- Souks, skyscrapers, sand, sea
- City life
- Bling and buy
A city of thrilling innovation and luxurious excesses, Dubai rises like a mirage from the desert, flanked by the Arabian Gulf coast and cleaved by a glittering creek.
Famously gilded with a seven-star hotel – the iconic Burj al Arab – this rags-to-riches boom town is said by some to have ‘no culture’: not so. This ancient landmark on the spice-trading route may have grown from tiny port and pitstop for desert-roaming tribes to cosmopolitan city with all mod cons, but Dubai hasn't forgotten its heritage. Camel-racing, falconry and horsemanship are still passionately enjoyed in the Emirates; traditional wind towers still stand in the Bastakiya quarter; and working dhows still cruise the creek. There aren't many places on earth where you can snorkel, ski, sunbathe and shop at the world's biggest mall in one day – but hey, this is Dubai…
Dubai is known for its extremes (world’s tallest building; world’s first seven-star hotel, world’s most cranes, world’s biggest mall, world’s first rotating tower block, world’s richest horse race – I could go on), but you have to admire the tenacity and vision of the Emiratis; after all, even New York was an unspectacular low-rise location once upon a time… So embrace change and marvel at the feats of engineering on display rather than expressing colonial dismay at imagined and forever-gone 'olden times'.
- Sandy-coloured Dubai Taxis are clean, new and metered. Flag one down on the street or at a rank, or call one out to collect you (+971 4 208 0808). When the traffic’s bad or at the peak of rush hour (7–9am; 12.30–2.30pm; 5–7pm), drivers may refuse to take you, and there can be a long wait even for pre-booked taxis. You can also call private chauffeured cars, which are not expensive and a good option if you have several stops to make. Try Al Falasi Luxury Transport (+971 4 396 6552).
- Tipping culture
- Service is often included in restaurant and hotel bills, but check before you pay; otherwise, about 10 per cent is the norm. If you want to give porters or other staff a tip, AED10–20 is plenty. Taxi drivers don’t expect a tip, but you could round up the fare.
- Siesta and fiesta
- Dubai works hard and plays harder; you can pretty much do what you like, when you like. Offices open as early as 7am, but local shops and souks operate from about 10am–1pm and 4pm–10pm. Shopping malls generally stay open 10am–10pm. Evenings kick off late, with dinner from around 9pm; most bars and clubs stay open till 3am.
- Packing tips
- Swimwear; enormous sunglasses; every credit card you own; something modest to wear for trips to the souks or rural areas (we’re not talking full coverage here, but spaghetti straps and tiny miniskirts will make you feel like a stupid tourist at best).
- Recommended reads
- Get a captivating insight into Arabian nomadic tribes and culture in explorer/photographer Wilfred Thesiger’s Arabian Sands; Zelzelah is a biographical account of Mariam Behnam’s childhood in Iran and life in the Emirates; Andrew Taylor’s Travelling the Sands rounds up a century of desert crossings. Find more regional titles at www.booksarabia.com.
- On the crossroads of the spice route, every conceivable type of global cuisine is on the menu, from French snails and Asian fusion to German sausages and Sri Lankan fish curries. Don’t leave without trying Middle Eastern food, though; pick a delicious mix of skewered meats (not pork, obviously), grilled local fish such as hammour with dry biryani rice, Lebanese meze, pitta-esque flatbreads, chick-pea and aubergine dips, fatayer – dough stuffed with palak (a kind of local spinach) – and delicious medjool dates. Emiratis also love their sweets: Patchi is a popular chain of chocolatiers; there’s branch on lively Al Diyafah Street in Satwa (+971 4 398 6038). Just up the road is Al Mallah, one of Dubai’s best-loved street-food cafés: hang out with some chicken shawarmas – tasty and inexpensive. Also look out for dibs, a delicious kind of date honey, to take home.
- Dirhams (AED or Dhs).
- Time zone
- GMT +3.
- Dialling codes
- UAE country code: +971. Dubai: (0)4.
- Do go/don't go
- Dubai is sunny and warm year-round, with very occasional rainy days in mid-winter. Christmas and Easter are peak times, with March bringing some of the city’s most popular events. High summer can be unbearably hot and humid, with temperatures reaching 50°C – July/August is definitely best avoided.
Don't go home without...
… an armful of gold bangles; a few diamonds; an interest in modern city planning; a Persian rug; your best tan ever; a comedy camel souvenir; a revived interest in eco issues.