This isn’t an all-encompassing guide to Dubai – simply some tips from our flying visit which might come in handy if you decide to go! There are plenty of things we didn’t get around to and we’ll be sure to update this post if and when we return.
If you’ve followed our travels for a while, you know we love a steal. We almost never pay full price for a holiday, and this was no different.
We snapped up a flight & hotel offer on Holiday Pirates – a newly opened hotel on The Palm was running a promotion to get people through the door, so we happily obliged.
Price – 5 nights @ Royal Central Hotel inc. breakfast & return flights (direct, Emirates) = £569pp
Taxis in Dubai are relatively cheap – cheaper than Uber or the local version, ‘Careem’. Normal taxis are on the meter, so no need to barter and no getting stitched up. Some accept card but be sure to have some cash on you before you hop in, just in case. If you’re staying at a hotel, ask for a ‘normal’ taxi as a hotel taxi (although a plush ride) will be double the price. We found out the hard way when we didn’t specify and were given a meterless hotel taxi. We could tell the driver pretty much made the number up on the spot when we arrived, which you don’t have to worry about with a metered cab.
Where to Stay
The Entertainer App
Public Displays of Affection (a.k.a PDA)
Something we were both a little concerned about before visiting Dubai were the rules around PDA. We’ve all seen the stories of people getting locked up for holding hands and the last thing we want on holiday was to worry about whether we’re going to be allowed back home. Fortunately, we needn’t have worried as we often saw locals holding hands in public places, Dubai Mall particularly.
It seems to us like it isn’t a “law” as such but depends on where you are going and who you are dealing with. If we hadn’t seen stories previously, we would have never guessed PDA was frowned upon in Dubai.
Dubai is a melting pot of cultures and tourism is a massive industry so it seems like the rules have been somewhat relaxed more recently. However, as with any country you go to with a heavy religious influence, we still recommend respecting the local culture where possible.
Burj Khalifa (At The Top)
You have a few options when visiting the Burj Khalifa: Level 124-125, Level 148 (the highest you can go as a visitor) or Dinner @ At.Mosphere Restaurant.
Our original plan was to only go up to Level 124-125 as it was the cheapest option at 135AEDpp/~£30pp.
Unfortunately, when we got to the ticket desk, the only tickets they had left were for the SKY Lounge on Level 148 which was triple the price, so make sure to book if you want the cheaper tickets. If you decide not to prebook, you can buy tickets on-the-door inside the Dubai Mall, just follow the signs for the Burj Khalifa but be prepared to queue.
The SKY Lounge is classed as the “VIP Experience”. At 370AEDpp/~£80pp, one would hope. We were whisked up pretty quickly, and were greeted with a tray of various juices, waters and sweet snacks upon arrival on floor 148 (the filled dates in Dubai are AMAZING). We were told we could stay as long as we wanted, so you could certainly make a night of it with free-flowing sweet snacks and refreshments (alas, no alcohol, boo). You also get access to the lower floors 124/125, which hosts a small souvenir shop and some other interactive stations such as telescopes and a virtual reality experience. The lower floors are definitely more “touristy” as you would expect.
We only found out about the At.Mosphere Restaurant after we’d visited the Burj Khalifa and it probably would have been our preferred option had we known. We do something similar when we visit New York. Bar SixtyFive can be found at the top of the Rockerfeller Centre so instead of paying for the tourist attraction “Top Of The Rock”, we try to get a reservation at Bar SixtyFive instead so you can enjoy the views with a glass of bubbly without bumping shoulders with everyone else. Essentially you spend the entrance fee on a cocktail and still get the views.
If you want a more chilled, quiet experience with easier photo opportunities and less kids bombing around, it’s worth shelling out the extra for the “VIP Experience” but if you just want to tick a box, go for the cheaper option as the views aren’t really any better the higher you go.
Price – SKY Lounge VIP Experience = 740AED/~£160
Souk Madinat Jumeirah
The Souk at Madinat Jumeirah is described as a recreated Middle Eastern Bazaar. We’re not sure how many middle Eastern Bazaars can boast a 5-star hotel, award-winning steak restaurants and cocktail bars but this one does! The bars and restaurants are nestled amongst boutique shops and stalls selling various souvenirs and traditional Middle Eastern clothing/homewares.
The Souk at Madinat Jumeirah is known mostly for 2 things; Abra boat tours and incredible views of the Burj Al Arab. We didn’t get a chance to try out the Abra tour – we were too busy drinking champagne cocktails at The Folly and taking pretty pictures. If you did want a tour of the Souk by boat, it will run you about £20 per person.
This place is enormous, and worth a visit if only to rack up some steps. We’re more outlet shoppers / avid bargain-hunters, so we didn’t do a whole lot of shopping – though you can find both high-end and high-street options here if you’re in the market to treat yoself in a big or small way. We did a lap (no mean feat) and headed outside to catch the Dubai Fountains.
