As you may know, I lived in Dubai for two years and loved it. Since being back I’ve had so many requests to give people my recommendations for places to eat, things to see and places to go whilst visiting this emirate of the U.A.E. on holiday. So, I thought I would write my favourites down in a blog so that people can refer to it whenever they like! Obviously these are my own personal preferences, like with everything, people will all have different views and I would always advise doing your own holiday research along with being spontaneous when you’re out there too.
Bare with me because this is a long blog but hopefully it covers most of what you will need to know when you’re when you’re planning a trip to the sandpit! So here goes!
To start with I thought I’d give some basic info about Dubai, I think it’s always nice to know a little about the place you are going to visit.
- Dubai is part of the United Arab Emirates, there are 7 emirates: Sharjah, Fujairah, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Ras al-Khaimah and Umm al-Qaiwain.
- Dubai currency is dirhams, you will see this written as AED. Obviously keep checking the exchange rate but at the time I’m writing this it is about 4.5aed to the £
- Language: Arabic
- Dress code: Remember you are going to an Arabic country so need to be respectful of their culture. Obviously at the beach or around pools you can wear any swimwear but will need to cover up if you go to the restaurant or anywhere else in the vicinity. In restaurants and malls you need to dress respectfully, normal holiday attire is fine but usually your shoulders and/or knees should be covered OR make sure you always carry a shawl that you could drape over you if need be. It’s always made out to be much stricter than it is in reality, as long as you are respectful there won’t be an issue.
- Alcohol. Dubai isn’t dry apart from some religious holidays such as Ramadan. You will notice that a lot of restaurants won’t sell alcohol but the majority of them are in hotels and they will be licensed. Bars and clubs will also be licensed so if you fancy a holiday cocktail there are plenty of places so don’t worry!
- Be careful about PDA in Dubai. Unless you are married you shouldn’t be flaunting it and even if you are married, over the top PDA is frowned upon. As is swearing and rowdy behaviour – this could end in being arrested so just be careful. Remember – this is their country so if you don’t like their rules, don’t go, simple as.
- Tipping: taxis – most people will round up the the nearest note, so if your charge is 4aed, give a 5 dirham note. I’d advise to use Dubai Taxis as they are all metered and won’t rip you off. If you are offered a Lexus taxi don’t go because they will charge you the world!
- The working week is Sunday – Thursday as Friday is their holy day.
- The smoking ban isn’t in place here so be prepared for smoky restaurants, clubs and bars although most have smoke free areas.
Before I start I would suggest looking into buying an app called ‘The Entertainer.’ Make sure you look at the Dubai version. There are different choices, a general one, a health and beauty version and a kids version, the general version will be perfect for holiday goers. You can buy a paper version in some Dubai shops and malls so you could wait to buy it when you’re there so you can physically have a flick through and see if the vouchers are any good for what you want OR have a look on E-Bay as some people sell on the rest of the book after their holiday, just check what vouchers they’ve used before you buy! You will pay about £70 for it but it contains mostly buy one get one free vouchers that cover some brunches, entrance to water parks and restaurants, Ski Dubai and many other things. The contents of the app changes annually so again, research before you go but if you consider a brunch will cost say £60 per person, with the buy one get one free for different brunches, the app will have paid for itself before you’ve even done any other activities – amazing!
Before I moved to Dubai I hadn’t heard of the infamous brunches. Brunch to me is when you wake up late so have a meal that covers both breakfast and lunch, don’t be fooled – brunch in Dubai is nothing like this!
It happens every Friday in most hotels from around 12 – 4pm. It’s an occasion to get dressed up and head out with your friends to luxurious locations and be bombarded with the most amazing food and drink. YOU MUST PRE BOOK AT LEAST A WEEK IN ADVANCE, you can e-mail most or get your hotel to book on the day you arrive. Basically you will discover the most amazing buffet type setting but it will cover foods from most corners of the world and is of amazing quality. There are some brunches where you choose from a menu and have the food brought to your table but you can order as much from the menu as you want over and over! There will be music and entertainment and drinks are free flowing throughout.
You pay for different brunch packages, some that include soft drinks, some that include basic alcoholic drinks and then one that covers every drink you can think of! Each have different prices and they aren’t cheap BUT I really would recommend it because you won’t have an experience like this again.
Here are my top 5 brunches:
Lattitude Brunch at Jumeirah Beach Hotel. This was the first brunch I ever went to and where I took my mum and dad on their visit and a couple of friends. It’s a beautiful setting, with a view of the Burj al Arab, there is always a singer and a juggling act which is fun. The food is excuisite and yes it’s one of the more expensive brunches but honestly, you won’t regret it. After brunch is finished, take the lift to the Uptown Bar to continue with more delicious cocktails and a view from above!
