Most visitors who choose Dubai for a vacation have a general idea of what the city offers even before they land. A modern metropolis with clean beaches, five-star dining and plenty of desert to explore, it’s not so different from any other major tourist destination in many ways, but has a few quirks, cultural differences and unique experiences that set it apart.
The Nasma Luxury Stays team know the city inside out, and we’ve put together our top five Dubai Insider list of things you definitely need to know before you visit!
Dubai’s geography is unique in that its origins begin at Dubai Creek and hug the meandering coastline to create a city that has no true centre. Instead, it is a delightful mix of pocket communities that you need to travel between in order to explore. Walking from district to district is not an option with long distances between key points of interest, an absence of sidewalks in many instances and busy roads to navigate.
What Dubai does offer is a great choice of transportation options from easy car hire to a world-class metro system. Official air-conditioned metered taxis are everywhere and can also be prebooked (download handy the S’hail app) with most cab drivers accepting cash and credit card payment.
Uber is also widely available and also operates local car service Careem (download the free app of the same name), which offers visitors a choice of vehicle types from economy pick-up to luxury sedan.
For a different perspective on the city and super cheap travel, Dubai Metro’s red and green lines bisect the city with stations close to major attractions, commercial centres and at Dubai International Airport. There’s a dedicated coach for female travellers plus access for wheelchair users. And for a leisurely trip around the Dubai Marina area, the Dubai Tram links with Dubai Metro stations and also covers Dubai Media City, Dubai Knowledge Park and out to the Palm Monorail.
Dubai Insider tip: Pink-roofed taxis are reserved for female travellers and can be requested (subject to availability) when booking via the Dubai Roads & Traffic Authority taxi hotline on 04 208 0808.
CITY OF CONVENIENCE
One thing we love about living in Dubai is its 24/7 lifestyle and that includes getting your groceries or takeout food fix delivered.
Home delivery is the norm with most apartment buildings or villa communities offering a minimart or convenience store on the doorstep. If you run out of milk or need some fresh tonic for that sundowner, one call and a matter of minutes later the doorbell will ring. And there’s usually no charge for delivery (although a small tip is appreciated).
All Nasma Luxury Stays homes come with fully equipped kitchens, and if you want to stock up for the week there are more comprehensive groceries and everyday essentials delivery options out there. We recommend checking out carrefouruae.com and local sites such as kibsons.com and trolley.ae.
Can’t be bothered to cook? We don’t blame you. Restaurant delivery sites are your savior with talabat.com and zomato.com listing every kind of cuisine under the sun and frequent promotion. Don’t tell the kids, but McDonald’s will happily deliver as many Happy Meals as you can eat (mcdelivery.ae).
Dubai Insider tip: If you’re here on an extended holiday it could be worth forking out a few hundred dirhams on The Entertainer app, which lists 1,000s of dining discounts.
DINE ON A DIME
Dubai and luxury are synonymous but eating out and enjoying your favourite tipple doesn’t have to come with a five-star bill.
With a wealth of restaurants, cafés, casual eateries and an emerging food truck scene, it’s a hugely competitive market and many venues bank on boosting business with all-you-can-eat theme nights, dining app discounts and ladies only promotions.
Dining deal apps we recommend downloading include local discount voucher resource Cobone, global deal site Groupon and our personal homegrown favourite, The Entertainer. A paid app with a choice of different packages and bundle offers covering everything from dining and leisure activities to family entertainment, you can quickly recoup the investment. If you’re a frequent visitor to Dubai, (paid) Zomato Gold membership offers savings of up to 50% on restaurant bills.
Female travellers also have an added advantage with a culture of ladies’ night deals. Historically, Tuesday evenings were for the girls with many of the city’s most popular venues offering enticing beverage deals (read free!) but today, ladies’ night pretty much covers the entire week. From bubbles on the beach to discounted meals and free-flow occasions, there are 100s of options to choose from. And the men are fighting back with a growing community of locations hosting deals for the guys!
Dubai Insider tip: Go to timeoutdubai.com or whatson.ae to find the latest ladies’ night or gentlemen only listings.
Now this is something we know is a little hard to get used to, but in the UAE the weekend starts on Friday (or Thursday night to be precise) and runs through Saturday.
In Islam, Friday is considered a holy day and is observed as such with the Jummah prayers especially important for Muslims everywhere. Until late 2006, the weekend was officially Thursday and Friday, but was shifted in part to extend access to global economies and businesses operating on the Monday to Friday model.
Unlike a Sunday in Europe or North America, life continues largely as normal with shopping malls open all day and into the night, public attractions operating as usual and restaurants thronged with weekend diners.
The first Dubai Metro train of the day is a little later at 10am instead of 5.30am with Dubai Tram also running from 9am instead of 6.30am. Many small shops or those located in the local souks often only open for business after the Friday (lunchtime) prayers or as late as 4pm.
Dubai Insider tip: If you’re planning to take the Jumeirah Mosque tour, avoid Friday as it is closed to tourists. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi (well worth a visit) is open to visitors after 4.30pm on Fridays.
BRUNCH WITH A DIFFERENCE
That gap between breakfast and lunch that calls for a casual mid-morning eggs Benedict bite with friends is turned on its head in Dubai where weekend brunch equals all-out indulgence.
Friday brunch is an institution is the city, although more and more venues are offering a Saturday alternative and there’s even been something of a trend towards night brunches.
The city’s five-star hotels are the anchor for weekend brunch fun and the most popular style is the fixed price all-you-can-eat (and drink) offering with different price options and packages to choose from. It’s also the home of the lavish buffet, with restaurants transformed into market halls featuring tables laden with all kinds of delicious dishes.
Culinary themes range from Far Eastern and Indian to classic brunch fare (eggs and more), high-end seafood and world cuisine (where you can literally eat your way across the globe).
A growing number of smaller cafés or bistro style venues are also jumping on the bandwagon with affordable set menu offers for the weekend or mini brunch set-ups.
Dubai Insider tip: Do your research and choose your venue wisely as some destinations are designed for groups of friends and couples while others offer great family friendly entertainment and activities to amuse the kids.