From camel rides to cool conduct, here are 20 simple tips for a successful journey
Dubai is an incredible and unique place - a sparkling ultra-modern metropolis built literally out of the desert sands, with towering skyscrapers, distinctive architecture, and unique attractions that has earned it the nickname ‘The City of Superlatives’. It has the world’s tallest tower, the world’s largest ‘performing’ fountain, the largest man-made archipelago of islands, the longest driverless metro system, and the tallest hotel, to name just a few.
It’s no wonder that people from all over the world are attracted to this ambitious, fast-paced and at times over-the-top city, where anything is possible. A record-breaking 17 million tourists arrived in Dubai in 2017, making it the 6th most visited city in the world. People also flock to the city for great jobs and the opportunities for career advancement, and out of a population of 9.2 million, roughly 7.8 million of them are expatriates.
But it is easy to forget that beneath the glitz and the gleam, there still lies a conservative country, which, until just a few decades ago, was largely unchanged, until the discovery of oil forced Dubai into warp-speed growth. This Emirati state has a rich culture and deeply rooted traditions, so visitors need to be aware of certain rules and cultural expectations that should be respected. The City of Superlatives has a lot to offer, so if you're planning your trip to Dubai, here are 10 Dos and 10 Don'ts to make your trip fun and friendly, without making any faux-pas.
20 Do enjoy the beaches
Taking a dip in front of the Burj al Arab with the shimmering turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf is an unforgettable experience. There are many beaches to choose from - The Beach at Jumeirah Beach Residences, La Mer, Black Palace Beach, and Al Mamzar Beach are all gorgeous, and those who like water sports should head to Kite Beach for kitesurfing.
Ladies should be aware that on the beaches there are dress codes, and it is not acceptable to wear skimpy bathing suits or bikinis, so shorts and a rash guard are highly recommended, not only to be modest, but for sun protection.
19 Don’t indulge in PDA
In any conservative city, public displays of affection are taboo, including men hugging women and vice versa, kissing on the cheek, walking hand in hand, snuggling, and kissing. Anything racier than that could result in jail time.
If you are a man meeting a woman, you are not expected to shake hands with her or give her compliments, and you should not enter an elevator if you are a male and a single woman is inside. Western women should be conservative when it comes to any body contact with men.
18 Do Visit a Mosque
The incredible Jumeirah Mosque is the only one in Dubai open to the public, and is an icon of the city. It was built entirely from white stone in the medieval Fatimid tradition, with towering twin minarets framing a large central dome which can hold up to 1,200 people.
When it's lit up at dusk, the intricate artistry and true beauty are highlighted. You can take a tour of the mosque to get an understanding of the Islamic holidays, rituals, traditions, cuisines and customs, and afterwards you can sample traditional Arabic drinks including coffee and dates.
Both men and women need to dress respectfully, meaning arms and legs should be covered, and women will need a headscarf.
17 Don’t floss in public
And we don’t mean your teeth! Any form of dancing (including the now infamous ‘flossing’), playing loud music, and acting like an intoxicated fool is not considered acceptable behaviour in Dubai.
This includes any public place such as the beach, parks, your car, and residential areas. That's not to say that there is no dancing in Dubai - in fact, it has a lot of wicked nightclubs where the music pumps all night long.
16 Do enjoy Arabic cuisine
When in Rome, do as the Romans. And when in Dubai, be sure to try the local food. Arabic food uses a lot of fresh, aromatic ingredients, like chickpeas, parsley, cheese, zaatar (herbs), olive oil, grilled meats, and rice. You are probably already familiar with dishes such as hummus, falafel, baba ganoush, and shawarma, but don’t miss out on stuffed grape leaves, halloumi ’squeaky’ cheese, or manakeesh which is similar to a pizza. After the meal, indulge your sweet tooth with pastries and puddings.
15 Don’t use your left hand
In the United Arab Emirates, and some other countries such as India and Indonesia, the left hand is considered unclean. This is because traditionally - meaning before the days of toilet paper, running water and flushing toilets - the left hand was used for ‘cleaning up’. If eating a meal with your hands, use your right hand only (it’s hard, but can be done). Never extend your left hand to greet someone.
14 Do take the Dubai Monorail
Dubai + Luxury Cars go hand in hand. Even the Dubai Police have a fleet of Bugattis, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins and Ferraris! But, if you can’t get your hands on a Benz or a McLaren, take a ride on Dubai’s luxurious monorail system.
A lot of cities have dingy, dirty subway systems, full of graffiti and noxious doors. But the entrances to the super sleek monorail look like the lobbies of 5-star hotels or a glitzy nightclub, with decorations such as glittering chandeliers.
The monorail also goes out to Dubai's icon, The Palm, and it's a crazy scenic ride. Who said public transport can’t be done in style?
13 Don’t flip the bird
If you absolutely must drive in Dubai - and yes, there are places where you can rent a luxury sports car for the day - keep your hands on the wheel at all times. We’ve all had road rage before, and one of the ways to let another driver know your annoyance is to make a rude hand gesture, such as the middle finger.
This is a huge no-no in Dubai, and will land you in serious trouble. If someone makes you angry, even if they were in the wrong, control your temper, and don’t ever use your hands to show anger or aggression.
