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I'm an American who visited Dubai for the first time. Here are 11 things I wish I knew before I went.

The writer wears a traditional abaya at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque; View of Dubai skyline
I learned quite a few things when I visited Dubai.Rachel Dube
  • When I visited Dubai for the first time, there were some things I wish I knew beforehand.

  • The weather during my stay was amazing so I think the winter season is definitely the time to visit.

  • The city is bigger than I expected so I'd recommend hiring a guide to see as much as possible.

I visited Dubai for the first time and loved my time there. However, there were a few things I wish I had known before I went on the trip.

Here are a few things I would've wanted to know before I went to Dubai.

Now I know the winter season is the best time to visit, mostly because of the pleasant weather.

The writer stands in front of skyscraper in Dubai
Summer in Dubai is supposedly brutal so visiting during the winter season is the move.Rachel Dube

Dubai has year-round sunshine but I now know the best time to visit the city is during the winter, which, according to US News, spans from November to early March.

When I went in January 2022, the temperature ranged from 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit without any humidity. It was warm enough to enjoy touring and being out and about.

The temperature was also perfect when I stayed in the city and went to the desert. There was a slight breeze by the sea and marina, but nothing that required a jacket during the day. The sundresses and lightweight dresses I packed worked perfectly, but I advise bringing a jacket or long-sleeve shirts since it can get a bit chilly in the evening.

There are so many activities, you likely won't be able to do them all.

The writer poses in front of city skyline on the Ain Dubai
The Ain Dubai is the highest observation wheel in the world.Rachel Dube

I didn't realize just how big Dubai was until I visited. There is an endless amount of activities, so I would suggest trying to identify your priorities before landing in the city.

Based on my experience, I recommend visiting the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world), going on the Ain Dubai, wandering the souks, and strolling along the Jumeirah Beach Residence Walk.

At night, it's worth snagging tickets to see the La Perle show and walking around the Dubai Mall to see the fountain show and lights around the Burj Khalifa.

Dubai is filled with record-breaking attractions but also tons of history and culture.

A building in Dubai
A building in Al Seef is reminiscent of what the city used to look like.Rachel Dube

Though the world's tallest building and highest observation wheel were worth seeing, don't skip the historical part of the city. Visiting Al Seef, the souks, and taking an abra (a boat) across the river were definitely highlights of the trip.

Parts of the city are extremely innovative and new but older areas showcase its history and culture. Seeing both allowed me to appreciate how the city has evolved over time.

Abu Dhabi is definitely worth a day trip and is only about an hour and a half away.

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
I also visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.Rachel Dube

Though I originally planned on visiting only one of the seven emirates, the emirate of Dubai, my friends told me I had to incorporate a day trip to Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates and is located in the eponymous emirate. We hired a tour guide to take us on the hour-and-a-half drive to Abu Dhabi and around the main sites.

Dubai isn't the only city with gorgeous sites and history — there are incredible places to visit nearby.

The interior of the ceiling of the Qasr Al Watan
Driving to Abu Dhabi's breathtaking sites was truly worth it.Rachel Dube

In Abu Dhabi, we visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the Qasr Al Watan (a working Presidential palace), and Heritage Village.

I loved the emirate so much that I'd love to go back just to see more of it.

In addition to offering traditional Middle-Eastern food, Dubai seemed to have every other cuisine imaginable.

Table setting with green beverage, toast on a plate, coffee, and baskets of bread
The breakfast at my hotel was one of my favorite meals on the trip.Rachel Dube

I'm allergic to sesame, so I was worried about what I'd eat on this trip, since Middle-Eastern food and Emirati cuisine use this ingredient quite often.

However, Dubai had every cuisine I could imagine. Everything from Italian food to Chinese options was available, so my choices were not limited.

Though everything we tried was delicious, the food could be pricey.

 

Palm Jumeirah and Dubai International Financial Centre are closer to the main attractions than some other popular areas where visitors stay.

Cream couches with a rug and an art in an upscale hotel in Dubai
My hotel in the Dubai International Financial Centre was beautifully decorated.Rachel Dube

Since Dubai is such a large city, I think it's best to stay close to its attractions. I selected the Four Seasons Hotel Dubai International Financial Centre because it was only a two-minute drive (or a 20-minute walk) to the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall and close to restaurants and shops.

Since it was in the center of the city, grabbing taxis and finding transportation was easy.

Many visitors also opt to stay in Palm Jumeirah, which has waterfront hotels with larger properties and private beaches. It's still close to the city but has some privacy.

Hiring a tour guide ended up being the best decision I made on my trip — and it was quite affordable.

Skyscrapers and other buildings in the city of Dubai
The view from the Dubai Marina Walk was stunning.Rachel Dube

I hired tour guides to maximize my time in Dubai, which was one of the best decisions I made.

We hired guides to take us around the city on our first day, as well as on our day trip to Abu Dhabi, the desert, and a nightlife tour. We made the most of our time in the city and we saw a ton.

We booked most of the guides through the hotel or by recommendations from friends and family who have visited. Each guide was relatively affordable and was accompanied by a driver.

You must bring appropriate attire for mosques and other holy sites.

The writer wears a traditional abaya at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
I wore an abaya at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.Rachel Dube

The holy sites we visited had a dress code. Men should wear a shirt with sleeves that are at least elbow length with long trousers. In mosques, women need to wear an abaya and shayla, which covers their body and hair.

You can purchase an abaya and shayla at many tourist sites or borrow them ahead of entering. I didn't realize the mosques had a dress code, but I would have planned my outfit beforehand if I had.

Don't let your worries about sand and heat cause you to pass up a trip to the desert.

Desert in Dubai
I'm glad I got to see the desert.Rachel Dube

I typically stay away from deserts, but dune bashing — driving at varying speeds over sand dunes — in Dubai was one of my favorite activities on the trip. It was almost like riding a roller coaster on the sand and we got to see a beautiful sunset before heading back to the city.

Don't miss dune bashing if you take a trip to the emirate.

 

Souks are some of the best places to buy souvenirs or spices.

Bowls of spices in ever color of the rainbow at a market in Dubai
You can buy things like souvenirs and spices at the souks in Dubai.Rachel Dube

You can grab souvenirs from just about any attraction in Dubai, but I think you'll get the best prices and selection at the souks, or marketplaces.

Dubai has a multitude of open-air souks, ranging from one for gold to a market for spices, and they each sell a wide variety of items. I purchased spices, jewelry, and souvenirs from different souks and strongly believe they're worth checking out.

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