Dubai offers an attractive outlet for tourists from around the world. From awe-inspiring skylines, to gilded shopping malls, luxurious resorts, sunny beaches, and countless restaurants, this pearl in the desert is an oasis for travelers seeking adventure, relaxation, and indulgence.
This city also offers a rich cultural heritage linked to its history as an important trading port in the Middle East. Much of it is intangible; its ever-developing culture having passed down through storytelling, poetry, song, and dance.
Haggling for gold and spices in Dubai’s busy and bustling souks is still common practice, while falconry is enjoyed, and birds are even allowed to travel on airlines in passenger seats in the Emirates.
Going on desert safaris from the top of a camel, smoking sheesha, enjoying plates of hummus from an outdoor cafe, and sightseeing from the deck of an antique-style wooden dhow boat are all unique and unmissable Dubai activities.
Yet Dubai’s rich cultural history is also rooted in centuries-old Islamic customs, laws, and regulations that dictate how the emirate functions, and tourists should be aware of them prior to visiting.
To clear up any misconceptions and help you plan your visit, we’ve put together a list of Dubai travel tips for brand-new visitors to the city, to maximize your enjoyment in the emirate.
Save on Admission to Top Attractions
Dubai has worked hard to attract tourists from all over the world, including Europe and the United States.
There are plenty of top attractions where you can kick back and relax the way you would on a beach in Oahu, where the kids can play like they would in your backyard, and where you can eat the kinds of meals you’re accustomed to at home.
Of course, there’s something really inspiring about enjoying some aspects of traditional Bedouin culture, too, like on a dhow cruise or desert safari.
Make a list of what you want to see and do while you’re in Dubai, and enjoy the mixture of modern and traditional that this fascinating city has to offer.
The Go Dubai Card includes admission to dozens of top attractions, including…
Travel Preparation and Planning Tips
Dubai International Airport’s is a very large travel hub that sees millions of people pass through its gates.
The busiest times of year for visitors are during the cooler winter and spring months when the emirate offers sunny days and warm temperatures that many travelers use to escape the cold doldrums of winter in other parts of the world.
Visiting Dubai can be more expensive from November to March when beach season is at its prime.
However, the sweltering heat of the summer months, from June to September, does little to turn away tourists who can take solace in a wealth of air-conditioned attractions to escape the warmth.
Given the amount of visitor traffic Dubai experiences, it’s wise to plan your trip accordingly.
Plan to book ahead for any major hotels, attractions and activities such as At the Top, Burj Khalifa, or even a safari visit to the desert, is wise as these can fill up or sell out.
Observance of Dubai Laws & Customs
While not the super-strict place many misunderstand Dubai to be, the emirate still operates under a more conservative set of laws that visitors should be aware of before and during their visit.
If you rely on any regular medications check beforehand to make sure that you can bring them into the country. Medicines with any codeine or opiate ingredients, though legal in your country, are officially banned from the Emirate. Speak to your doctor to verify that you are okay to bring specific medicines with you.
Alcohol is not served freely in Dubai by law; instead, alcohol is only available at licensed venues such as hotel restaurants and bars. It is illegal to drink or be drunk in public outside of those venues.
Electronic cigarettes are also illegal in the UAE and can be confiscated upon arrival in Dubai.
Dubai operates a no-tolerance policy on drugs with even trace amounts carrying a prison sentence.
Rude gestures and obscene language is also extremely frowned upon and should be avoided. Pay special attention when dealing with law enforcement and other government officials to not cause offense.
During the holy month of Ramadan many Muslims fast, give to charity, and spend more time with their family to commemorate their Islamic faith. Food and drinks are served during Ramadan only during the night; thus, you may want to check before you make your arrangements that your impending trip to Dubai doesn’t coincide with Ramadan.
It’s always a good tip to research your travel options prior to traveling.
Dubai is well-connected via the main highway, Sheikh Zayed Road which runs the length of the city, with all major attractions branching off it.
Taxis in the emirate are run by the city and are metered with payment charged by distance. Oftentimes drivers will try to negotiate a fixed price for journeys with tourists above what they would normally pay, so if your driver doesn’t turn on the meter during your journey ask them to do so. Most taxis don’t accept card payments and carry very little change, so be sure to have smaller bills of local currency on you when riding.
The Dubai Metro system is also an affordable and modern way to travel through the city. With air-conditioned train cars zipping their way through the maze of glass-walled skyscrapers, it’s an amazing way to view the urban landscape.
Another convenient way to get around the city while sightseeing is via Big Bus Dubai (which is included on the Go Dubai Card). They offer a comprehensive hop-on hop-off tour which allows you to travel between top attractions in comfort and ease. While it’s not the best way to exclusively get around the city, it’s a fun way to hop around town while sightseeing.
Check out our post for more information about how to get around Dubai for tourists.
Staying Safe While Traveling
Dubai has low crime rates, including rates of theft and violent crimes. The emirate is also a welcoming and friendly place for foreigners from all areas of the globe.
Despite these positive aspects it is still important to be aware of yourself and your surroundings just as you would do in any other part of the world.
Keep bags and any personal possessions close to you and don’t give out sensitive personal information. Be alert while using ATMs or banking facilities and don’t flash any cash.
If you’re traveling with small children it’s also important to keep your eyes on them and make sure you have adequate strollers or child seats to keep them safe. Most four- and five-star hotels in Dubai offer babysitting services with their vetted employees should you need them.
During the hot summer months it’s also crucial to ensure that you’re staying hydrated with water and are using sunscreen to prevent burns. You may not realize it but more water and sun protection is required here, even if you don’t feel thirsty or hot.
Check out our post with information that helps answer the question is Dubai safe for tourists?
Dress For Your Surroundings
Hand-in-hand with Dubai’s more conservative laws is a more reserved dress code. Tourists are expected to observe a level of respect for the culture by dressing appropriately.
While tourists and non-native residents are not expected to wear any traditional clothing, basic guidelines of modest dress are expected to be adhered to.
Women are expected not to wear any extremely revealing clothing, which, depending on the situation and area, could include not wearing tank tops or shorts. Covered shoulders and below-the-knee skirts are more acceptable, especially in highly public areas such as malls. In more majority tourist areas, dress codes are often more relaxed or not as strictly enforced.
More relaxed or casual rules for dress are permitted in private resorts or hotels, some shopping centers, and in the desert.
Swimwear, including swimming trunks or bikinis are acceptable at public and hotel pools and beaches. So if you’re at a place such as, say Aquaventure Waterpark, you can wear your normal swimwear.