When looking for somewhere with less flying time from India, variety of food for all palates, no language challenges for not so frequent travelers and a chilled-out holiday, Dubai is the one of the first places that comes to mind. With a flight just over 4 hours and ease of visa processing, when I thought of a place for a family holiday, Dubai was an easy option.
I had travelled to Dubai a few years ago in the month of December so this time I thought of trying it out in January post the new year frenzy. We booked ourselves in a hotel in the happening downtown area of the city on Sheikh Zayed Road. The Dusit Thani hotel did not disappoint us. A one-bedroom apartment specially the one with the Burj Khalifa view is a perfect choice for a family of 3 or those with children. The room is spacious, and the view is awesome. Taxis are available to go everywhere from the hotel and the staff is excellent and very responsive. Well, barring their restaurant that I wouldn’t recommend for reasons mentioned in my hotel review. There is no dearth of good places to eat in Dubai as it is.
Now what does one do for a weeklong holiday in Dubai? A lot of people had asked me that when I was leaving and here is what we did and as always you can expect an honest count of the good, bad and the ugly. Well do keep in mind that practically all places in Dubai need a lot of walking so don’t rush yourself and do maybe 1-2 things a day to not tire yourself out.
We started with what stood tall and leaning right in front of us. The magnificent Burj Khalifa. Though I am not a fan of observatories, my mother had it on her bucket list, so we had to go there first. We looked at the ticket prices and chose the morning slot. Having been at a lot of observation decks across the world, in my opinion, the sunset view is a sham, and you don’t find anything exceptional to pay through your nose for the prime-time slots. So go for any slot that suits your pocket. We went for the 10:30 a.m. one and thankfully the Dubai Mall was not crowded at that time. I should call out though that the entry for At the Top – Burj Khalifa is through the Dubai Mall. Most taxis will drop you at the main entrance of the mall and it is a very long walk from there so buffer in a good 30 minutes of walking. The Dubai mall is not disabled friendly at all. There are no carts available inside the mall (at least we did not see any during our 30 minutes of walk) and wheelchairs are also available only at some helpdesks. You must pay a deposit of 1000 AED and keep an ID card and return the wheelchair at the same helpdesk which means walking back through the mall instead of exiting from the exit right next to At the Top. Additionally, you cannot take the wheelchair inside Burj Khalifa as you must climb an escalator within the museum prior to the elevator that takes you up.
So, despite all the challenges, we managed to walk all the way and reach the At the Top Counter. Even after that there was a long walk inside with various displays of how Burj Khalifa was made before we reached the elevator. There are 3 elevators. 1 goes to level 125 and one goes to level 124 only. It is purely in which queue you are standing that will determine which elevator you get into. The floor shows up on the door of the elevator so you can be smart there and switch queues though. We went to the 125th floor. The elevator was a breeze, no giddiness, no nausea, and in sixty-six seconds we were at the 125th floor. The view around from the tallest building in the world was mesmerizing. We could look at our hotel which seemed so tiny from that height. It is truly an engineering marvel. You could easily spend 30-40 minutes there just observing the entire Dubai from the top. Keep in mind that there is an exit right near the At the Top counter when you come down, but the regular Dubai taxis don’t come there so you will need to call an Uber there and the staff will usually not tell you about it.
The fountain show at the waterfront of the Dubai mall which is at the exit near Burj Khalifa is very pleasant to see. It happens from 6 p.m. onwards everyday so you could see it after the At the Top visit if you go there in the afternoon or evening. I had seen it during my earlier visit and would not recommend the torturous walk through the Dubai mall just to see the fountain. I have been to Dubai mall twice and found it the most inaccessible mall. There are no places to sit except the restaurants and the walking is immense. Not a pleasant shopping experience too. So, you can go to one of the restaurants at the waterfront for dinner and then see the fountain.
We went to Miracle Garden in the morning around 10:30 a.m. as I had read that it becomes very warm in the afternoon there. It is truly a place worth seeing. The only natural thing you would see in Dubai are the flowers there. It’s a great place for all ages and you can get some really good pictures. The beautiful floral display and the animal shapes are delightful. An extremely vibrant place, we got some of our most memorable pictures there. There are carts available at the entrance. You can book a cart just to take you around quickly for 25AED and if you need it to stop to take pictures, a 30-minute ride would cost you 100 AED. I would not recommend taking the cart for the 30-minute ride as the driver would rush you through. Would recommend that you spend some time walking a little to the right and a little to the left of the entrance which has the most photogenic spots. After taking your pics, you can get a cart to take you for a quick round to see anything you might have missed. There are washrooms and eating places available inside. You can easily spend 2-3 hours at the Miracle Garden.
