A local’s guide to Dubai

locals guide to dubai

Imagine you’ve lived somewhere for two years and then, after a couple of years away, you go back there with someone who’s never been. You want to show them everything you’ve ever seen but you only have five days to do it.

Now, imagine that place is Dubai – crazy, hectic, incredible, amazing, no place like it on earth Dubai!

I wondered if it was even possible, but, armed with an excel spreadsheet, a strict schedule and very little sleep we did it!

Now I’d like to share with you my local’s guide to the best 5 days in Dubai!

Location, location, location!

Firstly, think very carefully about location. Dubai isn’t huge but with the busy roads and limited number of metro lines (currently two), travelling from one end of Dubai to the other can take two hours. For me, the most practical location is around Dubai Marina. It’s practical because you are close to a beach and you have easy access to the metro and the main motorway Sheikh Zayed Road. Hotels in Dubai Marina are quite expensive, usually above £150 per night but if this is over your budget you should also consider checking Airbnb. There are many people who have apartments in the area and are renting out double rooms from about £50 per night. You can read reviews from previous guests before you book and, in my personal experience of using Airbnb, everything is very simple and safe.

Sign up to Airbnb through my link with code RRICHARDSON123 and get £16 credit on me!


Transport in Dubai

Once you’ve decided on location you should also think about how you will get around. As I mentioned, the Dubai metro has two lines and has stations in plenty of convenient locations such as outside all the major shopping malls. The metro stations are really nice and modern and the trains are driverless meaning you can stand right at the front and get a great view of the city when you’re overground. There are also public buses and taxis, although, if you’re trying to take a taxi during rush hour don’t expect to find one easily. Even if you call and book they don’t always arrive and if you plan to go to the road and flag one down remember it gets very very hot in Dubai. Ten minutes outside in any temperature above 36 degrees feels like two hours! For me, with the busy schedule I had arranged, using public transport wasn’t an option and I decided to book a rental car.

The good thing is that cars in Dubai are cheaper than most other places in the world therefore rental cars are too! I paid about £17 per day for a basic car but it was an automatic and had good air conditioning so that’s all I was really concerned about. You can collect rental cars from various places around Dubai, the easiest option is to collect directly at the airport. Both Dubai International Airport and Al Maktoum International (Dubai World Central) Airport have plenty of car rental desks. The only downside with having a car in Dubai is finding parking. Shopping malls have plenty of free spaces but parking in the marina for example is difficult. You can usually find a space on the road but it might not be close to your building. You pay at the meter about 50 pence per hour. You need to pay from 8am-1pm and then from 4pm-9pm, it’s free for 3 hours in the afternoon. Another plus of driving in Dubai is the cheap fuel price, our Mitsubishi Lancer filled up from empty for about £12! For the 5 days we covered a lot of kilometres and only spent £24 on fuel!

One very important thing to remember if you plan to drive in Dubai is that they have a zero tolerance policy for drink driving. If you plan to go out and have even just one drink you need to leave the car and take a taxi. The rules are strict and it’s really not worth the risk. Also, if you have an accident in Dubai, no matter how minor, you need to call the police and wait for them to come and document it. There is no fighting through the insurance companies there, the police decide on the spot who is to blame and you each get given a piece of paper that you present to your insurer or car rental company.


Make a Dubai schedule!

I may sound annoying when I say this but making a schedule for your trip will make a huge difference. If you have a lot of places that you’d like to see it will be very difficult if you don’t plan well. My schedule had every morning, afternoon and evening planned. That way I knew that we would get to do everything and not miss something because we forgot or ended up on the wrong side of the city! There are also some things you should book in advance, for example, going to the top of the Burj Khalifa. Certain days of the week and certain times sell out so it’s good to reserve your tickets online. We went at sunset on a Friday and I booked a few weeks in advance, when I checked back later it was sold out.

