You’ve just decided a trip to Dubai, the Middle East’s most exciting city, and you’re thrilled! But you’re not entirely sure how to go about planning your first trip to Dubai. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Bayut has compiled a handy guide for first-time visitors to Dubai to get the most out of your trip. We’ll tell you all the need-to-know before your first trip to the city, so you’ll avoid the common mistakes tourists to Dubai make! Find out the best time to visit, how to get around the city affordably, the best attractions to check out (which doesn’t just include Burj Khalifa) and so much more. So, without further ado, let us begin!
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOUR FIRST TRIP TO DUBAI
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Dubai is a HOT travel destination; we mean that in both senses of the word. Not only is it in vogue right now, but the temperatures in summer are totally off the charts, especially from May to August.
We recommend you plan your visit to Dubai between November and March, seeing as it’s literally the coolest time to visit Dubai. If you want to make your first trip to Dubai extra special, make sure to plan your first trip between January and February to enjoy the renowned Dubai Shopping Festival. Since this is the peak tourist season, expect an increase in airfares and hotel prices.
APPLY FOR A TRAVEL VISA
When it comes to applying for a travel visa to the UAE, you will fall under one of the three categories:
- Visa Exempt Travellers
- Visa On Arrival Travellers
- Visa Required Travellers
You can learn about the visa requirements to travel to the UAE on the UAE Government website. For instance, citizens of GCC countries do not require a visa or permit before they travel to the UAE.
Citizens of certain countries are eligible for visa on arrival to the UAE. Depending on the country, these travellers can get a 30-day or 90-day visit visa, single or multiple entries. However, those that require a visa before arrival must apply before they depart for the UAE. Travellers can apply for these visas through tour agencies, hotels or UAE-based airlines such as Emirates or FlyDubai.
BOOK YOUR FLIGHT TICKETS
The best way to save money on airfare is to book in advance! Don’t expect to get any great deals if you are purchasing a ticket for same-day-departure. To book your tickets, consider UAE-based airlines like Emirates and Etihad that have now earned global recognition! Looking for a more affordable alternative? FlyDubai and AirArabia are budget airlines that will let you travel to the UAE without breaking the bank. Make sure you book your airline tickets at least four to six weeks in advance to land the best rates.
Check out websites such as Skyscanner and Momondo to book your airline tickets online. Make sure to check for promo codes that can discount your airfare further or give you an increased baggage allowance (because you may need it on the way back!).
BOOK YOUR ACCOMMODATION
Avoid any hiccups during your trip by booking your accommodation a couple of weeks in advance, as hotels can be fully booked during peak tourist seasons. Dubai is home to some of the most luxurious hotels and resorts, although there are options available for every budget! Go the easy route and book one of the hotels near the Dubai International Airport. You could also stay in Dubai Marina or Downtown Dubai, the city’s popular hubs that are also favourite with tourists.
Looking for a more homely feel? Short term apartment rentals in Dubai are also common with visitors planning for a longer stay. You can find daily or weekly rental apartments on Bayut that suit your needs and are nearby Dubai’s attractions.
WHAT NOT TO BRING TO DUBAI
Before you start packing, you need to understand that Dubai has strict laws against drugs brought into the country from overseas. If you are on medication, make sure to only take the required amount and also keep your prescription handy to verify that the medicines have been prescribed to you. Recreational drugs, however, are absolutely forbidden and carry strict legal penalties.
There are a few other banned items that you should keep in mind when coming to Dubai. To avoid any trouble, take a look at the official website of Dubai Customs for the whole list.
WHAT TO WEAR IN DUBAI
Dubai is famous for its hot weather, so for most of the year, light summer clothing is the ideal option. But bring along a cardigan or jacket for the cool and breezy evenings of Dubai in winter. Make sure to respect the local culture and dress modestly during your visit to Dubai. Keep the swimwear, short shorts and more for the private beaches and swimming pools in the city.
The official currency used in Dubai and the rest of the UAE is Dirhams, which is abbreviated officially as AED. You can either exchange your currency to Dirhams in your home country or at the Dubai International Airport itself. It’s handy to have some cash on you as soon as you arrive to purchase SIM cards and pay for transport. If you’re not keen to exchange currency at the airport, you can do so at hotels and exchanges centres around the city.
Most places will accept debit and credit cards from major providers such as Visa or MasterCard. But it’s best to always have some local currency on hand as not all stores (especially smaller ones) will accept cards.
GET A SIM CARD AT THE AIRPORT
You’ll need your phone active soon after you land, and not only for the #JustArrived selfies. Roaming charges can be expensive, so get a SIM card. You’ll encounter options right beyond the customs area at the airport.
In Dubai, the main cellular service providers are Etisalat, Du and Virgin Mobile. Some of these offer prepaid plans exclusively for tourists that include phone, SMS and mobile data. Take a look at the additional discounts and offers available with the SIM card before selecting a carrier.
GETTING AROUND DUBAI
You’ll be happy to know that there are many modes of transport to get around on your first trip to Dubai. You can choose to ride the bus, take a taxi or experience the Dubai Metro.
The Dubai Metro is the best and affordable option for those looking to get around the city while saving on transport costs. While it connects to most major landmarks and hubs, expect to use a taxi to get some areas. Luckily, taxis are easily available in Dubai and are a quick way to get about the city, although you will pay a higher fare. You can also use ride-hailing apps such as Uber and the UAE-based Careem to travel within the city. Or consider the hop-on hop-off bus tours that take you to all the major attractions in the city with multiple routes to choose from!
For the RTA buses and Dubai Metro, you’ll need an NOL card (Nol means Fare in Arabic). You can get a Prepaid NOL card from RTA customer service centers, ticket offices, authorized sales agents, bus and metro stations. Once you’ve purchased your NOL card, you can top it up online, at Dubai Metro stations and even certain bus stations.
PLAN YOUR ITINERARY
Start exploring Dubai from the moment you touch down in the city by hiring a tour guide right from the airport. Some of these tours are structured for transit passengers, but they’re a great way to check out the major attractions of the city.
Dubai contains scores of swanky shopping centres, restaurants, theme parks, souks, and museums. No matter whether you’re looking for a slice of culture and history or the latest of entertainment and technology, Dubai has it all. Let your inner shopaholic run wild at the best malls in Dubai that combine shopping, entertainment and dining into a thrilling experience. If you’re bringing the kids, they’ll love the city’s massive theme parks like IMG Worlds of Adventure and Dubai Parks and Resorts, where oodles of fun await! And when you’re tired from the exhilarating adventure, head to the old souks of Dubai for a glimpse of the city’s history and to pick up the perfect memento!
And if you end up being a bit short on cash after your splurge, don’t worry, we’ve also got things you can do in Dubai for free.