Dubai Travel Guide 2023: Explore Beyond Glitz and Glamor

Dubai travel guide

History of Dubai

When a ruling family established Dubai as a fishing village in the early 18th century, no one predicted that this empty land on a vast desert by the seaside would become one of the fastest cities in the world. Fishing, pearl diving, and boat building were some of the early trades in Dubai. While the villagers were a hardworking bunch, who completely entrusted the ruling family, the city saw some rough times around the 1930s and 1940s, which led to villagers fleeing to neighboring towns and cities.

Things started to change for Dubai around the 1950s. Sheikh Maktoum bin Hasher Al Maktoum transformed Dubai into a free port, offering no taxes on imports and exports. This attracted foreign settlers. Add to that the discovery of the first commercial oil in the 1960s set Dubai on a path of development and prosperity. 

Today, Dubai is known around the world as a place for luxury and lavishness. Every year, millions of people are drawn to the city to admire its soaring skyscrapers, excellent roads, infrastructure, and global cuisine. 

While the city surely basks in the lap of luxury, it takes one to explore beyond the glistening side of Dubai to uncover the traditional, laid-back, and old-world charm of the city. Several landmarks across and around the city are diametrically opposed to what one might expect before visiting Dubai. Exploring these places is like stepping back in time. 

You should travel to Dubai for its display of both extravagant as well as simplistic ways of life.

In this Dubai travel guide, I will try to integrate a good mix of Dubai’s glistening and traditional sides to create a wholesome travel experience. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a regular, I promise to unravel my bag of hidden gems here.

Read further to find out things you should you know before traveling to Dubai. 

What is the Best Time to Visit Dubai?

From April to September, the weather in Dubai is HOT and HUMID!!!! If you wish to explore the natural side of Dubai, I highly recommend you avoid traveling to the city during these months.

That being said, if you happen to visit Dubai during the Summer, the city will still manage to keep you entertained with its myriad of attractive indoor activities.

Winter or November to March is the most suitable time to visit Dubai. Weather can range from pleasant to slightly cold, with temperatures dropping as low as 15°C near the coastline. As the weather is favorable around these months, the city’s major attractions, such as Global Village, are open during this time. While Dubai is largely year-round dry, you are likely to encounter quick downpours and periodic thunderstorms during these months.

How Many Days Should You Spend in Dubai?

In my opinion, 7-10 days are sufficient to cover the major highlights and some hidden gems in Dubai. However, if you wish to explore other Emirates on your day trips, I suggest you extend your stay for at least another week.

Do You Need a Visa to Travel to Dubai?

A GCC country citizen does not need a visa to enter Dubai. Additionally, Dubai offers visa-on-arrival for free to at least 26 countries. Many other countries can apply for visa on arrival for a fee or an e-visa.

This is the official website of the Dubai Government and this should be your source to derive all visa-related information. The website is updated regularly. Visit this page to get all details related to single-entry tourist visas for Dubai.

Is Dubai a Safe City to Travel to?

As someone who has been living in Dubai for over four years now and has traveled extensively in various parts of the city at various times, including late-night hours as a woman, I am confident to say that the majority of Dubai is safe to travel to, even for women. The city’s various segments run from early morning till late in the night, making it much safer than a lot of Western and Asian countries.

That being said, I would advise you to avoid secluded areas in the city. Also, don’t indulge in illegal activities. The crime rate in Dubai is relatively lower, so the chances of you feeling unsafe in Dubai are thin.

A Tourist’s Guide to Average Daily Spend in Dubai

The average daily spend for a tourist in Dubai depends on a variety of factors. These include:

  • The type of accommodation you choose
  • The mode of transport you use
  • Your restaurant and bar preferences
  • Activities you plan on doing
  • Your shopping habits

Average Daily Spend for a Luxury Travel in Dubai – Over 1000 AED or 275 USD

Average Daily Spend for a Mid-Range Travel in Dubai – Around 500 AED or 130 USD

Average Daily Spend for a Budget Travel in Dubai – Around 110-220 AED or 30-60 USD

How to Get to and Around Dubai?

How to Get to Dubai

The easiest way to get to Dubai is by air. Take a flight from literally any country in the world to fly to Dubai. 

