It’s easy to dismiss Dubai as a land of excess: excessive shopping, excessive high-rise buildings, and certainly excessive sun (the average temperature high year-round is 92 degrees Fahrenheit). But it’s also excessively fascinating. A blend of old and new, Dubai shows how quickly a city can change if it just sets its mind to it. This isn’t the place it was 50 years ago. It isn’t even the place it was a decade ago.
In fact, it’s probably transforming as you read this.
That kind of rapid rebirth is worth witnessing. Buoyed by its relatively newfound reputation as a cosmopolitan destination, Dubai has begun attracting visitors in spades. If you’ve never visited the Middle East, this can serve as a great gateway—the United Arab Emirates city is peaceful, progressive and multicultural, traits that aren’t always abundant in this part of the world.
Want to bask in Dubai’s luxuriousness? Read on.
As long as you’re staying for less than 30 days and have a valid passport for more than six months, you don’t need to obtain a visa prior to leaving the United States for the UAE.
There are multiple airline carriers that travel to Dubai. With Emirates, you can fly nonstop from Sea-Tac to Dubai International Airport (DXB), which takes about 14 hours. You can also get a connecting flight with a host of airlines, but pay attention to flight times, as the journey can sometimes stretch to a day or so just one way—something to consider when planning how long to be gone.
Once you arrive, taxis are the most popular way to get around, but the metro is another option. You can rent a car too, although it’s likely only a good idea if driving is necessary in your itinerary. Here, traffic is bad and accident rates are high. Female travelers might be interested in pink-roofed taxis, intended for ladies only and driven by fellow women.
What to Do
Beaches, shopping malls and indulgent dinners, oh my—Dubai is every bit the extravagant getaway you’ve heard about.
Where to start? Jump right in with a dizzying display of glittering gold at the Gold Souk, where one sparkly necklace after another will catch your attention. If you think that’s over the top, it’s time to head to the world’s tallest building, the 2,717-foot Burj Khalifa. (For comparison purposes, it’s almost three times taller than Seattle’s Columbia Center.) On level 148, experience the world’s highest outdoor observation deck. Come back down to earth and visit Dubai Museum, located in the circa-1787 Al Fahidi Fort, for a look at the city pre-boom. Learn about life in the desert, traditional Arab households, pearl diving and much more.
That only scratches the surface, of course—caviar spa treatments, splash-happy water parks, dinner cruises, choreographed water fountain shows and desert safaris with spectacular sunset views are just a sampling of the activities that await.
Although the UAE is far more tolerant than other Middle Eastern countries, there are still significant differences in culture compared with the West. For example, alcohol is not allowed to be consumed publicly, and there’s a zero-tolerance policy for drinking and driving. Dress is more modest. Women do not need to cover their heads in general, but should do so before entering a mosque. The left hand is considered unclean, so it’s not appropriate to eat with it. Public displays of affection should be avoided. Brush up on some of these differences before you leave—not only will it show respect for the place you’re visiting, it will keep you from potentially getting into trouble! (Jail time for making an impolite gesture in traffic would certainly put a damper on your vacation.)
A little research beforehand combined with a sense of curiosity will serve you well as you discover Dubai, one of the Middle East’s most intriguing destinations.