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It wasn’t that long ago that Dubai wasn’t really on most people’s minds when it came to choosing a destination for their next holiday, but these days the so-called City of Superlatives (because most of the things here are the world’s longest, or biggest, or tallest…) sits on a whole lot of bucket lists. If you’re thinking of biting the bullet and giving it a go, or even if you’ve already bagged those flights, then this is the place to be when it comes to Dubai for first timers.

Here’s our quick guide to some of the most common questions about the capital of the United Arab Emirates that come up time and time again, and which’ll make your Dubai trip smoother than a quick hop across the creek in an Abra.

Do I need a visa to enter Dubai?

The Marina is a must-visit when it comes to Dubai for first timers. Image shows two pictures of Dubai taped together, one showing the marina at night with boats covered in bright, colourful lights, and one by day with skyscrapers looming over beneath a blue sky.

We’re going straight in with the really important stuff – and the answer is no! Well, not quite no no. 

You DO need a visa to enter Dubai if you’re travelling on a British Citizen’s passport. But you DON’T need to apply for this ahead of travel, cutting some faff out of planning your trip. Bingo! Instead, you’ll be ‘granted a free of charge visitor/tourist visa upon arrival in the UAE‘ – that’s straight from GOV.co.uk’s Foreign Travel Advice, so you know it’s good. They go on to say that ‘your passport will be stamped with the visa as you pass through Immigration. The visa issued at the airport for British passport holders is valid for up to 40 days.’

What about taking medication into Dubai?

The UAE has some pretty specific requirements for bringing medication into the country.

The UK Government’s Foreign Travel Advice says this: “If you’re entering the country with medication that the UAE classes as narcotic, psychotropic, controlled or semi-controlled, approval is needed from the UAE authorities. Approval should be requested in advance. To gain approval prior to travelling, you can apply for a permit online using the electronic application form on the UAE Ministry of Health website. The UAE authorities advise that applications are normally processed within 5 working days.”

Painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen will be fine to take into the country, but do note that codeine is on the Ministry of Health’s list of controlled drugs, so you will need to obtain permission for co-codamol or paracetamol with codeine in it.

What is Dubai’s currency?

When it comes to Dubai for first timers, know where you can use your card or need cash. Image shows a traditional spice souk in Dubai, with a close up shot of bowls of various spices piled high into a conical shape.

The official currency of Dubai is the United Arab Emirates Dirham, often abbreviated to AED (and sometimes DH too.) Fun fact: the word ‘dirham’ actually comes from the Greek ‘drachmae’, which means ‘handful’ – the more you know. One of your Great British Pounds will usually convert to between 4-5 dirhams – but of course this is subject to change, so always give it a quick Google to check the most recent rate!

When it comes to dropping those dirhams, loads of places will accept card, especially in the mega fancy, uber high-tech malls, restaurants and hotels, but just like in a lot of other places, cash is still pretty much the norm in market stalls and with street food vendors, so always have some hanging around in your pocket.

Top tip: if you plan to use your card for transactions on holiday, make sure to get a travel card specifically designed for this – that way you’ll get the best currency rate, and depending on the supplier, no ATM withdrawal fees!

What is the weather like in Dubai?

In a word? HOT. All year round. That being said, there is still a distinct winter and summer season. Realistically, the lowest temps you’ll ever really face come, just like for us Brits, in January. However, unlike us, the winter weather in Dubai only drops to around a perfectly lovely 20°C. These balmy temps actually mean that Dubai is at its best in the winter, as come summer those temps hike right up to 30°C and above between June and August!

Because it never really gets cold in the city, light, loose clothing is where it’s at (make sure it’s modest for those mosque visits!) But if you’re planning on heading out to the desert, like nearby hill town Hatta, then you’ll really want some layers as hot, hot, hot it may be in the day, but as soon as night falls so do those temps, and fast.

For a full breakdown, month by month, head to our blog all about what the weather’s like in Dubai.

Is there a strict dress-code in Dubai?

When it comes to Dubai for first timers, it's important to be aware of the local attitudes towards dress. Image shows the Bur Dubai Grand Mosque by the river.

Compared to other spots in the Middle East, the dress code in Dubai is not ‘strict’ as such, and as a tourist you’ll be given a certain amount of leeway. That being said, the decent thing to do is to respect the local customs and try to stick to them as much as possible. It’s unlikely you’ll get collared by an official for wearing inappropriate clothing, but it can happen.

Dubai dress codes for women

You’ll want to keep your shoulders covered with a loose shawl, especially when in a particularly public place, like a mosque, government building, or museum. It’s a similar story for your knees too – unless you’re sunbathing on a private beach or by your hotel pool, keep ’em covered. A midi skirt, maxi dress, or some loose linen or cotton pants should do the trick nicely. When it comes to nightlife, clubs wants you to dress up (you might just get turned away if you’re too casual), but clingy, short, and revealing dresses will earn you more raised eyebrows than you might want – plus, tight clothing is not ideal for Dubai temps.