How to Get Around Dubai

Dubai’s extensive and well-connected transport system gets you around the city easily and conveniently. Public transport in Dubai is relatively economical, safe, well-lit and well-air-conditioned, and conveniently located. Metro trains, buses, government taxis, private cars, and a traditional boat system help you connect to some major tourist destinations across the city. This Dubai travel guide explains the various transport options available in the city in detail below.

Metro: Dubai Metro has three lines, the Red Line, the Green Line, and the Orange or Branch Line. The Red Line typically runs from Centerpoint to Expo 2020 stations covering major tourist destinations, such as Dubai Mall, Burj Khalifa, and Mall of the Emirates, on the way. The Green Line runs from Etisalat and Creek metro stations. The Orange (Branch) Line runs from Jabal Ali to UAE Exchange. You can interchange between red and green line trains at Union and Burjuman metro stations. To interchange between the metro and tram, go to either Sobha Realty or DMCC metro station. To interchange between red and orange (branch) lines, go to Jabal Ali metro station. 

You can ride a Dubai Metro every day keeping in mind the below metro timetable:

Monday to Thursday: 5am to midnight

Friday: 5am to 1am

Saturday: 5am to 12am

Sunday: 8am to 12am 

To ride a metro in Dubai, you will need an RTA NOL card, which you can purchase at ticket offices located inside and around the metro and bus stations. The fare for riding a metro usually ranges from 3 AED to 8 AED depending on the distance. The minimum you will pay to ride a metro within a single zone is 3 AED and 6 AED using the silver NOL card and golden NOL card respectively. If you’re visiting Dubai for more than a month and intend to use public transport, I recommend you buy a monthly metro pass, which can be used both on Dubai Metro and RTA Bus.

Trams: Dubai Tram connects you to Dubai Marina and JBR areas. They typically operate every day with the below timetable:

Monday to Saturday: 6am to 1am

Sunday: 9am to 1am

You can board a tram from DMCC or Sobha Realty metro stations. You will need an RTA NOL card to ride a tram in Dubai. 

Buses: Dubai has an extensive bus network that connects you to both big and small destinations across the city. It also connects you to other emirates including Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Al Ain, and Hatta. Within Dubai, the buses also cover areas that are not covered by Dubai Metro. Typically, a Dubai Bus run every day from 4am to 1am the next day. Buses are the cheapest way to get around Dubai.

Use the RTA NOL card to ride an RTA bus in Dubai. You can purchase it from ticket offices at the metro or bus stations. The minimum fare for riding an RTA bus within a single zone is 3 AED.

Taxis: Taxis are the most convenient option and the fastest way to get around Dubai. You will find RTA taxis very easily available in different parts of the city. These taxis are metered, and the fares are relatively economical. Expect an RTA taxi to be comfortable, clean, and with professional drivers. 

Ride-Hailing Apps: Dubai’s most popular ride-hailing apps are Uber and Careem, which provide an option to book a private car conveniently and easily. You can also book an RTA taxi on these ride-hailing apps. Download any of these apps, put your location and pick-up, and wait for your ride to arrive. 

Abra: Abra is a traditional boat used in Dubai to transport people across the Creek. They operate between water stations deployed at Shindagha/Al Ghubaiba in Bur Dubai and Sabkha in Deira. It is the most convenient mode of transport to hop on and hop off when exploring Old Dubai. It is also the cheapest of most ride options around here with fares starting from 1 AED. 

Where to Stay in Dubai?

Whether you’re traveling on a budget and looking for cheap backpacker hostels in Dubai or prefer to splurge and book one of the many luxury hotels in the city. Dubai provides a wide range of lodging options to suit the needs of different travelers. 

Best Luxury Hotels in Dubai

Some of the most luxurious hotels in Dubai would typically cost around 500-600 AED per night for two people. While there are many platforms to book hotels from, I fall back on Booking.com for competitive prices and convenience. Based on their high ratings and great reviews on Booking.com, I highly recommend the below list of the most luxurious hotels in Dubai. 

