Dubai Travel Guide For First Time Visitors

48 Hours In Dubai

Dubai is a city like no other. Whether you’re there for business or are exploring the sunny city for a few days, the jewel in the United Arab Emirates’ crown has plenty to offer. Once considered nothing more than a convenient layover destination, in recent years Dubai has developed into a full-fledged vacation spot with so much to see and do for travellers of all ages.

From world-class hotels and restaurants to a burgeoning cultural scene to a lengthy list of flashy tourist attractions, here are a few recommendations to make sure you have a magnificent experience in Dubai—no matter how much time or money you’re spending there.

Getting there

Above: A view of the Dubai skyline and the man-made Palm Islands from the air

First things first. With more than 7,000 flights arriving weekly from almost every continent around the globe (except Antarctica), you have a wide range of options to choose from when flying to Dubai. Emirates, of course, is the crown jewel of flying and a guaranteed way to start your trip off on the right foot. The luxury airline is renowned for its spacious business and first class ‘cabins,’ with each configuration offering aisle access and its own minibar. When you’re ready to stretch your legs, head back to mingle with other passengers in the Onboard Lounge and enjoy canapés, champagne and premium cocktails.

Not flying in business or first class? Don’t worry…even the airline’s economy seats are notably spacious, offering plenty of leg room.

Passengers in all classes can enjoy Wi-Fi, gourmet cuisine, extraordinary service, and Emirates’ award-winning entertainment system ICE (Information, Communications, Entertainment), which features more than 3,000 channels of movies, TV shows, games and music.

Of course, the perks don’t have to end there…. One of the really nice things about flying in business or first class with Emirates (to and from major markets like Dubai) is its Chauffeur-Drive Service, which will pick you up at the location of your choice and whisk you to the airport.

Where to stay

Above: The grand lobby and the extraordinary marble mosaic at the Palazzo Versace
Above: The grand lobby and the extraordinary marble mosaic at the Palazzo Versace

The glamorous Palazzo Versace in the heart of Dubai is as spectacular as one could imagine. Inspired by a 16th-century Italian palace, it greets visitors with Versace’s trademark Medusa head on the floor of the grand lobby (the design is made up of 1.5 million marble tiles). The fashion-forward hotel is filled with exquisite Italian furnishings, and sketches of designs from the Atelier Versace haute couture collection line the corridors. Every inch of the hotel has the ambience of pure Versace glamour. The Palazzo Versace also boasts one of the finest Persian restaurants in the city: Enigma, which features cuisine inspired by the Iranian origins of Michelin-starred Executive Chef Mansour Memorial.

What to see and do

Above: The world’s highest building: the Burj Khalifa
Above: The world’s highest building: the Burj Khalifa

The biggest! The tallest! The fastest! The crown jewel of the Arabian Desert has made a name for itself in recent years with a series of flashy structures to attract tourists. Of course, a visit to the world’s highest building—the Burj Khalifa—should be at the top of your list. Standing 828 metres high, it dominates the Dubai skyline. On a clear day, take the elevator up to the observation deck on level 124 (the ride takes a mere 56 ear-popping seconds) and get ready to experience some unforgettable, vertigo-inducing panoramic views.

Outside of the Burj Khalifa, make sure you stop to watch the world’s largest choreographed water fountain show. This popular dancing water extravaganza jets water streams as high as 150 metres into the air to various beloved musical numbers from around the world.

Other attention-grabbing, snap-worthy structures spread across the city include the world’s tallest hotel (JW Marriott Marquis Dubai) and the world’s largest artificial island (the Palm Jumeirah)—but the real heart of the city is the Creek, the original centre of the city. Spend an afternoon strolling through the labyrinthine alleyways and traditional markets before going for a short ride across the water on a traditional wooden abra (water taxi), the real way to see the Creek. The fare is just 1 dirham (about $0.35 CAD)!

Dubai has many splendid mosques, but Jumeirah Mosque is a must-visit place. This beautiful mosque prides itself on its ‘Open Doors. Open Minds’ policy and welcomes non-Muslim guests six days a week; Fridays excluded.

And what visit to Dubai would be complete without experiencing the Arabian Desert, the city’s original tourist attraction. Travel less than a 20-minute drive from downtown Dubai, and you can take a desert safari Dubai-style with Arabian Adventures. Enjoy a little off-roading, followed by traditional barbecues, belly dancing performances and camel rides.

Where to shop

Above: The traditional markets of Dubai: Explore a wide range of textile, gold and spice souks
Above: The traditional markets of Dubai: Explore a wide range of textile, gold and spice souks

Get your shop on in the heart of the city at the epic Dubai Mall (just steps away from the Burj Khalifa). This is the largest mall in the world by total area, with over 13 million square feet (equivalent in size to more than 50 football fields) of shops and restaurants. Along with its 1,200-plus shops and 150 restaurants, the Dubai Mall is also home to an indoor theme park, an ice rink, a huge indoor waterfall, a giant Aquarium and an Underwater Zoo—you could literally spend days here!

If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by the sheer size of the Dubai Mall, enjoy some down time in the spice, textile and gold souks in the Creek area. A must for any shopping enthusiast… But, be prepared for a bit of friendly haggling to land the best deals.

Where to eat

Above: Ravi restaurant, the popular, unassuming eatery serving up an array of traditional Pakistani & Indian fare
Above: Ravi restaurant, the popular, unassuming eatery serving up an array of traditional Pakistani & Indian fare

Souk-side cafes, Michelin-starred super restaurants…and everything in between. After all, the best way to experience Dubai may be through your stomach.

Take a break from the afternoon sun and stop by the Arabian Tea House Café in the historic Al Fahidi neighbourhood for a casual bite, and let the buzz of the city fade away as you dine in the leafy courtyard. At night, try Thiptara (which means ‘magic at the water’), a restaurant underneath the Burj Khalifa that boasts spectacular views of the Burj Lake: you can watch the magical evening fountain shows while enjoying a mix of Royal Thai cuisine and decadent Bangkok-style seafood.

If you want to get away from the five-star restaurants (and there are a lot of them), take a stroll along the historic 2nd December Street in downtown Dubai in search of Ravi Restaurant. There’s nothing grand about Ravi (think plastic tablecloths and polystyrene cups), but you will find a menu of Pakistani food that rivals any restaurant in the city. A restaurant worth seeking out, and returning to, as many Dubai residents with the means to dine anywhere will tell you.

Note: Alcohol in Dubai is restricted to licensed hotels and select restaurants.

Tags: Dubai, travel, Travel Guide, travel tips

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