Page update - Sep 30, 2022
The Emirate of Dubai is the main tourist destination of the UAE, attracting more than half of the tourists to the country. Against the background of dozens of interesting sights and magnificent beaches, Dubai has obvious disadvantages. We will talk about all the pros and cons on this page, as well as details about the Emirate of Dubai - its districts, places of interest, economy, residents.
Starting September 28, 2022, the requirement to wear masks in Dubai's malls, stores, cafes, and restaurants has been abolished. Dubai has become a much more comfortable place for vacation. That's great!
In the northeast part of the UAE. Recall that most of the UAE's area is occupied by the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, and all other emirates are located in the northeast. See the map on the right, click on the map to enlarge.
The Emirate of Dubai is the second largest after Abu Dhabi, with an area of 1,500 square miles (3,885 square kilometers). Its area is only 5% of the total area of the UAE state.
Dubai is the most populated emirate in the UAE, about 3,700,000 people live there, which is about 37% of the country's population.
The capital of the Emirate - Dubai City - officially has an area of 13.5 square miles (35 square kilometers), but the city is commonly referred to as its suburbs, together with which the area grows to 40 square miles (100 square kilometers). The city of Dubai occupies the entire coastline of the Persian Gulf in the emirate.
Dubai has a small Hatta region (exclave) in the east of the country. This region, approximately 40 square miles (100 square kilometers), is surrounded by Oman to the south and east, by the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah to the north and by the Masfout exclave of the Emirate of Ajman to the west.
The main territory of Dubai is bordered on the west and south by Abu Dhabi and on the east by the Emirate of Sharjah. Dubai and Abu Dhabi not only have the longest internal border, but they are also very close economically and culturally. The fact is that the elite and the rulers of Dubai (Al Maktoum clan) and Abu Dhabi (Al Nahyan clan) come from the same Bani Yas tribal group.
It was the rulers of Dubai and Abu Dhabi who first began discussing the creation of the UAE as a single state. Then they jointly began to propose to their neighbors to join. In 2008, when due to the crisis Dubai was financially unable to complete the Burj Khalifa, Abu Dhabi helped with the money. That is why the tower is called Burj Khalifa - in honor of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan (the ruler of Abu Dhabi).
It is an interesting fact that despite the proximity, there was a war between the emirates in the 20th century. We will talk about the war below in the section on the history of Dubai.
Dubai differs from other emirates by its diverse developed economy, and one of Dubai economy's most important parts is the tourism industry. Then let's start our review from tourism.
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Dubai's tourism industry was hit hard by the pandemic, but is recovering rapidly. Now (September 2022), we have the tourist flow figures for 7 months (January-July) 2022. The tourist flow is 8.1 million. If we roughly predict the total tourist flow in 2022, it will be 13.5 million at the end of the year.
Before the pandemic, the 2019 total was 16.7 million tourists to Dubai. It is safe to predict that Dubai's tourism industry will be fully recovered in 2023, if there will be no force majeure events.
Where is Dubai now in terms of tourist traffic in the world? It's hard to say. France and Spain, the former leaders in the rankings of the top tourist countries, have almost zeroed during the pandemic. The UAE and Dubai may well be among the top three tourist countries by the end of 2022. Let's wait and see.
The Emirate of Dubai has 773 registered large hotels (not counting small accommodation facilities) with 140,778 rooms (mid-2022 statistics). Note how accurately the authorities calculate the figures for the tourism industry! Development of tourism is one of their priorities. There are 147 5-star hotels in Dubai, 181 4-star hotels, the rest are 1-3-star hotels and apartment hotels Average room occupancy in 2022 is 74%.
There are hotels for all budgets from the cheapest hostels for USD 30 a night to the luxurious Burj Al Arab for USD 2,000 a night. According to statistics, the average price of a night in a hotel in Dubai is 418 dirhams. For the current exchange rates, see our review "What money in Dubai and UAE".