Mina A’Salam brunch in the Madinat Jumeirah. This brunch is ridiculous! It is spread over a vast expanse of the restaurants in the Madinat which is one of my favourite places in Dubai. You will do a lot of walking to get different foods but the atmosphere is amazing, music everywhere, entertainment and happy faces! There’s a cheese room, a Mexican selection, live cooking stations, cocktail and alcohol stations – the passionfruit majitos are to die for – and again, it is in a stunning location. I took my brother and his girlfriend and a group of friends to this brunch, one at Easter and one at Halloween. The themed brunches are brilliant fun with quirky additions to the food.
Fork and Cork brunch at Anantara on The Palm. This is probably top of my list! It’s a smaller location but always has a great feeling to it, lots of people, great music and the brunch itself is just – wow! There is less to chose from but the quality of the food is second to none…there is a sushi bar, a chocolate section, you can get candy floss and pic ’n’ mix and pop on a Mexican hat for a giggle – what more could you want?!
Saffron brunch at The Atlantis on The Palm. This is definitely a party brunch, not one I’d take my parents too let’s say! The food is still good but not as amazing as the others but the drinks are fab and like I say, the atmosphere is one of ‘party party!’ They have little extras outside where you can paint and take away your own canvas which is a nice touch! I loved my brunch there but due to the price it was a one time brunch, I’m so glad I experienced it but for me once was enough!
Flavours on Two at Towers Rotana. They call their evening brunches, ‘International Theme Nights.’It’s always nice to have a good night out and even better when a brunch is involved! Check their website as each night has a different theme i.e Italian night, Indian night, British night etc. The idea is still the same, but it’s more low key, it’s in the evening and is a cheaper option. I went there lots and loved it just as much each time.
Out Out in Dubai – my top 3.
Ndulge on The Palm. After brunch on the palm or any brunch really, take a taxi to this club, it is my favourite club in the world! The main section is outside with a bar in the middle although there is an indoor dance floor and bar where you can escape to get some air con relief! Not to encourage drinking at brunch (!) but drinks anywhere in Dubai are expensive so enjoy brunch as much as you can if you catch my drift! The music is brilliant, there are comfy places to chill out and you may catch the odd celebrity now and then!
Societe. There are two locations for this club but both have the same theme – 80’s, 90’s and 00’s music with nostalgic TV shows playing on mute and themed nights at times. The only downside to this club is that it is always heaving and the smoke takes me back to clubbing days in the early 00’s! You’ll come home with smoky hair anyway but here it’s really intense! Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE this place but for me and my lungs I only last a few hours!
Barasti Beach. This is fab in the day for chilling out but the nights here are great fun. They have ladies nights, show sporting events but have great music and drinks and it’s always good fun.
General Restaurants to visit
The Cheesecake Factory. Oh my goodness – this is possibly my favourite restaurant in the world! Dubai has several of them in various locations which is fab. The Dubai Mall one is HUGE and has a view of the aquarium but is always packed and you often have to wait. The one in The Mall of the Emirates is right next to Ski Dubai so you get a view of the slopes as you eat which is fun, but I do love the one on the beach front on JBR. I had just assumed this was where you went to eat amazing cheesecake but oh my goodness the menu is extensive and the food is incredible! The portion sizes are just, well, beyond description – big enough to nearly defeat my brother which is saying something! I’d really recommend you visiting and possibly sharing starters, it’s definitely not a three course meal place…unless you get your cheesecake to go which we never did of course!!
Serafina in Souk al Bahar, Downtown Dubai. This is a restaurant you will need to pre book, it’s popular because you can ask for a fountain view table. (See below for why the Dubai Fountains are a must see!) They normally have vouchers in The Entertainer which is good as some items on the menu are on the pricier side. You have to state if you want to drink alcohol as part of this restaurant is unlicensed. Again, this is one of my favourite places because the food and drink paired up with the evening views are worth every penny.
Abd El-Wahab in Souk al Bahar. This is a Lebanese restaurant upstairs from Serafina and again you will need to book in advance! I only discovered this on my last visit and am disappointed I found it just before I was leaving! You have to ask for a fountain view which again enhances your dining experience. The menu is stunning, we had a sharing option between three of us – it was like a mini brunch, it just kept coming! Dad was even given an entire fruit bowl for one of his desert options! The staff were so friendly and I would go back again and again.
The Claw in Souk al Bahar. Not much to say here apart from go! It does the biggest sharing cocktails you have ever seen and it has pork on the menu – winning! It’s a fun place but very popular so again, I’d pre book.
