Dubai: Need to Know
Arriving. The impressive Dubai International Airport is in the Garhoud area of town, allowing easy access to most parts of the city. Taxis are the best way to get into town; the rank is on your left as you leave the terminal and the meter starts at AED 20.50 ($5.60) rather than the usual AED 4 ($1). A trip to the northern end of the Jumeirah strip will set you back about AED 90 ($24); to Sheikh Zayed Road it will be about AED 60 ($16).
Getting Around. Public transport is notable by its absence (although a metro system is on the way), walking is restricted by the heat and motorways, and driving is not for the faint of heart. So your only real option for getting around is taxi. Thankfully taxis are reasonably inexpensive and easy to find. All taxis are metered and can be hailed from the street or ordered by calling 04-208-0808. Fares start from AED 3 or AED 4 when hailed from the street and are judged on distance rather than time. Try and have change handy, as Dubai's taxi drivers have an aversion to large notes.
One additional word of warning: Traffic jams are a sad part of Dubai life, particularly when trying to cross the Creek. The introduction of a toll to cross Garhoud Bridge has eased traffic a bit over the water, but it has also pushed the gridlock onto the side streets. One wrong turn and you'll end up spending most of your time being in the back of a cab.
When to Go. Between October and April, the weather in Dubai approaches perfect. The temperature hovers around 26 degrees C (79 degrees F) and there's rarely a cloud in the sky. The summer is not quite as welcoming. Temperatures routinely exceed 50 degrees C (122 degrees F) and humidity soars; it's incredibly unpleasant to be anywhere without air-conditioning. The city is geared up for the summer onslaught, however, and you can survive by running between air-conditioned buildings and air-conditioned taxis but it doesn't make for the most enjoyable trip.
Tipping. Hotel bars and restaurants tend to include a service charge of between 10% and 15% on their bills. Unfortunately, this often goes straight into the company coffers rather than the pockets of those serving you, so if you are particularly impressed with the service you have received you will need to tip in cash on top of this. It is common to tip taxi drivers by rounding up to the nearest AED 5 while for other services such as having your petrol pumped, bags brought to your room or car valet parked it is usual to tip between AED 2 and AED 20.
Dress, Drinking, Drugs. While the United Arab Emirates is incredibly relaxed, it is important to remember that it is Islamic, so certain sensibilities and laws should be respected:
Dubai has a very relaxed attitude toward attire and woman and men are largely free to wear what they want. That said, beachwear and bikinis should be limited to hotel beaches. Topless bathing is outlawed and public displays of affection may cause offense and can even land you in trouble with the police.
Alcohol is served only in hotels, but this is a city that likes a drink and you won't be short of options. Do not drink or appear to be drunk in public.
There is a zero tolerance of drug use in Dubai and if you are caught in possession of any illegal substance you are likely to face a four-year prison sentence.
Ramadan. City life during the month of Ramadan is markedly different from the rest of the year. In keeping with Islamic law, non-Muslims are not allowed to eat, drink or smoke in public and the city's clubs are closed. Out of respect, it's wise to cover up when you are away from the beach. Drinking is permitted in the evening, live or loud music is banned. A number of special Ramadan tents open throughout the Holy Month allowing a taste of tradition, but a very sedate one.