Friday, 16 November 2018

Planning Your Trip to Dubai

It's coming up to two years since I moved to Dubai so I'm finally putting together a little guide for planning your own trip to the desert. I first visited Dubai in 2007, returning every other year or so until moving here permanently in February 2017.

Dubai Miracle Gardens 

It's taken me a while to settle here as a "home", and living here is not the same as being here as a holiday-maker but I've now got my own edit of breakfast spots, cute shops and splash-out locations that I always take visitors to. Whether you want to flop on a sunlounger, shop shop shop or do something a little more adventurous, Dubai definitely has something to keep you entertained.

Horse riding in the desert 
Where to Stay

For travelling on a budget, I always recommend the Rove Downtown. The location is great, rooms are clean and the hotel is basic but stylish. Airbnb is legal in Dubai and is another option if you don't want the expense and fuss of a five star hotel.

Dubai Creek 

Dubai isn't a cheap place to holiday (check out my Money Diary for a typical week's spending). I'd recommend making restaurant reservations and booking activities in advance so that you know how much money you have left to play with.

TimeOut has a list of free activities which will help keep costs down.

Dubai from the Burj Al Arab 

Breakfast is my favourite meal and my top picks are;
  • The Sum of Us, Trade Centre Area - I am here almost every weekend for the great coffee, veggie and vegan options and all-round good vibes.
  • Tom and Serg, Al Quoz - with the same owners as The Sum of Us, this is the original Aussie-style cafe in Dubai 
  • Baker and Spice, Souk Al Bahar - great views of the Dubai Fountain from the outside terrace and the best freshly baked bread in Dubai 
  • Comptoir 102, Beach Road - super healthy food and the concept store is gorgeous
Baker and Spice 

Brunching is a Dubai institution - I don't mean the avocado on toast type, it's a full-day extravaganza of food and booze. Dubai brunch isn't *really* my thing but if its your first visit it's definitely worth checking one out. Most brunches take place on a Friday (the first day of our weekend) but more and more places are offering Saturday brunches, and some venues have "night brunches" (so, er, dinner?).
Given how expensive food and drinks usually are, it can work out pretty good value and you definitely won't want to eat anything else for the rest of the day...

  • Bubbalicious, The Westin - one of the most popular, a big, noisy, all-out brunch which has to be done once.
  • Al Qasr, Jumeirah Al Qasr - pricier but a little classier!
  • Muchachas - Mexican food and frozen margaritas in a smaller setting - it's all table service which makes for better conversation, my review here.
  • Vida Saturdaze, Vida Downtown - serving more traditional "brunch" foods, with a mix of table service for mains and a buffet too.
The Sum of Us

My favourite bars / drinking spots are:
  • Weslodge - a Canadian-themed bar on the 68th floor of the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel. Great cocktails and music. Ladies night is on a Wednesday.
  • La Serre - a French restaurant at the Vida Downtown hotel, grab a seat at the bar for the best people-watching, friendly bar staff and their amazing home-made crisps.
  • Ninive - a Bedouin-themed venue at Jumeirah Emirates Towers, the cosy seating is perfect for a relaxed evening of drinks and shisha and the food is amazing, too.
  • Fai - a small bar at The Palace Downtown, Fai has great views of the Dubai Fountain from the terrace.
Jumeirah Beach 
  • Kite Beach is one of the best public beaches in Dubai - you can hire a sunlounger, towel and umbrella for AED110 (~£25) and spend a day relaxing and watching the kite surfers, or bring your own beach bag and spend nothing. Nikki Beach and Cove Beach are good options if you're after something a little more luxurious.   
  • Take a trip to the desert with a tour company - there are a few different packages and, while touristy, it is a fun way to get out of the city. 
  • Go up the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, I'd recommend booking at table at Atmosphere for afternoon tea or sunset cocktails rather than visiting the observation deck.
  • Take a trip to Old Dubai, visit the Gold Souk, take an Abra across the Creek to the Textile Souk and visit the Dubai museum - minus any Gold Souk purchases this is a very cheap day out. 
  • Alsekeral Avenue in Al Quoz is Dubai's "gallery district" - while there's never going to be the calibre of exhibitions you get in London, it's a fun place to mooch around the independent (and free) galleries and coffee shops (Wild and The Moon is my favourite). 
  • Take a trip to another Emirate if you have time - read my post here.
  • A desert sunset horse-ride has been one of my favourite activities here, no riding experience necessary.
  • The Burj Al Arab is an iconic venue, but one for those with deep pockets who book in advance.
  • Dubai Miracle Gardens is a little out the way but will provide you with #newprofilepics for days.
Nikki Beach
Top Tips:
  • Visit between October and April for the best (coolest!) weather. Summer gets very hot and will mean that certain venues close their doors and even walking down the street is near-impossible.
  • I wouldn't recommend visiting during Ramadan, many restaurants close during the day and there are strict regulations around eating or drinking in public. 
  • Dubai taxis are very reasonably priced for nipping around town although Ubers have GPS if you're heading somewhere less well-known.
  • Dubai is a Muslim country so be respectful in how you dress in public places - hotels and beaches, anything goes but use common sense and always have a pashmina / cardigan to pop on if in doubt. Religious sites will provide you with a headscarf / abaya.
  • Sun protection is a must - even in winter it's hotter than a UK summer's day. 
  • Check out Groupon and TimeOut for 2 for 1 deals and special offers to help you stay on budget.
  • Pick up a bottle of gin (or your booze of choice) at the Duty Free at Dubai Airport as you leave - you can only buy alcohol in specialist shops with a licence and bar bills add up quickly. The drinking age in bars / restaurants is 21 and its strictly adhered to (I'm 31 and still get ID-ed).
  • "Ladies nights" offer free or discounted drinks / food for women - most are on a Tuesday or Wednesday night. 
  • For souvenirs, try the Textile Souk or Spice Souk for budget buys and Bateel (shops everywhere) for the juiciest dates.


  1. Gorgeous pictures! This makes me want to jump on a plane straight to Dubai

  2. Dubai brunch sounds right up my alley haha. This is an awesome guide!

    Jane / deluminators

  3. It's so handy to have a guide like this from someone who knows the place so well :)


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