Tips for visiting the ‘Sovereign State’ – Dubai
As part of a one week trip, I wanted to explore two cities – Amsterdam and Dubai. A two day trip to Amsterdam, followed by continuing the flight on to Dubai for a remaining five days as part of KLM’s multi-destination booking feature.
After the six hour flight from Amsterdam to Dubai and a few hours of sleep, we started an exploration of Dubai taking in some of the key sights and attractions to maximise the stay.
- Burj Al Arab – It looks like a sail from afar, and is repeatedly voted as the world’s best hotel with a self-proclaimed seven star status and it’s own helicopter landing pad. This hotel is the ultimate in luxury – yet we couldn’t even get a look in! With it’s own private road and security at every stop, you are only permitted to pass the security once you have presented your ID and booking confirmation. A cheaper way of gaining access is via a booking for afternoon tea which is rumoured to cost around £80 – yes, for tea and scones… We decided to head to Wild Wadi instead for a great view, to take a few photos and generally – spend our time doing something more to our budget :-). On my last check, it was a shocking £900 – yes – *just* £900 for a standard room per night. Admiring from afar was our best bet!
- Wild Wadi Water Park: Well, it’s exactly that… a water park, a lot of water rides, a lot of fun but also a lot of children around which was a little frustrating for us on a couples’ break… think Alton Towers mid-summer and that about sums it up… but in Dubai… in Summer. It was a very fun day out and cheaper than Atlantis Resort with more water rides but personally, the Atlantis was my favourite. It is very crowded and waiting around in desert-like heat for rides to come available was just a little too much at times – getting into the water was the ultimate relief.
- Burj Khalifa: The tallest building in the world, standing at a phenomenal 828m (2716ft) high! A few facts about this gem: the tower is home to the highest occupied floor, the tallest service lift, and the world’s highest observation deck – on the 124th floor. It also features the world’s highest mosque and swimming pool. Several records achieved all in one place. The building is covered in glass panes which are spectacularly lit up during the night time. It is home to a combination of apartments and offices – lest to say it would make a fantastic office address for the most prestigious.
- Dubai Mall: The world’s largest shopping mall has more than 1,200 retail outlets accompanied by over 100 restaurants and two anchor department stores. Include the Burj Khalifa and the dancing fountains and it is undeniably in good company! This mall offers the master of all shopping trips and is certainly not for the weary. Personally I’m not a shopping fan but it is difficult not to appreciate the vast mall. We visited during Ramadan, at which point the mall opens until 3am – however if you choose to stick around until then, be prepared to queue for at least an hour for a taxi… it gets THAT busy.
- Dancing Fountains: Located at Dubai Mall, the dancing fountains are overshadowed by the grand presence of the Burj Khalifa. Once you leave the back of the mall, visitors gather around the decking area or in one of the many restaurants to witness the splendour of the dancing fountains. A combination of high pressure water jets and colour projectors are staged to appear to dance in time for an impressive musical performance – the music is changed periodically depending upon the theme when you visit. With performances every 30minutes and it being completely free of charge, it is a must see.
- Reel Cinemas: Only in Dubai could you experience a 5-star cinema experience with butler service, full recliner seats and prices that aren’t too much more than those we experience in London in the form of Platinum Movie Suites. Based in Dubai Mall and located on the top floor, you arrive and can access the bar whilst waiting for the screen to open. At this point, you are led inside to the comfort of leather seats where you sit in pairs to enjoy the movie. With a pillow and blanket on offer, a small table for your refreshments and a service call button, it truly is a luxury experience – just don’t fall asleep and miss the movie!
- Ribs and Rumps: A fabulous steak house (adopted from Australia) on the top floor of Dubai Mall. With portions to satisfy the hungriest of appetites, the restaurant is great as a casual dining experience to round off a trip to the Mall or a smart casual style if you want to make it part of an evening out. We ordered the ‘Farmhouse Grill’ which consists of 1/2 chicken, 1/2 beef ribs, 200g rump steak, 2 lamb chops served with fried egg and fries. Cooked to perfection, it was nothing short of delicious.
- Jumeirah Beach: Lined by hotels and restaurants, Jumeirah Beach has it all with white sandy beaches, cool blue water. It is very clean and well maintained and truly offers such a contrast when you look behind you at the hubbub of the city whilst lounging on the beach! Makes for great photos, just don’t spend too long in the sun 🙂
- ‘The Walk’ (JBR Walk): Between Jumeirah Beach Residence and Jumeirah Beach, there is a stretch known locally as ‘The Walk’. Using the Hilton Hotel as a landmark, this stretch of road is heavily populated as a nightspot for Arabs and tourists alike. With numerous restaurants, coffee shops and smoothie bars, this is a trendy boulevard. Please note that the restaurants of Dubai are not licensed to sell alcohol unless they are within a hotel, therefore don’t expect to enjoy a wine or beer with your meal. To list the restaurants would be excessive – however there is certainly something for everybody as this pedestrianised area caters for every single type of cuisine out there.
