Like many females, I was obsessed with the TV drama “Sex and the City”. When the ladies jetted off to United Arab Emirates (U.A.E), the film emphasized both the extravagance of the country while equally showing its strict regulations. It peaked my curiosity about seeing it firsthand and it set the tone for me in terms of expectations.
In February of this year I traveled to U.A.E., specifically to Dubai, as my brother moved there a year ago for business. While it was not top of my list for travel destinations, I welcome any opportunity to explore a new country.
My expectations were not that far off in terms of what “Sex and the City” portrayed, but I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did.
I had intended for a much shorter visit than actuality but because of Covid-19, my travel plans to India and Egypt were cut short, and I didn’t end up going to Oman. As such, I chose to spend most of my vacation time in Dubai. Even though I wasn’t travelling to other countries, there was no restrictions or limitations at the time while I was in Dubai with respect to Covid (this was back in February) ; it was business as usual so I was fortunate to really enjoy the country.
Over the span of 3 weeks I got to visit some of the typical tourist attractions, get a taste of the extravagance and eat at some fabulous restaurants. Middle Eastern food is my favourite so I enjoyed the cuisine and that certainly factored into my love for Dubai. While the extravagance and efficiency in service is what draws most people to this country, as much as I enjoyed them in the moment, after a while it became too much for me. I prefer the simpler pleasures and so my love for Dubai mainly stems from the weather (I love dry heat and feeling the pool the same temperature as the air) and the food. And safety. I have never felt more safe in a country alone at night.
In this article I will share a list of recommendations on where to eat and what to do.
In terms of where to stay, I was at my brother’s place for the bulk of my trip but I did stay at Rose Rayhaan by Rotana Hotel for the initial few days. It is one of the tallest hotels in the world, suspended 72 stories high. I enjoyed my time there making use of the amenities that included a fully equipped gym and outdoor pool. The location is also great, as it is in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and therefore near a variety of restaurants, cafes and less than 10 minute drive to Dubai Mall.
Of note, in Dubai it is illegal to share a room with someone of the opposite sex if the two individuals aren’t married to each other. While many people get away with it, there are some who get reported and arrested. One should keep this in mind if travelling with a male partner who isn’t a spouse.
It is also important to note that even though Dubai is a modern city, one should still be mindful and respectful of the rules and culture. Be mindful of dress attire (dress conservative where possible) and do not swear or scream in public. Also be mindful of any public displays of affection.
WHAT TO DO
There are a lot of attractions and activities to do in Dubai. While this list below is not extensive, it includes what I did as well as some of the items recommended to me.
- Dubai Mall
This mall is one of the largest shopping malls in the world (26th) with over 1200 shops, spanning over 5 million square feet ( it is often cited as the largest shopping centre complex in the world). The mall has a variety of stores, restaurants, grocery store, cinema, an ice rink, an aquarium and underwater zoo, and an outdoor water fountain.
If you are like me and don’t like shopping or a mall, you may want to reconsider as this place is epic to at least check out. Even though I didn’t go shopping here aside from the grocery store, I visited when the mall first opened in the early morning and noted it was fairly empty. The mall usually stays open until past midnight, so get in early if you want to beat those crowds.
- Burj Khalifa
The Burj Khalifa is one of the sky scrappers in Dubai and it is THE tallest structure in the world.
It is applauded for it’s sustainable efforts. It uses solar panels to heat 140,000 litres of water a day, which is distributed to homes and commercial sites in the area. Additionally, every year it collects 15 million gallons of water, which is used for the irrigation system, the cooling system and to supply the Dubai fountain.
- Souk Madinat Jumeirah and Jumeirah Beach
Souk Madinat Jumeirah is an interesting area to walk around. The souks are indoor and a little on the higher end. If you want to get a view of the Burj Al Arab, a seven star hotel, then you can get views from the Souk or Jumeirah Beach.
Please note that you can’t enter any of these surrounding hotels unless you are a guest there. Jumeirah beach is a public beach, next to Jumeirah Beach Hotel.
- Hot Air Balloon ride over Dubai Dessert
This activity was a suggestion as well as a gift courtesy of my brother. Floating in a hot air balloon had been on my bucket list but I wasn’t picky or eager to cross it off anytime soon. Having said that, being able to experience it in Dubai was incredible.
