15th December 2019 – Written by Lisa Glassey
Dubai is an amazing place as a stopover to break up your long-haul journey, there is so much to see and do not to mention you will always have great weather!
I have recently returned from visiting both Dubai and Abu Dhabi to explore both cities as a destination and as a stopover point, I spent three days in each and the entire trip was jam packed. Read on find out more about my stay.
A couple of things to note, Dubai is one of the safest cities in the world, I would quite happily wander around on my own during the day or night and felt 100% safe. There are security guards everywhere, the punishments for breaking the law are hefty so all citizens and visitors abide by the law to avoid any unwanted jail time. The city is so clean, the locals are very friendly, and no alcohol is to be seen. Alcohol is not served in most restaurants, to have a beer/wine you would have to go to a local bar and drink inside or some hotels do serve liquor within their restaurant/bar areas.
Where to Stay
The three main areas are Downtown, Dubai Marina and Old Town. Downtown is my personal favourite and is where you will find the cities key icons such as the Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall which (at the moment) is the world’s largest shopping mall and the Dubai Fountain. I highly recommend visiting this area in the evening as you can sit outside for dinner and watch the Worlds tallest fountain show.
There was also a light display projected off the Burj which was equally as incredible to watch. This area really comes alive at night time with a multitude of restaurants from casual to fine dining.
Five Star – Sofitel Downtown – I have to admit The Sofitel is always my ‘go to’ hotel in Dubai, absolutely love this hotel!
Slightly cheaper options are either the Rove Downtown or the Manzil Downtown (Now known as the Vida).
For Families, the Damac Maison Distinction Hotel has huge 1,2 & 3 bedroom apartments. As I was travelling with my father we preferred a 2-bedroom apartment instead of two separate hotel rooms, so this worked well for us. The Hotel is a good 10-minute walk to the Downtown area but if too hot of if you are travelling with young ones the hotel does offer a complimentary shuttle to Dubai Mall.
Old City Hotels
I can recommend and have many clients stay at the Arabian Courtyard Hotel and have been really pleased. The Old City is where you will find the Souks and the area and this hotel is true Arabian Style. If you prefer more modern luxuries (such as myself) then I recommend you stay in Downtown or Marina and visit the Old Town for an afternoon.
Where to Shop
Although shopping in Dubai is expensive, there are shopping malls everywhere, but the two main ones are Dubai Mall which is the largest shopping mall in the world, here you will also find the Dubai Aquarium then there is Mall of the Emirates which is home to Ski Dubai and more high-end stores. It’s incredible how you can be in the middle of a desert, yet the Emirates come up with an amazing idea to build a snow field in the middle of a shopping mall! Definitely worth taking a look and if skiing is not your thing perhaps try the tobogganing – very Cool Runnings!
The Souks are always fun and a great place to practice those bargaining skills. The main Souks are in Old Dubai which is the historic area of the city. There is the Gold, Spice, Utensil Souk where you will find everything from the obvious Gold, Spices and Utensil’s but also rip off (copies) handbags, shoes, watches etc. Be prepared though when walking through the souks to be constantly hounded by the locals to buy.
For a slightly more upmarket and quieter Souk experience, head down to the Souk Madinet. This place is gorgeous surrounded by the canal and lovely restaurants & cafes right on the water. It’s a lot calmer than the Old City Souk mentioned above and you can still barter if needed.
What to do
A trip to Dubai wouldn’t be complete without doing a couple of touristy things. Once is the Desert Safari by Arabian Adventures. These guys run a great operation and will take you in a 4×4 through the desert up and down sand dunes at high speed. Not for the faint hearted but well worth the experience. Once finished you can enjoy a local Arabian Dinner under the stars in the desert, usually accompanied with a few Arabian Belly Dancers.
Late afternoon highly recommend making the trip up to the 152nd floor of the Burj Khalifa. You must pre-purchase tickets to avoid the queues and especially at peak times. I went up at 4:30pm so I got to see the views in both daylight and after sunset. The day time view is perfect for photos but to see the city come to light at Sunset is also very memorable. Once you come back down take a short stroll outside the Mall to watch the Dubai Fountain dancing to choreographed music every 30 minutes. In between there is also a light show on the Burj Khalifa Building which is worth watching.
During Winter, take a visit to the Miracle Gardens, there are buses which go out there but it’s much easier to take a taxi. The Gardens are only open during the UAE Winter months from end November to early March. You only need to allow approx. 1-2 hours as the garden itself is not too big and it’s easy to walk around. We did opt to hire a cart which comes with a driver for AED25 and be driven around in the midday heat. These carts are paid for direct to the driver once you are there. You do need cash as they don’t accept credit/debit cards.
Dubai is well known for the Palm which is just incredible. Yes, you can take a train out to Atlantis to have a look at the Lost Chambers Aquarium which is open to the public, but most other areas are reserved for Hotel Guests only. The best way to get a good Ariel view of the Palm is by heading up to the Observatory Restaurant and Bar located on the top level of the Marriott Dubai Marina. You don’t have to eat but you do have to at least buy a drink from the bar. The Observatory only opens from 12-noon daily. It’s free to enter providing you make a purchase.
While there take a leisurely walk around Dubai Marina. The riverside walkway is 7km and weaves its way around the Marina which is full of luxury yachts and plenty of cafes/restaurants. It’s a gorgeous walk and perfect place to people watch!!
