I confess that this destination was not even close to the top of my list. My preference is always budget friendly countries, and United Arab Emirates is far from being on a budget. But my boyfriend and I got an irrefutable proposal to visit the UAE (for just some miles and 50€) so we decided why not?
Surprisingly enough, we enjoy this trip beyond imaginable. I must confess our expectations were pretty low and in the end we are very grateful that we decided to go for it because it became a memorable voyage.
Abu Dhabi – the capital of the UAE is where we landed and had the first culture shock. Here I, as a woman, I had to alter my behaviour to the cultural, religious standards of the local people.
First curiosity was at the hotel – if you are not married you are not supposed to sleep in the same bed, but of course, I let my boyfriend do the talking and once we did the check-in and the employee asked if we needed two beds, my boyfriend firmly said one should do fine. No stress, it was arranged, it just caused a little frown. Furthermore once we decided to stroll around, I learned that couples are not allowed to walk holding hands, this one was a tough one to remember but we succeed!
Insiders tip: If you are a woman but traveling with a male, let them do the talking for everything, specially when you want to bargain on something.
We stayed in Abu Dhabi just for 2 days and the other 4 in Dubai. I was satisfied with the time spent in AD but Dubai, does deserve some extra days.
What to do in Abu Dhabi
Sheikh Zayed Gran Mosque
You cannot go to Abu Dhabi without seeing the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
This grandiose mosque made me speechless – with the bright blue sky and warm sun above us, this immaculate snowy white monument becomes extra opulent and the interior is nothing short on impressive. Made of a mix of marble, gold and precious stones in colourful arabesques forms, it sure make this place worth a visit, an extra incentive is that is totally free of charge to enter the mosque and I really felt like the princess Jasmin from Aladin being there.
Insiders tip: You do need to dress properly once visiting the mosque, but garments are offered free of charge at the entrance.
Emirates Palace Hotel
At the end of Corniche Road is the colossal Emirates Palace hotel complex. This hotel is the most luxurious hotel in all of Abu Dhabi and well worth a visit. You don’t need to be a guest to take a look, the hotel is partially open to the public, unlike many other luxury hotels of this caliber.
The hotel is built like an Arabian palace and it has beautiful green gardens, huge fountains alongside swimming pools and multiple helicopter platforms without forgetting the 1.3 km long private sandy beach.
Join for an afternoon tea at Le Café and if you are a coffee lover, have the famous 23k gold coffee which you can already imagine, comes with the price.
Presidential Palace (Qsar al Watan)
The Qsar Al Watan is the official meeting place for the Federal Supreme Council and the UAE Cabinet, it is also where official state visits and global leaders are hosted (for example the pope has already been there). It opened recently for tourists to visit and I’m so glad I decided to include it on our first time in Abu Dhabi. Our trip wouldn’t be the same if we hadn’t included it.
This is what I was expecting to encounter in the UAE, a masterpiece of tons of glittery, shiny and gold. Do I even have to say ‘instagrammers’ will get mad here? No doubts this place will leave you in awe.
But is not all about making nice shots right? The decision of the Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed to open it for public was to let tourist have a better understanding of their culture, as they offer interactive cultural exhibitions explaining about the UAE formation and visit to areas which just oficial summits used to have access. Furthermore, there’s a collections of Arabian artefacts showing its international contribution on fields such as science, arts and literature.
Entrance fee: AED 60
When in Dubai…
Dubai is relatively more westernised as many expats live here, therefore, those little “things” that I, as a woman, had to watch out for in Abu Dhabi, don’t apply to Dubai.
Furthermore I was able to build a nice first time itinerary for Dubai thanks to an old friend which for the last 5 years is living in Dubai. She took us to most of the places we couldn’t miss out and gave us tons of tips on where to go and what to eat.
Where to stay in Dubai
First of all, is very important to choose wisely the location of your accommodation as Dubai was not build to be walkable. We chose the Dubai Marina Area as, accordingly to my friend, was the place to be. Anywhere around the Marina it will be the best choice to set as base.
