Tips on Traveling to Dubai

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Tips on Traveling to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE): afternoon tea at Burj Khalifa, what to do, what not to do, and why this is a new favorite vacation destination of mine.

View of the skyline of the city of Dubai at sunset.

I know there are very mixed opinions and feelings on traveling to the Middle East at this point in time, but Dubai has been one of my husband’s dream cities to visit for years now because of all the innovative, modern architecture.  He is a structural engineer, or as I like to call him on occasion, an “Engi-nerd”.  The city has become iconic for its skyscrapers and high-rise buildings, in particular the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.  I was admittedly a bit nervous because of the huge culture difference and the opinions of family and friends advising us not to travel there, but I honestly didn’t feel threatened or unsafe even once during my time there.  It’s important to remember that disaster can happen anywhere, at any time, but it’s all about perspective and I feel that traveling makes you a braver person in general.

Dubai was NOTHING like I was expecting at all (but in a good way).  For anyone who may be wanting to pay Dubai a visit but are feeling uneasy about it, I will briefly talk about my personal experience vacationing there and provide a few tips while I’m at it.

The view of the city skyline of Dubai from the Park Hyatt Dubai.

The view from our room at the Park Hyatt, Dubai

Dubai is the most international and ethnically diverse city in the world and tourists come to Dubai from everywhere in the world.  I don’t like “concrete jungles” enough to ever want to live in one and give up my easy-going, relaxed life in Rochester New York, but it’s an extremely comfortable and pleasant place to visit or vacation. 

While this eclectic city is one of the most relaxed, cosmopolitan destinations in that region and there is a large amount of things to do there, you do have to watch your behavior to some degree as it is a Muslim country.  Don’t let the rules and regulations you read about scare you like they initially did with me.  I was literally awake for the entire 14 hours of our flight there because of how anxious I was feeling. Read up on basic guidelines and cultural sensitivities before traveling there and act sensibly to always be on the safe side and you will be fine.  My hubby and I travel a lot, so adapting to other cultures has become almost like second nature. 

Walking around at night in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Walking around at night in Dubai

I was so paranoid that I was going to do something wrong and be thrown in jail for it after research led me to articles relaying how strict and oppressive the country is.  Dubai has a relatively low crime rate and I think it could have everything to do with their laws.  To be honest, I over-thought it in my head, which tends to be the case with me the majority of the time.  The rules are hardly annoying or difficult to follow and many didn’t affect my day-to-day at all (oh, and 90% of Dubai residents are non-natives, FYI.)

Looking up at Burj Khalifa Skyscraper, Dubai.

Staring up at the Burj Khalifa, world’s tallest skyscraper

The short and simple summary that will help you fit in better and not offend the locals:

Do not cuss in public, no PDA: public display of affection is considered indecent in Dubai (don’t hold hands, kiss, etc. in public), don’t snap photos of the locals without their permission as it is considered rude and intrusive (common sense), don’t drink alcohol in public but restaurants do serve alcohol and you can safely consume it in those places, don’t greet, open a door, or hand something to someone with your left hand as that hand is traditionally used for “body hygiene” in Muslim cultures (I’m extremely glad I’m right-handed as a traveler to Dubai), and dress modestly (shoulders covered at all times).  You can have a good time without offending anyone or breaking any local laws.

Fun fact: foreign residents are allowed to drink alcohol at home if they obtain a license.

The skyline of Dubai from the Hyatt Regency, United Arab Emirates

View from the top of Hyatt Regency, Dubai

The latter rule was one I was the most worried about as the word “modest” can be very subjective.  Dubai is a fashion-forward, stylish cosmopolitan city with all the latest designer trends from around the world.  There are rules against women wearing tight, short, low-cut, skimpy or suggestive clothing in public spaces. You will definitely see the occasional rule-breaker and chances are they aren’t going to go to get in trouble for it, but it’s best to keep your clothing relatively conservative (don’t flash a lot of skin).  I adhered to the concept of simply not wearing anything that would make me stand out.  Blending in here is key.  Even though it’s hot here as you’re in the desert and you may be uncomfortable or sweaty at times, wear dresses/skirts below your knees, and if you have a sleeveless shirt or dress, make sure it’s not low-cut. Also, bring a light sweater or scarf to cover up your arms in public. The less skin that is showing, the better off you are.  I normally just carried a long sleeve sweater or cover-up with me to wear while walking from place to place and once I was at my destination I could safely take the sweater off if I was too hot.  Guys can wear whatever they want, but again, nothing that’s going to draw attention to themselves is the best option.

