7 questions about Dubai you’ve always wanted to ask
Planning a Dubai holiday? If so, you'll more than likely have a few questions before you go. Can you drink? Can you hold hands? Is it any good for families? Those are just a few of the queries that often come up.
Fortunately, we've got just the person to answer your questions. Dubai-based luxury travel journalist Danae Mercer knows everything there is to know about the Emirate - here she reveals some top Dubai tips to know before your next trip.
Can you drink in Dubai?
In a word, yes. Dubai has a massive nightlife scene. With bars like Gold on 27 at the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab and at.mosphere’s lounge in the record-breaking Burj Khalifa, Dubai offers some of the most over-the-top tipple spots out there. At the weekend, expats flock to restaurants for champagne-fuelled brunches. Ladies can even drink free most nights of the week thanks to special Ladies Nights.
When it comes to drinking, there are things to keep in mind. Once in Dubai, you won’t be able to buy alcohol without an alcohol license. You can get some passing through Duty Free in the airport, but the exact amount varies depending on your country of origin. Don’t take alcohol with you into public places (like beaches or parks). Also don’t become belligerent, curse, or get into a fight — that’s where things start to get messy and tourists can be prosecuted.
Always stay respectful, try to stay classy, and keep your drinks in the venues where they’re served.
Insider’s tip: “My favourite place for a tipple is Peruvian spot Coya (below). They’re masters of the Pisco sour, Pisco fountain, and all sorts of other intriguing cocktails with the South American spirit,” says Sally Prosser, food blogger at My Custard Pie.
Do you need to cover up?
A good rule of thumb with Dubai is just be respectful. It is a Muslim country. You should cover knees and shoulders generally.
This varies widely depending on where you are and what you’re doing. At the city’s party brunches, people dress like they’re in LA. In the malls, you’ll see everything from shorts to floating abayas. In bars, expats dress for nights out. At government buildings (for example, if you need to get a vaccine), be as respectfully covered as possible.
“It’s not very common to see short dresses, plunging cleavages, open shoulders and mini-shorts in public places,” says Dubai fashion Instagrammer Natalia Shustova (below). “I would recommend wearing jeans and a top, or midi-length dresses and cover your shoulders if you’re going shopping.”
People wear swim suits at hotel beaches and in Dubai’s many beach clubs. They’re also allowed at public beaches like Kite Beach. Just keep an eye out for bright pink signs designating new family zones in select areas — these ask women to cover fully.
Insider’s tip: “For shopping, visit Level Shoes District in the Dubai Mall,” says Shustova. “There’s no other concept like this anywhere in the world. If you’re hunting for a good deal, check out Outlet Village and Outlet Mall.”
Is there anything for families to do?
Absolutely. “While Dubai has a reputation for being a party city and shopping hot spot, families will find a huge amount to do,” says Helen Farmer of The Mothership. “From free beaches and huge parks to aquariums, waterparks and rollercoasters, you might struggle to fit it all in.”
The family entertainment side to Dubai is only growing. There’s the recently opened IMG Worlds of Adventure (the world’s largest indoor entertainment zone), Wild Wadi Waterpark (below), Aquaventure at The Atlantis, trampoline parks like Bounce, the Dubai Aquarium, Ski Dubai, Legoland, and numerous other activities to exhaust the little ones.
If the cost of it all is making your head spin, grab a copy of The Entertainer at any of Dubai’s many malls. The hefty book has vouchers for popular family activities.
Insider’s tip: Head to The Green Planet, an indoor jungle housed in a tropical bio-dome, to spot toucans and sloths. “In the mood for some kitsch? You can’t beat an afternoon exploring the Dino Park in Dubai Garden Show, where you can stroll among 100 life-sized dinos,” Farmer adds. “Some even roar.” After dark, the exhibits light up.
Can we have a day out without spending a fortune?
With its love of glitz, glamour, and £100 brunches, it’s easy to bleed cash in Dubai. But the city doesn’t have to empty the bank.
“Dubai isn’t cheap nor super expensive,” says Michelle Karam, travel and lifestyle writer with Travel Junkie Diary. “Dubai is a place where you get exactly what you pay for.” For more affordable options, she recommends the free Kite Beach, visiting the desert sans tour guide, and enjoying a barbecue with friends at sunset.
“On Fridays, enjoy Ripe Market in Zabeel Park. It has a variety of cuisines and pop-up concept stores, with an entrance fee of five dirhams (£1),” she adds.
“The first place I’d go is Dubai Miracle Garden (below). It’s really cheap and really pretty,” says Mitch Hyde of AdventureFaktory. “Then walk through the old souk and ride a dhow across the Dubai Creek for one dirham.” In the evening, Hyde recommends heading to the Dubai Fountain for a free water show set against the backdrop of the Burj Khalifa. Grab an outdoor table at casual eatery Baker & Spice for the best seats in the house.
To save money on hotel rooms and flights, check out Dubai during its quieter summer months (usually from April to September). The heat outside will be sweltering, but indoor entertainment like the malls and Ski Dubai stay buzzing.
Insider’s tip: Try the Aqua Park at The Beach in Jumeirah Beach Residence, says Hyde. This inflatable waterpark spans 2,500 square metres, making it the largest in the Middle East. Costing around £30 per adult, it provides hours of unlimited, water-fuelled fun.
Is Dubai safe for women?
“I often get asked this,” says Fatima Makhlouf, a long-time Dubai expat (below). “I come from Copenhagen, and I can tell you Dubai is probably one of the safest cities in the world. You can leave your Chanel bag in a shopping cart while searching for your kid in the candy section,” she says.
“What I absolutely love about Dubai is that you can wear whatever you feel like and never be over or under dressed.”
Third-culture-kid Amanda Rushforth of The Bikini Society agrees. “Dubai gives you an incredible sense of security. The police are always visible and happy to help, and there are always plenty of people around who will help should you ever need it. It’s a city that doesn’t sleep.”
Insider’s tip: Remember that Dubai is first and foremost a Muslim country, says Rushforth. “There are plenty of beach clubs where you can walk around in shorts, but be respectful of the open public spaces like malls and souks.”
Can I travel with my partner even if we aren’t married?
Dubai is a Muslim society; as a result, it’s technically against Dubai law to share a room with someone of the opposite sex, unless you’re married or family. Most hotels in Dubai are used to dealing with expats and tend to turn a blind eye. You’ll need to show passports when you check in, but having different surnames is usually fine.
Public displays of affection, like kissing, aren’t allowed in public. Holding hands is permitted for married couples, but again it’s best to err on the side of propriety.
How can I get a feel for Dubai’s history?
If you’ve had enough of Dubai’s record-breaking skyscrapers and man-made islands, head down to the Dubai Creek. This part of town developed back when Dubai was a trading hub. Today it’s dotted with boutique restaurants, cultural centres, bustling souks and ethnic restaurants hidden between apartment blocks.
Ride an abra across the creek to Creekside Cafe, advises Andrew Marty, co-founder of Dubai community The Travel Hub. “It has local dishes and twists on continental favourites. The French toast is served with flavours of dates and pomegranate - a must try.” From here you can barter your way through the chaotic textile souk, then explore antiques at Al Fahidi Fort museum (below).
Insider’s tip: “A short hop from the Fort is the Arabian Tea House Cafe. It serves Middle Eastern specialities and 100 different varieties of tea to sample. You can enjoy the traditional past time of smoking the shisha pipe with one of many fruity flavours,” says Marty.