Bikinis aren’t unheard of here, and they’re becoming more common, but we reckon you should cover up when transferring from the beach to somewhere else or heading back to your hotel. Boarding the bus in your bathers is definitely not a thing here, even though that seems normal when elsewhere on holiday (although, if you think about it, it is a bit weird). Oh, and one last thing: don’t try to sunbathe topless – this one’s actually against the law.

Dubai dress codes for men

Covering shoulders and knees is the same for the blokes too. It’s pretty much the norm for both locals and foreign residents to wear trousers, even in the height of a Dubai summer. If the heat’s too much, stick to shorts that at least hit the knees. Some people have reported running into a bit of trouble for their slogan t-shirts that might be funny in the UK, but can be viewed as offensive in the Middle East – best err on the side of caution with this one, gents. As with women, sunbathing topless is also a no-go for men.

It’s good to follow all of the above when out and about in public, but don’t forget that when you’re at your hotel or within your resort’s private grounds you can wear whatever you like!

How to get around Dubai

When it comes to Dubai for first timers, one of the first things (besides the heat) that you should get to grips with is the local public transport system. You’ve got a whole bunch of options to use here: from the metro and buses to the tram and taxis – even water taxis!

How to use the Dubai Metro

This fully automated and driverless metro system has just two lines – the Red Line and the Green Line, both of which cover major areas of the city. The Red Line runs from Al Rashidiya (Centre Point) to UAE Exchange, taking in Terminals 1 and 3 at Dubai Airport, the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Mall, and the Mall of the Emirates along the way. The Green Line, meanwhile, runs from Etisalat to the Dubai Creek, stopping off at places like Business Bay and Bur Dubai, and generally runs parallel to the Creek. Double check the name of your stop – a lot of the map names don’t match up with the actual location names because they’ve been replaced by brands that have bought the rights to metro stops. Crazy, we know.

You’ll need a Nol card (like a NYC MetroCard, with a set balance) to ride the metro – no other payment form is taken. Let’s keep it simple though – most tourists usually opt for the Silver Nol card that can be preloaded with up to AED1,000 in credit.  Fares are based on the seven zones across the city and calculated based on the number of zones you pass through. See more about the Dubai metro here.

How to use the Dubai tram

With 11 stations, the tram route starts at the Al Sufouh area and travels through popular spots like Dubai Marina, the Dubai Mall, and Jumeirah Beach Residence. Its designed to work well with the metro, and you can use the same Nol card for both the metro and tram too. It’s also got accessible features for those who need them, including low floors for easy boarding and wheelchair spaces. We especially love using the tram because of its mega views, especially along the coastline and when travelling through the marina.

Other Dubai transport

As a tourist, you’ll probs be well-served by the tram and metro, but the bus service is great for getting to the nooks and crannies of the city that they can’t reach – so if you have a few more off-the-beaten-path spots in mind, this is for you. Also designed with accessibility in mind, they have low-floor boarding, ramps, and wheelchair spaces. Pay using your Nol card.

Dubai traffic is notorious, but if the only option is a taxi then you’ll have plenty of choice – metered and reasonably priced, you can find stands at malls and hotels but you can also flag ’em down on the street. Uber and a local ride-hailing service called Careem are also popular.

When in Dubai, take a water taxi! The Dubai Ferry takes you along the coastline, with prices starting at around £3. Catch them from Al Jaddaf station at 10am, 12pm, and 5.30pm everyday. The abra, meanwhile, is a traditional wooden boat that’ll get you across the creek in a jiffy for just 20p!

Is Dubai family-friendly?

Yes, yes, and yes. Beyond the fact that the local attitude is very friendly towards kids, whether it’s your hotel porter or a waiter or a stranger in the street, so many of the activities here are not just great for kids, but great for kids and parents.

For example, you’ve got attractions like LEGOLand at Dubai Parks and Resorts – with hotels directly on-site (and really fun ones at that), you can zip back to your rooms as and when you like if someone’s forgotten something or needs a mid-day nap. Also at Dubai Parks and Resorts you’ve got Motiongate Dubai, Bollywood Parks Dubai, as well as the Global Village too – all mega themeparks that work for small kids all the way up to the big ones (adults included).

The waterparks here are insane too – you’ve got Wild Wadi Waterpark right opposite the Burj Al Arab, and Aquaventure Waterpark, next door to Atlantis the Palm and the biggest waterpark in the world. Yep. That’s 105 rides, some of which are the highest and fastest on the planet, but there’s also marine and watersports experiences and private beaches too.

IMG Worlds of Adventure is the world’s biggest indoor themepark, whilst The Dubai Mall has KidZania, where kids get to role-play a whole bunch of different professions, from firefighters to chefs, doctors, and pilots in a miniature city setting where they’ll use its own local currency Kidzos to learn how to manage money. Where was this when we were kids?!

When is the Dubai weekend?

Until recently, the weekend across the United Arab Emirates ran from Friday through Saturday – Friday is a Muslim holy day. But as of the beginning of 2022, the UAE moved its weekend to better fit with western schedules and global markets for business, now falling on the more familiar Saturday and Sunday pattern. Government employees will only work a half day on Fridays too. The biggest difference for tourists is being better able to predict when traffic will be better or worse, and not being surprised by a rush hour crush on a Sunday morning!

Flights to Dubai this way

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