The Ultimate Guide to Dubai
What’s the best way to describe Dubai? In the words of Aladdin, it really is “shining, shimmering, splendid”! From impressive high-rises to incredible cultural sights both traditional and contemporary, there is much to explore in the Emirate.
With abundant restaurants and impressive spots for sightseeing, as well as beautiful religious and cultural spots and a vivid nightlife scene, it’s all there…and more!
Read on to find out what recommendations we have for Dubai. We guarantee there’s something for every taste, whether you’re an adventurous explorer or a chill-out-seeking introvert.
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Where (and what!) to eat?
One section in this article is definitely not enough to cover the varieties of food and cuisines available in Dubai. There are no signature or traditional Dubai dishes, as Dubai is still a relatively young city.
At the same time, it’s a city of immigrants and different cultures, hence the incredible variety of available cuisines. How and where we eat surely adds to the whole experience! In Dubai one can go from simple street food stalls, through cozy cafés, all the way to fine dining. Whatever you’re looking for, we guarantee you will find it.
Zagol: let’s begin with a casual option for every traveller’s budget! Zagol is a simply-decorated restaurant offering a variety of Ethiopian dishes. Grab one of the many low, wooden stools and prepare yourself for colorful sharing plates of injera (pancakes made of fermented teff flour) filled with a variety of stews and vegetable bites.
The colors of the food, and of the restaurant itself, will mesmerize you! Vegan and vegetarian options are available, and the teff bread is suitable for gluten or wheat intolerant guests. It’s a great place if you are a smaller group of 3-6 people.
Zagol does not offer desserts so you will have to satisfy your sweet tooth somewhere else, but with the hearty portions, there might not even be any room for extra bites.
Indego by Vineet: A beautiful fine-dining option, this restaurant is guided by Michelin-starred Chef Vineet Bhatia, and offers you a combination of traditional Indian tastes and spices in an elegant, contemporary setting. Indego by Vineet offers many vegetarian options, which are clearly marked in the menu, along with specifications of different allergens.
Pierchic: here you can choose between fixed set menus or order a la carte. People come here for brunches, lunches, and…proposals! This spot has been awarded “Best Romantic Restaurant” by the press and various city guides, and in 2017 even by the BBC Good Food Awards.
In-house mixologists will also create cocktails for every occasion! Need another reason to pop your question there? There is a variety of gluten-free options available, and the menu clearly states the different ingredients and potential allergens.
Switch: This incredible eatery may be best known for its desserts, but do not let that sweet image fool you! Yes, the chocolate fudge and the date pudding keep attracting their faithful fans, but Switch has a lot for your savory tooth as well.
Sliders, as well as a variety of pasta and risotto dishes, are available in this restaurant/lounge where stylish decor cuddles with innovative menus, together creating an elegant and intriguing mix for both your taste buds and your eyes.
SuperNatural Kitchen: this guide has to include a place for veggies, vegans and celiacs, and what better place to recommend than Dubai’s only 100% raw, vegan, gluten- and sugar-free restaurant? The menu is as big and as comprehensive as in regular eateries, with a raw vegan twist to every dish.
Located in the Lafayette Galleries in Dubai Mall, SuperNatural Kitchen offers plant-based cheese platters, beautiful appetizers and a wide selection of mains.
Finish your meal with one of the raw cakes, or if you really don’t have space for more, treat yourself to an iced chai latte or a matcha frappe (both made with plant-based milk alternatives spiked with extra probiotics, so your belly will absolutely love you for it).
Food trucks: a recent foodie trend spotted in Dubai are food trucks, or rather food truck complexes. Last Exit is one of them. It has four branches, each with a unique theme and its own vibe. The trucks are open 24 hours, and merge casual dining with gourmet foods – heaven (on wheels) for foodies on the go!