Burj Khalifa, known as the Burj Dubai before its inauguration, is a megatall skyscraper in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Burj Khalifa at night

 

When at the beach, resort or your hotel pool you can comfortably wear your normal beach attire.  I wore my regular swimsuits and fit right in. You don’t have to worry about purchasing a “mom” bathing suit with a skirt if that’s not your style.

I did run into one problem and, although pretty embarrassing, I’ll share it with you as it was a valuable lesson learned.  My husband and I left the pool area to grab some food at one of the more casual hotel restaurants.  It had outdoor seating on a dock and it was just about sunset time.  We asked for a table outside and we were just going to have a snack and maybe a smoothie.  The hostess conversed with what looked to be the manager at the restaurant and she came back to politely give us the bad news that I wasn’t dressed appropriately and had to change before being allowed to sit at a table in the restaurant.  I had a long sleeve black cover-up on over my bathing suit and flip-flops. Normally I would have never thought twice about this, but wasn’t thinking how this is not the “norm” here, even at the hotel outdoor, casual restaurant.  I was obviously mortified that I had tried so hard to fit in and abide by the rules and then got rejected at a restaurant…but, lesson learned! I did the walk of shame back to my room and did not show my face at that restaurant again.

Park Hyatt Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Park Hyatt, Dubai

We spent the majority of our time exploring the city, shopping at the amazing malls, or just laying out by the pool at our hotel.  Our one splurge was doing afternoon tea at Burj Khalifa.  This is the tallest building in the world with it’s 160-story glass and steel structure.  At it’s foot lies Dubai Fountain, with jets and lights choreographed to music each night at the fountain show.  The shows are right outside Dubai mall and they start at 6 pm with a show every 30 minutes up to 11 pm.  From the top of Burj Khalifa you can see really cool looking man-made islands: just offshore is the Atlantis, a resort with water and marine-animal parks.

Fountain show, Burj Khalifa, Dubai.

The fountain show

Afternoon tea was amazing at The At.mosphere Restaurant on the 122nd floor of the Burj KhalifaIf you don’t enjoy fast and long elevator rides, you may want to skip this one.  This is the ultimate afternoon tea experience! Why yes, I’d love an entire tower of cake, sweets, and sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon. Why not?  The views of Dubai are spectacular and breath-taking if you get a clear day!  We really killed two birds with one stone as normally there’s quite a steep charge just to go to the top of Burj Khalifa to enjoy the view and take photos.  Doing it this way, we had the view, were able to spend as much time taking photos as we wanted, and enjoyed of my favorite activities of feeling all fancy with an afternoon tea party.

At the top of Burj Khalifa during afternoon tea at the Atmosphere restaurant, Dubai.

The food at Burj Khalifa during afternoon tea at the Atmosphere restaurant, Dubai.

The food and drinks at Burj Khalifa during afternoon tea at the Atmosphere restaurant, Dubai.

We booked a non-window table since we made our reservations so last-minute but were upgraded to a window table once we sat down – it was really our day!  The seating arrangements in the lounge are very comfortable and cozy, and the floor to ceiling windows mean even the seats set away from the windows have a decent view.  Get your tickets in advance, otherwise the may charge you double price or more to just walk up without a reservation. This is definitely something I recommend doing once just to have the experience and the views.  You are treated like royalty and the food, tea and drinks are on-point.

Looking down from the top of Burj Khalifa during afternoon tea at the Atmosphere restaurant, Dubai.

The view looking down during afternoon tea at the Burj Khalifa.

