This is Part Two of a three part series on our trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Read about getting to Dubai, accommodation, getting around, and desert safaris in Dubai with a Difference.
Dubai is well known to be a haven for shoppers in Asia but we were still blown away by the sheer size of their complexes, from the Dubai Mall to the Mall of the Emirates to the Souk Madinat Jumeirah. The Souk was my favorite, due to its more traditional design and outdoor restaurants and cafes.
If you’re in it for the designer shopping, you’re better off at the Mall of Dubai. The Dubai Shopping Festival is usually held around December/January and since we visited in January, we were privy to its sales and abundance of shoppers. Prices tend to be high regardless of the sales, but there were some great bundle deals (three designer watches for the price of one, sixty percent off designer suitcases etc.) so if you’re in the market for high end materials at slashed prices, this can be great for you!
Christian and I pretty much got tired walking the first level of the Dubai Mall. The stores are endless, and they feature almost every known brand. Want an amusement park for your kids? Got it (in the mall itself, we kid you not). Rollercoasters, arcade games, the works. Want a movie theatre? Of course. The Mall also features the incredible Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo that’s worth a visit if you’re into indoor aquariums. Lines are long during the winter months, and especially between noon and seven in the evening and there is an entrance fee. Want some lunch? How about California Pizza Kitchen? Or TGI Fridays? (go here for great views of the Dubai Fountains – read about this in Dubai on the Water, our final installation on Dubai, coming soon!)
Do: Call a taxi to the Mall in advance, or take the metro
If there’s one top tip we can give you with regards to the mall, this is it. There is a separate floor for lines for taxis on-call to get out of the Mall. If you haven’t called ahead, taxis take at least half an hour to get to the Mall. Standing in line takes between half an hour to two hours (we are not kidding). Call.ahead. Better yet, take the metro from the Mall (note that the metro connects you within the city and the Tram is designed to take you into the Palm!) It’s a long walk to the metroy station from the Mall (but it’s all inside) but it’s worth it to just check out the stalls of more traditional souvenir shops along the way. I fell in love with my personalized souvenir which I’d seen before in a Facebook video:
While Christian and I aren’t big on shopping while on vacation (a great way to travel on a budget!) we recommend checking out the Dubai Mall just for the sake of its gradeur.
There is a more traditional Arab section of the Mall as well, where you can get more local items such as Kurthis, but fair warning – they are as expensive as the Western side of the Mall. These are not the bargain prices you would find in the Souks in Dubai – these will be Mall prices. It is worth a trip to this section of the Mall to see the beautiful displays – such as a replica of a Dinosaur skeleton (no, again, I’m not kidding, I felt like I was at the Museum of Natural History in New York!)
This section of the Mall tends to be quieter with few tourists so it’s a great place to check out.
Do: Note the cultural restrictions
We came across an interesting phenomenon at the Dubai Mall. While locals intermingle with tourists in Dubai, with fewer restrictions on dress than in certain other Middle-Eastern countries (tourists don’t require a headscarf, women can wear pants) there are still strict cultural taboos regarding certain behaviors. Kissing and prolonged holding of hands and embracing is strictly frowned upon – indeed, you can be formally reprimanded for this! Interactions between men and women tend to be friendly but physical distance should be kept at all times. Locals complain frequently about tourist behavior – anything that makes them uncomfortable, including men and women sitting next to each other at restaurants. Take note if you’re a couple about to go here on vacation together!
That being said, posing for photos together, and brief hugs are permitted. Yes, I know… it’s something that needs getting used to! As a feminist, this irked me quite strongly, but I do believe in observing the customs of a nation when choosing to vacation there.
Do: Visit the Souk Madinat Jumeirah
The Souk Madinat Jumeirah is located further away from downtown Dubai but it’s worth the trip. Dubai is such an interesting country in so many ways. While certain cultural taboos are very much still observed, we were quite surprised to find one of the largest Christmas trees we’d ever seen, opulently decorated in the middle of the Souk Madinat Jumeirah.
The Souk includes an artificial river flowing through it, with an island of artificial trees and a beautiful bridge to give wonderful photo opportunities. Dubai really does blow your mind.
Note that the Souk also has more than one wine bar. We were advised to consume alcohol in their outside patio, which suited us fine, but this policy will differ by restaurant and to be honest, the preference of the locals present.
It was a day well spent, at chic and eclectic Souk Madinat Jumeirah. Note that the Souk Madinat Jumeirah also offers excellent views of the Burj Al Arab.