The Farm, Al Barari. A little slice of green, quiet heaven for a scrummy breakfast or chilled out lunch. I can’t explain how relaxing this place is, your menu is on an iPad and is mainly healthy options such a granola, a variety of eggs, bagels and toasts alongside a variety of smoothies, juices, teas and coffees. There is a trickling river and you are surrounded by flowers and greenery, if you want a breakfast away from the craziness of Downtown, please go here. You will just need to request for the staff to call you a taxi when you’re ready as you can’t hail them here.
The Observatory, Marina. This is a restaurant/bar up on the 52nd floor of Dubai Marriott Harbour Hotel. The views are incredible – I booked a table for just before sunset so we could see/take photos of the view in daylight, during sunset and at night! Luckily I had a voucher for the meal I had there as it is pricey but if you don’t want to do that, the bar snacks and drinks are enough to fill you up. They also do a great ladies night here on a Tuesday but I’d advise booking.
The Boardwalk, Dubai Creek. I simply love it here, in the good weather, sitting outside is one of my favourite things to do. They do buffet nights which are fab but the normal menu isn’t huge yet everything from fish to calzones, pasta to steaks are cooked to perfection. When you have finished eating you can then pop downstairs to the restaurant called QD’s for drinks on comfy chairs and some shisha – a perfect evening!
Mezza House, Downtown Dubai. This is such a brilliant place to eat, it’s small but the food is delicious and you can walk here from Dubai Mall. It serves Lebanese, Jordanian and Syrian dishes and you HAVE to try the mousakhan rolls – lip smackingly delicious!
Places to go/things to do
There is SO much to do in Dubai apart from chill out by the pool or at the beach, although of course that is going to form a massive part of your holiday!
I’ll start with the two main water parks:
Aquaventure, Atlantis, The Palm. This is such a fun place to spend the day! Not only do you get access to the water park but when you get bored (which won’t happen!) you also have access to a beautiful beach with a view of the skyscrapers in Dubai. It tends to get very busy here so entrance queues and food stall queues are always long but that doesn’t bother most people if you’re prepared for it. You can book in to swim with dolphins here which I didn’t do but many people I know did and said what an incredible experience it was. There are SO many rides here, it will satisfy thrill seekers and those of you who are happy to float along a lazy river or chill on a sun-bed and read your book.
Wild Wadi, Jumeirah Road. Wild Wadi is much smaller than Aquaventure but I prefer it here. There are normally buy one get one free vouchers for entrance in The Entertainer which helps with costs. If you bag a sunbed up on the terrace part you will get a view of the Burj al Arab and if you’re lucky spot helicopters landing on the helipad. The lazy river is just as it says on the packet but there are also plenty of rides to keep children and adults occupied. The main pool has a wave machine and there are food stalls scattered all over the park meaning queues are rarely that long.
Now we move on to all the other things you can do!
Dubai Fountains. The fountain displays are on every evening on the hour and half hour from 6pm – 11pm. They are choreographed to music, a different song each time (unless it’s broken and it’s the same song, like when I took my friends!!) and they are breathtaking. That’s why I recommend booking a restaurant with a fountain view so that every half an hour you get a free, spectacular show which can make you cry at times! You HAVE to make an evening trip to see them.
The Souks. There are many different souks in Bur Dubai you could choose to visit; the Gold Souk in Deira, The Spice Souk, Perfume Souk, Textile Souk and then the indoor souks near Dubai mall and at The Madinat. To get to the souks you can get an agra across the creek which is really good fun too. Souks are cultural experiences that I feel people should visit and put money back into the place you are visiting, supporting local business men and women.
Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. If you really want to spend time getting a true understanding about Dubai and the UAE, the people, the culture and the past, this is the place for you. We took the school children here each year and although hot, it’s such an eye opening, interesting experience. You will learn a lot, try traditional food and get the opportunity to see inside a mosque.
Ski Dubai. Yep, there is a full blown, 22,500 square metres indoor ski area in one of the hottest places in the world! You can have ski or snowboarding lessons, children can have access to a snow park, you can fly on a zip line and go zorbing down the slopes. We took our classes at school on trips here and honestly, it is just the most magical place! It is SO cold but the children just get excited to be somewhere cold rather than sweating in the heat! They provide you with a snow suit, boots and helmets but you will need to pack your own hat and gloves. However, the best part for me is their Penguin Experience. That’s right, you can actually choose from several options, including swimming with penguins or an option to simple meet and learn about them. Hands down this is the best thing I did in Dubai, granted penguins are my favourite animals but it was just so much fun! Again, it is pricey but most packages include photos or souvenirs. It’s an experience I’d recommend for children and adults and then afterwards you can go to The Cheesecake Factory – what a day that would be!