The first day we dedicated to explore the Jumeirah Area, we started the day easy walking around the bay and after that, lunching at The Pointe with some friends. This restaurant is located inside of a mall.
Continuing our stroll day, we went to the Kite beach and as the name says is a beach that displays multiple kites featuring the UAE flag. The location is great for kitesurfing as the wind there are strong.
And we ended the day visiting a Souk! Souk are like a bazaar or Arabian markets, where you will encounter from spices to clothing. Super charming, even if you don’t buy anything is worth the visit!
You can wander through the stands, seat down for an Arabian coffee somewhere or score a souvenir. I really enjoyed visiting this souk and as a plus, for the photographers lovers this is a very photogenic place and a delight for the eyes, it kind of reminds me of The Universal Studio in Florida, because everything looks so perfectly build.
Itinerary Day 1
- City Walk
- Lunch at The Point
- Kite beach
- Souk Madinat Jumeirah
- Dine at JBR
Insiders tip: public transportation here isn’t the easiest to use so or you either rent a car or move around using Uber, which is what we did.
After an easy breakfast, move early in the morning to go to the Old Souq.
We used the metro as our transportation, and it took us about 2 hours. We change connections for 2 times and as further we went from Jumeirah area, more dirty and hotter (no aircos anymore available) the metro station became. That is a good sign, it means you are almost there.
The Old Souq takes place in a far neighbourhood and one not well seeing by locals. There is where most of Indian immigrants are resident. You will see another side of luxurious Dubai.
Different from the Souk Madinat Jumeirah, this one is spread all over the neighbourhood and lot more populated. It was here that I indulge in some shopping. My adulthood side got excited with all the spices varieties and green/ Jasmin tea. Thus if you want to shop do it here as is more authentic and probably also more affordable than the Souk Madinat Jumeirah.
At 3PM we scheduled a tour to the Desert of Dubai which would take our whole day.
We chose the Arabian Adventures – again tip from our local friends. This tour included the drive to the desert and a typical dinner with some cultural dance presentation. We ate like the Bedouin use to, seated on the floor with a pillow as seat and if you feel like it, eat with your bare hands. It was an open buffet with a big assortment of meat among them camel meat. A salad bar was also included and lot of fry snacks which I don’t know what it was exactly. I just know that I fulled my plate with hummus and dipped everything on it which was great of course, cause everything with hummus is better ;P
Besides that you could also smoke shisha or make a henna tattoo for some extra costs.
The presentation consisted in 3 different parts: it started with a man playing with fire, a woman dancing the typical belly dancing and final one being a man dancing a typical Arabian dance which involved lot of spinning without stop for at least 7 minutes! I enjoyed this presentation the most. (for more videos and photos check my instagram @sayyastotravel)
After a full night we head back to our Airbnb, which was the only “hotel not really in the route of the tour but the walk from the closest stop to our airbnb was less than 300 meters so all good!
Price of the tour: AED 325 Per person
Itinerary Day 2
- Old Souq (Spice Souq) go early in the morning
- 3PM Desert Tour
Last day in Dubai, we head to SALT food truck for lunch which it was located next to where we were staying and just in front of the Marina bay. We enjoyed our delicious burgers and fries and after putting a lot of thinking, we decided to splurge and pay the outrageous fee to get to the top of Burj Kalifa.
The ticket allows you to go till the 124th floor and the elevator, that takes you there, is a panoramic 360 degree 3D show of the tallest building in the world.
After that we found a good spot to see the dancing fountain show, it happens every day at 7PM just in front of the Burj Kalifa and is free.
Burj Khalifa entrance fee: AED 129 per person
We ended the night by having a fancy dinner at the Asia Asia, located inside the Pier 7 where each of its 7 floors is a main restaurant/club. We had a great view of the Marina bay and so we called it the night.
Itinerary Day 3
- Lunch at SALT Food Truck
- Dubai Mall
- 3-4PM Visit Burj Khalifa
- 7PM Dancing Fountain Show
And that was my first experience into the Arabian world. Despite being the most expensive trip we had , we enjoyed Dubai and if we need to make a stopover here, we will do it gladly again.