Pack your bags and prepare yourself for a very long flight, but there is no doubt, if you’re traveling to Dubai, it will be the trip of a lifetime. I’ve always wanted to visit this magical faraway desert oasis. After spending six nights there, I’m so glad I took the journey because I had a fabulous time. With so many attractions, sites, and things to do, Dubai may seem a bit overwhelming. And because you’ll likely be on a plane traveling for 24 hours before you reach your destination, you have to make sure you plan your trip accordingly. Since winning the IHG Epic Vacation Contest, I made Dubai my first stop, and it was the perfect location to start a truly epic year of traveling. So here’s everything you need to know to plan your fabulous trip to Dubai.
Knowing what to expect before you arrive at your destination is so important. As in any location, the city’s vibe will determine what you should pack, the type of activities to plan, and where to stay. I chatted with a friend who once lived in the UAE, who gave me a quick overview of what to expect, and this information was so valuable that I wanted to share it with you.
Dubai is not a walking city; however, it reminds me a bit of Las Vegas, sans the gambling. Because tourism is their most significant export, attracting people from all over the world, everything in Dubai is over the top just like in Vegas! The skyscrapers are massive, the service is top-notch, and there is always something to do.
Before my trip, I worried about my safety in a different culture far from home. However, there was nothing to worry about. Dubai is very safe, the people are friendly, and my traveling companion and I felt comfortable being out during the day or night. As with any city when you are traveling, if you aren’t familiar with the surroundings, be respectful and don’t allow yourself to get too crazy. Many people visit Dubai from other cultures, so with a variety of visitors, you will not feel out of place.
Dubai has similar restrictions as in the U.S. concerning COVID. Upon arrival, you need to show a negative PCR test; however, you do not need to show any vaccination proof once you are in the country. Most venues are open and seating close to 100% occupancy, except for some dance clubs and similar places.
Where to Stay
Hotel options are endless, although keep in mind that even the most standard American hotels may seem like a luxury in Dubai. The sky is the limit when it comes to price. Opt to stay in the uber-luxurious “7-star” accommodations of the Burj al Arab, which will set you back around $1700 a night. However, if you don’t have a Beyonce budget, there are plenty of gorgeous properties at every price point to fit your budget.
Intercontinental Dubai Marina
When I saw the photos of the Intercontinental Dubai Marina, I knew I had to stay there. This gorgeous hotel is in the perfect location to visit the sites, featuring a picturesque marina backdrop adorned with yachts and colorful lights in the evening. The staff was exceptional; the first-class service from the moment we walked in made our stay even more memorable. Our spacious room included both a balcony and separate glass-enclosed tub and shower.
The hotel has many dining options, but I recommend you upgrade your room to include the club lounge access if your budget allows it. In the lounge, breakfast, afternoon tea, cocktails, and evening canapes are all included. Let me tell you that I’ve been to my fair share of lounges, but this one blew everywhere else out of the water. Our waiter, Sanjay, and the entire staff went above and beyond every moment we were there, including preparing a special GF meal for my travel buddy every visit. The club lounge is located on the 38th floor with terrace views of the entire city and should not be missed.
What to Do
Think of anything you like to do, and I can pretty much guarantee that you will be able to do it in Dubai. Of course, every high fashion designer has a store there and any cuisine you like is available, but if you want to take things to another level and, say, skydive over a man-made island, you can do that too. Want to ski indoors when it is 99°F outside? Well, I’ve got the spot for you. We didn’t go crazy and try to fill up every minute of each day, but we did plan some fun and cultural things to do during each day of our stay. Here are my top recommendations of things to do when visiting Dubai:
The weekend in Dubai starts on Friday. I am not suggesting that you plan your entire trip around this event, but if you happen to be in town, Friday Brunch is undoubtedly not to be missed. It’s an all-afternoon, 1:00-4:30 P.M., unlimited food and drink extravaganza, with an after-party option once the first part is over. Every restaurant has a different spin on their brunch, but one thing is for sure: you will have a great time and need a nap afterward. Make a reservation in advance because places serving Friday Brunch will book up. See highlights from our brunch at Flair 5 at the Ritz-Carlton, and if you are looking for a few other options, be sure to check some recommendations here.
A trip to Dubai wouldn’t be complete without a safari in the desert. Our tour guide picked us up from the hotel in a luxury SUV. When we arrived in the desert, we switched vehicles and ventured out in a vintage Land Rover. The tour also included a camel ride, a traditional Arabic drum show, and a delicious, four-course dinner. This experience was the highlight of the trip! Our tour guide, Jay from Platinum Heritage tours, was the perfect host and so informative. A few companies operate similar tours, but I recommend going with Platinum Heritage because of our fantastic experience.
If you are traveling to Dubai before March 31, 2022, you must plan a visit to the Expo 2020. The World Expo has been running since 1851, and this is its first time to debut in the Middle East. Bringing together entertainment, culture, sustainability, and innovation, the site grounds include pavilions from 191 countries, 200 food options, and so much more. Stop by the Morocco and Netherlands pavilion; they don’t disappoint. The experience was educational, visually stimulating, and honestly, nothing like I have ever seen before. More information and tickets are available here.
Shopping is always fun on vacation, but when I tell you to go the malls in the Dubai, you will be doing so much more than just trying on clothes. You don’t have to visit all of the malls, but do not leave the UAE without seeing at least one of the following:
- The Dubai Mall—Located right across the street from the tallest building in the world, The Burj Khalifi, this mall features an aquarium, ice skating rink, and every designer store, and starting at 6:00 P.M., everyone’s attention is drawn to the fountain, which features a spectacular water show that would put the Bellagio’s to shame.
- Mall of the Emirates—You will find designer stores galore at this mall and a plethora of dining options, as well as an indoor ski slope and resort.
- Souk Madinat Jumeirah—This shopping plaza combines the delight of an old style market in the middle of modern Dubai. You can buy items that would normally appear in a traditional souk and enjoy much more, including plenty of restaurants and gondola rides.
- Ain Dubai (aka: the Dubai Eye)—The newest world’s largest Ferris wheel gives visitors a spectacular view of the city in a 30-minute ride.
- Palm Island—Often called the eighth wonder of the world, this man-made island is a modern wonder and houses the Atlantis Resort at its tip.
- Beach Clubs—Keep the party going at a beach club and enjoy some fun in the sand. Try Nikki Beach or other hot spots listed here.
How to Get Around
I mentioned earlier that Dubai is not a walking city, mostly because it is 100°F outside even in the shade and every day is sunny. Therefore, I don’t recommend trying to get around on foot. Uber is available at an affordable price and will get you around the city with no problem. You can also take a taxi. Taxis are metered, and you can pay by cash or credit card. The metro or train system is also an inexpensive, safe, and reliable way to get around the city. We took it to the Mall, and another stop will take you to the Expo.
What to Wear
Other than the fact that it is hot outside and I wanted to stay cool, I had no idea what to wear while in Dubai. Prior to my trip, I was nervous about appearing conservative enough for the culture, but that was not necessary. After speaking with my friend, he assured me that I could wear anything I would typically wear in the U.S. I opted for shorts and sundresses in the day, and dressier options for evening dinners, although you could easily keep it causal depending on your plans. Because Dubai is known for luxury, feel free to bring all of your designer clothes and look as fashionable as you like.
Dubai is just the beginning of my epic adventures thanks to IHG, and it was a fantastic spot to kick them off! If you’re thinking about traveling to the Middle East, be sure to visit Dubai—you won’t regret it. Any questions about travels to the Vegas of the Middle East? Be sure to leave them in the comments!