Summary

As you can see, follow the tips on traveling to Dubai that I gave you and you can have a good time here without worrying too much that you will offend or break a law.  Emirates are very welcoming of foreigners and you will feel comfortable in no time at all.  The city is wonderfully designed for people to feel safe and is extremely easy to navigate around.  It makes it easy because almost everyone we encountered spoke English, as well.  Dubai is a very unique place and totally worth seeing if you ever get the chance to travel there.  The people are pleasant, beaches are beautiful, there are many activities to keep you entertained, including desert safaris (next time I’m totally doing one of those and riding a camel), beautiful resorts, and great food.  You will also be surrounded by the comforts of home with being able to grab food at many familiar places such as Shake Shack, Tim Horton’s, Five Guys, Starbucks, P.F. Chang’s and many other chain restaurants.

Let me know if you ever have any questions and I will be happy to answer them for you!

Tips on Traveling to Dubai and the skyline of Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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Author:Ashley

These are a few of my favorite things: cooking, baking, Broadway musicals, cruises, Disney World, Christmas, thunderstorms, 80's and country music, and my favorite pastime has ALWAYS been baseball. Go Yankees!

15 Responses to “Tips on Traveling to Dubai”

  1. March 23, 2017 at 6:47 AM #

    Hey Ashley – my mom just got back from visiting friends in Dubai – we used to live in Abu Dhabi (Dubai’s neighbor) during my teen years – it sure is a safe place as I remember walking home from the library alone at 10pm while I was 16 years old! But, the city has undergone so many changes since I was there – my mom went to the ice rink there – did you and hubs get to tour it? And saw a lot of the sites you mention here – what a lovely trip for you and your hubs! I must say I sure am enjoying your travel posts as much as I enjoy your food ones!

  2. March 23, 2017 at 8:34 AM #

    Ooooh it sounds like such a wonderful trip and it looks beeeeautiful! Love the tips–I doubt I’ll ever get to Dubai (and even if I did, I’m so curvy trying to dress modestly would probably be tougher for me to do to keep the girls on the down low lol) but pinning just in case!

  3. March 23, 2017 at 9:18 AM #

    Wow – what an amazing trip and certainly one to remember! I’d love to visit Dubai sometime and will have to bookmark this page for future reference. Thanks for all the travel tips!

  4. March 24, 2017 at 12:37 PM #

    Thank you for sharing this – I found it so interesting. My husband has been interested in visiting Dubai and as I learn more, I am also intrigued. Sounds like such a memorable experience. It’s too bad there’s so much craziness going on in the world these days.

  5. March 27, 2017 at 3:04 PM #

    Such a beautiful trip! I love your photos and all the great tips! I hope to visit Dubai one day with my hubby!

  6. March 27, 2017 at 5:10 PM #

    Wow, what a trip! I love your tips and I find it all fascinating! It look like a beautiful city and I hope to visit there on day! I love your pictures too!

  7. March 27, 2017 at 5:24 PM #

    What an awesome trip! It is so fascinating to learn about the different social practices. I love how you tried to be so conscientious 🙂

  8. March 27, 2017 at 6:19 PM #

    What a wonderful trip. On my travel bucket list for sure

  9. March 27, 2017 at 8:24 PM #

    I’m living vicariously through your photos and words. Thanks for taking me to Dubai!

  10. March 27, 2017 at 8:29 PM #

    I’ve always been in awe over the architecture in Dubai as well. Great tips for anyone considering traveling to Dubai!

  11. March 28, 2017 at 1:10 PM #

    What an amazing adventure! I’m stashing this away for when I start my trip to Dubai!

  12. March 28, 2017 at 3:45 PM #

    What an interesting idea! I had no idea they had rules like that. No hand holding. Huh! Definitely sounds like an interesting experience.

  13. March 29, 2017 at 9:15 AM #

    Dubai is on my bucket list! However, I’m like super nervous about the rules. I mean I holding hands when we’re out is just like breathing and I don’t even think about it. I’m accidentally break rules the entire time we were there.

  14. March 31, 2017 at 11:05 PM #

    Wow! What an amazing trip! I would be nervous to travel to Dubai for all of the reasons that you listed. Reading your tips and hearing of your experience makes me much more comfortable with the idea.

  15. April 2, 2017 at 10:51 PM #

    Wow! What a beautiful place! Definitely a bucket list destination!

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