Built in the last few decades, this modern city has historical influences that reflect the Middle Eastern culture of its first settlers. Divided into Old and New Dubai, the former features traditional Arabian architecture while the latter boasts a glass skyline. Yet, with a 90 percent expatriate resident population, it has also become home to a mix of cultures where it’s common to see street signs in various languages and hear multilingual conversations in passing.
When to Go
While Dubai is predictably sunny almost year-round, the high season is between November and April and the (very) low season is summer, when extreme temperatures of 110 degrees are a daily occurrence. No matter what time of year, pack at least one sweater for the highly air-conditioned malls and chilly evenings exploring desert dunes.
During the holy days of Eid al-Fitr, Dubai is abuzz with festivities for both locals and tourists. Experience elaborate dinner buffets, nightly firework spectaculars, major shopping discounts, and special live performances throughout this festival marking the end of Ramadan—a month-long daytime fast in the Islamic calendar. Dependent on the lunar cycle, Eid dates change every year, but plan ahead since many residents from neighboring Arab countries also head to Dubai for the three-day holiday.
What to Eat
Although Dubai offers international cuisines at every corner, authentic Emirati fare is a hidden treat. Usually made up of meat or fish accompanied by flatbread or rice, Emirati dishes blend unique flavors and spices, such as cloves, coriander, and cumin. Don’t leave without tasting al machboos, a spicy meat stew with dried lime and vegetables on rice, and al khameer, a puffy flatbread served plain or with savory or sweet fillings.
Souvenir to Take Home
Head to one of the many souks, or marketplaces, for a selection of United Arab Emirates-inspired keepsakes. Oud-scented incense produces an aroma of strong and musky notes common to the Middle East, and traditional Arabic coffee pots and calligraphy prints are staple living room additions. Don’t forget to pick up a box of sweet wanan dates, one of the varieties local to the country.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Sustainable Travel Tip
The UAE has the world’s largest ecological footprint and though the country is working to reduce it, it’s important for visitors to make as little environmental impact as possible. Engage in eco-friendly outdoor activities like sandboarding instead of dune bashing (driving over the dunes) and buy food products imported from nearby countries instead of faraway regions. Make sure to stay hydrated in the dry desert heat with reusable water bottles instead of plastic.
One of the most iconic views of Dubai is the seven-star Burj al Arab hotel. For the best shot of the sailboat-shaped landmark, head to nearby Kite Beach at sunset for uninterrupted views framed by soaring kites.