1. Grosvenor House, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Dubai – Located at Al Emreef Street, Dubai Marina with a 9.3/10 rating from over 1300+ reviews 

2. Address Boulevard – Located at Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid Boulevard, Downtown Dubai with a 9.3/10 rating from over 2800+ reviews

3. One Bedroom Apartment Dubai Fountain & Old Town View by Auberge – Located at Burj Residence, Tower 1, Downtown Dubai with a 9.7/10 rating from 135 reviews 

4. Park Hyatt Dubai – Located at Dubai Golf Creek And Yacht Club with a 9/10 rating from 1700+ reviews 

5. Sofitel Dubai Palm Apartments – Located at The Palm Jumeirah, East Crescent Road, Dubai with a 8.5/10 rating from 800+ reviews 

Best Mid-Range Hotels in Dubai

For mid-range travelers who are looking for comfort without splurging too much, below are the options you must consider. These mid-range hotels cost between 200 AED to 350 AED. They are highly rated and reasonably priced on Booking.com

1. Rove Downtown – Located at 312 Al Mustaqbal Street, Zabeel 2, PO Box 119444, Bur Dubai with 9.1/10 rating from 8300+ reviews 

2. Five Jumeirah Village – Located at Jumeirah Village Circle Dubai, with 9.1/10 rating from 38000+ reviews

3. Golden Sands-Dubai Creek – Located at Banyas Street, Dubai, with 9.1/10 rating from 4300+ reviews 

4. Manzil Downtown by Vida – Located at Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard, Downtown Dubai with 9/10 rating from 3900+ reviews 

5. Westminster Boulevard Point – Located at Boulevard Point Tower, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Blvd, Downtown Dubai with 9.1/10 from 400+ reviews

Best Backpacker Hostels/Hotels in Dubai

For budget travelers who are looking for comfortable yet cheap hostels in Dubai, HostelWorld is a great option to choose from a range of affordable dormitory accommodations. A dorm hostel or bed space would usually cost between 60-150 AED per person for a night. Choose from one of my hand-picked youth hostels in Dubai from the list below

1. Torch 77 – Located at 7703, The Torch Tower, Dubai Marina with 10/10 rating from 14 reviews 

2. Lunar Hostel Plus – Located at The Walk, Sadaf 8, Unit 602 Jumeirah Beach Residence, Dubai with 9/10 rating from 15 reviews 

3. Route 66 – Located at Apartment No.1102, Amwaj 4, The Walk JBR, Dubai with 8.7/10 rating from 27 reviews 

4. Green Sky Apartment – Located at Al Safooh Street, Marina Crown Tower,, Floor 34, Flat 3402, Dubai with 8.7/10 from 30 reviews. 

5. Homestar – Located at Jumeirah Beach Residence, Murjan 1, Dubai with 9.4/10 rating from 5 reviews (newly listed property but great location)

10 Best Things to See and Do in Dubai

1. Visit the Iconic Burj Khalifa 

You definitely should not miss seeing this spectacular man-made structure that has beaten the records of so many other marvelous towers. 

Visitors can purchase tickets to witness incredible views from some of the top floors of the Burj Khalifa:

At the top Burj Khalifa (levels 124 & 125, tickets cost around 250 AED)

At level 124, you get a closer look at the sceneries below through advanced, high-powered telescopes and get on the public outdoor observation deck for breathtaking 360-degree views of the city skyline.

At level 125, with green screen photography, you can capture your Burj Khalifa moments while blending reality and special effects and get a virtual reality immersion experience; feel the glass floor beneath you crack. 

At the top Burj Khalifa Sky (levels 124, 125 & 148, tickets cost around 380 AED)

At level 148, you get a personalized tour, led by a delegate and walk on the world’s highest observation deck at 555 meters. You also get served signature refreshments at the SKY lounge. 

If you wish to see the sunset, I recommend you book at least a 90-minute prior entry time. 

2. Witness the World’s Largest Choreographed Fountain Show

The Dubai Fountain show, found at the base of the Burj Khalifa, takes place every 30 min daily from 6pm to 11pm. Although the show is free, the area around the fountains becomes quite crowded. I recommend purchasing a ticket for 20 AED and boarding a separate platform to get a better view of the show. This is a must-see thing that you will find on all popular Dubai travel guides.

