Information & Facts
Dubai enjoys an arid subtropical climate, with blue skies and sunshine all year round. The hottest months are between June and September, when temperatures can soar to 113°F (45°C) and more during the day and humidity levels are very high. Even the sea temperature touches on 104°F (40°C) during the summer months, and swimming pools at hotels are usually cooled to be refreshing. Temperatures are only slightly more moderate the rest of the year, the coolest time being between December and March. There is very little rainfall in Dubai, but when showers do fall it is mainly in the cooler months.
Few places on earth are as compactly cosmopolitan as Dubai - and that translates into an astonishingly varied cuisine for diners. You can find everything from shawarma joints serving delicious kebabs for under US$1, to 7-course tasting menus prepared by Michelin-starred chefs. Seafood is typically good value and the sushi frequently excellent.
If you want an aperitif or wine with your meal you will need to eat at one the big hotels as no independent restaurants can serve alcohol. Friday brunch has become something of a ritual for both expats and locals so book ahead. During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan only the big hotels will serve food between sunrise and sunset. However once the cannon fires to signal the official sundown people flood into the cafés and restaurants to break their fast. A festive and convivial atmosphere prevails making this a great time to meet the locals.
Sales tax of 10% is added to meal bills, and a 15% service charge may also be levied. If not, a 10% tip is generally expected.
The most common way of getting around Dubai is by taxi; they are cheap and easy to find. The new Dubai Metro system opened in 2009 and now has 47 stations across 46 miles (75km) of track . It covers the length of Dubai from Jebel Ali in the south, all the way to the airport, then inland to All Rashidiya. Most of the malls are connected on the central portion of the route. There is a Gold class cabin, and special carriages for women and children. Tickets costs from AED2.
Many hotels offer shuttle bus services for guests as well. Metered taxis are cream coloured, with uniformed drivers. The public bus service covers most areas of the city and its beaches; the monthly period pass as well as the discounted purse pass are available. Routes and bus numbers are posted in both Arabic and English.
Small wooden motorboats ( abras) cross the creek every few minutes between Bur Dubai and Deira.
Cars are the most popular method of transport for locals in the city, and although roads are well-marked and car hire cheap, visitors should think twice about hiring one, as driving standards are erratic and accidents frequent. All accidents must be reported to the police, and chances are good that a visit to the police station will be necessary. Outside the city, signposts are rare. To hire a car, a credit card, valid passport and International Driving Permit are required and the minimum age is 21 (drivers must have held a full licence for one year).
With a reputation for being a millionaire's playground and known as the shopping capital of the world, Dubai may not seem like an ideal place to take the children on holiday. But after very little searching, parents will find that there is, in fact, plenty to keep their little tykes entertained. From water parks and theme parks to playgrounds and parks, Dubai will cater to just about any child. The beaches in Dubai are also fantastic, but watch out for what time of year you choose to travel - the temperatures can be searing and children will wilt in the heat. The choices are endless in Dubai, but it mostly depends on which park you choose for the day, as they all have something different to offer, from picnic tables and mini golf, to fishing, amusement rides and rollerbloading, there is something for everyone. It's unlikely that the weather will be too cold to go outdoors, but when it's scorching hot and over 113°F (45°C), parents will do well to stay indoors, where the air conditioning is cranked on full, and perhaps even attempt a spot of shopping. Most shopping. Most shopping malls in Dubai have children's play areas and nurseries and the world's largest shopping mall, the Dubai Mall has an indoor SEGA theme park and children's 'edu-tainment' centre, KidZania.
Arabic is the official language of the Emirates, but English is widely used.
The currency of the United Arab Emirates is the Dirham (AED), which is divided into 100 fils. There are no currency regulations in the UAE and all major currencies are readily exchanged at banks and large hotels. The Dirham is fixed against the US Dollar. The best exchange rates are found at private moneychangers who operate throughout the territory, particularly in the more popular souks (markets) and shopping centres. Most major credit cards are accepted, as are travellers cheques (best carried in US Dollars or Pounds Sterling). ATMs are common throughout the UAE. Banking hours are generally Saturday to Thursday from 8am to 1pm, but some are also open between 4pm and 8.30pm.
