Dubai insider tips

By Alex Ritman, your Dubai expert

I write for Dorling Kindersley, .... Read more

How to save money plus other advice on Dubai

Eating and drinking

  • Remember that the weekends here are Fridays and Saturdays, so Thursday and Friday nights are the most popular for going out. 
  • Many bars have a 'ladies' night', usually on a Monday, where girls get a set amount of free drinks. Unlike many 'ladies' nights', these aren't usually filled with lecherous blokes. With the right coordination, it's pretty much possible for girls to have a free night out.
  • Tipping isn't compulsory, but recommended, especially given the poor salaries most service staff receive. A few places include a service charge, so it's worth checking the bill first.
  • Lots of places ramp up the air conditioning to near Baltic levels, so you can often be shivering despite it being 40C outside. If you're susceptible to the cold, you'll probably be wanting to bring something long-sleeved or perhaps a pashmina.
  • Despite Dubai having plenty of decent locally bottled mineral water, many posher restaurants insist on serving Evian, Volvic and various other European waters shipped in at great cost financially and environmentally. Unless you're quite particular, insist on the local stuff. It's much cheaper.
  • If you're wandering the streets of either Karama, Deira or Satwa and are in need of a quick bite, a shawarma is the cheap and tasty snack of choice. Many cafés and restaurants will serve them by the roadside and shouldn't charge more than four dirhams.
  • Many of the more lah-di-dah bars aren't particularly cordial to groups of guys. 
  • Be VERY careful about displaying your drunkenness in public. Nine times out of 10 you'll be fine, but it just takes one (local) person to make a complaint or call the police and there could be some VERY SEVERE consequences, possibly including jail time. There have been a few occasions of angry taxi drivers taking their drunken passengers directly to the police, so be wary. 
  • Drink-driving is STRICTLY PROHIBITED. If you're involved in any form of motoring accident and there's even a trace of alcohol in your blood, you're guilty and will probably go to jail. Don't do it.
  • Drinking on the street is also strictly prohibited and al-fresco boozing is reserved solely for places with an outdoor terrace.
  • There are occasional religious holidays and periods of national mourning when alcohol cannot be served.
  • During Ramadan, any form of eating and drinking in public is forbidden until sundown. Most cafés and restaurants that stay open during the day put up blinds or close their curtains.

Getting around

  • The addressing system in Dubai is near-ridiculous, with many of the smaller streets simply called 'Street 7B' or similar. As such, if you're going somewhere obscure, taxi drivers are unlikely to know where it is. Most smaller places operate by knowing the nearest landmark (which could be the nearest McDonald's), which is worth finding out.
  • If you can, use the Dubai Metro as it's fantastically cheap and excellently maintained. You just need to find out if it connects your destinations, otherwise you'll probably have to get a cab at the other end. Read more on my How to get around Dubai page.
  • You're not expected to tip cabbies, but leaving a few dirhams is a nice gesture considering their poor wages and long hours.
  • The minimum cab spend is 10 dirhams.
  • Pedestrians may - legally - have the right of way at pedestrian crossings, but this isn't followed in reality. Be VERY careful when crossing roads, as there are some idiotic drivers out there, often in either massive 4x4s or suped-up sports cars, with little care for anyone else. 
  • If someone does cut you up on the roads, which is likely to happen with the first 10 seconds of driving, please do refrain from giving them 'the finger'. If you do it to the wrong person (ie, a local) you're likely to be hearing from the police.
  • Rush hour is usually between 5.30pm-7.30pm, and the main roads such as Sheikh Zayed Road and Al Wasl can get very busy. 

Sights and attractions

  • As many of Dubai's attractions are architectural, you can do a lot for free, including seeing the Burj Khalifa and Big Bus Tour, which are infinitely more impressive when viewed from the outside. Of course, if you go inside, then you'll need to pay for something (such as a meal). Find out more on my Dubai attractions page.
  • The souks, Dubai Creek and Bastakiya area (the old part of town), can be done in a rather pleasant afternoon.
  • Many of the more upmarket hotels offer free shuttle services to the malls and beaches. It's worth checking this out. 
  • Like the restaurants, the malls often suffer from rather excessive air conditioning, so it's worth bringing something long-sleeved if you're sensitive to the cold.

Other useful tips

  • Couples should be careful about how they behave in public. Holding hands is fine, but anything more intimate is dangerous. All it takes is one Emirati to take offence and there could be severe consequences. There have been horror stories about couples thrown into jails for being too touchy with each other. 
  • Although there are plenty of tiny skirts and tops in the bars and nightclubs, tourists, especially women, are advised to wear 'culturally-sensitive' clothing around town, which basically means nothing too revealing. This is rarely enforced, but should definitely be considered during Ramadan.
  • Most beach resorts allow non-guests to use their beaches and facilities for a fee.  

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