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A traveling insider’s guide to Dubai

A shimmering desert playground with a futuristic-looking skyline that’s home to the world’s tallest building, Dubai is on a mission to entertain everyone who visits. | By Joanna Tweedy | August 24, 2022

Few destinations can rival Dubai for sun-drenched vacation fun. This UAE metropolis has enhanced its natural beauty — including clear waters and golden sandy beaches — with a mesmerizing carousel of shopping malls, waterparks, luxury hotels and gourmet restaurants.

Check out our top tips for getting the best from the desert city:

  • Jet in for year-round sun: Dubai’s subtropical climate promises blue skies and warm temperatures whenever you visit

  • Explore the dunes: Go dune bashing in the arid lands that surround Dubai

  • Respect local customs: Dubai opens its arms to tourists but it’s important to respect local customs when visiting

Why visit Dubai?

Dubai, the second largest and best known of the seven United Arab Emirates (UAE), sits on the Persian Gulf coast and has transformed over centuries from a modest fishing village into a thriving metropolis and travel destination. The bold architecture is certainly the first thing to hit visitors who fly into Dubai International Airport. There’s the mighty Burj Khalifa — at 2,722 feet (828 meters) high, it’s the world's tallest building — and let's not forget the Dubai Frame, which presents a perfect commentary on the city’s old and new developments.

Glamorous supercars and hotel helipads almost feel normal here, and the city’s mantra is a masterclass in “build it and they will come.” A throng of water and theme parks, vast high-end shopping malls, five-star hotels and spas, and even an indoor ski resort add to the Emirate's tourism figures, with most visitors opting to stay around the Marina, Jumeirah and downtown neighborhoods.

Shopping is practically a certified sport in the UAE, with beachside and city malls — including the gargantuan Dubai Mall, one of the largest in the world — stuffed to the gills with couture and high street stores. At the other extreme, the perfume, gold and spice souks found in Deira, one of the city’s oldest quarters, are just as hypnotic, though you may need to haggle.

Oh, and don’t forget to pencil in a night for sampling local cuisine — trust us, you won’t be disappointed.

When is the best time to visit Dubai?

The UAE is a travel destination where air-conditioning is your best friend, whatever time of year you visit. Thankfully, it’s everywhere — even in the bus stops. Dubai enjoys more than 300 days of sunshine a year but the summer months — when the mercury can hover at over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) — can prove a little too stifling for some. If you can handle the heat, however, these months are also when you’ll find the best hotel prices.

Alternatively, visit the Emirates in autumn, spring and winter to bask in a subtropical climate that rarely dips below 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius) during the day. Winter nights might command a light sweater but it’s perfectly feasible to dine al fresco comfortably in January.

Getting to and around Dubai

Dubai welcomes visitors from all over the world, and for short trips you don't even need a visa to make this buzzing city your final destination. Dubai International Airport, one of the world’s busiest, is a slick affair, with links to the city — just 3.1 miles (5 kilometers) away — taking 20 minutes by taxi or a 25-minute Metro ride.

Once you've arrived, taxis and public transport are the easiest way to travel around the city. Government-run taxis are cream-colored with a red roof, although some have a pink roof, which indicates a female driver for women traveling alone or with children. Ride-hailing services are also available.

The two-line Dubai Metro can whisk you to your destination quickly, with services every ten minutes, and there are also efficient bus and tram systems. Dubai’s looping highways weren’t designed with pedestrians in mind, so save your walking for the malls or the beaches.

Dubai’s cultures and customs

Arabic is Dubai’s official language, although English is widely spoken, and the Emirati dirham is the currency you’ll need when you’re here.

Endear yourself to locals by learning a few words of Arabic: “marhaba” means hello, while “ma'assalamah” means goodbye.

Tipping is appreciated, but not compulsory, in the United Arab Emirates. The service you’ll enjoy is likely to be of such a high standard, however, you might well be inclined to part with a few of those dirhams.

A Muslim city, Dubai has a relaxed attitude to swimwear at beach and spa resorts and around hotel pools, but visitors should dress modestly when visiting restaurants or shopping malls. Likewise, public displays of affection — beyond holding hands — and being drunk in public spaces are not allowed. Alcohol is served in most hotels and restaurants aimed at western tourists.

Whether you’re moved by art, architecture or the chance for some spectacular shopping, with its diverse array of things to do, Dubai is one vacation destination that is guaranteed to please.

Joanna Tweedy is an award-winning travel writer and editor who lives in London.

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