If visiting Dubai isn’t already on your bucket list, as a former Dubai expat, I would highly recommend putting it there. With its multitude of nationalities and cultures, this fascinating city truly is one of a kind. In fact, only around 25 per cent of its population is Emirati, native to the United Arab Emirates. The rest are expats from all over the world. So, If you don’t like to walk the beaten path and prefer to enjoy Dubai sans the cliché tourist activities listen up! I’m giving you an inside guide on how to explore Dubai through the eyes of an expat.
WHEN TO VISIT
The best time to visit is between October to April. Any other time it gets pretty hot, and you do not want to be sightseeing in the scorching summer heat. Another time to avoid is the holy month of Ramadan. This is a time when the Muslim population fasts from sunrise to sunset and out of respect to them you aren’t allowed to eat or drink in public. Hence, the majority of restaurants and bars are closed during the day. They open after sunset but the ambiance is pretty low key. This is not a fun time to visit Dubai so check the annual Ramadan schedule before you book your flight tickets.
WHERE TO SHOP
One of the many reasons people from all over the world visit Dubai is to shop till they drop. And Dubai very happily caters to that need. The city is spotted with malls of all sizes. But whenever I needed some retail therapy The Dubai Mall was my go to place. It’s the one stop shop for all your retail cravings (including grocery shopping!!) From designer and high street stores to trendy restaurants, the choices are endless. In fact, its quite easy to get lost in this mall. My second favourite is Mall Of The Emirates. It’s missing some of the stores that Dubai Mall offers but its a good spot nonetheless. A little warning though, the malls get extremely crowded in the evenings especially on weekends and on public holidays so avoid going shopping during that time if you can help it.
If you are looking to do some traditional shopping, head down to the Spice and Gold Souks in Diera. Its a favorite with tourists since you can purchase traditional goods as well as souvenirs for all your uncles and aunties back home at dirt cheap prices and haggling is welcomed here. While you are there, catch a ride on a Dhow (traditional Arabic ferry) across the canal for fun. The fare is only 1 Dirham!! So cheap that I’m not even going to bother converting it into Dollars for you.
WHERE TO EAT
When one thinks of Dubai I’m sure the first word that comes to mind is extravagant. And rightfully so. The city’s fast and fancy style is reflected in the plethora of restaurants it has to offer. You can dine on the top floor of a high rise with amazing views of the city or below ground level with views of exotic marine life. But my all time favourite is Shimmers at Hotel Mina A Salam. It’s located on the beach with a stunning view of The Burj Al Arab. Its romantic ambiance makes it a perfect place for date night. Opt for the boat ride from the hotel lobby to the restaurant if you want to impress your dinner mates.
What I always loved about living in Dubai was that it has something for everyone and every occasion. Because of its large expat population, you’ll find plenty of hole-in-the-wall restaurants scattered all over the city serving authentic food from a wide range of international cuisines.. If its Thai food you are craving, make a bee line for Smiling BKK and for Indonesian go to Betawi Café. They are hard to find but well worth the effort. The best (and freshest) seafood you’ll ever eat in Dubai is at Bu Qtair Seafood by Kite Beach. Another old favorite with locals and expats alike is Ravi’s, serving Pakistani and Indian food. Coffee connoisseurs put Mokha 1450 on your list for your coffee fix!! This hidden gem serves the finest Arabic and Ethiopian coffee you’ll ever taste.
WHERE TO PARTY
There are two things that Dubai expats love. Sun Downers and Brunch. With so many beautiful beach restuarants and lounges , it only makes sense that people in Dubai love to catch beautiful sunsets with a tatsy drink in hand. An all time favourite watering hole is Barasti Beach Bar. Grab a cold one in it’s very laid back and casual ambience. If you are looking for something a tad fancier then 360Degrees should be your choice for the evening. Nikki Beach is the hottest offering in swanky beach clubs along with Blue Marlin Ibiza and Zero Gravity. One can party literally any day of the week in Dubai! Tuesdays are Ladies Night and therefore a very popular night to go out for women and men alike. Members of the fairer sex are guaranteed free drinks pretty much anywhere that night.
An important ritual for any Dubai resident is The Friday Brunch.(Friday is the Saturday in Islamic countries, in case you were wondering). They are a big deal here, almost like a rite of passage for Dubai expats, if you will. Tables get booked out well in advance sometimes. It’s a great excuse to unwind from a busy week and also gives all the singles a chance to mingle. Everyone brings their A-game and come dressed to the nines. Its the perfect excuse to see and be seen. The most popular brunch places are Saffron at The Atlantis and Bubbalicious at The Westin. Yacht parties are also a very popular way to kickback with friends and family. Friday brunch celebrations often spill into a night of partying for those with the stamina and a good alcohol tolerance. Saturdays are mostly spent recovering from brunch with maybe only a moderate amount of drinking for some before the work week begins on Sunday.
HOW TO GET AROUND
Dubai is a very tourist friendly place so it only makes sense that the government makes sure that public transportation is top notch. Taxis would be your first choice and are quite affordable. Just bare in mind that its quite hard finding one around 4 pm as that is their standard shift-change time. But fret not my pet and thank the Lord for giving us Uber! Only a little more expensive than a taxi but much more reliable and you get to ride around in a lavish Lexus as all the Uber cars here are owned by private limo companies. Step up your game by calling an Uber chopper. Yes, you read that right. Its nice knowing that that option is always available, right? If you are feeling a bit adventurous then catch a ride on the cheap and convenient metro or the newly installed tram system which in my opinion is not very efficient but you can try it out if you aren’t in a hurry to be somewhere. Or there is always the camel, y’know? Just kidding!