Dubai and Las Vegas have a lot in common. Both cities share a love for the fantastical, with skylines that shine like beacons against barren desert backdrops. People from all over the world flock to these shimmering oases with the same goal: to play hard. But as a vacation spot, Dubai easily trumps ol’ Sin City thanks to its gorgeous cream-colored Persian Gulf shoreline, international culinary scene, and larger-than-life attractions. And the city’s still growing; plans are underway for something bigger and better. It’s estimated that a quarter of the world’s construction cranes can be found here. If that’s any sign, even the sky may not be able to limit Dubai’s growth.
Dubai is a city of superlatives, home to the world’s tallest tower, the world’s largest shopping mall, the world’s largest man-made marina… But on a smaller scale, this emirate is still tied to its days as a modest port town. Traditional wooden abras float past motorboats on Dubai Creek, the natural sands of Jumeirah Beach flank the carefully sculpted Palm Islands, and the bustling Gold and Spice Souks (marketplaces) thrive amid the larger-than-life Dubai Mall. Despite constantly looking to the future, this city remains very much rooted in the past. It’s this dynamic that not only put Dubai on the tourist map but will also keep it there.
How To Save Money in Dubai
- Plan in advance A trip to Dubai will be expensive. But you’ll have a better chance at snagging a lower room rate if you make your hotel reservations two to three months in advance.
- Visit in the summer Most travelers can’t take the heat during this season, leaving little competition for desirable room rates.
- Stay sober Alcohol is rarely served outside of luxury hotel bars, where prices are about as high as the Burj Khalifa. You’ll save big bucks if you skip the drinks.
Dubai Culture & Customs
Dubai stands as one of seven principalities (or “Emirates”) that make up the United Arab Emirates; the other six are Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al Quwain. Each emirate is governed by a sheikh, or prince. The sheikh of Abu Dhabi acts as president of the Federal Supreme Council (the UAE’s main legislative body), while the sheikh of Dubai fills the role of vice president. Although Abu Dhabi serves as the official capital of the UAE, Dubai has long been the emirates’ commercial and financial hub.
Dubai wasn’t always the economic powerhouse it is today. In fact, until the city’s laissez-faire attitude towards commerce helped establish Dubai as a primary trade spot along the Gulf Coast, the principality was little more than a simple port town. With some help from the pearling industry, Dubai’s leaders were able to turn the quiet fishing village into a booming metropolis. And the city continues growing; the current sheikh, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (“Sheikh Mo” as he’s fondly referred to) is strongly invested in the city’s growth and status as a tourist hotspot.
The emirate’s role as a commercial heavyweight attracts people from all over the world. Today, Dubai’s population represents more than 180 countries, and each nationality has left its own imprint on daily life. However, the dominant religion here is Islam, and Muslim culture greatly impacts Dubai’s society. As a result, visitors are encouraged to dress moderately here—that means no exposed chests, thighs, or midriffs—and alcohol is not commonly found outside of international hotels. Those who visit during Ramadan (the Islamic month of fasting) are encouraged to refrain from eating or drinking in public places.
Despite its size, Dubai has earned a reputation as being one of the safest places on the planet. The UAE remains very much removed from the political and religious conflicts taking place in other parts of the Middle East. That being said, travelers should still be cautious with their valuables. Women visiting Dubai should also feel safe to move about freely. However, women are often taken aback by Emiratis’ tendency to stare; note that gaping is most likely out of curiosity, not rudeness.
Although the official language is Arabic, Dubai’s trade history and booming tourism market means that almost everyone speaks English. American travelers can also rejoice in the fact that most major credit cards are accepted at stores, hotels, and restaurants. For those paying in cash, the official currency here is the Emerati dirham (AED), which is equal to roughly $0.27 USD. Have cash on hand when visiting Dubai’s traditional souks (markets).