Dubai. Mhmm….Honestly, it was never my first choice of holiday destination but I ended up spending all 7 nights there. How did this happen?🤔
My reluctance to visit Dubai was based on ‘’oh, there isn’t much to see; there are only skyscrapers in the dessert’’. Was I wrong? Follow my journey in Dubai and decide it for yourself.
Our departure was disrupted by the storm. The night before we were informed that our connecting flight would be delayed but still we would make the main flight. Just then we parked at the airport, the text message arrived saying all our flights were cancelled (!!!). There isn’t much you can do in such situations- just stay calm, hope for the best and of course be familiar with your rights as a passenger (more info here). KLM airlines were brilliant and got us on the direct flight with Emirates (top tips on booking flights here). Arriving in style and just an hour later than originally planned😎
The first day in Dubai was all about the Marina and the beach because we needed ☀ and escape from the not so pleasant rainy autumn weather in the UK. Before heading to the beach we took the Palm Monorail (30AED return) through the Palm Jumeirah Island and to the Atlantis hotel. We saw documentary how the Palm Jumeirah was made several years ago and seeing it with your own eyes and from higher up was interesting to say the least.
Maybe it was the sun or the heat but I honestly didn't understand why people where crazy about the Atlantis hotel. Yes, it looks beautiful. Yes, it is expensive. Yes, it has Aqua Park and dolphinarium (both expensive). So if you are not staying there or planning to use their facilities, why? While we were walking along the marina in the Palm Jumeirah several tourist busses stopped for people just to take pictures of the hotel building and then drove off. Well, I guess it is a sightseeing place; better to take a picture then
The heat hit us like a wall on the first day, so we were ready to cool down in the Jumeirah Residence public beach (see below about beaches) 🏖 I would like to stay we cooled down but the water was nowhere near to being cold. Anyway, we changed and headed for some sugar fix at the Cinnabon, on the JBR walk. Delicious! If you come across Cinnabon, try it.
The JBR walk or 'the walk' runs in parallel with the JBR beach. The area is lovely- tidy, clean and welcoming. It has plenty of shops and restaurants and great place to get lunch or dinner. It looks even better in the evening when lights from hotels and restaurants come to life.
The other walk on the Dubai Marina is the Marina walk. It is 7km walk in the Marina Promenade and most beautiful in the evening. We did it once and came back days later because we loved it so much. The other thing that we liked about it was peace. Restaurants didn’t play loud music there, so you could walk and enjoy the view and calmness. Nice place to have dinner too although a bit pricey.
If you ask people about Dubai downtown, they will tell you three things: Burj Khalifa, Dubai Fountains and Dubai Mall.
The iconic Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the World, 828meters tall. It is three times taller than Eiffel Tower in Paris and almost double the height of the Empire State building in New York. Not only the height of the building but also the scale of the project is fascinating. Total concrete used in the built weights as much as 100,000 elephants. 12,000 (!) workers were engaged everyday during peak construction times. No surprise that it is the top attraction in Dubai. Not everyday you can get as high as 456meters up (125levels). One of the most intriguing facts about the building we found was the water supply. The building requires almost 1million litres of water supply every day. Every day! Where do you get water from in a dessert? The water is pump from the desalinated sea water from the Persian Gulf. Almost 6.8million litres of water a year are 'produced' and collected by the building due to condensation. The water system is soundproofed so you can't hear the water flowing through the building.
Do you want to see two sunsets on the same day? Yes, it is possible. The Burj Khalifa is so tall that you watch the sunset from the base of the building, then get to the top of and watch the sunset all over again.
TOP TIP: Get GROUPON voucher. It was super easy to use, no booking was required, fast-track, tea or coffee & pastry afterwards- all this was a better value than a standard price ticket!
In Dubai everything is largest or biggest and the famous Dubai Fountain is not an exception. It is the world's second largest choreographed fountain system next to the Burj Khalifa. It shoots water up to 152metres into the air accompanied by changing lights and a wide range of music. Lovely sight!
There are no shows in the morning. They start in the afternoon with daily shows at 1pm (except Fridays), 1:30pm, and 2pm (Fridays only) and then evening shows every 30minutes from 6pm to 11pm. We found several good spots to watch the show. One of them was from the Apple store balcony in the Dubai Mall but it gets very busy.
|The Dubai Fountain||Fountains of Bellagio|
|30-acre man-made lake||8-acre man-made lake|
|Shoots water 152metres in the air||Shoots water 140metres in the air|
|6,600 lights||4,500 lights|
|Costs about $218millions||Costs about $40million|
Although the statistics are greater for the Dubai Fountain, we loved both of them! Okay, I may slightly preferred the Fountains of Bellagio as they were the first one I saw and shows were more frequent.
The Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world. Massive! It not only has over 1,000 shops and restaurants but also entertainment like Jurassic period dinosaur skeleton (155million old!!), Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, Ice Rink...
If you are using metro, you will need to go through the Dubai Mall to get to the Dubai Fountain and the entrance to the top of the Burj Khalifa. We aren't fans of shopping but we have still strolled through the mall to look at the exhibits, visit the Dubai Aquarium and have food. The choice of food in the Dubai Mall is vast.
Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo is located in the Dubai Mall and has one of the largest tanks in the world and the largest collection of sand tigers sharks. You can view the main tank for free from the Dubai Mall through the massive acrylic panel. The cheapest ticket gets you to to the aquarium and underwater zoo.
TOP TIP: if you are planning to visit Dubai Aquarium, get a GROUPON voucher. Same as with the Burj Khalifa voucher, it was easy to use it and no booking was required and most importantly it was cheaper.
DUBAI OLD TOWN/ DEIRA
After seeing the shiny and extravagant side of Dubai we wanted to see the older parts of it, i.e Deira. Deira is other side of the Dubai creek. We took metro to the Al Ras metro station and from there headed to the souks.
Gold souks are at the heart of Deira and a popular tourist place. The price of gold in Dubai is one of the cheapest due to lack of taxes. I haven't seen so much gold before in one place! Shop windows displays are full of various shapes, forms and designs of gold jewellery. There is also the largest gold ring on display- Start of Taiba. The ring weights almost 64kg and the cost is estimated to be $3million!
Spice and Textile Souks
After the Gold souks we headed to Spice and Textile Souks. We visited Marrakesh and Thailand before so we were not surprised by the souks, they looked very similar. I love fruity teas so couldn't resist getting some hibiscus tea. The textile souk is on the south side of the Dubai creek. You can get over there with metro or abras. Abra is a traditional wooden water taxi and fare is only 1AED. It is probably one of the oldest modes of transportation in Dubai. It takes only 5minutes to get to the other side of the creek but you can enjoy the breeze and view of the historic Dubai Creek.
After wandering in souks, we went to the Dubai museum. Although it was relatively small, we learned some interesting facts about development of Dubai. It tells the story of the rural and urban lives in Dubai. The museum is situated in the Al Fahidi Fort that has been used for defence, storage of artillery and weapons, and even as a prison for outlaws. I wouldn't say it was a must to do in Dubai but the entrance was only 3AED.
Our last stop in Deira was supposed to be the Heritage Village. On our walk from the water bus station to the heritage village, we stumbled on the House of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum. It was open and free entrance so we went inside to explore what it was. There was a falconry and we met an adorable 3 month old eagle owl (I think). The place was being developed into place where true Arabic experiences could be offered. Sadly, at the moment there were not many, if any at all, in Dubai offering true Arabic experiences. Definitely check the place on your visit. We left the little fellow and carried on to the heritage village but on reaching it we realised that it was closed for refurbishment.
Dubai was not only a city break but also a beach holiday. My verdict on the three popular beaches in Dubai:
JUMEIRAH BEACH RESIDENCE (JBR) PUBLIC BEACH
Clear water, white sand and palms come to mind when you hear the word 'beach'. The JBR public beach has no palms but instead it has camels and skyscrapers in the background. How often can you see camels on the beach?! It is very different beach to the ones I have visited before. Maybe that's why it was my favourite beach in Dubai. It has shower, wc and change facilities; although 2mins of hot shower (cold water is not available) costs 5AED. You can rent beach towels for 20AED too.
It is easy to get to the JBR public beach with metro. Get to Jumeirah Lake Towers or DAMAC metro stop, then take JBR tram to stop 1 or 2 and then walk 5-10 minutes to the beach. After relaxing on the beach and changing (in Dubai you not allowed to walk in beachwear in streets) you can grab lunch on the JBR walk or on the Marina walk.
Al Mamzar Beach Park
Al Mamzar beach is located in Deira and the park has not one but four beaches. Huge territory, 106 hectares to be exact! The entrance to the beach and park is 5AED. Mondays and Wednesdays are ladies only days. It is a lovely beach with yellow sand, clear blue waters, palm and coconut trees. You can easily find shade under the palm trees. As the beach park is huge, you will easily find a more private space. It offers changing rooms, wc, showers and rental of umbrellas, sun loungers etc. You can even have a barbecue in designated areas.
TIP: our hotel did free shuttle bus to the beach and back on daily basis. Other hotels my offer free shuttle bus to this or other beaches. Check at your hotel, if there are free shuttle buses to beaches.
Umm Suqeim Beach 2
This was my least favourite beach. It is located close to the Burj Arab so good place for photos of the luxury hotel, if you fancy. The beach still offers yellow sand and clear blue waters but it is quite small and very close to the main road.
Dubai has a metro system (mostly overground) that covers the main parts of the city. There is even a metro from the airport (extremely handy!). However, the metro closes at midnight (1am on Thursday and Friday). If your flight arrives after midnight, you will need to use a taxi. Most of the days we used metro. The metro unlike in London or New York was very clean, bright and ‘new-looking’. There are separate carriage zones for women and gold (i.e. first class) ticket holders. Women can choose to board zones that are for all (men and women) or for women only. We always hit peak times so rarely got a seat😀
You need to use ‘NOL’ cards to pay for public transport. There are two options for visitors really. The RED ‘NOL’ card costs 2AED and the SILVER ‘NOL’ card costs 25AED with 19AED included for use. The journey rates differ between red and silver ‘NOL’ cards. They are cheaper with the silver card. The RED ‘NOL' card is like a daily travel ticket. If you plan to use public transport a lot, buy the Red ‘NOL’ card; you can add up-to five days daily tickets on the card. The daily ticket with the RED ‘NOL' card is 20AED+ 2AED for the card. The daily ticket includes metro and busses. The silver ‘NOL’ card does not have the daily pass ticket option. You would need to load the card with money and money will be deducted every time you use the metro or a bus. The minimum required to be on the silver ‘NOL’ card is 7AED. You can also buy single or return journey tickets with the RED ‘NOL’ card too. Actually, on some days we bought the daily pass ticket and on some days when we used metro less we bought only single or return tickets. We got a silver ‘NOL' card when we bought bus tickets to Abu Dhabi (our trip is here) and used it afterwards. Don’t ask me why we got the silver ‘NOL’ card with bus tickets. No idea. Overall, metro tickets are cheap in Dubai- £5 for all day ticket, this is 2.5 times less than in London!
Some places like the Burj Arab are too far away from the closest metro station stop (at least in 40C heat!), so you need to use taxies. As I have mentioned in my Abu Dhabi blog, taxies are reasonably priced, safe and fair. They are all metered, so no risk of being overcharged.
We could not miss a day trip to the dessert while visiting Dubai. It was one of the highlights of our holiday. Read my blog here on how to select a budget trip provider and about our experience on the trip to the dessert.