Let me help you plan your trip to the UAE with basic information and posts from my UAE travel blog. If you’d like to go straight to the posts, click on ‘Latest UAE Posts’ on the image below.
I’ve called the U.A.E home for most of my life. I was born and raised in Dubai, and every time I’m asked how it was to grow up in a city that has changed as dramatically as Dubai (and I’m asked this very often), I struggle for the right words. As many words as I may have inside me, it’s hard to explain that the Dubai I know is vastly different from the city that the average tourist sees on his three or four-day long stint. Of course, part of that comes from having known the city as it once was and a comfortable familiarity with the lesser known neighborhoods where it still feels the same. For tips on how to save money while traveling in Dubai, check this post.
Even so, I’m beginning to venture outside Dubai and explore more of the UAE and bring you stories and recommendations from the places you may have not heard of before. Markets, souks, mountains, beaches and trails- all of these in the UAE are just as beautiful as the glorious desert and just as impressive as the Burj Khalifa, but given how little information is available about them, it’s not surprising you’ve probably never heard of them. Let’s change that- join me as I get off the tourist trail and experience the authentic in the UAE. And if you ever find yourself here, take time to get to know the country and the culture; take day-trips, visit a mosque, get on the culture trail and venture outside the cities- you won’t be disappointed.
What To Pack
For the cities: The cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi have huge expat populations and are essentially very cosmopolitan. It’s common for women and men to be dressed as they would be in the Western world. The residents are very fashionable and very rarely do you see people dressed sloppily.
Women wear dresses, jeans, skirts and even shorts and tank tops. That being said, it’s best to steer clear of clothing that’s too revealing and dressing appropriately (depending on where you are) so as not to attract unwanted attention or hurt the feelings of locals (who’re conservatively dressed in keeping with their culture). So while it’s common to see women wearing super short dresses in nightclubs, that isn’t the best way to show up at the mall or on the metro. If you’re not sure about how much is too much, keep your knees and arms covered and you should be okay.
While visiting a mosque, men and women must cover their arms and knees.
Nicer nightclubs and restaurants require men and women to be dressed impeccably in formals or smart-casuals. Some may not let you enter in T-shirts, sneakers or casual clothing.
Carry a pair each of walking shoes or sandals and something formal/stylish for fancier places.
For the outdoors:
In summer, light, breezy and breathable fabrics are recommended to keep you cool. In winter, a light to medium jacket should suffice.
Swimwear is allowed at the beaches only. Don’t expect to cross the street in beachwear or ride the metro to the beach wearing skimpy clothing.
Arabic and English
In certain areas, you’ll also hear a lot of Hindi, Malayalam, Farsi and Urdu, among other languages, because people from the Indian subcontinent and other countries in the Middle East were among the first to have moved to the country for a living. But almost everyone speaks English, signs and instructions are mostly mentioned in English and you should be okay even if you do not speak a word of Arabic.
The Arabic greeting As-salamu ‘alaykum is answered with W’alaykum as-salam. An informal Hello is Marhaba and thank you is Shukran.
Need to Know
Regardless of how modern the cities are, this is still the Middle East- it’s important to understand that the culture is different from the west. So public displays of affection, wandering the streets inebriated, and giving bear hugs to people you’re meeting for the second time are big no-nos.
Alcohol is served only at licensed establishments which are usually restaurants, bars, pubs, lounges or nightclubs attached to or inside a hotel.
If you’re visiting during the Holy Month of Ramadan, you should be aware of the right etiquette. You can check my guide to Ramadan in the UAE.
Dubai can be very expensive during the peak season with hotel prices increasing drastically. For cheaper options, look at hotels in the older areas of the city such as Bur Dubai, Mankhool, Satwa or Deira. Hostels and guest houses are rare (there’s just one hostel I know of and it really just is the bare minimum).