Having visited the UAE six times, we have gained some valuable information for first time travellers when visiting the country. Dubai is one of our favourite cities, just because it never fails to impress us no matter how many times we visit. However, first time travellers commonly have no idea what to expect when landing in either Abu Dhabi or Dubai. So we want to make sure you don’t make any common rookie mistakes whilst there. As a result we have produced 10 useful tips to know before travelling to the UAE.
It is a Muslim country, so respect should be given, and it does depend on where abouts you are. For example when you’re in hotels, you can dress in standard holiday attire, including bikinis, flip flops and tank tops. However in public areas including shopping malls, parks etc revealing clothes are unlawful, and men and women are expected to dress modestly. That doesn’t mean you have to cover up head to toe. It just means shoulders and knees should be covered, too much leg, boob or butt is not a good look, and you will get some nasty looks. It isn’t illegal and you won’t get thrown in jail, but it is always good to be a culturally savvy traveller!
You won’t find liquor stores anywhere in the UAE, due to religious reasons. Therefore if you are wanting to have a few drinks make sure you head to a restaurant or bar within a hotel complex, as hotels are the only ones licensed to serve tourists alcohol throughout the UAE. Don’t worry if you’re staying in a small local hotel, you don’t need to be staying at the hotel to eat or drink at their restaurant or bar.
3. Best time to go.
The UAE gets HOT, very hot. During the summer months of June to September temperatures are around 45c, and they rarely drop below that. Therefore, walking around during the day can be unbearably hot, its just not fun! However, during these months due to the heat, it is a lot cheaper to visit the UAE, and you can grab some great deals in world class hotels. The best months to visit are between October and April, as temperatures are a lot more bearable and comfortable during the day. If you can help it, do not visit the UAE during Ramadan. Why? Because you are not permitted to eat or drink in public until after sunset and business hours can be erratic. It’s simply not an ideal time as a tourist. Make sure to look up online when Ramadan starts and ends, as it changes every year.
Tipping is not expected or compulsory in the UAE. If you feel the service was excellent, you may want to leave a little extra tip in cash, but it is no way frowned upon if you choose not to. Most restaurants have a standard 10 to 15 percent service charge added on at the end of your meal too. As for tipping taxi drivers the same applies, it is not compulsory or expected, however it is usual just to round up to the nearest note if driving was acceptable.
5. Car Hire.
If you are over the age of 21, you should highly consider renting a car for the duration of your stay. Public transport between cities and towns is awful. Trust me we have experienced this going from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, never again. Care hire is super cheap for a basic car. Expect to pay around 30US$ a day, and not to mention petrol is inexpensive too. An added bonus, is that nearly all hotels and public car parks have free parking, and if not it is still very cheap!
6. NO Hostels.
It is illegal by law to have hostels in the UAE, due to sharing of rooms with strangers. Having said that, we have seen in the past a few hostel type accommodation advertised online. However DO NOT book this type of accommodation, as it is likely to be illegal and not a pleasant place to stay, as they are usually dodgy apartments converted into dorms with bunk beds. If you really are on a tight budget, go in summer as hotel prices plummet and even then you can treat yourself to a luxurious hotel.
7. No Go’s.
Even if you’re married, under no circumstances are you allowed to show affection in public places. It is seen as highly offensive and rude. Kissing, holding hands or even cuddling is considered unlawful in public. You might encounter other people doing this, especially in touristy areas like shopping malls. However it is always good to be culturally aware and respect other cultures as a traveller, so we highly discourage showing this behaviour in public. Do be aware, some Emirate’s are less liberal than others, most notably the Emirate of Sharjah is very strict when it comes to showing affection in public.
Taxis are widely available in the major cities throughout the UAE, are are fairly inexpensive. All taxis are metered and can be flagged down from the side of the road. Taxis start at 20 AED from airports, and street pickups starts at 3 AED. Make sure to have small change when paying the drivers, as they will not accept large notes. If you are a female solo traveller it is also possible to use a ladies taxi, they are distinguishable from other taxis by the cars pink roof top.
9. Do not just stick to Dubai.
Many travellers make the mistake of just visiting Dubai, when travelling to the UAE. It is an amazing city and is definitely worth a few days. However, Abu Dhabi has some great sites including Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Al Ain isn’t necessarily a popular place for travellers, however if you do want to see more of the UAE it does have a great zoo located in the desert, an oasis and a great viewpoint.
Arabic food is delicious! Especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with the vast array of international cuisine available, it’s easy for tourists not to try some of the local dishes including authentic falafel and kebabs. They use various meats just not pork due to their muslim culture. If you want to try an authentic Emirati dish, try Shawarma. It is a type of spicy meat served in a wrap, and is considered fast food, so you must try it while you’re out and about.
Do you have any further questions, additional tips to add to our list, or you just enjoyed and found this useful? If so, do not hesitate to comment below on your thoughts! We love hearing from you guys! 🙂 Happy Travels!
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Super interesting… good to know about the food, don’t think I’ve ever really given a Arabic food a go! Need to check it out! Would probably only have thought of dubai. 🙂
I have stopovers in UAE all the time since I’m from Australia. I never stay for more than a few hours and never leave the airport for the exact reason that you mentioned, i didnt know what to expect. Thanks for showing me what it’s like and how to make the most of my time there. I will definitely spend a few days there next time i pass through
Awesome! We currently live in Australia too, and always stopover in the UAE! Quick tip: Etihad and Emirates usually allow you to build a stopover of a few days into your flight ticket for free! 🙂
Emma & Yannick
Great tips thank you! UAE is on our list to travel to! I have a few questions…
Is driving in Dubai easy or stressful? I could barely handle driving a manual in Europe. Which also reminds me are the cars manual or automatic?
My other question is how many days do you recommend visiting?
Driving around Dubai but especially the rest of the Emirates is very easy. Most cars are automatic, but you can make sure of this while you book, as it will say it there. The roads are very wide and straight, and usually empty, just on the main highways in Dubai for rush hour it’ll get crowded like in every large city.
If you want to see most of the Emirates without it getting too expensive, a two week rental car tour should do it. If you just want to do Abu Dhabi and Dubai, a week is enough 🙂 The awesome thing is, the cars are cheap, the fuel is dirt cheap, and parking is free almost everywhere!
Emma & Yannick
Great post I just got back from Dubai this month and agree with every point!
We got the ladies taxi at the airport!
Wish I read this before going because even though we were going and meeting a friend we were still not sure what to expect!
We’re glad you have a great time in Dubai, it’s such a great city!
Emma & Yannick
I have never visited the UAE and feel it’s maybe a country to do when I have a stopover there on the way to somewhere else. I would like to visit one day though.
I remember the first time I went to the UAE and looking all over the internet for the information you’ve placed so well here! Thanks for sharing 🙂
These are great tips know. Consider me heading to the UAE like is my second or third tourist visit simply because of your guide. Never new about the hostels, nice info! Thanks.
Thanks so much, we’re glad to have help you know a little more about the UAE before visiting, it can be daunting visiting a country you have no prior knowledge too! Hope we’ve helped you in this sense.
Emma & Yannick
You have to visit Sharjah, it’s beautiful and full of culture and museums, it’s like how the Dubai and Abu Dhabi were in the 80s