The schedule

Thursday –

We arrived at Al Maktoum International Airport (also known as Dubai World Central) at 7:30pm, by 8pm we had our luggage and were collecting the rental car. The airport is about 35 kms from Dubai Marina and the drive took just under an hour taking into consideration a few wrong turns! Another half and hour to find parking and by 9:45pm we were finally checking in to our marina apartment. A quick change of clothes and we headed straight to Marina Walk for dinner. There’s some very nice restaurants here overlooking the marina, we chose some delicious Lebanese food. After dinner it was straight to Barasti Beach Bar to meet some old friends for drinks. Barasti is probably one of the most famous bars in Dubai. It’s located at Le Meridian Mina Seyahi Beach Resort Hotel and is the perfect place to relax with a drink (yes they serve alcohol!) on the comfy sofas on the beach or watch sports on the big screen. Thursday and Friday nights are the busiest as that’s the weekend in Dubai so be prepared to queue to get in and also try to go in couples as they tend not to let in groups of guys.


Friday –

Despite having quite a late night we were up early on Friday and went for a stroll along JBR Walk. This is a great place to have coffee and breakfast and there’s also some nice shops although they are all closed until the afternoon on a Friday. After coffee it was time to get dressed up and head to Dubai Mall to meet some friends for lunch.

Tip! Dubai Mall is the largest shopping mall in the world so, if you have a car, take a photo with your phone of the area that you’ve parked in.


You may think you’ll remember where you parked but after spending some hours in the mall and walking a lot you may forget and lose your bearings! It’s happened to me and trust me, it’s not fun searching for your car in the hot car park when your feet hurt!

I could wrote a whole post about Dubai Mall because there’s so much there but for now I’ll just give you a few things that I think you shouldn’t miss.

  • The Aquarium – yep, there is a huge aquarium inside the mall where you will see all kinds of sea life. If you want to fully enjoy it buy a ticket and walk through the tank.
  • The Souk – there’s a great Souk in the mall with lots of Arabic shops. A favourite of mine is the perfume shop, Arabian Oud.
  • The Fountains – when you walk outside of Dubai Mall, not only will you see the spectacular Burj Khalifa but you will also see the famous Dubai Fountains. There is a show usually every 30 minutes where the fountains come alive with music and lights. It’s truly breathtaking.
  • Souvenirs – you’ll find some lovely souvenirs and in my opinion the best shop here for those is Al Jaber Gallery, the prices are reasonable and the quality of their items is very good.
  • The Burj Khalifa – you’ll find the entrance to the At the Top experience in Dubai Mall too. Here you can head to the world’s highest observation deck in the world’s tallest building.

They say that if you visit Dubai and don’t visit the Burj Khalifa you may as well not have visited Dubai. In some ways this is true. For me, the Burj Khalifa is something that I have witnessed rise out of the ground. I remember when the construction on the site started in 2004, it was impossible to imagine the empty desert land would one day transform into this iconic building. The experience of visiting the Burj Khalifa is special and even if you don’t love Dubai as much as I do, I would be surprised if you don’t feel some admiration when you walk through the building and watch the video screens showing the people and the vision behind the project.

Take a moment to read the Burj Khalifa’s words. The building is speaking to you and these are the words of everyone involved, from the visionary’s to the architects, the construction workers to the window cleaners. Each and every person involved was a part of creating something truly magnificent.

I am the heart of the city and it’s people; the marker that defines Emaar’s ambition and Dubai’s shining dream. More than just a moment in time, I define moments for future generations. I am Burj Khalifa

Flying to the top of the building in the elevator is an experience in itself. They travel at 10 metres per second and watching the floor numbers change so quickly is quite scary!

Your At the Top experience will take you to the 124th floor and will last about an hour and a half although you can stay up there for as long as you wish (until closing time that is). I would recommend checking what time sunset is when you book as you can get some lovely photographs at that time.