Recommended Food, Wine & Nightlife in Dubai
- On Air Dinner Adventure in Dubai
- Gourmet Dinner at Al Mahara in Burj Al-Arab in Dubai with Private Transfers
- At.Mosphere Burj Khalifa High Tea with Reserved Window Seating
- Dinner in Al Mahara Restaurant – Burj Al Arab
- Flavors & Origins of Dubai: History, Culture and Food Tour
- Dubai Night Life Tour with Drinks
- Seafood dining at Apronas and Hammers
Where (and what!) to drink?
Alcohol can only be consumed in selected hotels and bars, and there are general restrictions regarding consumption of alcohol. One must not drink in public, as it is considered an offense.
That said, one can still enjoy drinks and alcoholic beverages, they just won’t be widely available and sold on every street corner. And it sure does not stop Dubai’s vibrant nightlife (more about that later on)!
When it comes to non-alcoholic drinks, the variety is overwhelming. It is really an ocean of different varieties of teas and coffees, served traditionally or with a modern twist. Contemporary cafés keep popping up, but a cup of traditional Arabic coffee never goes amiss!
If Dubai doesn’t bring out that hot-beverage craving in you, you can cool down with a mint tea or mint lemonade. If you want to taste something more savory, do give leben or ayran a try.
Sadly though, these are a no-go for vegans or people with lactose sensitivity: although considered healthy, gut-balancing, refreshing drinks, both are made of fermented milk.
Tania’s Teahouse: order that tea-latte and pull out your phone. Tania’s Teahouse is one of the most, if not the most Instagram-appealing café in Dubai. This oasis is located in a two-storey villa in the city center on Jumeirah Beach Road.
The pastel hues and the winding stairs make Tania’s Teahouse look like it has been taken out of a fairy tale. Their specialities: teas and lattes come served in beautiful cups and can be spiced up with small bites of sweetness.
The Sum of Us: we started with tea, but the coffee lovers won’t be left out! The Sum of Us is a cozy, yet extremely stylish cafeteria with a coffee roastery, a café and a gourmet bakery.
You will be served coffee from Encounter Adventurous Coffee Roasters, a home-grown coffee brand that sources the finest Arabica coffee beans from all around the world.
It caters to all the coffee nerds as well as all the others who treat their cups of joe as a necessary evil and an excuse to grab a sweet bite. If you identify with the latter, you might want to check what the gourmet bakery has to offer.
Zuma Bar and Lounge: if you are a fan of Japanese food, Zuma might also be a great choice for dinner. However, if you only seek a place to have a drink or few, we recommend the Bar and Lounge.
From a variety of sakes through traditional cocktails with a modern, Japanese twist, this place will appeal to both traditional and more curious drinkers.
Bagatelle: for wines, bubbles and beautiful atmosphere, go to Bagatelle. This French restaurant and bar located in Dubai’s Trade Centre area offers a variety of different wines and champagnes from all over the world, served in a relaxed yet elegant environment.
What do to and where to do it?
As mentioned before, Dubai is a new city and many people have come to associate it with skyscrapers and shopping malls, forgetting the historical heritage of this incredible city. From modern malls to ancient districts, Dubai is a paradise for explorers!
A must when visiting Dubai, this mall is the largest and most impressive shopping mall in the city, and the second-largest in the world. From 6pm, every 30 minutes there is a fountain show in the mall.
Book your dinner table with fountain view to hit two birds with one stone – a delicious meal and stunning sights in one! Taking a picture by the fountain, you should try to catch a snap of another big attraction.
The world’s highest building. And we really do not need to say more. Since 2010 it has been possible to access At The Top, an observation deck on the 124th floor.
As if that were not enough, in 2014 another viewing deck opened to the public, so one can now experience a breathtaking view from the 148th floor. Please stand still and hold the handrail!
Do not get turned off by the word museum! Especially in a place like Dubai where its modern, sparkling surfaces can outshine its historical heritage, it is important to reconnect to the beautiful origin of the city.
You find the museum in Al Fahidi Historical District, in the Al Fahidi fort, to be accurate. Visit the museum for its temporary and permanent exhibitions, but also give yourself time to experience the charming environment within which it is situated.