The displays happen every 30 minutes, catch one around sunset if you can. It’s the biggest choreographed fountain display in the world (1.5x the size of the Bellagio Founatins in Las Vegas) and it’s genuinely awe-inspiring. And free!
We spotted a little boat on the water during the display, and assumed this would be wildly expensive. Turns out it’s not, so we’ll be doing that next time around at ~£15 a head.
Food & Drink
Bubbalicious Brunch @ The Westin – 9.5/10
If you’re visiting Dubai, we have one pivotal piece of advice: make sure your trip covers a Friday. Friday Brunch in Dubai is huge, and with good reason. Think Vegas buffets, and then some.
There are a tonne of places partaking in this Dubai rite of passage, so you have a long list of places to pick from. We plumped for what is widely considered one of the best though, and it was so very worth it.
The Bubbalicious Brunch at the Westin Hotel was by far the most expansive buffet we’ve seen, with several rooms featuring offerings from every cuisine we could think of. We ventured into one room thinking it was a separate restaurant but nope, that was part of the buffet too. Often at buffets the sheer range of food on offer means you accept a dip in quality, but we had some of the best food we’ve eaten at this brunch. It was absolutely worth every penny.
There were drinks stations…stationed… throughout the HUGE buffet area. Spirits, cocktails, beers, ciders, jaegerbombs, an infusion room with ‘Nurses’ offering shots – all on top of the free-flowing bubbles, of which the top-ups are generous. We never finished a glass before a waiter appeared to re-fill us. Pace yourself, kids.
Entertainment is included, if that’s your thing – a live band, dancers and magicians. Let’s be honest though, we were in it for the grub.
Buffet inc. Sparkling Wine and Alcohol = 520AEDpp/~£110pp
The Penthouse @ FIVE Palm Jumeirah Hotel – 8.5/10
Some of the most Instagrammable spots in Dubai can be found inside the FIVE hotel – downstairs at the decidedly buzzing ‘main’ pool (look), and upstairs at the much quieter Penthouse, which is where we hid out.
We plumped for a massage package which was 400AED/~£85 and gave as access to the Penthouse, 200AED/~£42 to put towards food and/or drink and a 45-minute massage at the spa. They actually mentioned the deal had finished but as we’d booked in advance, they would still honour it. They seem to have deals of various offerings throughout the year though so it’s worth looking if you want a bit of pampering. Just make sure the deal includes access to The Penthouse if that’s where you want to go. It’s also worth mentioning that the massage was one of the best we’ve had, and this was not our first rodeo.
Post-massage, we spent our first afternoon in Dubai chilling out in and around the Penthouse’s mind-blowing pool – it’s a picturesque sun-trap with gorgeous views over Dubai, decent food and attentive waiters offering regular top-ups and taking photos if you ask them nicely. There were 2 pools available, neither of which are suitable for laps, but plenty of space to cool down from the blistering Dubai heat.
Cocktails are around AED80/~£15-20, but we asked for some off-menu (pro-tip) prosecco which was unsurprisingly much cheaper than the on-menu champagne and most of the wines but still came in at a hefty AED320/£70 a bottle. Bear in mind some of this was offset by the fact we some funds to put towards it which was included in the package so overall, it didn’t cost us too much mroe than we had already paid.
Price – 45min massage, access to The Penthouse and 200AEDpp towards food/drink = 400AEDpp/~£85pp
Candypants Brunch @ The Penthouse @ FIVE Palm Jumeirah Hotel – 8.5/10
We liked the Penthouse so much that we came back for their Candypants Brunch (more of a chilled pool party). Plan A was Zero Gravity which we’ve heard on the grapevine is another cool, albeit more boisterous, place to party. Doors opened at 8am though and because we were still sporting a spot of jet lag, we couldn’t face the early alarm to nab a sunbed (we would have been zombies for the day). So, we happily returned to The Penthouse instead whose doors opened at a more jet-leg friendly 10am.
Entry was 299AED/~£65 for women and 349AED/~£75 for men (this is very common in Dubai). This runs Saturday 12-5pm, includes unlimited booze and a platter each of pretty decent grub: mini sliders and avo toast, sweet potato fries and sushi. This certainly was’t a food-centric Brunch like Bubalicious but the food was actually very good.
We recommend booking a table in advance – we did not, and had no trouble getting into the Penthouse since we were there nice and early. We soon found that all seats and tables were reserved, though, and wound up standing for a good while in the brutal Dubai heat (~45C). Luckily, they give up reservations at 12:30pm, so we eyeballed the promoter (who happened to be English) and buttered him up so we could snap up an unclaimed table.
Pro tip – Wherever you go, keep your eyes peeled for the person who looks like they’re in charge and be nice to them. We saw plenty of people getting the hump because they didn’t have anywhere to sit whilst we just asked nicely and were offered a table before anyone else.
Drinks are free-flowing depending on what package you plump for, and the vibe shifts from chilled to party throughout the afternoon. If you make the most of the booze, it’s well worth-it.
