Dubai: what to see, where to sleep and where to eat

You are leaving for Dubai? What envy! Against all odds, my journey to discover the largest city in the United Arab Emirates has remained in my heart and I would return in a heartbeat. I have to admit that I was a bit biased, I was expecting only skyscrapers as far as the eye can see and luxury to no end, but believe me, Dubai is much more than that. I have been there for 3 days taking advantage of the opportunity to Emirates to do a Long stop-over without price increases (I was returning from South Africa) and I think it could be a great way to kill 2 birds with one stone! Buying a return flight to Dubai often costs a lot in relation to the distance, but if you plan to travel to Africa or Asia I recommend you do it with Emirates (which is one of the best companies in the world ..) and take advantage of this opportunity. In those 3 days, among other things, I also managed to put in the visit of Abu Dhabi (find all the info in the article Stopover in Abu Dhabi: what to see in a few hours) and I recommend it to you: the Louvre and the Grand Mosque alone are worth a trip to the Emirates!

In this article I tried to collect everything I wanted to read before planning my trip: when to go, what is worth seeing, where to sleep and eat. I hope it helps you to have a little clearer ideas and to appreciate the wonders of this incredible city!

EXPO Dubai 2020: tickets and info

After being postponed twice due to the pandemic (as you will understand from the name, Expo Dubai 2020), Dubai will finally host the EXPO, the Universal Exposition, from 1st October 2021 and 31st March 2022. Each edition of EXPO has a theme; the one planned for EXPO Dubai 2020 is Connecting Minds, Creating the Future (ie connecting minds, creating the future), and is connected to the Arabic name of the city, al-Waṣl which means “the connection”. EXPO among other things will fall on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Arab Emirates.

The EXPO is located 20 minutes from Dubai Marina, exactly here, and can be easily reached with the red metro line (see the paragraph below on How to get around Dubai) to the 'EXPO 2020 Metro Station' If you have visited the EXPO in Milan, you already know that it is absolutely essential to buy the entrance ticket in advance to avoid endless queues. Below you will find the link to the site where you can buy them online. 

Buy skip-the-line tickets for EXPO Dubai 2020

When to go to Dubai 

When planning a trip to Dubai it is important to keep in mind that the climate throughout the year fluctuates between hot, very hot and scalding. The desert ensures little rain and high temperatures and in the summer months the city becomes a real furnace. It reaches almost 50 degrees and the prohibitive conditions prevent you from being able to enjoy the beaches, the desert and all the locations outside.

To fully appreciate all that Dubai has to offer, I recommend you go in the period between November and April. The Winter months, especially February, are the peak of the high season. I was there in January and actually it was great! The climate is temperate and the sea is perfect for soaking hours. However, consider that prices will generally be higher and you will be in the company of thousands of other tourists who want to escape the cold and rainy winter days for a vacation in the Emirates. October and May could be a good compromise. The heat is still bearable and you will avoid the large crowds of tourists that invade the city in winter.

Health insurance is required

In the Emirates our health coverage is not valid. My advice is to always take a classic medical-luggage insurance that can cover you during the trip also for any quarantines and the like, given the particular historical moment. I am very happy with many insurance companies, a site that compares the policies of different companies and proposes the most convenient policy for that particular trip. To do this you will have to enter the data relating to your trip (country, duration, etc.) and they will send you an email with the best proposal that you can then buy directly online. 

Getting around in Dubai

Dubai is really extensive (when you fly over it you will realize it!) And, with the exception of the area of ​​Bastakiya, Deira or some areas of Dubai Marina, it is not a city where you can walk or walk (if there go in the summer is just prohibitive!). Moving, however, in the end is simple because the subway is really efficient. There are 2 lines: the Red line, which is 52 km long, which starts from Rashidiya (just south of the airport), passes by the latter and follows Sheikh Zayed Road to Jebel Ali. There Green Line instead it is 22 km long and draws an arc around the center and passes through Deira and Nur Dubai, skirting the Creek.

The races run every 5 'on average and the ticket is paid according to the distance and ranging from 1 to 2 euros approximately. In all the stations you will find both the normal ticket offices and the machines to buy them. If you don't want to risk being in the crowd you can also buy tickets to stay in the so-called Gold carriages which are always at the head and in the queue (they cost double, but you will feel like you are driving the subway because they are automatic, without driver!). If you are staying in Dubai for at least 2-3 days, you should take one rechargeable card called Nol; you load it into the machines and gradually reduce the price of the tickets from there.

