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Dubai is one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. It is rather like an independent city-state and is the most modern and progressive emirate in the UAE, developing at an unbelievable pace in the tourist and trade sectors especially.
A relatively new tourist destination, Dubai was gaining popularity in recent years until the global economic crash of 2008. Dubai is essentially a desert city with superb infrastructure, liberal policies (by regional standards), that became popular for its excellent tourist amenities. Just 5 h from Europe and 3 h from most parts of the Middle East, the Near East, and the subcontinent of India, Dubai makes a great short break for shopping, partying, sunbathing, fine dining, sporting events, and even a few sinful pleasures.
Dubai has an arid sub-tropical climate with very hot, humid summer weather averaging 42 degrees (108F) in the daytime and 28 (84F) at night. Fall and Spring is still rather hot, with daytime temperatures between 25 and 40 degrees (80sF) and nights around 20 degrees (65-75F), with less humidity. Winter weather is pleasant and dry, with daytime highs of 25 (75F) and nighttime lows of 10 degrees (55F). Dubai is known for its beaches, with water temperature in summer getting as hot as 37 degrees (99F). The water temperature tends to be around 20-25 degrees (75F) in winter, and 30 (85F) in spring and fall as outside temperatures rise.
Dubai's main airport is the Dubai International Airport. You can also enter Dubai by using Sharjah International Airport (SHJ) in the nearby emirate of Sharjah and Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) in nearby Abu Dhabi. Frequent visitors from countries granted automatic visa on entry may wish to purchase an e-gate card to speed up immigration formalities and save passport pages.
Dubai International Airport (DXB) is the largest hub in the Middle East and the home base of Dubai's flag carrier Emirates and its low-cost wing FlyDubai. In fact, it has grown at such a furious pace that the present terminals are bursting at the seams, especially during the peak hours around midnight.
The Dubai International Airport has three terminals and another one in the making as of end 2010.
Terminal 1 is the main terminal, used by most major airlines and long-haul flights.
Terminal 2 serves regional and low-cost flights, including all FlyDubai flights.
Terminal 3 is used exclusively by Emirates.
The Government of Dubai operates a network of buses linking Dubai city with the capitals of the other six emirates of the UAE. The buses run under the name Emirates Express and operate from various bus terminals in Dubai.
What to see in Dubai
Al Ahmadiya School, Deira. Built in 1912, this was Dubai's first school and has now been nicely restored. It would be a stretch to call the exhibits of old reed pens and diplomas fascinating, but they've tried pretty hard, and if nothing else, the air-con and clean toilets may come in handy. Free entry.
Bastakiya District. One of the last remaining pockets of Old Dubai, home to many reconstructed buildings in the traditional style. While information on the structures is slim here (see the museum in preference), the atmosphere is very evocative and there are plenty of delightful art galleries and cafes to explore.
Dubai Museum, Al Ibn Abi Talib Road. A must-see for anyone interested in the social history of the Emirate (and indeed the country). A visit starts at the al-Fahidi fort, which has a few examples of the traditional reed houses and other artifacts, but isn't much to look at.
Jumeirah Mosque, Jumeirah Road, Jumeirah 1 (opposite Palm Strip Mall). Is the largest in the city, and a wonderful example of Islamic architecture.
Shindagha District — Home to the open museums of the Heritage Village, and has the home of former Sheikh Rashid Al-Maktoum.
Souks — There are a number of nice souks, or markets, on both sides of the creek that are worth exploring. They sell everything from spices to crafts to very inexpensive tourist t-shirts.
Burj Khalifa. Until recently called Burj Dubai, at 828 metres and 160 floors this is the world's tallest structure by a long shot, over 300m taller than the previous contender in Taipei. The observation deck at the 124th floor is the 2nd highest in the world after the Shanghai World Financial center. Already dominating the Dubai skyline, the newly opened tower houses nine hotels and a Las Vegas-inspired fountain system. The visitors' entrance is located at the lower ground floor of Dubai Mall. Although the tour is called At the Top be aware that it isn't! Although the observation deck is the highest open deck in the world, at 452m it's just over halfway up the tower itself. Console yourself with the knowledge that most of the rest of the tower consists of service areas and the view below looks suitably ant-like. Tickets cost Dhs 125 for a timed entry ticket, usually later the same day, or Dhs 400 if you do not want to wait. Tickets can sell out several days in advance, and it is advisable to book them online ahead of your visit.
Buy in Dubai
Dubai is practically synonymous with shopping. The huge amounts of cargo passing through its port and the low tariffs ensure that practically anything is available at fairly competitive rates, although the appreciation of the Dirham, and the plentiful supply of shoppers means that Dubai is no longer a bargain basement shopping city.
The best things to buy in Dubai are textiles, electronics and gold, electronics is believed to be much cheaper while textiles and gold offer a wide range of selection.
Even in the mega-malls, Dubai shops have no storeroom and no stocks in reserve - and for clothes shopping this may mean that you may struggle to find the style you want in the size you want. Shops open as early as 9AM and stay open to 10PM and on weekends to 12AM and some stay to 1AM.
Remember to haggle in the souks, as discounts are almost always available and even in situations where the item will not become much cheaper, the customer is always expected to "play the game" of haggling. A simple question of "what's your best price?" will often result in a shop-keeper going to extraordinary lengths to sell his stock.
Prices in the malls and other Western shops tend not to be negotiable. Far from being a bad thing, this allows the canny visitor to work out comparative prices for common souvenirs - an invaluable aid when a shop-keeper in a souk is asking for a higher price.
Dubai Shopping Festival has been the biggest shopping event in the middle east since 1996. Almost every shop has a sale, starting in January and ending February. There's also a very similar Dubai Summer Surprises trying to pull in punters during the summer low season.
Satwa — this is a small community much resembling a town, its streets are rowed by textile shops notably opposite the Satwa Mosque ending to the opposite of Satwa clinic. Most of the people flock to Satwa for their textiles, you might sometimes catch offers and discounts but if you don't do so try bargaining the price, this is what most locals do, even if you're a tourist convince the salesman to give you a discount, bargain till you get the lowest price available. Not only is Satwa a hub for textile shops; some tailoring shops on the corners are also found if you want a dress made as soon as possible after purchasing the raw materials. Raw silk might also be available in some shops. Because of the row of textile shops, it might be Dubai's version of Little India and Little Manila as many Indians reside in this district as well as Filipinos.
Gold Souk— Not a mall, but a historic market that has been a part of Dubai since the origin of Dubai itself. Located at the mouth of the creek, it dazzles people by selling gold in large quantities and with little visible security. A must visit for shoppers and sightseers. Most of the gold is 22ct quality and quite expensive - although even here the shopkeepers are prepared to bargain - and the craftsmanship can be remarkably detailed. The gold items are sold by weight with a "making charge" added on top to cover the workmanship. It pays therefore, to go shopping armed with the current gold price and a knowledge of the making charges in order to hone the bargaining process. Many outlets are part of chains that also have branches in malls, so are generally reliable.
Spice Souk— As above, not a mall, but a historic market that has been a part of Dubai since the origin of Dubai itself. Located at the mouth of the creek, it is not far from the Gold Souk, but has sadly declined a bit in recent years as supermarkets take over the spice trade. If you're actually shopping for spices, odds are you'll get better prices and quality with much less hassle at Carrefour. Both the Spice Souk and the Gold Souq are a rather hot and sweaty experience with limited air-conditioning, so wear appropriately cool, loose clothing if visiting in mid summer. Individual shops are air conditioned. Although regularly visited by tourists, none of the souks are considered a tourist area and as such modest dress should be worn to avoid causing offence or attracting unwanted attention.