I have had Dubai and Abu Dhabi on my bucket list for years!!! I was fortunate enough to recently take an exploratory trip there in order to share some information with our clients about flights, hotels, tours, and activities in this magical city. I had never travelled to the UAE before so was not quite sure what to expect, but ended up having the trip of a lifetime!
It was safe, clean, exciting, affordable, organized, stunningly beautiful and bright! From the city highlights, to the beautiful beaches, exotic foods and unlimited entertainment and activities…it really is the full package for people and families of all ages! I will most definitely be back there any chance I get. I spent 2 days/nights in Dubai and 5 days in Abu Dhabi so will share my experiences and reviews in 5 Parts!
I found it a bit overwhelming in the beginning stages of planning the trip to understand all the diffrent areas, where to stay, and what to activities to plan. I was lucky enough to have the help of our Bains Travel Dubai Experts, as well as our preferred supplier in the UAE Arabian Adventures to help me plan and navigate my way through the whole process.
Before leaving we planned extensively, and came up with the perfect itinerary to maximize our time spent in a city that has unlimited things to see and do! I would say that we packed a lot into our trip and I still don’t feel like I even scratched the surface!
We booked a Traditional City Tour, New City Tour, a Desert Safari (my favourite part of the trip), as well as a few select hotel inspections to get a better idea of what was available for accommodations in the various areas of Dubai. In addition to that we organized a meet and greet at the airport.
Upon arrival to Dubai we were met by a lovely lady who privately escorted us through a priority line at Customs, Duty Free (the cheapest and best place to buy liquor + wine), and finally took us to a waiting area where we were then introduced to our driver who transferred us to our hotel. Our driver picked us up in a new air-conditioned super clean SUV and took us to our hotel in style. He was a very friendly guy who also gave us a bunch of insight in to the different sights as we drove to our hotel.
It’s definitely nice to get off your plane in a foreign country and not have to worry about a thing after 20+ hours of travel!
For our two nights in Dubai we stayed at the 4-star Metropolitan Hotel which is centrally located downtown Dubai alongside the Sheikh Zayed Road. It was great value and the location worked out perfectly for us. We packed a lot into our time there, so needed our rest but as soon as we arrived at the hotel we decided to go for a quick bite to eat and grab a drink.
It’s a strange concept that you cannot drink except in hotels, so we didn’t venture out, but instead went downstairs in our hotel where they had several options including a super chic open air concept Shisha Bar (Al Sheif) with traditional Arabic food, and the option to have a drink and smoke some shisha. For those of you looking for a pub-like atmosphere you can head over to the Red Lion, and there were also two other restaurants Don Corleone (Italian food) and Al Safa (where brunch/lunch and dinner are served to choose from. Or throw on your swim suit and enjoy a roof top bar (Tropicana) that overlooks the city!
The hotel itself is an open concept with only 3 floors. We had a suite for 3 of us and were super impressed with the amount of space. It had two full bathrooms, a large kitchen table plus a whole living area and a huge bedroom that fit an extra bed. If you are traveling with 3 people, this is a great option. It included brunch as well which was the greatest thing to wake up to!
Brunch is a big deal in Dubai, so make sure when you book that you have breakfast included in the hotel price as it is around 75 dollars to add on after the fact. They go all out for this with the freshest fruits, breads, eggs, meats, salads, even hummus, falafels and Indian food is served in the morning. Take your time for this and enjoy!
We started our first day with a private Traditional City Tour with our guide Gabriel Dima from Arabian Adventures. They picked us up from the hotel in a nice air conditioned van with a driver and our uber knowledgeable guide Gabriel who would spend every moment informing us of facts and cool stories about Dubai, the history, the people, the culture, and the future of Dubai. Anything you want to know, he knows it. We called him our encyclopedia!
The Traditional City Tour consisted of stopping at Jumeirah Mosque, visiting the outside of Zabeel Palace, driving through the traditional side of Dubai where we then stopped at the old City of Dubai (Al Fahidi Cultural Neighborhood & Museum) to learn about the history of how this town was built and operated. Fun fact, it was actually built entirely out of Coral! They then added an outer wall to protect it, but you can actually see the coral as you walk through. There was art, a coffee plantation museum, and many corridors and interesting spaces to look at. It is the oldest part of Dubai, so its interesting to see the juxtaposition.
Next we stopped at the textile market where there are rows and rows of beautiful colorful fabrics, scarfs, traditional Arabic clothing to look at. We then crossed from the Bur Dubai Side creek to the Deira Side in a traditional water taxi called an (Abra) to what I was most excited about, the Spice Souk and Old Gold Souk!
The Spice Souk was super festive with brightly coloured spices and teas on display. I bought a bunch of different types of spices, teas and even chocolate there very cheaply. I wish I would have bought more!
Then off to the Old Gold Souk which was at the top of my priority list! Gold and Diamonds in Dubai are a very good deal, so if you are interested in buying some new jewelry, this is your place. You do however have to be quite patient. You will have people hounding you asking if you want designer bags, replica watches or simply just want to come into their stores.
There are endless rows of stores with diamonds and gold everywhere. You have to barter as well, so if you want to get the best deal you must go to a few places to figure out what the real prices are!
Another great thing to buy is one of their traditional perfumes or incense. The smells are unlike any others. One things we noticed right upon arrival was that everywhere smelled so good! Most shops, hotels burn beautifully fragrant Arabic incenses that will make you feel like you are in the lap of luxury.
We were also informed that many people there actually burn them in their closets to keep their clothes smelling beautifully fragrant all day as well. Some retail for hundreds of dollars if you can believe it. We did many samplings and ended up buying some Arabic perfume oil that smells unlike anything you can find here in North America!
We finished our day with Gabriel our tour guy, and he dropped us off at the Gold and Diamond Park which was just across the street from our hotel. It is a calmer environment and has most of the same souks but is an enclosed air conditioned space with hundreds of sparkly stores to choose from. I got a gold necklace made with my name in Arabic for fun, and had a great time walking through the stores looking at all the stunning jewelry they had to offer. You can still barter with these stores, but it’s a much more relaxed environment.
Next to come…Part II where we do a New City Tour and visit the the Palms Island of Jumeriah and a few hotels!