After three months of travelling through southern and eastern Africa I was beyond ready for decent WiFi and some down time. I had two days in Dubai before I flew to Central Asia and I’m not ashamed to say I spent one of the days hiding from the heat in my dorm, making the most of the internet. The next day was spent exploring, and there is a lot to see in this desert gem of a city.
Public transport in Dubai is pretty wonderful. There’s an extensive bus system with air conditioned bus stops which are a tiny oasis in the summer heat. The metro is clean, efficient and easy to navigate, with women-only cabins. There’s also the Dubai Marina tram and the Palm Jumeirah Monorail. You can buy yourself a Nol Card (the red for short layovers and the silver for longer stays) which you can use on all public transport, apart from the monorail.
Walking around Dubai in the summer is not recommended, trust me, I did it. It’s impossibly hot, humid and dusty, with the attractions spread far and wide. Public transport can make it surprisingly easy, for example bus 8 runs along the entire seafront from the Marina to the Gold Souks and back. The metro red line is also useful and stops at the major attractions in the city centre.
The other option is the expensive but extensive Hop On – Hop Off City Sightseeing bus tour with three routes covering the entire city. A 24 hour ticket costs AED 240 ($65) and gets you a free dhow cruise, entry to the Dubai Museum and a City of Lights Tour. The 48 hour ticket costs AED 295 ($80) and gets you even more free stuff: entry to the aquarium and zoo, a Palm Jumeirah cruise and a Sharjah tour.
Because I’m bad at planning (and skint) I decided to brave the summer heat and use public transport, which still involves a lot of walking. I was staying at Backpacker 16 Hostel in Barsha Heights, a cheap but modern option with dorm rooms inside tiny, self-contained apartments with a rooftop pool and all the AC you could wish for.
From the hostel it’s a quick walk to the Dubai Internet City metro and only three stops on the red line to Jumeirah Lakes Towers station. Here you can hop onto the Dubai Marina tram that takes you on a loop through the canals and towering skyscrapers, past the Dubai Marina Mall, the beach and the Marina Promenade.
Make your way up the coast via the tram or bus to the Mina Seyahi, a huge beach resort, and the Palm Gateway monorail station. Tickets cost AED 30 ($8) for a round trip. From the train you get a great view of the Palm spread out below you, past all 16 ‘fronds’ with a final stop at the magnificent Atlantis The Palm Hotel and the super fun Aquaventure Waterpark.
Back on the mainland you can now use bus 8 as your own Hop On Hop Off service, stopping at Souk Madinat Jumeirah (a huge shopping complex), the famous Burj Al Arab Hotel (you need to be dressed smartly to enter) and the Umm Suqiem Public Beach (be sure to cover up even if you’re swimming).
Further along you can stop at the cute Mercato Shopping Mall and the Jumeirah Mosque, before making you’re way across the river to the Deira Gold Souks. This is a great place for shopping on a budget if you don’t mind bartering for knock-off products or giant pieces of gold jewellery. It’s worth a look even if you’re not looking to buy anything.
Also around this area you’ll find the Dubai Museum, the Old Souk area Al Ghubaiba (currently closed for refurbishment) and the starting point for a dhow cruise. When you’re ready you can hop on the red metro line and make your way south again. Be sure to stop at the Dubai Mall which is big enough to get lost in for hours, and the world’s tallest building, the shiny Burj Khalifa.
You can go to the almost-top during ‘non-prime hours’ for AED 125 ($35) or ‘prime hours’ (5pm – 6:30pm) for AED 200 ($55). If you want to go to the actual top then you’ll pay AED 350 ($95) for ‘non prime hours’ or AED 500 ($135) for ‘prime hours’ (9am 6pm). This is an extortionate amount of money, and not something I was willing to pay for, but you can get cheaper tickets if you pre-book online.
At this point I was absolutely done with Dubai. I was dirty, sweaty and exhausted having walked about a thousand km even though I took public transport the whole day. If I ever went back I would actually pay for the Hop On Hop Off bus. And if you’re wondering what to wear in Dubai? Most women I saw wore very fashionable clothes that covered up shoulders and knees. Only tourists walk around in shorts and tank tops, and it’s not a good look. Be respectful.
There is so much more that this city has to offer if you have the time (and money). You can skydive over the Palm Jumeirah, ski at the Ski Dubai resort, take a desert safari or ride a camel to a Bedouin camp. It has one of the busiest airports in the world, and is one of the cheapest places to fly in and out of. Just one word of warning… they will not allow you to check in a backpack. You have to pay to have it wrapped if it’s too large for carry on.
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