3. Take an Abra and Visit Dubai’s Historic Old City

This part of Dubai is one of my personal favorites. I used to frequent it almost every alternate weekend when I lived closer to Deira a few years back. Old Dubai’s humbling, middle-eastern style architecture is something to look forward to when you want to escape the glitz and glamor of the modern city life of Dubai. 

All you need to enjoy a calming heritage walk to the Historical city of Dubai is 1 AED and a sense of adventure. Hop on a traditional wooden abra from the Deira abra station, and within minutes you will find yourself in a simpler time. 

For those seeking a private experience, you can rent a personal boat for an hour for 120 AED. 

There are several things to do once you arrive in Old Dubai.

My favorite is sipping coffee at the uniquely designed Starbucks in Al Seef. The coffee shop is located in an old preserved building in an unsophisticated, and rustic avatar. It was designed keeping in mind the vintage feel of Old Dubai. It is also a very Instagram-worthy spot if you like taking pictures. Then stroll around to see the traditional sand-colored buildings, colorful baithaks, and other small eateries. 

Alternatively, have a taste of Arabic cuisine at Arabian Tea House Restaurant & Cafe in Al Fahidi. 

4. Learn the City’s Traditional way of Life at the Dubai Museum 

Depicting life in Dubai before the advent of oil, this 1971-built foundation delivers a traditional museum experience. It is located in the historical neighborhood of Al Fahidi. The museum’s popularity is only growing, with millions of visitors each year. The entry fee is 3 AED.

In the courtyard of the museum, you will find various artifacts displaying the culture of the land. There’s a traditional wooden abra, Dubai’s most frequently used mode of transport and a symbol of the city’s culture and heritage. There’s a wind tower depicting the traditional way in which the old city homes harnessed wind into homes. And then there are antiques and artifacts obtained through trade with Asian and African countries. Every object on display here tells a story of a bygone era.

But my favorite part, however, is a wonderous wooden dhow boat beautifully dominating the large courtyard outside the museum. The impressive vessel is a testament to the enduring legacy of Dubai’s maritime past. 

5. Fly Across on the Longest Urban Zipline with XLine Dubai Marina

Imagine soaring through the air at a breathtaking 80km/hr, suspended 170m above the ground, taking in the awe-inspiring sights of Dubai’s skyline and shimmering Dubai Marina – this is the experience awaiting you on the XLine Dubai, the world’s longest urban zipline. Spanning a whopping 1km, this adrenaline-fueled adventure promises to leave you exhilarated and spellbound. The cost of this adventure is slightly expensive but it is worth the ride. 

How much do tickets for Urban Zipline with XLine Dubai Marina cost?

Young adults (12-16-year-olds) – From 499 AED

Adults (17-65-year-olds) – From 650 AED

Price includes:

  • Safety equipment
  • Zipline experience
  • A GoPro camera mounted on your helmet to relive the adventure later again
  • A customized video and photographs of the experience

6. Be Blown Away by Astounding Views from Sky Views by Emaar 

Visit Sky Views by Emaar in Downtown Dubai when you feel like watching the city from the top. This attraction combines sightseeing with exciting experiences that include: 

Sky Views Observatory: The Address Sky View Hotel’s Observatory on floors 52 and 53 offers stunning views of Dubai’s skyline and coast. Visitors take a panoramic glass elevator to the top and can walk on a 46-meter glass floor. General admission prices start at AED 85 for adults and AED 70 for children aged 4-12. In addition to this, the Glass Slide is a thrilling attraction that links levels 53 and 52 of a tower in Dubai, offering a unique and adrenaline-pumping experience for visitors. Manufactured in Germany, the slide is made of quadruple-laminated glass and is supported only at the top and bottom, providing uninterrupted views of the city as you slide down. The ticket includes one ride, and visitors can add a slide for AED 25.

Sky Views Edge Walk: The Address Sky View’s Sky Edge Walk offers an extreme experience for visitors who want to see Dubai’s cityscape and Burj Khalifa from 219.5 meters above ground level. This breathtaking experience is not for the faint-hearted as you will be walking hands-free on a ledge. Edge Walk price – AED 504. 