It is very expensive, averaging approximately $500 Canadian per person. Our tour included pick up/drop off, sunrise hot air balloon ride, photos with a falcon, jeep safari ride to breakfast, desert breakfast, and camel riding.
We slowly floated into the air that I didn’t even notice we were going. If you are afraid of heights, it can be nerve racking to stick your head over the basket but for me, I enjoyed watching the sunrise over the golden desert. My one tip for a good photo op is to stand at the end of the basket, away from the heater. You can get an unobstructed view. I had to kindly ask the people next to me if I could squeeze in to take a photo but it wasn’t ideal as we were all crammed but I saw they were able to snag some sweet ones of themselves.
I opted to pass on the photos with a falcon as well as riding the camels.
The desert breakfast was the most amazing breakfast I have ever had for a large group. They even served caviar (not that I even like it but still incredible they offer it)!!
- Pool Day at Burj Al Arab
The Burj A Arab is one of the few 7 star hotels in the world. Many who come to Dubai take a photo on the outside of this hotel as it is very expensive to enter. You have to either be a guest or you can pay for a day pool pass or spa visit- all of which are a pretty penny. This place wasn’t even on my radar but my brother invited me to join him and a friend. I love any excuse to be by a pool or beach.
A pool day pass costs $989AED for 2 people, which is approximately $250 CAD per person. It includes a lounge chair, 3 course lunch, healthy drinks, various snacks throughout your time at the pool (mini smoothies, popsicles, watermelon etc), towels and a welcome kit (that includes bottles of water and your own personal face mist).
While I had thoroughly enjoyed myself by the infinity pool, I will state that I am happy to lounge at any pool in the Dubai heat. Having said that, the service was amazing and the experience was one for the books.
***If you want to visit Burj Al Arab and you don’t want to do a pool day pass, you can also book spa ($350 CAD for 1 hour massage) or high tea ($300 CAD)*****
- Old Souk
Visiting the Old Souk was a highlight of my trip to Dubai. It is about a 20 minute drive from DIFC.
The Old Souk consists of a variety of markets and stalls ranging from Textile Souk, Gold Souk, Spices Souk, Perfume Souk etc. This is a place you can barter prices and pay significantly cheaper than the rest of Dubai. I purchased teas, body oils and packaged spices from here that were also comparatively inexpensive compared to the Western world or the rest of Dubai. The restaurants in the area are also significantly cheaper. If you are on a budget, this area would be recommended for that.
The Souk is open everyday from 10am-10pm, except from 1-4pm, and also closed all day Friday. Also be sure to shop around before purchasing your item. A lot of the Souks have the same items on repeat and often you can barter for a cheaper price, especially if you venture into the stores in the alleyways. Be mindful of your possessions. Even though theft in Dubai is a punishable crime, it is best to not put yourself in a situation of remorse.
- Renting a luxury sports car
This seems to be a popular activity in Dubai but it is extremely expensive!!
Again, courtesy of my brother, he rented a Lamborghini Huracan Spider 2017 for a day. I’ve always wanted to drive a luxury car (drive, not own) so I graciously accepted the opportunity to experience this rush. And what a rush!
- Dubai Creek Harbor
If you would like another view of the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Creek Harbor is perfect for a sunrise photo. It was quite empty when we went, but it is evident that it is an area families can go to for children’s rides and other outside activities, likely on weekends.
- ATV in the sand dunes of Dubai desert
- Palm Atlantis Hotel – you can’t enter without being a guest but allegedly you can pay to eat at Nubu or Poseidon Cafe then roam around the property
- High Tea at one of the hotels like Shangri La, Burj Al Arab or Ritz Carlton . I opted against it mainly because of the price tag. I am not a fan of sandwiches so wasn’t worth it for me just for tea.
- Dubai Miracle Garden
- Day trip to Abu Dhabi – specifically to see the Grand Mosque and the Louvre Abu Dhabi. I went to Louve for a private event one of my first nights in Dubai so was planning to go back during a day trip to Abu Dhabi. We were actually an hour into the drive the day we rented the Lamborghini but with the world starting to go into lock down, I wasn’t comfortable sight seeing so we turned around.