Thanks to its large and international population of expats, Dubai has an incredibly vibrant nightlife, but finding the best parties entails tapping local knowledge and planning your evening with care. Check out the local newspaper listings and Timeout Dubai for concert and party news. Dubai's clubs and bars are found mostly in the large 4- and 5-star hotels because of the emirate's strict liquor laws. The legal drinking age is 21, although you must be 25 to enter a nightclub. For this reason it is wise to carry some form of identification with you when heading out at night. Some good options for a night out include the Parisian-style Boudoir, ever-trendy Zinc, and Kasbar, in the opulent One & Only Royal Mirage Hotel. Buddha Bar, in the Grosvenor House Hotel complex at Dubai Marina, has great open-air views of the Arabian Gulf and two levels, a restaurant, a bar and a lounge. Of the few areas outside of hotels that sell alcohol, the Irish Village next to the Aviation Club of Dubai is a favourite watering hole with tourists and non-Muslim residents. Arabic nightclubs can also be fun: a firm favourite is Kasbar Royal Mirage Hotel which has three levels of dance floors and attracts some of the best DJs. For an alcohol-free option, Dubai Creek Park is a popular place to spend an evening. The atmosphere at night is wonderful and very festive and the park is never crowded due its sheer size. It is worth noting that in Dubai homosexuality, public displays of sexuality, and drugs are strictly forbidden and penalties are enforced against those transgressing! It is also illegal to be publicly intoxicated so catch a cab home if you've overindulged.
Shopping remains a big drawcard for Dubai as it continues to reinvent itself as a major tourist destination. Be warned though: Dubai is not the bargain centre it used to be. Prices are now comparable to any other international city, and if you want specific items you are probably better off sourcing it through an online discounter in your home country. What Dubai does offer though is incredible range and convenience, turning shopping into a recreational and fun activity. Besides, the malls are premier attractions in themselves, often food, entertainment and spectables in addition to the hundreds of stores.
Dubai has zero sales tax and low import duties so certain items, such as electronic goods and gold jewellery, prices are still quite good. Dubai International Airport is quite frankly one of the most expensive venues to shop in Dubai, although it does have the advantage of selling alcohol in every guise, making this the only place to purchase liquor by the bottle.
The Dubai Shopping Festival in late January/early February is a long-standing major attraction offering major price reductions, special offers and product launches on a huge range of premium goods. Lucrative raffles take place to further add to the excitement. There is also a smaller, but increasingly popular Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS) shopping festival over June and July which alone attracts some two million visitors.
The two main shopping facilities in Dubai are the Mall of the Emirates (the largest mall outside of North America) and the Dubai Mall. Both have numerous other attractions to complement their astounding range and number of shops.
It's worth noting that warranties on high-end electronic goods may not be valid in your home country. So factor this in when calculating the amount you are saving.
Apart from the air-conditioned malls and duty-free emporia of the airport, the best shopping is to be had at the souks - traditional Arab markets - around the city. Here you can find authentic Bedouin paraphernalia, Persian-style carpets and textiles. A particularly pleasant shopping area is the Bur Dubai side of the Creek where you can find textiles, raw silks and interesting souvenirs.
Dubai's most famous bazaar is the Gold Souk at Sikkat al-Khali Street. Innumerable shops and stalls sell gold jewellery in every possible form. Bargaining is expected and prices determined according to weight.
Shops tend to open from 8am to 1pm, reopening after the heat of the day at around 4.30pm until 8pm or even later. Malls will remain open from 10am until 10pm. Shops, malls and souks usually close on Friday mornings.
Dubai is evolving at a remarkable pace and has left its modest history as a fishing port far behind. Yet in between the ultra-modern skyscrapers and endless construction sites, there are quite a few attractions of historical interest such as the Bastakiya district and the various souks.
Other attractions center on Dubai's defining geophysical features: the desert offers adventure touring, rock climbing and photography, while the coastline offers a plethora of water sports.
Dubai is not really suitable for exploring on foot. Attractions tend to be far apart and the year-round heat - reaching inferno proportions in summer - will turn your walk into an ordeal. Better options are to hire a taxi and driver for the day, join an organised tour, or rent a car and enjoy the inexpensive local gasoline while taking in the sights.
Local time in the UAE is GMT +4.