Dubai is a city unlike any other, with its ancient to modern history on display in epic proportions. With impressive skyscrapers, vast desert, and ancient history, Dubai can be a bit overwhelming to first-time visitors. It’s a twirling mix of ancient customs and cosmopolitan modernity, and you’ll want to make sure to see bits of everything on your first visit. Thankfully, this article will ensure that first-time visitors get a taste of all the variety Dubai has to offer.
1) BURJ KHALIFA – STAND ON TOP OF THE WORLD
Burj Khalifa is right outside the great Dubai Mall and is the epicenter of the city’s extravagance. This huge building will take your breath away. Standing roughly 829 meters in height, Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world.
On our visit, we booked a ticket to the 124th floor of Burj Khalifa. This floor has an observation deck with the best view of Dubai and the vast desert. However, don’t expect these views to come cheaply. We spent roughly 50 USD per person for a standard day ticket. If you want to visit during sunset or sunrise, you’ll have to dig even deeper into your pockets. But it is definitely worth a visit if it’s within your budget. From up here you’ll be able to really soak in the strangeness of this giant cosmopolitan city surrounded by nothing but sand dunes and miles of desert.
2) LA MER – THE HIPPEST BEACHFRONT IN DUBAI
This beach is definitely the hippest beachfront destination in Dubai and, perhaps, in all of the United Arab Emirates. It’s definitely worth a visit. The area has several fancy restaurants, many shops, and a huge beach with a crystal clear water. The beach is divided between the north and north and south sections with a wharf the middle. At the wharf you will find a waterpark, lots of restaurants, and amazing street art. The combination of old rustic city with wooden barrels and a beat up truck gives this whole area that extra bit of charm.
La Mer is a wonderful place to spend the whole day sunbathing, eating, and relaxing. Once the sun goes down this place transforms into a lively spot for great nightlife.
3) OLD DUBAI – REDISCOVER DUBAI’S ORIGINS
I am in love with this place and returned many times during my trip. Old Dubai is a mystical place covered in secret tales and fascinating history. You can’t get any closer to the origins of Dubai and the Arab traditions than as you wander through its mazes of abandoned streets and narrow pathways.
Explore the historical neighborhood of Al Bastakiya, shop in the the Dubai souks, and discovery the history of the Dubai Creek that divided the city between tribes and dynasties. Immerse yourself in traditional arabic culture by visiting one of Old Dubai’s tea houses, or pick up some traditional garments at the textile souk as a souvenir. For foodies, don’t forget to stop by one of the amazing spice and herb souks.
4) DUBAI DESERT – A PLACE OF TRANQUILITY
When you’re ready for an escape from chaotic city life, head to the Dubai desert. It is only about an hour drive away and opens up a whole new world of Arab culture. From huge luxurious skyscrapers, you’ll enter a world of untouched and empty natural landscape. Here is where the bedouins reign and the camels roam, and its a place unlike anything you’ve seen before.
There are many companies that provide tours into the desert and overnight stays in bedouin tents. We booked ours with Arabic Adventures, but for more luxurious trips to the desert, I recommend Platinum Heritage Tours. Most tours will pick you up at the hotel and drive you into the desert where you can see the sunset, dine on amazing Arab cuisine, and experience the silence and vastness of the Dubai desert.
5) DUBAI MOSQUES – REVERENCE AND BEAUTY
Of course, you can’t leave Dubai without visiting a mosque. Take the time to learn about Dubai’s religious history, to better understand the city’s culture and customs, and to appreciate the art and architecture of these impressive places of worship. Jumierah Mosque is a popular option for visitors, as it is open to people of all religions and genders who want to step inside. You’ll also find this beautiful mosque adorning the 500 dirham banknote! Other mosques open to visitors include the Al Farooq Omar Bin Al Khattab Mosque, also called the Blue Mosque as it resembles Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, and the Al Noor Mosque in the neighboring city of Sharjah.
6) DOWNTOWN DUBAI AT NIGHT – THE PERFECT FINALE
After a long day getting lost in city, there is no better way to unwind than visiting the Level 43 Sky Lounge on top of the Sheraton Four Points. From up here you soak in glimmering downtown Dubai by night while enjoying one of the many extraordinary drinks and snacks served at the bar. This is an unbeatable view and the perfect way to end an unforgettable vacation in Dubai.
NOTES ON WHAT TO WEAR IN DUBAI
For a first-time visitor, it is definitely important to know how to dress appropriately in this generally conservative city. Some places have a more strict dress code, while other areas are rather open-minded. Always keep in mind that your underwear should never be seen. So when wearing a see-through shirt, always wear a sweater or scarf on top of it. Leave short skirts or shorts at home, and try to cover your shoulders, knees, and chest.
While at La Mer, it’s fine to wear a bikini or bathing suit. Although, never sun bath topless, as this is strictly prohibited in Dubai. Be sure to cover up before you leave the beach and head back into the city.
When visiting mosques or places of worship, women should prepare to completely cover themselves. Sometimes mosques have special robes that are offered to visitors. If not, bring your own scarf to cover your head, and wear a long, loose dress that covers your arms at least till the elbow.
In the Mall, however, the dress code is much less strict. You can wear shorter dresses and sandals, but still try to cover your thighs unless you want some unpleasant looks from passers-by.
From extravagant luxury to ancient history, Dubai is one of the most fascinating and unique cities in the world. There is so much to do and see here, from beaches to sand dunes to skyscrapers to historic neighborhoods. You won’t want to miss any of it on your first time visit!
We hope that this article has inspired you to visit Dubai. If you have any questions about the destination please leave these in the comments below.
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We Are Travel Girls Contributor Marie Listmeier of MarieThereseSaskia.com
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Naina Thakur says
Hi Becky, Awesome guide for the frist time travelers. Love your blog especially the information that you are sharing is fantastic. I have a job in Dubai and every time I am just looking for something new to do in Dubai. Having a great in Dubai. Thanks for sharing your personal experience and just sharing your blog with my community.
Vicky Johnson says
Thanks for your post, it is really helpful guide for the first time travelers.
thanx for sharing. now i know what to expect. looking forward to my trip now
I read your article , you explain everything about Dubai and what to in this city
Amal Owasi says
Great post, Becky! A Quick guide for first-time and solo travelers. How many days do we need to cover all this?
Old Dubai is really a mythical place and gives a sense of history and Arab culture. I loved the view from 124th floor of Burj khalifa, just thinking if there were more pictures from the top.