Taxis are super cheap in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai. There only tends to be one taxi company and they do not like to accept credit card and will come up with every possible excuse not to accept. To avoid any confrontations, it’s much easier to carry cash for taxis. If you are female travelling alone, the taxis with pink roofs are women only taxis driving by women.
The Metro is easy to navigate, and the ticket offices are always willing to help you to ensure you are buying the correct tickets. Don’t be shy, just ask if you are unsure where you are going. The trains operate every few minutes and are reliable. Can be a better option during peak time traffic.
The Dubai Hop on Hop off Bus can be a good way to get to know your way around Dubai and stops at all the major sights. It’s a good option with tourist information in most languages and free bottled water on-board – a god send during the hot months. Just allow plenty of time to get around as traffic can get quite congested, especially around the Souks.
Where to Eat
Loved, Loved, Loved Awani Lebanese Restaurant located inside the Dubai Mall. Head up to the top floor and ask for a seat on the balcony. The food is delicious, pricing pretty good (by Dubai standards) and excellent views of the Dubai Fountain and Burj. This place was so good we went back the days following!
After Dubai we headed to Abu Dhabi. I couldn’t help but feel Abu Dhabi is Dubai’s poorer cousin however on a positive note it’s a lot more authentic. The main thing I struggled with, being a big foodie, is there was not one area so to speak to visit a range of restaurants. When on holiday, I absolutely love to wander, sit outside enjoy a coffee and local food while people watching and checking out views. Here in Abu Dhabi I couldn’t find such an area without having to go inside a mall or hotel. Abu Dhabi is a lot smaller than Dubai and I would recommend 2 days max as a stopover here. Dubai we could easily fill in 4 days or event visit as a final destination
Where to Stay
The thing with Abu Dhabi is nothing is really walking distance so it doesn’t really matter where you stay as you will end up having to use taxis to get around. (I don’t recall seeing any metro system in the city)
I personally liked the Corniche Street area as it overlooked a stunning beach with views of Emirates Palace. We hired Lime Scooters for a few hours and rode the 8kms of the Corniche stopping to take in the views. There are plenty of scooters, bikes and kids carts to hire along Corniche Street to save walking.
Sofitel Downtown is my number 1 pick. Centrally located and great views. As you will need to taxi everywhere you, miles well have a fabulous view while you’re in your room!
If you are on a budget, then the Cristal Hotel could be an option. The public areas of this hotel are small, and the restaurants are only ok (not amazing), but the rooms are large, beds are comfortable and the bathrooms are large. The toilet paper on the other hand is only 1 ply super budget paper.
Where to Shop/Eat
The malls in Abu Dhabi have mostly local suppliers but you will find the odd western store. Two main malls are the World Trade Centre and the Al Wahad Malls. Inside the WTC on the Ground Floor you will find Shakespare and Co, this café is fabulous with the best beetroot hummus and delicious milkshakes! Definitely worth a look just to see all their cake selection. Sooo pretty!
What to See
A visit to Abu Dhabi wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Grand Mosque. It’s free to get in but make sure you go around 4:30 so you can see the beauty of the mosque in both daylight and after sunset. The mosque lit up at night time is stunning. You must cover skin, therefore long pants/skirts and shoulders/arms covered is a must. Women will be given a gown to wear with headpiece. Even though there were thousands of other people when we visited, there was a strong sense or peace and tranquility – an absolute must see while you are there.
The Louvre Art Museum is really interesting. Located on Serinyak Island and not much else located around it, therefore a taxi or organised transfer is required. Depending on your personal interests you could spend anything from an hour to a full morning/afternoon here.
Yas Island – is an absolute must if travelling with children. On Yas Island you will find the theme parks such as Ferrari World, Warner Bros and Yas Waterworld. Highly recommend booking tickets before you go and include transfers if possible. Otherwise if your main reason for stopover is just to visit the theme parks then stay on Yas Island to save in taxi costs. There is a Radisson Blu Yas Island or the Crowne Plaza – both are within close proximity to the theme parks.
As mentioned taxis will be your best option, however you could book a ticket on the local Hop on Hop off Bus, however these only really go to the Louvre and Mosque … as the Mosque is free I’m not convinced the bus is value for money, especially if there is two or more of you travelling together.
Getting to the UAE
Getting between Dubai and Abu Dhabi is really easy. It’s approx. 1.5-hour drive and the cost for a private car is approx. NZD200 one way. If you need to transfer between the two cities on the same day as your arrival or departure, let me know as there is a complimentary bus put on by both Etihad and Emirates between the two airports but conditions for this do apply.
Emirates – You can fly direct from Auckland to Dubai on the A380 aircraft daily on Emirates. As the flight is a whopping 17 hours if you can afford it, I highly recommend you try to fly business class. You will appreciate so much more and arrive refreshed. Emirates also operate a smaller 777 daily between Auckland and Dubai.
Otherwise you can fly on Etihad into Abu Dhabi. From New Zealand you need to fly via Australia (Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane) which can be nice to break up the trip and also the airfares can be cheaper. Again, I would highly recommend the business class option and ideally on the A380 as the business class is a little larger than the 777 which they also operate.
If you would like to talk to me about your UAE stopover then feel free to give me a call on 04 478 5869 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org