Dubai Cinema Experience (Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates, Mirdiff Mall.) If you want a cinema experience that will make you feel like you’re flying first class, Dubai cinemas can offer you that! In most cinemas you can get your bog standard cinema experience but if you opt for the more expensive option (they’ll be called Platinum Movie Suits or something along that line) you will be escorted to a little bar area where you choose your food (anything from nachos to mini burgers) and drinks (tea, coffee, mocktails etc) before they take you to your HUGE seats which recline and have foot rests and be given blankets and pillows. Your food and drink will then be delivered to you in the cinema for you to enjoy during the film! It’s amazing! Be aware that films here are sometimes edited to be in line with the culture i.e sex scenes may be cut and swearing bleeped out but it doesn’t make that much of a difference. Honestly, if you want an indoor, low key activity one day or evening – do this!
Desert Safari. Most people that visit or live in Dubai want to get out into the desert and really experience life in the sandpit. The company that I’ve been with many times with visitors is called Arabian Nights Tours. Each time they have been great fun with fab drivers and will leave you with a memory you’ll treasure forever. Again, there’s usually a voucher in The Entertainer and you will need to pre book (which you can do from their website before your trip). They pick you up from your hotel and drop you back later. It’s usually a pick up mid afternoon so they can get you to the desert, do some dune bashing (you’ll laugh until you cry), let you take photos whilst you watch the sunset over the desert and then drive you to a Nubian camp where you are provided with dinner and entertainment. There’s a chance to ride a camel, do sand boarding, hold a falcon and get some henna. Fun times.
Dubai Segway. One of the best things I’ve done in my life! Make sure you pre book with Segway Glides! You start at Vida hotel Downtown (although this may have changed since I went) and are then shown how to control and ride a segway. We were lucky and only had our friends in the group and pretty much had a guide each. They were so friendly and helpful – my guy took my camera and snapped the most amazing shots of us as we toured our way around Downtown Dubai. Again, we laughed SO much and it’s an experience that will highly rank in my memory forever.
Dubai Mall Aquarium. I have to admit I never paid to actually go inside the aquarium as I figured the outside was pretty amazing without paying! But people that have been have said how good it is. King croc is there and you can pay to dive in the big tank. It’s just a wow factor to have such a huge aquarium in the middle of a mall – get your camera ready!
Afternoon Tea. There are SO many places that offer afternoon tea in Dubai – from the ridiculously expensive to the very affordable. I would highly recommend having afternoon tea up the Burj Khalifa. Just to go up the tallest building in the world is exciting but their tea is affordable and yummy. If the tea doesn’t tickle your fancy, you can still go up the Burj Khalifa – book tickets in the Dubai Mall for ‘At The Top’. I know a few people who have had afternoon tea in the Burj al Arab but for me, it would have to be an extremely special occasion as it costs an arm and a leg! Afternoon tea at The Palace Downtown is one that I think most would love, it’s a stunning setting and the tea itself is just what you’d expect and more.
Dubai Miracle Gardens. This is such an extraordinary experience, especially as it’s in the middle of the desert! Basically it’s an attraction park where flowers and plants are used to create structures such as boats, peacocks, cover cars etc. It is a beautiful way to spend a few hours but because of the plants, the Miracle Gardens are only open during the cooler months, normally from November through to around March. It’s a cheap and very worthwhile thing to do.
Butterfly Gardens. These are just across the road from the Miracle Gardens and again,a very worthwhile trip! I went with mum and we really did have a giggle! You can purchase garlands that have been sprayed with a certain chemical that attracts the butterflies so they land on you, it really is fascinating to see these insects up close – even if I was very jumpy throughout! Again, remember your camera!
Global Village. This is claimed to be the worlds largest tourism, leisure and entertainment project! It is a huge site with various market sections from all around the world. You can visit Germany, Africa, England etc and buy various items from that country. There are fairground rides and restaurants and in the evenings there is entertainment. However, it really isn’t for everyone. Although you can bag yourselves some amazing bargains, it does get very busy (the car-park has enough space for thousands of cars!) and if you’re not up for a bit of bargaining and a lot of walking, I wouldn’t suggest it! Because its all outdoors, it is only open in the cooler months, November – April. I enjoyed the first time I went but I know my parents hated it! I would recommend going and making your own mind up, especially if you’re looking for gifts to take home.
And finally, if you want to have a day trip, I really would suggest getting yourselves to Abu Dhabi to visit The Grand Mosque. It is one of the most stunningly beautiful, peaceful places I have ever visited and urge everyone to go. Unless they perceive you to be dressed respectfully, you will be provided with clothes to cover you properly, including your head. You will also be asked to remove your shoes. It is open year round but in the hottest months it can be unbearable so I would suggest going in the cooler months if possible!
So there you have it, my full guide to Dubai! There is so much more that you may discover as Dubai is changing all the time. They are building new theme parks and venues so you may be able to share new attractions with me when you come back!
If you visit Dubai, I truly hope you love it like I do.