window shopping. Go to the Dubai mall to watch the fish in the Dubai aquarium or The Mall of the Emirates to enjoy some indoor skiing.

Shopping with the sharks.
Shopping with the sharks.

The Dubai fountains and the Burj Khalifa// You will not regret this. The fountain spectacle starts at dusk and is repeated every 30 minutes. It’s always a different show with a mix of Arabian and Western music. The shimmering Burj Khalifa in the background completes this magical picture.

The Burj Khalifa standing tall at dusk.
The Burj Khalifa standing tall at dusk.

The Dubai Marina// This is the place with the tallest apartment buildings worldwide (what did you expect?), a nice marina packed with yachts (although my darling wasn’t impressed) and a newly developed walk path. It’s a really modern but slightly more expensive area to get a drink.

The small boat area in the Dubai Marina.
The small boat area in the Dubai Marina.

Jumeirah beach// Great spot to enjoy the sun while dipping your toes in the sea and you get the occasional camel passing by for free (BONUS)..  If you’re tired of laying in the sun, go to the newly created beach walk for a delicious froyo or a refreshing drink.

Urban art in the middle of the old town in Dubai.
Urban art in the middle of the old town in Dubai.

Deira// This area is known as the old center of Dubai. The Deira region is where the original small fishing village was located. If you want to get a glimpse of what life must have looked like a couple decades ago, this is the place you must visit. In Deira, we also experienced the most relaxing atmosphere of Dubai. Sometimes we even found ourselves alone in one of the many authentic back alleys.

Wandering around the old city center of Dubai.
Wandering around the old city center of Dubai.

Deira Souks// These Souks are located in the old area of Dubai and offer a great opportunity to buy an original souvenir, drink mint tea and sit on a bench to watch life pass by. The two biggest souks are the spice souk and the gold souk. Both are worth a visit in my opinion because the atmosphere is so different between these two souks.

Spice it up!
Spice it up!

Dubai Creek// Small boats are the best way to explore the creek. These “dhows” are widely used by tourist and locals to get across the river. You can take a one-hour creek tour on one of the boats for 120 AED/boat. Although an equally enjoyable and much cheaper solution is to map out some  stops along the way and take separate boats between these stops. It will cost you 1AED for the shortest cross-over up to 8AED for the longer trips. The advantage is that you will have some time to check out the different neighborhoods and you will spend a lot less dirhams while doing so.

Traditional dhows lined up in the Dubai creek.
Traditional dhows lined up in the Dubai creek.

Dubai Museum// Great interactive museum about Dubai and how it has evolved. You learn more about the Arabic traditions, their way of life and how the city has evolved over the decades. There are real-size replications of traditional houses and boats that were used for pearl fishing. Although the museum could need an upgrade (they are still talking about the Burj Dubai/Burj Khalifa as a future project), we had the feeling it was totally worth the 4 AED/person.

Learning about the history of this area at the Dubai museum.
Learning about the history of this area at the Dubai museum.

Desert tour// Leave Dubai behind and drive to the nearby desert. You will feel like you’ve been dropped in another world. Enjoy the sparks of joy in your stomach when the 4×4 jumps over the dunes. Afterward, you get an opportunity to enjoy the beautiful scenery when the sun starts setting over the desert. To end the night, you drive to a desert camp where you can enjoy a camel ride, a delicious BBQ dinner and an entertaining dance show. This 5-hour trip will costs you around 200 AED.

Take a ride on the wild side.
Take a ride on the wild side.

TO STAY

We slept in the Citymax hotel Bur Dubai (250 AED/night for a double room). This is a very clean hotel with a great, relaxing rooftop pool. The metro is within walking distance if you want to explore the areas farther away like the Dubai Mall or the Dubai Marina. The old area around the Dubai creek is within a 20-minute walk from the hotel, just like the great Ravi restaurant. Conveniently, there are two supermarkets next to the hotel. If you want to take a trip without spending money, you can catch one of their free shuttle busses to the Dubai Mall, the beach or one of the other selected locations. Usually, we try to sleep with locals using Airbnb but in Dubai we didn’t find the location-price combination we were looking for. We found Citymax to be a great alternative.

TO EAT

Ravi// In Dubai this restaurant is known for its famous Pakistani dishes. It’s loved by all kind of people, from the locals to tourist to well-known chefs. Everybody flocks to  this restaurant to taste the unbelievably good food. You don’t need to restrain yourself from trying it all because it’s cheap cheap cheap (on average 20 AED/main dish). TIP: ask the waiter for suggestions, they are really kind and know what they are talking about

Abd El Wahab// This restaurant offers great food for a good price and you also have a premium view on the fountain show. The restaurant offers traditional Lebanese food for a good price (40 AED/ main dish). It’s the tradition to order a lot of small dishes and then share them across the table. It’s like Spanish tapas but done in the Arabian way! The food was excellent. Don’t forget to ask for a table on the balcony since this will give you first-class seats to watch the fountain show.

So much goodness on one table at Ravi's.
So much goodness on one table at Ravi’s.

As you can see, there’s plenty to do in Dubai. Whether you like cultural activities, adventurous sports or laying around at the beach, you will experience that Dubai has something to offer that’s right op your alley.

Who’s already planning their trip to Dubai?

animal spotting in the Dubai desert