At a Glance
When to Go
The colossal size of the airport terminals means that it can take forever to get from the plane through immigration to the taxi stand. If you want to make a cultural overture, greet immigration staff in Arabic with As’salam Alaykum ("Peace be upon you"), to which they’ll respond with Wa’alaykum salaam ("Peace right back to you"). For a hassle-free arrival, ensure that your passport is valid for six months and shows no evidence of travel to Israel. (If it does, you run the risk of being sent back on the next plane.) Avoid carrying codeine (you can buy many medications over the counter in Dubai) and banned materials such as R- and X-rated DVDs or magazines. When you leave the country, it is worth arriving at the airport well in advance of your departure so that you can enjoy the excellent airport shopping.
The winter months, with their slightly cooler temperatures, are a wonderful time to stroll the backstreets and wander the parks of Dubai. The rest of the year—and to traverse longer distances—the Metro can transport you between malls and along Sheikh Zayed Road. An air-conditioned public bus service travels along Jumeirah Beach Road. Check Dubai Government’s Road and Transport Authority for timetables and fares. The abras (open-sided wooden boats) that continually crisscross Dubai Creek are fun for moving between the older neighborhoods of Deira and Bur Dubai, especially if you’re exploring the souqs and the historic waterfront. Taxis are reasonably priced and useful when traveling from the airport to your hotel or when heading out to dinner. Rental cars are also affordable—and UAE roads are excellent—but are only necessary if you’re day-tripping or driving around the country. An international driver's license is required.
Food and Drink
Dubai is often criticized as being a soulless city without culture, but anyone who tells you that has neither spent much time in the city, nor befriended any Emiratis or expats. The UAE’s culture was intangible until recent years when a contemporary art scene and numerous arts festivals began to evolve. There are no monumental pyramids and no majestic heritage buildings, but visitors will find a rich traditional culture based on things like oral storytelling, song, dance, and poetry.
Dubai has festivals for everything: shopping, food, film, and sports. Most are scheduled from November through March, culminating with the Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest horse race. The Muslim calendar is lunar, so religious festivals always begin with the sighting of the moon, and the night before a religious holiday, alcohol isn’t served. During Ramadan, the holy fasting month, business hours are limited, and it’s forbidden (haram) for anyone—Muslim or non-Muslim—to eat, drink, or smoke in public. Many clubs close for the month, as music is also haram, except for the traditional oud (Arabian lute). At the end of the month, after the breaking of the fast, the streets come alive, malls stay open until midnight, and families picnic in the parks until the wee hours. Other holidays to watch for include Islamic New Year, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammed, Eid Al Fitr (the festival marking the end of Ramadan), and Eid Al Adha (a four-day celebration at the end of the Hajj, or the main pilgrimage to Mecca). If you’re in Dubai for National Day, which takes place on December 2, head to the Dubai Heritage Village and Diving Village after dark to participate in the festivities.