Gold Souk, Meena Bazaar/Al Fahidi Street:
If you want some real shopping experience in Dubai, go to the Gold Souk area. This is like a big commercial area and every lane is a souk, Spice Souk, Gold Souk, Textile Souk etc. You can do a lot of street shopping in this area. Do bargain as they would usually quote a higher price than the worth. The gold in Dubai is a popular purchase due to its purity and so is the Saffron as well as Dates available there. Even if you are not buying gold, would recommend a visit to Gold Souk to appreciate the plethora of designs of jewelry available in one place.
If you don’t wish to walk through the commercial area of Gold Souk, you can go to buy gold at the Meena Bazaar or Al Fahidi Street as well. There are lots of branded showrooms like Malabar Gold, Joy Allukas, Kalyan Jewelers etc, so options are plenty. Again, even in the showrooms you can bargain on the making charges for the gold jewelry since its quite high in Dubai. The main Al Fahidi street has a lot of restaurants as well. Taxis are easily available here so surely a more comfortable shopping experience if you intend to buy gold.
This is a place that never disappoints. I have been there twice and enjoyed the Dolphin show thoroughly. The VIP seats right in front are for 125 AED and the regular seats are for 99 AED per head. The VIP seats are totally worth it. The show lasts for 45 minutes and the Dolphins and seals do a number of tricks that are a treat to the eyes. Again something to be enjoyed by all ages alike. The Dolphinarium is at the Dubai Creek Park so you will have to pay additional entry fee for the park. There is a restaurant inside for a quick bit like burgers, noodles etc. Getting regular taxis after the show is a bit of a challenge here so you will need to book an Uber.
The Global Village:
The Global Village is a bit away from the city so be prepared to shell out a hefty taxi fare. This is a like a massive fair with pavilions from multiple countries. It is set up for 6 months and the same shops are available through those 6 months. I found some of the apparel at the Pakistan pavilion and the cosmetics at the Africa pavilion of interest. Check out the one from Russia as well for some good woollens. There are ATMS available inside the Global village though most shops took cards. However some didn’t in the Africa pavilion so better to carry some cash. There are lots of food options available there. It has only one entry and exit and given the massive size of the place and the amount of walking required, would not recommend taking people with mobility challenges or very small children there. You can spend as many hours there as you would like to shop. Timings are from 4 p.m onwards.
The View at the Palm:
This was the most peaceful place we visited. It’s on the 52nd floor of the Nakheel Mall in Palm Jumeirah. General Admission is at 100 AED per head. There is also a next level which is for 175 AED each but the 52nd floor was more popular. The observation deck is open from the top so if the weather is good, you can really spend a lot of peaceful time. We got a cup of coffee from the café there and enjoyed the view of the Palm to our hearts’ content. Again, a marvel to be appreciated as you look around the man-made island. The elevator though was a bit uncomfortable, and the ride up made us feel a bit queasy. You have to walk through the Nakheel Mall to get there so be prepared for a long one again!
The City Museum:
If you are interested in a little more about the culture than just the lights and show of Dubai, do visit the City museum. There are half day city tours available that do a detailed tour of the city museum. It’s not a massive museum and gives you insights into the heritage of old Dubai.
The Desert Safari:
For first timers in Dubai, would recommend the Desert Safari. It was an enjoyable experience and I have a detailed post on just this experience. Visit here- https://wp.me/p7JdFA-73.
The Dhow Cruise:
This is the most overrated experience in Dubai. The Dhow is a double decker boat, and the cruise experience is just a one-hour boat ride where you will be served a buffet dinner which is quite average. Skip this and spend time at one of the restaurants in the waterfront instead. I did this when I travelled to Dubai a few years ago and did not recommend it to anyone since.