Taxis in and out of the Souk are much easier to get than at the Dubai Mall so you shouldn’t have to worry about that. There’s also a section of the Souk that’s cordoned off – that would be for the residents of the apartments at the Souk Madinat Jumeirah and the Burj Al Arab.
Note that we skipped out on visiting the Dubai Aquarium, Wild Wadi Waterpark (which I hear is temporarily closed) and Aquaventure Waterpark, since we were more interesting in doing the desert safari, visiting the Palm, and taking in more cultural sights. These may be of interest to you if you are traveling with children (or a kid at heart ;-))
Consider: Visiting Global Village
You should avoid this if you don’t like attractions built solely for tourists, because that’s what it is.
It can be cool to check out vendors from a variety of countries selling ethnic souvenirs and tokens, and we found the concept of diversity itself very appealing.
The buildings are extremely impressive.
However, it is quite a trip into the outskirts of Dubai, and we did speak to a few visitors who abhorred their experience there, jostled by a host of vendors (don’t you want to buy this? Or this? Or that?) Not to mention, it’s usually packed with tourists and locals alike.
Check it out if you don’t mind solely tourist attractions and crowds.
Do: Visit the Burj Al Arab
…if only to take a picture from outside. This used to be the world’s biggest hotel, with the insides plated almost entirely in gold. This is currently the fourth tallest hotel in the world. The Burj Khalifa is a great place to check out on your way from downtown Dubai to the Palm, especially if you are taking the hop on hop off bus tour. Fair warning: the bus takes around two hours to get from downtown Dubai to the Burj Al Arab so where you tour ahead. Alternatively, you can take the Dubai Tram directly to the Palm from downtown Dubai.
The Souk Madinat Jumeirah also offers great views of the Burj Al Arab.
Do: Visit the Palm
The Atlantis is something else. We were able to enjoy its magnificence fully from the Dubai Creek on a night-time cruise (more about that in our next installation, Dubai on the Water) but arriving at the Atlantis for the first time does take your breath away. The sheer size of it, with its luminescent pink walls and grandiose arches makes it worth the trip from downtown Dubai. Fair warning – it is filled with tourists, guests of the hotel and guests of Dubai alike. Again, taxis are ridiculous to find (due to the long lines) and the metro is the smart couple’s bet.
You can’t really enjoy the features of the Palm unless you decide to see it from above. And now, the million dollar question: No, we did not sky-dive over or do a helicopter tour of the Palm. We seriously considered sky-diving but I ended up being too chicken to do it. Maybe next time 😉
It’s worth mentioning that the Palm, and skydiving on the Palm, is not a budget activity. Skydiving reservations run upwards of US$500.
Allow a day to explore the Palm. You can spend the day swimming and the night at one of its incredible restaurants (make reservations ahead of time, and be prepared to splurge!) Needless to say, one night at the Atlantis wouldn’t be for the couple on a budget, so we recommend staying in downtown or outside of downtown Dubai and taking the Tram in and out for the day. It’s an easy, comfortable ride and it promises to be a memorable day (albeit a little too crowded for our taste!) You can still enjoy the Palm while traveling on a budget, as long as you restrict yourself to what you choose to splurge on!
Want to know about getting to Dubai, accommodation, and desert safaris? Read Dubai with a Difference, part one of our three part series on Dubai. Learn about the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Fountain, the Dubai Souks, and Dubai Creek cruises in Dubai on the Water, the final installation of our series on Dubai, coming soon!
Do: Visit the Dubai Mall (shortly, if you are not a fan of shopping, longer if you are!) Check out the traditional section of the Mall as well.
Do: Call ahead for a taxi from the Mall. Better yet, take the metro. Check out the traditional souvenir vendors on the way.
Do: Visit the Souk Madinat Jumeirah. Not a Souk in the traditional sense but worth the visit because of its comfortable outdoor seating and delicious wine bars.
Do: Check out thee Burj Al Arab, if only from outside.
Don’t: Forget the cultural restrictions for interactions between males and females in the region.
Do: Visit the Palm for the day. Sky-dive if you’re not chicken like me!
Want to know about getting to Dubai, accommodation, and desert safaris? Check out Dubai with a Difference, Part One of our three part series on Dubai. Learn about the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Fountains, the Dubai Souks, and Dubai Creek cruises in Dubai on the Water, the final installation of our series on Dubai, coming soon!
Did you have similar/different experiences in Dubai? Planning a visit? We’d love to hear from you! Comment below with your experiences!
As always, be a conscious traveler: Take nothing, and leave nothing behind. Be conscious, be welcome! Read more about conscious travel here.
Thank you to Kathrin and Jojo for the pictures of Global Village!