To move in uncovered areas from the metro I recommend you use taxis, there are many and the prices are affordable. Uber I do not recommend it because it costs more.

Dubai: where to sleep

Dubai is full of extra luxury hotels and resorts where to stay, but if you don't want to spend astronomical prices and still enjoy all the comforts in a more authentic context, these are the two hotels that I recommend.

  • XVA Art Hotel: Small quaint hotel located in the heart of Al Fahidi district, with traditional Arabic and Persian design and relaxed atmosphere. It is renowned for its art gallery and excellent restaurant.
  • Arabian Courtyard Hotel & Spa : Four-star hotel in a super central location (located in Al Bastakiya) with Arab-style rooms and attached Spa center.
  • Night in a Bedouin tent in the desert: sleeping in the desert is a beautiful experience! If you have never done it I recommend you do it because it is pure magic. The desert is right on the outskirts of Dubai and it can be nice to join a jeep safari during the day (doing many other activities as well) and then spend the night in the tent star gazing. Find all the info here.

You may be interested in a luxury safari with an overnight stay in a tent in the desert

What to see in Dubai: my top 10

1. Bastakiya and the Creek: ancient Dubai

Located in the historic district of Bur Dubai, the neighborhood of Al Bastakiya is the beating heart of ancient Dubai. It was founded by Persian merchants in the late nineteenth century and is named after the Iranian city of Bastak. The pedestrian streets and the ancient buildings create a quaint atmosphere and transport you to a Dubai of yesteryear. This is the Dubai you don't expect! It was originally a residential center, but today the buildings are mostly occupied by shops, museums and artisans. I recommend that you take a couple of hours to explore the streets and small shops in peace. Do not miss the Dubai Museum, where the history and development of the city and the souk, market where the Dubai of yesterday emerges and merges with modern Dubai. Spices, merchants, fabrics and colors, but also electronic gadgets and trinkets for tourists. Al Bastakiya is located directly on the Creek, the arm of the sea around which the whole city has developed and a perfect location for a boat ride at sunset or dine on the boat and enjoy the city from a new perspective.

2. Deira: la zona dei souk

Speaking of boats, from Bur Dubai it is possible to cross the Creek by ship and reach Deira. It is one of the main districts of Dubai located north of the Creek and was originally the center of commerce. It is an eclectic and diverse area, where ancient and modern meet and collide in a fascinating mix. The western part of the district is occupied by souk. The main ones are those of gold, spices and perfumes, but you will also find stalls with the most disparate items for sale. Along the Creek are the Dhow docks, also called Dhow Wharfage. Here the large wooden ships, used for hundreds of years, dock to unload goods from all over the Persian Gulf. Nearby, in contrast to the commercial area of ​​the docks, glittering skyscrapers form the commercial district. If you are in the mood for shopping I recommend the Deira City Center Shopping Mall, with luxury boutiques, but also shops within reach of all wallets.

3. Satwa: the kingdom of textiles

The district of Al Satwa is situated tra Jumeira and Bur Dubai. It is not one of the most touristy or luxurious areas, but perhaps also for this reason I was very impressed by the genuine atmosphere. Some call it Little Manila and in its streets you can breathe a bit of a Chinatown feel. It is particularly known for the textile trade and is full of fabric, fabric and tailoring shops. There is no shortage of electronics shops, jewelry and affordable restaurants, where you pay little and eat well! If you want to take a walk in an authentic and colorful area of ​​Dubai, Satwa is the neighborhood for you.

4. Dubai Marina: beaches and skyscrapers

Located on the Persian Gulf, Dubai Marina is the most modern area of ​​Dubai and recently built. Beaches and skyscrapers meet in a mix that has somewhat become the hallmark of this city. Luxury apartments, boutiques, restaurants and shopping centers, but also beaches and five-star resorts. The thing that struck me the most in Dubai Marina is precisely this cosmopolitan and extra-luxury atmosphere, full of energy and potential. If you go to Dubai, a tour of this neighborhood is a must. I recommend you get one promenade at sunset, the so-called Dubai Marina Walk, and enjoy the show.

5. Sheikh Zayed Road: Dubai's most important road

Sheikh Zayed Road is the name of the stretch of the E11 motorway that crosses all of Dubai (it feels like being inside Blade Runner!). The road runs through the entire United Arab Emirates and Dubai is one of the most scenic and spectacular roads. It is lined on both sides by the city's most impressive skyscrapers and structures, and with its eight lanes it is an impressive sight. Obviously it is not designed to be accessible to pedestrians so I recommend you take a taxi to fully enjoy the view.