After all this it’s dinner time and there’s plenty of choice at the mall, however, being a local I had a little secret restaurant up my sleeve. Head to Burjaman centre and just outside the metro station you will see a restaurant with a green sign called Ravi. This is a Pakistani restaurant and doesn’t look very special at all but the food is amazing. If you like spicy food, order the chicken kadai with butter naan, my mouth is watering just writing this! You’ll spend about £10 per person maximum and it will be one of the best meals you eat in Dubai!

After dinner there’s no time to rest and it’s a drive back down the Beach Road to 360 at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel. This is another famous club in Dubai with (you guessed it) 360 degree views of the 7 Star Burj Al Arab Hotel and the Palm Jumeirah.

Tip! The walk up to 360 is also probably one of the best places to take close up photos of the Burj Al Arab.


Saturday –

As if there isn’t enough to see in Dubai I also wanted to include a trip to Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates and is a very different city to Dubai. As we had a hire car it was very easy to get to Abu Dhabi and only took about 2 hours. I’m not sure how easy it would be without your own car as the metro only operates in Dubai although I’m sure there are buses available.

Before we set off however there was time for a quick Jet Ski ride close to Palm Jumierah, if you’re as fortunate as us to have friends to loan you their Jet Ski this is perfect, if not you can hire them from various hotels.

The first stop was Yas Island, the home of Ferrari World and the Yas Marina Formula 1 circuit. Due to the busy schedule we didn’t go and experience the rides at Ferrari World but we did explore and have a coffee at the marina which was very nice – I also noticed a huge shopping mall which I plan to check out on my next trip!



Next was a drive along the Abu Dhabi Corniche all the way to the incredible Emirates Palace Hotel. We then stopped for lunch on the beach front. I was surprised to see a lovely public beach area in Abu Dhabi, last time I visited I’m sure that didn’t exist! Although it was very nice it was a bit hot to stay too long so after lunch we left the beach and headed for the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Having travelled to quite a few Muslim countries, including Turkey and Morocco, I wasn’t expecting to be impressed with this mosque but I was so wrong! This is one of the most breathtaking buildings I have ever seen and it is enormous! The white domes and gold tips shimmer in the sunshine and the surrounding water features with bright blue tiles reflect the masterpiece like a piece of art.

Inside the mosque you will find stunning chandeliers and beautiful carpets. It’s completely free to visit and you can also join one of the free guided tours. You must remember to dress appropriately when visiting the mosque, women should wear long, loose fitting clothes and men must not wear shorts or vests. Women will also be provided with a headscarf which is to be worn at all times. You must also remove your shoes and leave them in the area provided before entering.



After a peaceful tour of the mosque it was time to head back to Dubai. We decided to keep driving and go all the way to Deira and check out my absolute favourite shop in the whole of Dubai – Al Kabayl Discount Centre! Saying a discount shop in Dubai is my favourite may sound strange considering the city is full of glitzy shopping malls but really and truly it is! Since my first trip to Dubai many years ago I have been visiting this shop on every occasion. Why? Because it has everything! All the souvenirs that you see in the shops in the malls are sold here but at half the price. They also sell some incredible things for the home such as paintings, chests and lamps. They have sweets, perfumes, jewellery, electricals and clothes, shoes and bags! When I visit this shop I usually need 2 hours and a huge basket! To give you an idea of what you can find, here’s what I bought:

  • Shisha pipe and tobacco
  • Pashmina scarves
  • Dubai souvenirs such as mugs and keyrings
  • Arabic tea glasses
  • Arabic sweets
  • Summer dress
  • Cuddly camel

Following an exhausting day and full on shopping experience we needed a good meal and the best place for that close by was Pars Iranian Kitchen in Satwa. I’ve tried Iranian food in quite a few countries and this is one of the best. The kebabs will make your mouth water and the rice is incredible. They will serve you a salad and freshly baked bread to start and you can finish off with Iranian tea and sweets. It’s a little more expensive than some of the other restaurants in the area but it’s worth every dirham. What’s even better is that the outdoor seating area has big sofas that you sit cross legged on to eat – it’s so authentic and relaxing.