7. Explore Hatta, a Heritage Village in Dubai

hajar mountains in Hatta

Hatta is a beautiful heritage village located in the rocky Hajar mountains of UAE. The village used to be part of Oman before it came under UAE’s control during the 1850s.

The site is a popular weekend getaway for Dubai residents. If you’re in Dubai during winter, I highly recommend you explore Hatta.

There are several things to do in Hatta.

Outdoor activities, such as kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, and paragliding are pretty popular among both locals and tourists.

Alternatively, you can take quiet walks around the village’s heritage structures. See the magnificent views of the village from the Hatta 360 Observatory. Sit back and watch the beautiful emerald-blue lake.

Indulge in Arabic cuisine at Al Hajarain Restaurant. I recommend their meat kebabs and traditional tea.

If you plan to visit Hatta during your trip to Dubai, read my Hatta travel guide, which covers all information from transportation, weather, and things to do in Hatta.

8. Stroll Along the Waterfront of Dubai Marina Walk

Walking around dubai marina

Soon after I moved to the Dubai Marina neighborhood for a 2-year stay, I chanced upon this lovely waterfront promenade stretching for about 7 kilometers. It became my daily habit to go for an evening stroll along this palm-tree-dotted seafront overlooking the Persian Gulf, glistening skyscrapers, and white yachts. 

Dubai Marina Walk is an ideal place for a relaxed evening walk. Along the way, you will see some joggers passing by, e-scooterists zipping past, pet owners leading away their adorable pets, tourists taking pictures, kids playing in a nearby park, cafes smelling of fresh coffee and buttery croissants, and a line of restaurants that you could eat at while enjoying great views of the marina. 

This could also be a romantic walking date if you plan to go there with your partner. 

Pro Tip: If you like ice pops, stop by Carrefour and buy a 1.25 AED Igloo Ice Pop and thank me later. 

9. Go on a Dhow Cruise Tour at Dubai Marina 

One of the best ways to enjoy the beauty of the Dubai skyline is by cruising through the glistening waters of the Arabian Gulf on a Dubai Marina cruise. While luxurious yacht options are available, I suggest you try the traditional dhow cruises for a more authentic experience. 

On a typical dhow cruise ride, you will see some great views of Dubai’s iconic landmarks and towers including Dubai Marina Mall, Burj Al Arab, and Palm Jumeirah. 

Food on a dhow cruise usually consists of grilled chicken, hummus, kuboos, salads, biryani or any other rice dish, and some soft drinks. 

A regular dhow cruise tour will cost you:

  • 80 Dhs for food and tour
  • 200 Dhs for food, tour, and bar
  • 300 Dhs for VIP seating, food, tour, and premium drinks 

10. Experience the Rajasthani Culture and Food at Chokhi Dhani 

Located in Al Seef, Dubai, Chokhi Dhani is not just a restaurant but a whole new experience. It’s a little Rajasthan (a state in India) created in the heart of Dubai. Aside from the great-tasting food, they provide the visitors with a memorable experience.

To start with, they have a huge supermarket where you can buy Indian spices, pickles, jewelry pieces, home decor, textiles, paintings, and a lot more. 

As you wander further, you will come across Kalagram, an exciting part of the restaurant where traditional artisans can be seen producing indigenous artworks and handicrafts. 

Usually around the evening time, there’s a puppet and a cultural show to entertain the audience. There’s an astrologer, miniature painter, portrait artist, potter, and many other talents working towards creating the most authentic Rajasthani experience in the heart of Dubai. 

When it comes to food, they have an extensive menu ranging from vegetarian to non-veg dishes. During my visit to Chokhi Dhani, I tried their lamb chops and lamb seekh kebabs, and they were both delicious. Other dishes that I would love to try on my next visit to the restaurant are highly recommended Laal Maas and Jodhpuri Murg.

Most Dubai Travel Guides will not cover this but I highly recommend this for a wholesome cultural experience.

Conclusion

I hope my detailed Dubai Travel Guide turned out helpful in resolving all your queries about the city. If you’re looking for more information, visit my blog posts and guides below to get more insights into the popular topics when visiting Dubai.