Welcome to your travel guide to the United Arab Emirates! Are you planning a trip to one of the world’s fastest growing cities? No worries, I’m here to help. Here you’ll find everything you need to know about getting to UAE, getting around, what to eat, where to stay, what to do, and how to speak some basic Arabic. You’ll be ready to go in no time with this UAE travel guide.
Getting to UAE
The Emirates are moderately priced to get to, with many direct flights from New York to Dubai, and then connections as needed. As always, check out my tips for finding cheap flights to help you get the most out of your money.
Getting Around the UAE
The choice is yours… choose wisely!
Every time I’m in a new city, I’m tempted to walk around as much as possible. I like getting the feel of the city and I usually come across some pretty awesome stuff that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise! But, Emirati people may think you’re crazy if you say you’re going to walk anywhere even a kilometer away. Because it’s hot. I mean, really, really, hot. But if you’re determined to walk, just be smart – wear lightweight fabric, and bring bottled water with you. Don’t forget to find shade whenever possible!
Taxis are defintely one of the easiest ways to get around the UAE. Some hotels will help you book a taxi if you know where and when you’re going. Keep in mind they may ask you to prepay.
Also it’s important to note that many people take taxis between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. While that seemed a bit odd to me, it seems to be somewhat common practice. The trip is about an hour long – and pretty monotonous – and could cost you $60 or so dollars. For a more budget friendly option, there are buses running constantly that are less than $10.
I used Uber mostly to get around, and found it just as easy as anywhere else. And the best part? In Dubai, when you select your option for Uber, “chopper” comes up as a choice. I’m not kidding. Not that it was ever available for my trips… But it was still kind of mind-blowing to see that as a choice!
I can’t speak from personal experience about the metro in Dubai, but from what I’ve heard from other people, it is very easy to use. There are also train stations conveniently located throughout the city, so you’ll be able to get wherever you’re going.
I was quite surprised at the amount of people who spoke English. This could be because I was mostly in Dubai, one of the biggest up-and-coming tourist destinations, but I was still surprised. Regardless, it’s always good to know a couple of key phrases in the local language: *When you see an apostrophe in the word, it sounds like a short pause. Also, these spellings are mostly phonetic, and are often different across different sources. Remember, Arabic uses a different writing system! Plus they read and write from right to left.
“merhaba” / “ahlan” – Hello “saba’a al-khayr” – Good Morning / Good Day “masaa’ al-khayr” – Good Afternoon / Good Evening “wada’an” – Goodbye “salam alaykum” – ‘Peace be upon you’ (A common greeting) “shukran” – Thank you “’afwan” – You’re welcome “min faDlik” – Please “na’am” – Yes “la’a” – No “arabiya” – Arabic (the language) “inglesi” – English “al’afw” – Excuse me “aasif” – Sorry “ismii…” – My name is… “kayfa haluk?” – How are you? “anta” (m) / “anti” (f) – You “ma’an” – Water “qahua” – Coffee
The exchange rate as of this post, is a little under 4 dirham per US dollar (May 2019). I found that I could have gotten around Dubai for several days without ever exchanging dollars for dirham, since so many places accepted credit cards. To be safe though, I always recommended having some cash on hand. You can also barter for better prices at the souks if you pay in cash. (You might even find some shops who will accept US dollars; just make sure you know the current exchange rate so you know you are paying the right price!)
Do’s and Don’ts in Public
While I was surprised to find the UAE so progressive, its always better to err on the side of caution. Be conservative if you’re ever in doubt! Common practices include avoiding touch between members of the opposite sex (unless married to them). It’s also best to dress more conservatively. That’s not to say that you need to be completely covered, but for women it’s best to cover up to your shoulders and down to your knees.
When you’re shopping at the local markets (called souks), don’t be afraid to barter! I was able to get a beautiful Turkish lamp for half of what they originally offered. Also don’t be afraid to be persistent, or you can end up like me and spend twenty minutes trying on abayas that you have no plans to buy and then have the clerk ask for your phone number. Just say no to begin with.
The Emirates are full of delicious food! Don’t be afraid to try anything new – I can almost always promise you’ll like it! Emirati dishes are full of rice, chicken, spices, raisins, and chickpeas. The flavors are amazing! I fell in love with majboos, a dish made from chicken and rice, lots of seasonings, topped with golden raisins, and served with a tomato sauce. It. Was. Incredible.
The other dish I loved was actually not Emirati, but from Egypt. It’s a dessert called Om Ali, meaning “Ali’s mother” in Arabic. The traditional Egyptian bread pudding is served warm with pistachios and golden raisins on top. Perfection.
Where to Stay in the UAE
Hotels will definitely be your best bet in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. You’ll find hotels ranging to each end of the price spectrum, so choose wisely! You can get some on the modest end, all the way up to the Burj Al Arab, nicknamed “the only 7-star hotel in the world“. (Don’t worry, if you can’t afford to stay there either, I’ve heard that you can still go check it out!)
Must Visit Places
Burj Khalifa – This one should be obvious, as it is the tallest building in the world.
The Gold Souk – The oldest and most famous of the shopping districts in Dubai. Great spot to get a peak at local culture and pick up some souvenirs.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – Located in Abu Dhabi, it’s the biggest mosque in UAE and a true treasure to behold. Even better, you can visit for FREE. Ladies, just be sure to cover up.
Louvre Abu Dhabi – Completed opposite in style from the original in Paris, the Abu Dhabi branch of the Louvre is still a sight to see and full of gorgeous works of art.
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