If you are in Dubai for a week, would recommend doing a trip to Abu Dhabi. While it can be done as a day trip, given the amount of walking involved everywhere, I would suggest staying there overnight and enjoying the places at peace. Hotels are relatively less expensive there and we found Abu Dhabi to have a lot more character than Dubai. There were more homes, villas and more middle eastern architecture vs a concrete jungle of tall towers. There aren’t too many things to do there though. If you are traveling with kids you can go to the Ferrari world and other theme parks in Yas Island. Since we weren’t as inclined, we chose the more architectural delights. We stayed overnight at Abu Dhabi at the Royal Rose hotel which was in the center of the city. There were lots of vegetarian/non- vegetarian places to eat at walking distance as well as supermarkets for anything of need. Taxis were easily available outside the hotel.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque:
The mosque is a must see for people of all cultures. You need to observe respect for the norms and dress conservatively with your hands and legs fully covered. Women need to cover their head with scarves. If you are not dressed appropriately you will need to buy an Abaya from the mall. The security is very specific about this. There is a cart service that takes visitors from the entry to the mosque since it’s a massive amount of walk again. Even to get to the cart you have to walk through a mall to get to the entry point. While entry in the mosque is free, there is a registration required so check that online before going there to prevent walking from one end to the other. The cart only takes people to the entrance of the mosque and from there you have to walk. You can decide how much you want to explore and spend time as the mosque and its architecture is beautiful. Go there in the afternoon after 3 p.m. We went at 4 and were glad that we could see the mosque during daylight as well as in the night when it is lit up. A beautiful and very peaceful sight. The Yas Island is on the same side of the city as the mosque so you can also combine visiting the two places on the same day.
Qasr-Al-Watan – The Presidential Palace:
The other place to see in Dubai is the Qasr-Al-Watan. This is a working palace with offices of the President, Prime Minister, and the Crown Prince. This is on the other side of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque so better to split up and see this on the second day if staying in Abu Dhabi. The palace is magnificent and massive in size. A bus takes the visitors from the security check point to the palace. The palace building itself is 134,275 sq. meters in area. Do visit all the sections to see the beautiful architecture. The splendor of the ceilings and chandeliers is not to be missed. It’s a new construction and was opened to public only in March 2019. You can spend a couple of hours here.
There are other new places like the Dubai Frame and Museum of the Future in Dubai if you have more time. I didn’t visit them as I wasn’t keen on seeing stuff on LEDs at the museum of the Future or see one more view of Dubai from the frame after having seen the beautiful view from the Burj Khalifa.
Before wrapping up, here are few tips for the travelers based on our experience:
- It is cheaper to travel from Abu Dhabi to Dubai than vice versa as the taxi fare rate is lower. Even travelling within Abu Dhabi is cheaper for this reason. The taxi drivers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are on salary and have monthly targets to meet. So if you see them keen and asking you if you would like a taxi for travel to Abu Dhabi or the airport, don’t take their intention otherwise. They are just trying to cover their targets with long trips.
- While Taxis are available 24×7 in Dubai, their shifts run from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. As a result, during 4 to 6 p.m. it is a little difficult to get taxis as the drivers need to rush to hand them over to the next person so they are specific about the destinations they can travel to during these hours. At other times you can just sit in a taxi and let them know where you want to go, no questions asked.
- Dubai taxi is still the cheapest. They are mostly Toyota Camry cars and can accommodate 3 adult passengers and 3 suitcases easily. Uber and Careem fares are expensive though in some places you can only call a taxi by app as mentioned above.
- Cards are taken practically everywhere in Dubai except some shops in Global Village and the Souks. American Express is however only acceptable in hotels and the big tourist spots like Burj Khalifa and View at the Palm. Visa and Master cards are more popular.
- Unlike popular misconception, Dubai is not an accessible or a friendly place for people with disabilities. While wheelchairs are available in most places at a cash deposit and an ID deposit, the places are so massive that manually pushing wheelchairs is not possible and definitely if not accompanied by an attendant. Additionally, you must walk back all the way to return the wheelchair which is unreasonable. Carts are only available for some distance. Most popular places either don’t have elevators or they are not easily accessible and involve a long walk. A disabled person or a senior citizen cannot manage being at the places to see by themselves. Even at the Dubai Emirates Departure terminal, the wheelchair access is the most mismanaged.
- There is nothing special about the shopping festival at Dubai. We found the city no different so just a marketing gimmick.
- While tipping is not customary in Dubai, most staff in hotels and airports are very helpful and due to the excellent service would recommend to tip 5-10 AED based on the service. Most people in Dubai come from other countries to earn their living and work hard leaving their families back at home in their home countries.
- Taxi drivers who are mostly immigrants are usually friendly and love to have a conversation as they are mostly living away from their families. If they do, don’t take it otherwise.
There was a lot more to see and do in Dubai this time than my last visit a few years ago. Would love to go back again after a few years to see further developments.
For detailed hotel reviews and restaurant reviews, please visit my reviews on Trip advisor here.