12 Do spend a night in the desert
A desert safari is an incredible experience, even more so when you stay overnight, sleeping under the stars, surrounded by the sand dunes. Some tour operators set up a Bedouin-style camp, complete with camel rides, dune bashing, and an elaborate dinner, complete with traditional belly dancing by the bonfires. It is a great way to step back in time, and feel what it was once like in the days when people crossed the peninsula on camelback and followed the constellations.
11 Don’t pack your romance novels
It’s common sense that when travelling, you should be careful what you put in your suitcase, and never bring in prohibited items (obviously). When entering Dubai, avoid packing anything that could be considered ‘adult material’, and that includes things like women’s fashion magazines (think of racy Cosmo covers), books that could be considered immoral or offensive, and products from Israel. Oh yes, and just in case you were thinking of, for some reason, packing some bacon, be advised that pork products are not allowed!
Also if you have any prescription drugs, you should bring the prescription with you, and make sure medicine is clearly labeled.
10 Do Dress Properly
We mentioned that on the beaches it is not acceptable to wear skimpy swimsuits, and that when visiting a mosque you should cover up, but what about the rest of the time? Dubai has a hot, dry climate, so you’ll want some loose clothing that is not only modest, keeps you cool, and protects you from the sun. Women are expected to dress modestly at all times, including in malls, cinemas and supermarkets. This means clothes that cover your arms, chest, and legs, so that you don’t attract unwanted attention.
9 Don’t diss the leaders
As a general rule, regardless of what you think about a foreign culture, keep your criticisms to yourself - or at least hold them until a suitable time and audience. Don’t ever openly insult, mock, or criticize Dubai’s Family. Other taboo topics are Emirati culture, politics, religion, laws, and people. If you don’t agree with certain aspects of Dubai, that’s fine. Just don’t air them in public. The United Arab Emirates is not the only place where you are not allowed to disrespect the Family - the same law applies in Thailand.
8 Do visit the tallest tower in the world
The Burj Khalifa stands proud at 2,716 feet, and is 200 stories high - 160 stories of which are inhabited. According to CNN Travel, this is twice the height of New York's Empire State Building and three times as tall as the Eiffel Tower in Paris. If you’re not afraid of heights, make sure to visit At The Top, the world’s highest observation deck, with an outdoor terrace. There is also a restaurant at the 122nd floor, and a pool at the 76th floor - the highest swimming pool in the world.
This incredible tower is so high up that during Ramadan, the people who live on the highest floors have to break their fast two minutes later than those living on lower floors, because they can see the sun for an additional two-minutes.
7 Don’t gorge during Ramadan
Ramadan is the holiest month of the calendar, and a time for families to gather together and celebrate. During this time, Muslims fast, abstain from pleasures, and pray daily. From sunrise to sunset, they will not eat, drink or even smoke, and public places like malls and food courts will be almost empty. That is, until Iftar time, when people come together to eat a big meal after sunset.
During Ramadan, it is considered taboo to eat in public, though some restaurants stay open, and simply close the blinds on the windows. Visitors should be aware that during Ramadan they should not party, eat, drink or smoke in public in order to be respectful.
6 Do take a dhow cruise
At Dubai Creek, a picturesque and older part of town with historic charisma, old-style buildings that reflect rich Arabian architecture, and traditional style wooden dhows. Today the Creek is a big tourist attraction, with dhow operators offering city tours, sunset cruises, and dinner and dance shows.
This is a great way to get a feel for one of Dubai’s most important areas, which once served as a shipping port and the focal point of Dubai’s now extinct pearl industry.
5 Don’t take pictures without permission
When you’re surrounded by so many incredible sights, you may be tempted to walk around taking pictures and videos of everything. But modesty and safety are the names of the game in Dubai, which means you should be careful when taking pictures of women and children. Taking pictures without people’s permission is a big no-no, so focus instead of the amazing scenery.
4 Do take off your shoes
If you are invited to someone’s home, when you enter be sure to remove your shoes at the door. Many cultures are shocked by the Western habit of wearing shoes indoors, because shoes trek through dirt and questionable things all day.
Arabic homes tend to have beautiful, elaborate and often very expensive carpets, so walking on them in the same shoes that walked through, say, a public toilet, would be very offensive.
3 Don’t make big plans on a Friday
Different religions have different holy days, and in Dubai, that day is Friday. While the entire city might not shut down, Friday is not considered a working day, the same way that in the West, many things are closed on a Sunday.
You can expect tourist attractions to open much later in the afternoon - as late as 4pm - and government offices will be closed. If you find yourself at a loss with what to do on a Friday, hit up one of Dubai’s infamous Friday Brunches, mostly held at hotels, with free-flowing food and drinks.
2 Do visit the Souks
Dubai has gigantic modern malls with hundreds of local and global brands, but it also has traditional souks - Arabic bazaars or marketplaces. Some of the must-sees are the Gold Souk where you can take home a shiny piece of Dubai, or even get jewellery custom made.
If you’re a foodie, hit up the Spice Souk and soak in the scents and scenery. There’s a Perfume Souk with rich essential oils and incense, and a Textile Souk for the finest silks and fabrics. Just be prepared for some intense haggling!
1 Don’t be closed-minded
A lot of the dos and don’ts on this list may seem hard to accept - no bikinis on the beach? No canoodling in public? But rest assured, these are simple guidelines to follow. The key to having a great stay in Dubai is to simply respect the local ways, and go with the flow. There are a lot of great experiences waiting to be had in Dubai, so have fun, and remember, when in someone else’s country, do your best to be a good guest.
References: That Dubai Site, Gulf News, The Independent