Dubai will always be special to us, as it was our very first overseas destination that we visited together, back in 2005. At the time we were young, rookie travellers and the cultural differences that we experienced for the first time, together with the unexpected kindness of strangers that we met in Dubai (read about it here), opened our eyes to the wonderful world of travel and it will always be one of our first positive travel experiences.
Flying with Emirates Airline from Cape Town to Taiwan, it made sense for us to break the trip with a week stopover in Dubai to visit a good friend. We stayed at his apartment on the 15th floor in the Jumeirah Beach Residence area and were happy to have him spend a few days with us showing us around.
TRANSPORT AROUND DUBAI
Until 2016, the Dubai Metro was the world's longest driverless metro network with a route length of 75 kilometres. You can purchase a Dubai Metro card (Nol Card) from any metro station which can be used for the Dubai Metro, Dubai Tram, busses and water busses. The system is divided into 7 zones, is very easy to use and passengers under the age of 5 travel for free. However, while the Dubai Metro is fast and affordable, it does not extend to many of the places you may want to visit. Another important fact to keep in mind is that the metro does not run 24 hours a day – which means that getting to and from the airport in the early morning hours is only really feasible by taxi. Luckily there is no shortage of Taxi’s in Dubai!
The taxi’s all look similar, but with 5 different coloured roofs. These colours represent the various companies, however, the only colour which has much significance is the pink top taxi’s which are driven by female taxi drivers specifically suited for female passengers who prefer not to travel with a male driver. Taxi’s all use a metered system and are fairly affordable. All taxi’s accept debit and credit cards, although you should check that the machine is working prior to departing. You can also use the Uber App, which will deliver the same vehicle as hailing a taxi next to the side of the road!
The Dubai Abras are not only a great way to cross the Dubai Creek, they are also a fantastic way to surround yourself with locals and view the Dubai Creek from a different vantage point. At AED1 per person per ride, who can resist!
THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN DUBAI:
Desert Safari – There are so many of these to choose from, you might not know where to begin. Generally, you will get what you pay for, but that being said, it is definitely not necessary to break the bank to have a really great time. We did this back in 2005 and it was definitely a highlight of our travels. Our advice would be to check reviews online and go with a reputable company as you do want a skilled driver when 4x4’ing through the sand dunes at speed! Most tours will include dune riding, camel rides, henna tattoos and a desert banquet with traditional dancing.
Burj Khalifa – At 828m tall, the iconic Burj Khalifa is hard to miss. Currently the tallest building in the world, you can either simply enjoy the beauty of the building from The Dubai Mall for free or you can visit the observation deck on level 124 or At The Top Sky Lounge on the 148th floor. A good time to view the Burj Khalifa from The Dubai Mall is after sundown as every half hour there is a musical fountain display which is quite impressive.
The Dubai Mall – With too many fashion outlets to possibly mention, what makes The Dubai Mall unique in our opinion is the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo which has a huge glass façade facing into the mall which allows for a great limited but free viewing (especially if you happen to pass by at feeding time). The choreographed outdoor fountains are also well worth watching as they dance in front of the Burj Khalifa on every half hour from sundown till 11 pm.
Palm Jumeirah – While this man-made island in the shape of a palm tree is best viewed from the air, should you wish to, the mainland’s monorail tram does run down the ‘trunk’ of the tree.
Dubai Creek – Now often overshadowed by the new and glamorous, the Dubai Creek will always remain the real heart of the city. It is a great place to get a feel for the old Dubai as you watch the daily life of locals. The best way to experience the creek is to cross from one side to the other with a Dubai Abra (traditional boat). While you are there, be sure to grab delicious shawarma from one of the vendors along the creek.
Dubai Museum – This small but authentic museum is housed in the oldest existing building in the city, the Al Fahidi Fort, and is well worth visiting to learn about the history of Dubai.
Gold, Spice & Textile Souks – Although being overrun with tourists and hard-selling touts, walking through the old traditional gold and spice souks is something you have to experience when visiting Dubai for the first time. The elaborate yellow gold jewellery and fragrant spices are a glimpse into the rich Arabian culture of Dubai.
JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence) Beach and Walk – Walking along the boardwalk of the JBR Beach, you may well find yourself wondering if you have been transported to the West Coast of America! You will find every American brand café and diner that you can think of and the vibe is distinctly one of a holiday/resort town. The beach itself is a long, sandy one with calm waters and plenty of water activities to keep the whole family entertained. Whether this is your scene or not, it’s a fun place to enjoy the sun setting behind the new Ferris wheel on Bluewaters Island.
Kite Beach – This is not only the perfect spot for water sport, it also gives a beautiful view of the Burj Al Arab.
Dubai Marina – The world’s largest man-made marina boasts a 7km walkway which is both a peaceful place to stroll or run and home to a vibrant night-time food truck scene outside The Dubai Marina Mall. If you have the budget, there are plenty of cruises available to enjoy the Dubai Marina from the water.
Old Dubai – Just strolling through the old streets of old town Dubai is an experience in its own. As you venture from alley to alley, the street side vendors wares change from textiles to electronics and everything in between.
Amusement Parks & Entertainment – There are numerous entertainment and theme parks (both indoor and outdoor) which keep up to date with the latest technology. We enjoyed our first Virtual Reality Game of Ghostbusters at Hub Zero.
Dubai Frame – Constructed to tell “A tale of two cities”, the Dubai Frame does just that. Situated in Zabeel Park. between old and new Dubai, the towering 150m tall frame structure offers sweeping panoramic views of the ‘old Dubai’ to the one side and the contrasting ‘new Dubai’ to the other side. And if the frame itself is not impressive enough, you can’t help but marvel at the ‘smart glass’ walkway overhead which transforms as one moves over the glass from opaque to translucent which giving one the sensation of being suspended 150m high above the ground! While you are in the area. Zabeel Park itself is a lovely and peaceful green place to take a stroll through and relax.
Burj Al Arab – While not an exceptionally tall building, the Burj Al Arab is iconic to the skyline of Dubai as this landmark is said to be designed to represent the sail of a dhow. While the Skyview bar offers an expensive but impressive view for a drink, a great place to get a good view of the Burj Al Arab is from Jumeirah Public Beach.
Jumeirah Mosque – This is said to be Dubai’s most beautiful mosque and is one of only a handful of mosques in the UAE that is open to non-Muslims. Be sure to check the open hours for visitors before your visit.
Skydive Dubai – For the adventure enthusiasts, Skydive Dubai has two locations (desert and palms) where you can tandem skydive. If you’re not brave enough to take the jump, you can watch them land from JBR Beach.
2nd December St – This quiet street turns into a lively walking strip after dark where you can enjoy upmarket street food as well as marvel at the murals of the Dubai Street Museum project of 2016.
Ibn Battuta Mall – Dubai is full of huge, glamorous malls filled with expensive boutique-style shops. But if you’re looking for something a little more authentic and interesting, head to the Ibn Battuta Mall, which consists of six themed courts (China, Persia, Egypt, India, Tunisia,
Mall of the Emirates – Each mall in Dubai has something which makes it unique. The Mall of the Emirates is home to Ski Dubai where you can experience an indoor ski resort. Whilst the entire setup is, of course, impressive and can be viewed from within the mall, the experience is most suitable for kids.
Waterparks – Dubai has many fun-filled waterparks such as Wild Wadi and La Mer to name just a few.
XLine – If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, the XLine zip line allows you to zoom over the Dubai Marina in superman style at speeds of up to 80 kilometres per hour.
OLD vs NEW Dubai:
The old Dubai is most certainly home to a rich cultural heritage and walking through these streets will arouse your senses to the Arabian way of life. But time has not stood still in Dubai and the new Dubai is a shining example of this. A booming metropolis which seems to be under constant construction as it ever expands, there is nothing lacking in the glamorous new areas of Dubai. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Jumeirah Beach Residence Area, but to really experience Dubai, the old town is where the culture can be felt. While there is absolutely no shortage for fine dining in Dubai, we also really appreciate stumbling upon delicious shawarmas and fresh fruit juices in the side streets of old Dubai.