Dubai’s Arabian nights, sparkly lights and construction sites

buildings lit up at night in Dubai

On route to the other side of the world, I was lucky enough to stop off in Dubai for a few days with my parents who were holidaying there to visit my cousin and her family. It’s an absolute blessing being able to avoid the hideously long trip all the way to New Zealand in one go. And, definitely not a bad place to stop off and explore either.

Burj al Arab with bird flying across the sky

Landing in Dubai in the early hours of the morning meant heading straight to my cousin’s place in Studio city and getting a few hours kip. But, upon landing there, just walking through Dubai international airport gave us a flavour of what’s to come with its grand halls, giant pillars and everything being so so shiny – the place screams wealth the moment you land!

After catching a few hours shut-eye we headed down to one of Dubai’s many beaches with my cousin, her partner and son. They work as teachers in Dubai so it was great to get some expat perspective on living in Dubai, as well as seeing it for myself as a visitor.

They have also worked as teachers in Qatar, China and Europe so they’ve had a real range of cultural experiences in their line of work. Dubai was challenging for them because the education system is very different, and the lifestyle is also a big contrast to other parts of the world. It’s hard to explain without seeing it for yourself, but worth looking into and researching thoroughly if you’re planning to work there yourself because it could be a lot different to the tax-free, glamorous lifestyle that is often advertised by recruiters who are trying to get westerners out there.

Back to my trip and our visit to the beach. Our spot  sat just beyond the shadow of the Burj al Arab which is one impressive building. Near the top, it has a tennis court practically hanging out of the side of it and a viewing platform spanning the other side that looks out over the sea. Apparently inside (unfortunately I didn’t go in myself) it has Emirati exclusive areas, as well as the standard 5* luxury that I can only dream to afford.

I packed a lot of stuff in over the four days I was there, but here’s a few activities to consider if you’re heading there….

What is there to do in Dubai?

Go to the beaches

Dubai has a multitude of gorgeous beaches and the sea is very refreshing. It was November (their winter) so it was quite cool when I was there, but it can get pretty warm in the other seasons. You can wear bikinis on the beach but, like any country you’re visiting, it is worth perhaps picking your most modest bathing suit to be more respectful to their culture.

Watch some Polo at Dubai Polo and Equestrian Club

The equestrian club is situated in Studio City and was only a ten minute walk from my cousin’s apartment. As a horse lover, it was amazing to visit. The horses were beautiful (very well groomed), the facilities were impeccable, and you could just wander round to the terrace and watch a polo game as the sun set over the pitch.

Visit the Dubai Museum in Old Dubai

This doesn’t look like much from the outside but for around £1.50 you definitely get your money’s worth. It takes you through the history of Dubai as well as showing you how it has changed over the years. Which is extensive – particularly in the past fifty years!

The museum also shows you many parts of their culture. As an art fan, I loved how they carved pictures out of leather which made these unique looking 3D pieces. On top of that, it talks about the desert and nature/wildlife that can be found in the area. Overall, I thought it was a brilliant museum and definitely worth a visit while you’re in Dubai!

Visit the souks in old Dubai and get your cheap handbags

Despite the fact you get called Angelina, Christina Aguilera and Shakira and have scarves thrown over you every five minutes, it’s a good market to visit and slightly more traditional than the one opposite the grand mall. It’s also the place to find those ‘designer’ handbags you were after.

Go on an Arabian night tour

There are many different night tours you can go on in Dubai. We went with Arabian Night Tours following a recommendation and, despite a few cheesy moments and some elements that were perhaps overplayed, it was a lot of fun and a great evening spent in the desert.

Girl holding hand under sunset on sand dunes

It started with Dune bashing and our “slightly crazy” driver decided he would show off to my Dad and seemed to go more rogue than the other drivers – it certainly was an experience, but it was hilarious and got the blood pumping.

Tip: Wouldn’t advise it for people who get sick on rough terrain though!! Ha!

Following the Dune bashing, we were taken to a camp that was set-up in the desert where we enjoyed some camel riding, an authentic Arabian buffet of food and some traditional dancing, which in our case even resulted in a marriage proposal.

Visit the Grand Mall

The malls are as you’d expect, full of shops. But, in Dubai, they are also so much more! People go to the mall for a day out. In one of them there’s a ski slope, in the grand mall there’s the aquarium and they also have heaps of restaurants and bars to choose from.

Go up the Burj Khalifa

It is 100% worth going up the Burj Khalifa. The views are incredible and it’s amazing to look out across Dubai and see how much they are still doing to it. I imagine that in ten year’s time it will look totally different again.

Watch the light fountain show outside the Grand Mall

You can’t go up the Burj Khalifa without then watching the fountain light show at the bottom in the evening. Light shows are everywhere these days so it’s not necessarily the fountains that are impressive, but the setting with all the city lights and the Burj Khalifa lit up in the background makes it a truly special scene.

My overall thoughts on Dubai

Burj Khalifa in Dubai lit up at night

Dubai has always been a place of interest to me and I was intrigued to know why so many westerners are becoming expats out there. Equally, I couldn’t understand where all the jobs were coming from. But, as soon as you get there, it is evident why employment opportunities are so high – they are building everywhere!

It looks kind of futuristic with the Dubai Skyline filled with a multitude of different architectural styles, but they aren’t stopping there. They are rapidly expanding, which helps explain why they have so many jobs to offer.

I was also surprised by the culture and how westernised Dubai has become. Of course, you still had Arabs in full white robes and the ladies in their bourkas, but, generally, everyone else wore what they wanted and even many of the Emirati women wouldn’t be fully covered up, showing off the Gucci they were wearing underneath.

Overall, I thought Dubai was fascinating and definitely a place worth a visit, but four days was long enough to fit in all the key things to see. I think my next trip there will be in ten years’ time to see how it has all changed!

Top Tips if you visit:

  1. Download the Entertainer App – it provides you with loads of discounts on activities and in bars and restaurants.
  2. Look on sites like Groupon – we got a great deal for our trip up the Burj Khalifa
  3. Do an Arabian nights tour or something equivalent – it gets you out of the city for the evening and its a lot of fun!
Dubai city skyline at sunset
The Dubai city skyline


Published by Wonder Seeking Sarah

Hi I'm Sarah, also known as Sal! I'm from a small rural village in Cambridgeshire, UK - but I've decided to uproot and go in search of new adventures so currently spending a year in New Zealand doing a mixture of travel and work. This site is a place for me to hold a personal blog where I can share my journey with my friends and family.

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