Beat the immigration queues
Improvements are being made, but visitors to Dubai can face a long wait before passport control. For a small fee you can be whisked through and have a personal escort. There are three levels of service – if you book bronze make sure you look for your name on the screen and make yourself known. With silver and gold a meet and greet person will seek you out with your name on a board.
Book your Burj Khalifa visit
Want to go up the tallest building in the world? It’s a great view from the observation deck and the whole attraction is well-planned and packed full of background info. Make sure you book At the Top ahead of time. Fast track tickets on the day are in limited quantities and more than double the price. Even pre-booked slots sell out fast.
Sign up for a Frying Pan Adventure
This truly is the best way to see a completely different side of Dubai plus you get to eat your way round nooks and crannies of the city while learning about different cultures. The tours are so popular they need advance booking to secure a slot.
Book a mosque tour or cultural meal
The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding is housed in a beautiful old building in the Fahidi District which is worth a visit alone. Their cultural meals are relaxed, entertaining and will give you a better understanding about the Emirati people whose country you are visiting. Tour a mosque and see another side of Islam to the one on the news or just wander through a fascinating and beautiful area with a guide.
As a visitor you will not be able to buy alcohol in Dubai outside hotels and licensed restaurants as the liquor stores are for residents only. You can order duty-free fine wine and premium spirits starting at 100 AED from Le Clos in advance of your journey. A staff member will text you when you land and hand over your purchases packaged in attractive bags, just before passport control. If you are staying with people, duty-free wine is always welcome as there is a 30% tax in store; your limit is up to 4 litres (i.e. 5 bottles of wine). You can also buy wine and spirits in the duty-free shop after passport control before baggage reclaim.
Check your medication
Codeine based medicines and some opiates, which might be legal in your country, are banned. Check online and get a doctor’s note to verify that they are prescribed if in any doubt. Unwitting travellers have been jailed.
Find out if it’s a full moon
Tours to camps in the desert are common but one that only happens once a lunar month is Dubai Desert drumming. With all the usual trimmings such as Arabic food and camel rides, the unique attraction is playing African drums in the middle of the desert under a full moon. It’s fun, quite a communal bonding experience, great with or without children and good value.
Check what’s going on
Dubai’s social calendar is packed full of events. International artists and bands (here and in nearby Abu Dhabi) are a regular feature and going to a concert in the UAE is (in most cases) a very stress-free and enjoyable experience. Major events include Dubai World Cup(racing), Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, Dubai Desert Classic (golf), Dubai Food Festival, Dubai Rugby 7s and Art Dubai.
Get a deal on eating
There are hundreds and hundreds of restaurants in Dubai ranging from the highest luxury to the cheapest street eat and everything in between. Licensed restaurants are only in hotels and clubs so the bill can mount up. All you can eat buffets are very popular in the city and with a mind-boggling array of dishes from sushi, to oysters to live cooking stations. Brunch is a Dubai institution with ‘free-flowing’ all in deals for most. If you are visiting for a week or more it could be worth downloading the Entertainer app which gives ‘2 for 1’ deals on a whole range of restaurants.
Actually this is one thing to leave until you get here. Rates at money exchanges are very competitive and the head cashier often has some leeway so ask for ‘your best rate’ if you are converting a reasonable amount. Al Ansari is a major chain but there are branches in most shopping malls and throughout the city.
Make travel easy
Public transport in the city is pretty good and taxis are reasonably priced. Buses, the metro and water ferries require the purchase of a Nol card which you can top up with cash (available at Metro stations and some bus stations). Taxis can be ordered on 04 2080808 or hailed from the street but at peak times the RTA Smart Taxi app is useful as it picks up your location. Other geo-located apps are Uber and Careem. Download SmartTaxi, Uber or Careem before you leave.