My first time in the UAE: my experience.
The UAE and more specifically Dubai, has always been high on my ‘to visit list’ but somehow I was always so hesitant to really go there (don’t even ask me why because I don’t know). It’s the perfect getaway if you want to escape to the sun for a few days during winter. With direct flights going from almost every European city, it’s very accessible for everybody. So why the UAE? My boyfriend and I made the decision (quite last minute) to take our holidays there. What you need to know about us two is that he likes adventure and I like the pool & beach. Nevertheless, we decided to make an agreement and this vacation turned out to be perfect for both of us. The verdict about the UAE? I loved it. My boyfriend loved it. We are honesty in love and were already talking about going back. Just a reminder for you before going there: do not expect a lot of culture because the country is seen as a place of luxury. As we like to describe it: expect a New York vibe in a Las Vegas setting.
For this trip specifically, we decided to book our flights through KLM, train from Brussels to Amsterdam and back included. Before our arrival, we did do some research on good hotels and places to stay.
For our first 3 nights we decided to stay in The Retreat Palm Dubai Mgallery by Sofitel, a hotel on the Palm Jumeirah. As the name might make you suspect, the hotel was completely in the spirit of a retreat. The location was perfect for us as it was a getaway of the ‘busy’ Dubai life but otherwise there is not really a lot to do. The hotel has quite a lot of facilities to enjoy during the stay. I would definitely go back here, it was amazing.
During a stay on the Palm, you have to take in account that it’s not easy to reach. The best way is to take a uber, taxi or even Careem but I’ll get into that in the ‘how to get around‘ part. During our stay on the Palm, we made a visit to: the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Mall & Marina.
Afterwards we rented a car at Avis and drove to Abu Dhabi to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque & the city but I’ll come back to activities later. We drove further to spend 2 nights in The Tilal Liwa Hotel which was located in the middle of the UAE desert. The hotel was completely in Arabic style, looking like it almost came out of the Aladdin movie. Here we took half board because the hotel was quite remote so we anticipated on that. By renting an ATV (quad bike), we explored the desert behind the hotel. I really recommend this hotel on so many levels!!
On the way back to Dubai, we made a pitstop in Ferrari world in Abu Dhabi & went on the fastest roller laster in the world.
How to get around in Dubai
This part will specifically be about Dubai as we never stayed in Abu Dhabi and thus never took transportation there. For Dubai, you need to know that taking a Uber is more expensive than a taxi. At first we did not want to believe it and against better will, we took a Uber or two. We quickly learned that a taxi was a way better and cheaper option. As we were staying on the Palm Jumeirah for the first 3 nights, we really depended on these forms of transport. The thing you need to know about the Palm is that the location is perfect but can also be a pain in the ass. Getting there is not easy folks! If you want more accessibility, I would strongly recommend getting a hotel in the Marina area, Jumeirah beach or even Business Bay as these are reachable by metro.
If you’re thinking about renting a car, Dubai (and the UAE in general) has toll ways. It’s very easy to drive around in the UAE, roads are very good and clearly marked. Take it from a neurotic girl who hates being in cars: it’s super safe! Also: cheap gas ;-). My friend who lives in Dubai also gave the tip to download the Careem app. We totally forgot about it so we did not use it but it might come in handy for one of you guys.
I’m not gonna lie, we spend quite a lot of money BUT: seeing everything we did, including renting a car and having 2 different hotels, it was reasonable. Cheaper options on accommodations are always available such as: renting an apartment. Swapping taxi’s for metro’s also help with the budget and of course: dining in cheaper places than we did. In general, I feel prices are quite the same as in Belgium unless for alcohol and dining. I would say: if you ever did New York on a city trip, have this kind of budget in mind.
What I did in the UAE
Here you’ll find a list with activities to do in Dubai. Of course, in five day’s time you can’t do them all, but you’ll get a good view on the activities.
- Dubai Mall: If you like luxury, you’re in the right place. The Dubai Mall is located on the Burj Khalifa site and known for its very luxurious shops. Chanel, Dior, Fendi, etc: you’ll find them all. On the lower levels you’ll find some cheaper restaurants perfect after a long day at the mall. It’s really a gem in the city but also a bit of a maze.
- Burj Khalifa: when you say Dubai, you say Burj Khalifa. The highest building in the world is worth a visit. It’s a bit on the pricy side but the view you’ll have is unbelievable.
- Marina & Marina Mall: for a nice view on the Marina, we went to the Shades rooftop. I can only say: wow. Definitely worth a visit!
- Dubai fountains: Very beautiful yet a bit disappointing. That’s the best way to describe the Dubai fountain. Located at the Burj Khalifa, this three minute fountain show comes to life during a beautiful music piece. You can visit the fountains from sunset to 11pm. The reason for it to be a bit disappointing was the time as we thought it would take a bit longer than 3 minutes.
- IMG World: we personally haven’t been here due to time limitation but this is a nice place to have some fun in a less warm spot. Dubai can get extremely hot and this park can offer you some shade. In this park, you’ll find characters from MARVEL CARTOONS and it’s located 30 minutes from Dubai.
- Desert Safari: something I would recommend to do but not from Dubai. The prices are quite high and when you go more into the land, prices get cheaper. Maybe book a night in a desert hotel & do a safari trip via them?
There is shockingly little to see or do in Abu Dhabi. Other than the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and some amusement parks, I really have no other recommendations to make.
- Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque: is clearly a must when going to Abu Dhabi. It’s one of the seven biggest mosques in the world so a visit here adds a cultural dimension to your trip, which you’ll probably miss if you only see Dubai. A big plus: it’s for free!
- Ferrari World: situated on Yas Island, it is the home to the fastest rollercoaster in the world. If you’re in the need for speed, this is definitely a place to see. The Formula Rossa is definitely worth a visit if you’re into thrill rides. Little side note: tickets are priced around €60 per person and not all attractions are included in the price.
- Warner Bros world: ready to walk into an animated world? Well, it’s possible here. WB world is also located on Yas Island, next to Ferrari World.
- Yas waterworld: I don’t think this one needs a lot of explanation. A visit to the world’s leading waterpark is never wrong.
- Yas marina circuit: Are you a fan of formula 1? Ready to get behind the wheel of a high-performance car and challenge your friends? Experience the adrenaline on a Formula 1 track and tune into the sound of car engines revving up. (doing this on my next visit!)
A bit outside of Abu Dhabi or even Dubai, you’ll find some amazing desert hotels. If you really want the Arabic experience: go sleep in the desert for once. It’s perfect to make your trip more adventurous.
- Desert ATV tour: in probably every hotel, you’ll find a brochure with prices to do a desert safari, ATV desert – or camel tour. The best place to do this is when you’re already in the desert. Prices are cheaper because you don’t need transport to get to the desert, obviously. It really adds a value to your trip and I would do it again in a heartbeat. For me: a definite must do, no matter where you are staying in the UAE.