This Mosque is for one of the most iconic landmarks of the city. Tourists are invited to visit the mosque, regardless of their religion or gender, but it is extremely important to obey dress codes and behave properly (for example taking off the shoes before entering). Traditional attire can be borrowed on-site, and photography is allowed.
Jameel Arts Centre
Looking for inspiration? You will definitely find it in Jameel Arts Centre.
This contemporary cultural site covering an area of 10,000 square meters is a multi-disciplinary space, meaning that it is not only dedicated to visual arts, but also contains a library, houses artists’ studios and is an active research centre for writers, artists and all sorts of creative minds.
On top of all that, Jameel Arts Centre has a café which is the perfect hangout spot or place to take a break if you get tired of wandering around this three-storey high cultural labyrinth.
Dubai Community Theatre & Art Centre
Feeling more like performing arts? Your needs will be satisfied too! DUCTAC is the only not-for-profit cultural centre in the city, and promotes basically every and any creative genre.
There is music, there is drama, there is creative writing and there is…fitness too! Definitely check it out.
We don’t want you to sit indoors the whole time though! Take a stroll through Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Beach Residence (also known as JBR).
You will find plenty of places to shop for garments, souvenirs, homeware and accessories along the boulevard. If shopping isn’t for you, and you would rather sit somewhere and relax, do check out the public beach!
Where to party?
With alcohol restrictions in the city, one might think that it is difficult to find interesting nightlife options. That’s a myth, and we’re busting it now! There are plenty of options for night crawlers, whether you are a dancer or heavy clubber or simply want to have a relaxed night out with your friends.
DIFC District: The area of the Dubai International Financial Centre is a nest for nightlife, and your visit might even be too short to explore all the options around. A few highlights include circus-themed Cirque de Soir and abundantly decorated Cavalli Club Dubai (Swarovski crystals, anyone?).
Cirque de Soir has events for every taste, from the very popular “Hip-Hop Chic” nights on Mondays to shows with performers, charmers, snakes and other things that you would never expect to see on a regular night out. Cavalli Club, on the other hand, might have more of an elegant vibe. In 2017 the place was recommended by CNN as the best party spot in the United Arab Emirates.
Things to remember:
Even if the procedure is fairly accessible and clear, you need to remember that visiting Dubai still requires a visa. In 2016 the visa-free period changed from 96 hours to 30 days, which should be enough for tourist explorations.
If you are a citizen of one of the countries identified as “high-risk“ by the UAE Government, you will have to go through a longer application process that requires more documents than average applications. However, most nationalities can apply for a visa online through Emirates Airlines, submitting a photocopy of one’s passport with additional travel information.
Islam is the official religion in UAE, and Dubai is a Muslim state. Tourists should therefore be mindful of the local customs and traditions as well as respect dress codes, such as when visiting religious sites (mosques).
Islam being the official religion means that UAE also follows the Islamic calendar. This means that certain holidays and/or celebrations fall on different days from year to year. Be mindful of the fact that some businesses may have different operating hours during the Islamic fasting month, known as Ramadan.
You can expect festivities for Ramadan’s end as well as for the celebration of Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, but bear in mind that dates for these holidays aren’t fixed according to the Western calendar.
Recommend budget tours in Dubai:
- Dubai Desert 4×4 Dune Bashing, Sandboarding, Camel Riding, Dinner
- Full-Day Tour of Abu Dhabi City From Dubai
- Desert Safari in Dubai with Barbecue Dinner and Live Shows
- Dubai Desert 4×4 Safari with Quad Ride, Camel Ride, BBQ Dinner and Belly Dancing
- Dubai Top Five Attractions Tour Including Dinner
- Dubai Helicopter Tour
- Dubai City Tour including Burj Khalifa ‘At the Top’ and Lunch at Burj Al-Arab
- Dubai Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark Admission
- Bateaux Dubai Dinner Cruise
- Dubai Hot Air Balloon Flight Including Gourmet Breakfast and Falconry Demonstration
Get your guide is a Great company, that often offers heavily discounted tours! Check out a few options below: