Dubai is well-known for its massive skyscrapers like Burj Khalifa (the tallest building globally, 828 meters or 2,717 ft.) and Marina 101 (residential tower with 425 meters or 1,394 ft.), its shopping malls, its diversified culture, and its commitment to tolerance. I lived in Dubai for three years and learned how to maximize our fun and learning experiences when traveling around Dubai’s metropolis.
16 Things You Must Know to Skyrocket Your Dubai Travel Experience
1. Dress Up Modestly
You’ll find Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, one of the significant GCC countries in the Middle East. As an Arabic country, it has a strong loyalty and dedication to its faith – Islam. Part of the locals’ culture and traditions is to warrant that they’re committed to their Islamic / Shariah law. Hence men wear their Kandura while women wear their Abaya and hijab to encourage modesty, humility, and self-restraint. It is practical to observe and follow dress codes guidelines as a sign of respect and cooperation’s to the country’s Shariah law.
Also Read: 11 Myths about Islam and Muslims
2. Avoid PDA
Public display of affection is not suggested in public when in Dubai. PDA is prohibited even in any other Islamic country. Muslims show their passion for husband or wife privately. In contrast, some places in Dubai tolerate holding of hands of husband and wife, especially when crossing roads/pedestrian, kissing and caressing is considered an offense to public decency.
3. Ask permission before taking pictures
Be cautious when taking pictures, especially when you are in an area that camcorders and cameras are not allowed. Usually, these are government facilities and airports. Always ask consent before taking pictures to prevent any possible offense or privacy violations when you’re not in any tourist spots.
4. Follow national and local laws and guidelines
Dubai strictly promotes to follow given policies, guidelines, and regulations to assure peace and order. It is expected not only for locals but for all non-locals to observe and follow both their Secular and Shariah laws. Here are some of the standard policies in Dubai.
- Use of facemask in public nowadays due to pandemic crisis
- No jaywalking instead strictly uses of pedestrians
- Men are expected not to use the Women and Children sections in metro trains and buses
- Not chewing of gums or eating inside the metro trains or buses
- No PDAs
- Following traffic regulations when driving
- No loitering or littering in public especially at night
- Avoid smoking in non-smoking areas
5. Strictly follow Alcohol guidelines
Alcohol is not widely available in Dubai. There are licensed restaurants and establishments where you can buy and drink alcohol. Muslims prefer halal food; hence alcohol and pork are strictly regulated.
Also Read: I’m a Christian – Recommending Halal Food
6. Always bring your ID
When in Dubai, keep your IDs (passport and visa copy) with you when traveling as a tourist. These are your identification as an individual in case authorities will check you. Do not be afraid when the police checked on you because this is their regular practice. They want to ensure that both locals and non-locals are safe. Prevent possible intruders from doing dangerous act to people. Police are kind and approachable. Around Burj Khalifa and other tourist areas, police even bring their beautiful police cars, and the public can take pictures.
7. Many establishments accept card payments
Aside from cash, many establishments in Dubai accept card payments, both debit and credit cards. I only keep 5-10 dirhams when traveling, but mostly I use a card when making transactions. It’s one of the conveniences the metropolis offers to its people.
8. All SIM cards are to be registered
When you buy a SIM card, don’t get shocked when they asked you for your passport and visa copy. It’s required by the government to have all SIM cards registered before use. Authorities want to ensure safety and easy contact tracing in case of emergency. The life of your SIM card depends on your visa expiration date. Hence, you can renew the registration when you have a renewed visa. There are two telecoms (1) Etisalat and (2) DU.
9. Keep a NOL card
NOL card is a lifesaver! It’s what you use to pay your metro train, trams, and bus rides. NOL cards come in different colors and use. Here are the two major cards:
Silver NOL – it’s the typical card use by the public. It automatically calculates the cost of your trip and deducts it from your balance. You can get it at a low price and use it immediately. You may use it on all forms of transport, Dubai public parks, Etihad Museum, and 2000+ shops across Dubai.
Gold NOL – I called it a privilege card because it allows you to ride on Gold Class cabin in Metro and tram. It is also valid on all transport modes, Dubai public parks, Etihad Museum, and 2000+ shops across Dubai.
For more details, you can visit the NOL card official site – HERE.
10. Check the Islamic Calendar
It’s better always to check the Islamic Calendar, so you are fully aware of what to expect. For example, during Ramadan, there’s a strict regulation regarding eating between sunrise to sunset. It is because that’s the period when Muslims are fasting. Most food establishments are closed until 7 PM or are strictly regulated. Drinking in public is during Ramadan is considered offensive, as well as not dressing up modesty.
11. Best to visit between October to March
I suggest you plan a visit to Dubai between October to March because this is when seasonal theme parks are open. It is also the period when most huge sales, various perks, and GITEX are happening. It’s the best time to roam because this is when the temperature is starting to wane. December to early March is the wintertime.
12. Weekends are Friday-Saturday
Yes, Fridays and Saturday are the weekends. The business starts on Sunday and ends on Thursday. During Fridays, you will see Muslim men walks with their prayer mats towards the nearest community mosque. Fridays are for their religious service. You’ll hear the call of prayers siren around the neighborhood, and it’s so surreal.
After prayers, you’ll see families and friends going out usually in the parks, beaches, and malls to have quality time. It’s a great way to end weekends and prepare for the coming weekdays.
13. Shops Limitless
Dubai is well-known for its gigantic malls too. Imagine a vast human-made aquarium inside a mall. Imagine an indoor ski resort with 22,500 square meters of indoor ski area inside a mall. Yes, they all have these kinds of unbelievably excellent indoor facilities. Endless shops you can choose. The four best shopping malls in Dubai:
- Dubai Mall (DM) is the world’s largest and visited mall with a total internal floor area of 5.9 million square feet. There are taxis inside which you can ride when you’re tired of walking. 😁 It is the home of Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, a 270-degree walk-through tunnel for a beautiful, immersive experience of the deep sea. The mall has over 1200 retail stores, including Valentino, Gucci, Chanel, Ralph Lauren, and Alexander McQueen.
- Mall of the Emirates (MOE) – this mall has 2.4 million square feet of retail floor space. MOE has a complete array of Fashion Dome and Luxury Wing. Its shops include Centrepoint, DKNY, Boutique 1, Forever 21, Kate Spade New York, and Apple. MOE is the home of Ski Dubai, an indoor ski resort with 22,500 square meters of the indoor ski area.
- BurJuman Mall – the mall includes high brands likes Louis Vuitton, Bvlgari, H&M, Charles & Keith, and Burberry.
- Ibn Battuta Mall (Ibn) is one of my favorites because of its external and internal design. I call it the museum mall. The mall is segmented, and each segment has a name of some world’s famous countries—Architectured according to the country they represent. Countries include India, China, Persia, Egypt, Tunisia, and Andalusia. It’s like touring around the world.
14. Learn Basic Words and Phrases
It’s cool to know useful words and phrases you can use to connect with the locals or its residents as a tourist. Arabic, Urdu, and Hindi are the most extensive language people use but mostly knows how to speak English. Here are some useful words and phrases you might want to keep in mind.
- Maharba – Hello / Welcome
- Shukraan – Thank you
- Yalla – Let’s go
- Khalas – done / OK / alright / finish / enough / stop it
- Habibi – friend / love / dear
- Shukriya – Thank you
- Bhai – Older brother
- Acha – Yes / OK
- Nahi – No
- Kya haal hai? – How are you?
Also Read: 15 Must-Know Words When in Middle East
15. Install 2GIS (online / offline Map)
It’s good to have and use Google Maps to navigate Dubai’s metropolis, but it’s better to have 2GIS installed on your phone. 2GIS is both an online and an offline map for Dubai. You will have full access to per building wise; like names of companies and contacts, details are available. You will see which roads have toll gate, distances, and options of routes you can take to point A to point B. It will give you suggestions which public transport to ride, how much the possible payment, etc. The best part is, it works even is you don’t have data.
16. Diversified Culture
What I love Dubai is its diversified culture. It promotes tolerance and let its people live happily and free. I met several nationalities like Africans, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Indians, Filipino, Chinese, Koreans, Americans, Australians, Italians, and many more. It’s fascinating when you go to hypermarkets like Carrefour because you’ll see varieties of food and commodities according to nationalities. People are open-minded and happily exchanging ideas and thoughts without heated arguments. There were instances that problems may occur, but because of people having high discipline culture, they can resolve issues quickly.
There you have it; I hope I have shed light and ideas of what to expect and whatnot when you will visit Dubai. There are more I can share with you with my next blogs! I would say that traveling is a great teacher because it offers extraordinary experiences. It teaches us to discover ourselves when we are outside our home and comfort zone. The best part is you will meet various walks of life that will inspire you to look at the brighter side of the horizon despite differences and life’s hardship. Like I always say, life is hard, but it’s still beautiful. And when you travel, it will be more beautiful!
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