- Atlantis Marine and Water Park: Unfortunately our budget didn’t stretch to allow us to stay at the Atlantis, however we found a good compromise – a trip to Aquaventure water park. This provided an absolutely exciting and fun-filled day out where we felt that we could really let our hair down and immerse ourselves in the excitement of the day. As a couple in our late twenties 😉 we were unsure of what to expect but this water park definitely caters for couples just as much as young children and families. Going on the beast that is the Leap of Faith is a must. The fantastic, near enough vertical drop will put sheer fear into the most adventurous of riders and despite my fear of heights plus a general caution of throwing myself down slides that I can’t see from the top (it’s so vertical!), I found myself on it not once but three times. The adrenaline rush is amazingly addictive. The best tip that I can offer – get involved. Run, laugh and embrace the chance to get soaked, race to get onto the next ride and basically, enjoy the day.
- Kaleidoscope Restaurant: For a casual, all you can eat buffet, Kaleidoscope is certainly one of the best. Based at the Atlantis resort, the buffet offers a spread of international cuisine, value for money and fantastic service. The quality of food is high and freshly prepared with a fast turnaround. You are certain to be spoilt for choice with the range of foods available and that is before you venture anywhere near to the dessert counter. Cakes and jellies galore! The perfect end to a day at the water park which will certainly leave you hungry. Best tip – book a table in advance. We managed to squeeze a table for two by waiting around, but if you know you are going then book to be seated more quickly.
- Blue Orange (Buffet restaurant @The Westin Hotel): Situated within the beautiful Westin hotel, this was our first experience of a fine dining buffet in Dubai – it is a smart casual place, family friendly and offering outdoor seating to enjoy the weather (although you may appreciate the cooler, air conditioned restaurant). As a buffet restaurant, it is an all you can eat affair and the perfect way to sample the standard of cooking in Dubai – which is pretty faultless all round. We dined in the evening when the restaurant was fairly quiet, however staff were attentive without being over the top and the food was fresh and delicious. With a massive range of food it offers a decent rival to Kaleidoscope and is well presented. A great location if you don’t want to take a trip out onto the Palm.
- Deira (Old City): As we only had a few hours to spare, we headed to the souks of Deira via taxi from JBR. It makes a nice change from the glitz and glamour that occupies every corner of ‘New’ Dubai as well as a chance to be somewhere a little more ‘real’. Have a good wander around, as it specialises in Arabic goods both cheap and expensive, authentic and fake as well as jewellery and clothing or souvenirs. English is generally spoken so you shouldn’t have a problem being understood – use this to your advantage and haggle on everything. We also visited the gold souks here, brilliant if you specifically plan to buy a piece (gold in particular is around 40% cheaper than the UK) and great to just browse. Don’t be afraid to barter – it’s expected and as usual, be prepared to walk- they will call you back. We seriously considered an amazing ring but walked away simply as I didn’t need it… I still think of returning specifically for this!
- Buddha Bar / restaurant Located at the foot of Grosvenor House (close to JBR), Buddha Bar offers what is possibly Dubai’s best bar (a rare find yet a must see). With sophisticated style oozing from every corner it is frequented by locals on a regular basis to enjoy a drink, a smoke (which is allowed indoors in Dubai) and music. It has quite a commercial feel and to be honest, I found the smoking difficult to contend with. But it is worth a visit if only to see the huge Buddha which dominates the restaurant.
Key tips: Dubai is a Muslim country, however my experience of visiting during Ramadan was surprisingly relaxed compared to all of the warnings that I had received regarding clothing, especially for women. I spent the majority of my time in maxi dresses or light trousers and t-shirts which appeared to be more than acceptable. On the beach you are permitted to wear usual beachwear, although ladies, I would advise against topless sunbathing.
For transport, do not be afraid to use the taxis – this may be Dubai but remember, it’s the oil capital. Fuel is cheap and therefore travel by taxi is the absolute best way to get around. Plus, the amount of sweat that can accumulate by walking from your accommodation to a taxi is ridiculous heading to the metro is not even worth considering. Honestly, take a taxi.
Alcohol is not readily available due to licensing laws, if you must have alcohol then head to a hotel restaurant. On this basis, even if you are not a guest you are welcome to visit a restaurant within a hotel – don’t be intimidated at all, they expect you to visit. It is also a great way to have a look around a hotel where you aren’t staying but can still get the chance to appreciate.
Do you have any tips or experiences about your time in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)?