6. The Frame

La Dubai Frame is an architectural structure inaugurated only last year and located in city ​​park Zabeel Park. It is an immense construction of aluminum, glass, steel and concrete, conceived as a real frame of the city. The Dubai Frame frames the most modern part of Dubai, but also the oldest and most historical part. It is conceived as a symbol of union between future and past and I recommend that you go there both for the splendid panorama over the city and for the impressive architecture.

Buy tickets for The Frame online

7. Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall: the tallest skyscraper in the world

Heart of Downtown Dubai, il Burj Khalifa it is perhaps the best known and most visited attraction in Dubai of all. From the top of his 829 meters It is currently the tallest skyscraper in the world and its panoramic terrace it is a must for any tourist discovering Dubai. The ticket is expensive, but the view over Dubai and the entire Persian Gulf is breathtaking. If you decide to visit the highest vantage point on the planet, I recommend you book early in order to avoid long queues, especially if at sunset! You can buy the skip-the-line tickets from the (highly reliable) Civitatis website through this link. Once there, you should immediately go up to 148th and then see the other two terraces at 124 and 125 floor.

At the foot of the Burj Khalifa is the shopping paradise of the United Arab Emirates: the Dubai Mall. With more than 1300 shops and boutiques, it is one of the largest shopping malls in the world. From high fashion to more affordable brands, you will find everything. Inside there are also restaurants, cinemas, game rooms, and so on and so forth. Even a giant aquarium it's a Olympic ice rink. Both buildings fully represent the face of the new Dubai: opulent, imposing and extra luxury.

Buy skip-the-line tickets to Burj Khalifa online

8. Palm Jumeirah: The palm-shaped island

Palm Jumeirah it is definitely another one of those iconic places that make Dubai one of a kind. It's a artificial archipelago built in the shape of a palm tree on which there are homes, exclusive resorts and restaurants. It is well connected by public transport and there is also a panoramic monorail that runs all along the island. If you go to Dubai, this visionary engineering marvel in my opinion should definitely be visited.

9. Art district e Al Serkal Foundation

Dubai's art district has developed around the Al Serkal Foundation, a complex of galleries created to support emerging Middle Eastern artists. It rises in one zona urban-hipster where warehouses and warehouses have been converted into museums and galleries. It is a young and constantly developing neighborhood, where art reigns supreme. Experimental art, photography, emerging artists and works of the highest level: there is something for all tastes. They also organize events and shows and there are cute little bars and organic restaurants where you can refresh yourself. If you are in the mood for shopping there are also alternative shops and even a kimonos boutique!

10. The beaches: Jumeirah, Kite and Sunset Beach

If you need a break from the tourist itineraries and the metropolis, go for a dip in the sea! Dubai offers several public beaches and the water temperature is divine. Some beaches have a small entrance fee, but there are also free-access stretches of sea. The best known (and also the most crowded) is certainly the very long one Jumeirah Beach. If you are a lover of water sports, I recommend you instead Kite beach, loved by surfers and kite surfers. Finally, if you are looking for scenic spots, the Sunset Beach is right for you: it is in fact the perfect location to soak and admire the iconic Burj Al Arab, a sail-shaped hotel well known all over the world.

Where to eat in Dubai (good and cheap)

To eat well in Dubai it is not necessary to spend a fortune or go to super luxury restaurants. These are some of the places I've had a great meal, at very fair prices.

  • NOLA Eatery & Social House -> Local near Dubai Marina, with Creole and American cuisine. Restaurant and meeting point, with a relaxed atmosphere and excellent value for money.
  • Ravi -> Pakistani restaurant in the Satwa neighborhood. Spartan and not very touristy, this place is very popular with all expats: you eat very well and spend very little!
  • Kiku -> Japanese restaurant in the Le Meridien hotel complex, near the airport. Great sushi and super nice staff. Try their sashimi!
  • Bento-ya -> Another Japanese restaurant of the highest level! Located in the financial district, it offers classic Japanese cuisine and superlative ramen at fair prices.
  • Bu Qtair Fish Restaurant -> Trattoria near the waterfront, near the Burj Al Arab. Very basic place without table service, but delicious fresh fish at unbeatable prices (watch out for chilli!).

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