As I mentioned above, I love Middle Eastern food so I knew I would love the cuisine in Dubai. But it isn’t limited to food from this region. Like Toronto, or any other major city, Dubai offers a variety of food choices, including fancy seating to a diner, high energy ambiance to chill vibes. Here are some of the places I recommend, but keep in mind Dubai is known for high restaurant turn around, meaning they don’t often survive past 6 months.
WHERE TO EAT
- Wild and the Moon in DIFC
I was super excited to discover this place after being jet lagged and flying for over a day. I was craving was a cold pressed juice so was delighted to find some here. They have a variety of healthy smoothies and snacks. It is located in DIFC, along with a variety of other restaurants and bars.
I went to Ninive with my brother on my first night in Dubai. While I was not dressed the part (flip flops and t shirt), I managed to sneak in with a friend’s pair of flats. The dress attire in smart casual. But don’t let that deter you. This place offers Moroccan infused cuisine along with a sexy ambiance. I fell in love with the decor, the music, and the overall vibes. And of course, the food didn’t disappoint. I always equate Moroccan with tagine so that was my go to on the menu.
- Al Safadi
Al Safadi is an authentic Lebanese franchise, with a location in DIFC. It is casual dinning with an extensive menu of food. They also do delivery so I enjoyed food from here a few times. The hummus and fatoush salads are my go-to!
- C’est La Vie, rooftop of Address Sky View
I came to C’est La Vie purely for the views. While it is the perfect location for evening cocktails, we cheekily walked in just to snag some pics of the Burj Khalifa. If we weren’t on route to dinner at another spot, I would have totally ordered something so as not to take advantage, but the staff didn’t seem to be bothered that we were there for the backdrop.
- Opa, Fairmont Hotel
As the name suggests, Opa is a Greek restaurant. This place was a highlight for me as it was a combination of great food, amazing ambiance and entertainment. It is located in the Fairmont Hotel, although I am not sure if there is any direct affiliation. The restaurant spared no expense when it came to decor- there was a garden oasis at the entrance and inside the restaurant, planted flowers and cute decor was everywhere. This place, like many in Dubai, requires smart dressing meaning no casual clothing allowed.
The menu offers their unique twist on Greek food and as part of the dinner seating, there was a dance which allowed for all the guests to take part in, including the traditional practice in Greek culture of breaking plates. This ancient practice is said to have brought about the idea of “kefi”, which means to have good spirit and fun.
- Amizonicos in DIFC
I walked by Amizonicos on one of my strolls and was completely drawn in by the decor. I was pleased when a friend living in Dubai offered to connect with me for some drinks at this restaurant. While I don’t drink often (a handful of times a year), this place presented the perfect vibes for some rooftop sangria. I fell in love with the lush jungle vibes on this place. I heard from others that the food also does not disappoint.
- Masti in La Mer
Masti proved to be another gem recommended by some of my local Dubai friends. It is a fusion Indian restaurant that provides jaz music as entertainment. If you are familiar with Toronto, it is the kind of restaurant that would fit perfectly in with Queen street hipster vibes.
Anyone who knows me knows I dislike pizza. But when I saw the menu offered butter chicken and basil pizza, I knew I had to try it. It was INCREDIBLE. We also ordered a few apps to share, and everything we tried did not disappoint.
- Mezza House in downtown Dubai
I wanted one of my last meals in Dubai to be Lebanese food. As usual, the food in this country did not disappoint. And the setting was perfect- outdoor seating to enjoy the warm Dubai heat while surrounded by the city lights and views of the Burj Khalifa.
- Nammos Dubai, Four seasons Hotel
Nammos Dubai is the sister restaurant to Nammos in Mykonos. It is located at the Four Seasons hotel in Dubai, just off the beach. While we could’t get the full beach party vibes that would be appreciated in the day time, the night time ambiance offered a romantic upbeat vibe.
The cuisine is Greek and once again, the Dubai restaurant scene did not disappoint. This was my last night in Dubai and I already made a mental note that if I ever returned to Dubai, this place would be top of my list, if it is still around. We were entertained with live singers, with outstanding voices (literally gave me goosebumps with their renditions of Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban).
As I mentioned above, some of these restaurants may not survive Dubai’s high turn around (especially post global pandemic) but I hope this blog offers you a sense of my trip and some recommendations.