Last stop of the evening on the way home was for some mint tea and shisha on Jumeirah Beach Road at Shakespeare Cafe. This is a very popular place with the locals and with nice sofas and soft lights it’s the perfect place to end the night!


Tip! Save money on everything you do in Dubai by buying the Entertainer book or app beforehand. There are thousands of buy one get one free vouchers included!

Sunday –

After all the rushing around I thought I may need a bit of a rest so Sunday morning was left free! After enjoying the gym and pool and having some lunch at Ibn Battuta Mall it was time to get ready for our desert safari! We booked through Al Canari Tourism who were great. We were picked up at 3:30pm from our building by a minibus and after a couple of other pick ups we arrived in the desert around 5pm.

We jumped out of our taxi and into the jeep ready to be taken on a 30 minute dune bashing experience! This is so much fun, the drivers really know how to throw the jeeps around on the sand and you will feel like you’re on a rollercoaster! There are a few moments when you feel like the jeep may tip over and this is even more fun as everyone inside screams and the driver just laughs! Your ride will end back at the camp where you can take pictures at sunset, practice sandboarding on the dunes or ride a quad bike or camel! When you’re tired of all the activities you can relax inside the camp where you will find cushions on the floor around a big stage. Dinner is served at 7pm and there’s a show with a belly dancer to keep you entertained while you eat. You can also have some henna painted, try on some traditional Arabic clothes and smoke some shisha. Around 9pm your driver will collect you and take you home, or in our case, straight to Barasti Bar with the friends we made during the safari!


Monday –

By now we’d seen a lot of Dubai but still had a few malls to check out so we started with Mall of the Emirates. You can spend hours in the many shops here, as we did, but make sure you find time to see the indoor ski slope! It’s the first indoor ski slope in the Middle East and covers 22,500 square metres! You can hire all the gear there and if you’re not confident they also offer ski and snow board lessons. There’s even an apre-ski bar next to the slopes with an imitation fire to make you really feel like you’re somewhere in the Alps!

After Mall of the Emirates we headed to Souk Madinat Jumeirah for lunch. The narrow walkways with little shops tucked in give the impression that you’re in an old fashioned Arabian souk however you’ll also find modern shops and expensive restaurants here!

Next was back to Dubai Mall because you can’t do it all in one visit! Also, as the Dubai Fountains are one of my favourite things in this amazing city, I wanted to watch the show one more time before I left. This show is one of my favourites, everytime I watch it I get teary eyed!


Then it was back to Bur Dubai to meet our new friends at Ravi restaurant for dinner (because they’d never tried it and we were happy to eat there again!) and lastly some drinks and shisha at the very posh Kempinski Hotel on the Palm Island.

Tuesday –

Time to say goodbye Dubai – but with a 7pm flight we had most of the day to enjoy first. After such a busy few days the perfect way to end the trip was to have a delicious breakfast at Joe’s in JBR and then spend a few hours on the beach. The public beach here is perfect and you can hire sunbeds and umbrellas for about £10.


At 4:30pm we were packed and loaded the car with luggage ready to make our way back to Dubai World Central airport. Arriving nice and early meant there was time for some dinner and a bit of last minute duty free shopping! It is Dubai after all!

If you’ve been to Dubai you’ll notice that there’s many places and things we didn’t see this time, including the Gold Souk, Heritage Village, Karama Bazaar, Meena Bazaar, Atlantis Waterpark, Afternoon tea at the Burl Al Arab or a Dhow Cruise on the Creek. I think you need at least 7-10 days to really enjoy Dubai but the time was limited for us and sadly we couldn’t do it all!

I will, however, be making a new schedule for the next trip which will include these places and more so keep an eye out for that in the future!

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