Price – All You Can Drink + Food Platter = 299AED/~£65 Females & 349AED/~£75 Males
The Meat Co. – 8/10
Some of our favourite meals have been at steakhouses – Smith & Wollensky, Hawksmoor, JW Steakhouse, all in London. So we needed little-to-no convincing when a friend (thanks @damianpapas) offered us a waterside table at one of Dubai’s more impressive steakhouses – his Dad happens to own it…
As such, it’s worth mentioning that we got a discount and some very attentive service – but regardless, this place is worth a visit if you’re into steak and are looking for a table with a view. We actually skipped the outside table as the Dubai humidity tends to pick up just before sunrise which is when our table was booked.
Our server TJ was excellent and picked out a nice bottle of red for us (we have literally no clue about wine) and recommended us some food. We love to try lots of different things so opted for both the sharing starter and dessert as well as a medium-rare chateaubriand which came with 3 sides.
All the food was very good with the highlights being the humungous prawns in the starter and the polenta chips with the truffle aioli. The chateaubriand was cooked to perfection but perhaps a little underseasoned (H’s opinion).
If you’re looking for a steakhouse with a view and happen to be in the area then The Meat Co. is a solid choice.
Price – Starter Platter, Chateaubriand w/ sides, Dessert Platter, Mid-Range Bottle of Red – 20% Discount = AED950/~£200 for two.
The Folly – 8.5/10
We almost exclusively drink at happy hours – why pay more when you can pay less, etc etc. The Folly runs a crazy long happy hour (3-7pm) and boasts some pretty spectacular views over the Souk and of the Burj Al Arab – just ask one of the attentive barmen who will personally escort you to the best photo spots up on the roof if their terrace happens to be closed.
Come for the drinks (they’re good), stay for the views.
Price – Happy Hour Cocktails = ~25-40AED/~£6-9
Trader Vic’s @ Hilton Dubai Jumeirah – 7/10
As Dubai is a Muslim country, it’s quite common to see most bars selling alcohol around the city filled with Ex-Pats. Trader Vic’s was pretty much ALL Ex Pats, so much so it felt like being back in London. Be prepared to queue and possibly stand – we would have got there earlier and/or booked a table had we known. Decent cocktails and reasonably priced but hardly “cultural”.
Price – Cocktails = ~60-70AED/~£12-15 (Happy Hour 6-8pm gets 50% off these prices)
Atalier M – 7/10
This place feels swanky and decidedly ‘cool’. The upper level offers pretty gorgeous views of the Dubai Marina with a side of reasonably-priced cocktails. The have a happy hour on most nights of the week apart from Friday or Saturday. Pro tip – Sit next to a fan if you’re visiting upstairs during the summer – it’s hot.
Price – Happy Hour Cocktails = ~45AED/~£10
Saffron @ Atlantis The Palm – 7/10
Saffron is an international buffet restaurant found in the iconic Atlantis Hotel found at the end of The Palm. Each night has a specific theme and we visited on Asian night (which happens to be a firm favourite!) There were 5/6 stations, each serving food from different regions in Asia including Japanese, Chinese, Indian and South East Asian as well as the obligatory “international” station (which we imagine is there every night to cater for the fussier eaters). They also had a separate dessert station which was a mix of traditional and themed desserts in individual sizes. Along with the buffet, you also have the choice of an unlimited alcoholic and non-alcohol drinks package, or you can just order by the bottle/glass.
We’ve been more than a little spoiled by buffets in the past: Las Vegas buffets, The Sunday Brunch at the Landmark Hotel in London and just prior to this The Westin Bubbalicious Brunch. So you could say, our buffet standards are probably on the higher end. The food at the Saffron was a mixed – some was very good, but the majority was forgettable with nothing blowing our socks off. We used a 2 for 1 offer from The Entertainer app, which brought our bill to £35 a head including drinks. We think it was probably worth the discounted rate – full price, it would have been closer to £55, which we think is a little steep for what you get.
Price – AYCE Buffet & Soft Drinks inc. The Entertainer Discount = 330AED/~£70 for two.
Scoozi – 7.5/10
We love sushi, and we’re not opposed to trashy sushi. We hate leaving a restaurant a few hundred notes down, and still hungry… which is what happens when you opt for fancy sushi, at least in our experience.
So, we tend to shoot for happy medium, which is how we’d describe this place. Eat what you like, leave what you don’t, control your own portions knowing that you’re not wasting money. Think Yo-Sushi, except you’re not frantically trying to do mental arithmetic to keep tabs on your spending, because you’ve already paid for it.
The sushi wasn’t mind-blowing, but pleasant and didn’t burn a hole in our proverbial pockets.
Price – AYCE Sushi for 2 inc. dessert = 400AED/~£85 for two.
If you’d like to see a map of everywhere we went so you can add some of the places to you’re own itinerary you can find it here.