Tourists spend, on average, 4.6 nights in Dubai. Of course, many tourists are used to going to resorts for a week or longer, and many are greatly surprised by this figure of tourist statistics. In fact, there is nothing surprising. Dubai is more popular in the world of tourism not as a beach destination, but as a shopping destination. You don't need a lot of time for shopping, you run out of money.
In the world of shopping, Dubai is in second place in the world, second only to London, or maybe even first. Most visitors do not come to sunbathe on the beach and swim in the sea, but for shopping. The UAE has low trade duties and business taxes, there is no sales tax, and VAT is only 5%. We talked about this in detail in the review "Shopping in the UAE", and about gifts and souvenirs read our review "What to bring from the UAE".
Due to these facts and figures, don't be surprised that the vast majority of Dubai hotels are far from beaches.
Dubai is one of the largest air hubs in the world. Dubai International Airport (code: DXB) passed 86.4 million passengers in 2019, 4th in the world after Beijing, Atlanta and Los Angeles airports. But in 2021-2022, the statistics are sad. Only 29.1 million for all of 2021. However, for the first half of 2022 the figures are already good - 27.9 million for January-June.
Dubai International is home to the famous airlines Emirates Airline and SkyCargo, Flydubai.
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The weather in Dubai is no different from the rest of the UAE resorts. The best months for vacationing are October, November, March, and April. Summer is hot, with daytime temperatures in excess of 105°F (40°C). Winter can be cool and with unpleasant winds.
Read more in the deep-in review "Weather in Dubai and the UAE by month".
The first advantage is all the major attractions of the UAE. Dubai has the world's tallest building Burj Khalifa, the world's largest shopping mall Dubai Mall, the largest singing and dancing Dubai Fountains, the highest hotel Burj Al Arab, the most interesting water parks, the famous Deira markets and dozens of other interesting places. There is no other place in the world with such a concentration of modern attractions.
The second advantage is the developed public transport system. It is convenient to travel around Dubai, primarily due to the subway - convenient, fast, and relatively inexpensive. Read our review "Dubai Metro" about the subway.
In addition to the subway, buses, tram, monorail, and water ferries are available. Cab rides are relatively cheap in Dubai, although it is often inconvenient to get by, because traffic jams are a big "headache" of the city. Read about the fares in our review "Taxis in Dubai and the UAE".
The third advantage is excellent air flight availability. There are many flights to Dubai from the UK, EU and other countries. A wide selection of flights allows you to arrive and depart at a convenient day and time.
Unfortunately, the large number of flights does not lead to lower ticket prices. Competition is high, but flight prices are holding steady on a high level.
The fourth advantage is the availability of hotels. You can stay in a hotel in Dubai for just USD 50. It will be a 3-star hotel, "no pathos", but a decent level. Rooms are comfortable and clean, electrical outlets and appliances work properly, the furniture is not broken. In some aspects, these hotels can compete with the five-star hotels in Egypt, Turkey, or Tunisia.
The fifth advantage is tolerance. In Dubai, there is no dress code on the beach like in Sharjah or Ras Al Khaimah. Swimming and sunbathing in a bikini is legal. Shorts and short skirts are not prohibited, and even open shoulders are normal.
Of course, you should not abuse the tolerance of Dubai. You could end up in a police station for wearing a too short skirt, too deep cleavage, drinking alcohol or being drunk. Read more in our review "What you can't do in Dubai and the UAE".
The first disadvantage - hotels with a private beach are very expensive. In Dubai, there are hotels with their own beaches, as tourists are used to from the experience of Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt, or Dominican Republic. The prices are enormously overpriced at USD 200-300 dollars per night. Finding such a hotel with a promotion for USD 150 is great luck.
If you want a purely beach holiday and to get to the beach from your room for a couple of minutes, then it is better to go to Sharjah or Ras Al Khaimah, where you can stay in such a hotel for USD 70-100 a night.
The second disadvantage is that inexpensive hotels are far from beaches. Most inexpensive hotels are located 1-2 miles (1.5-3 kilometers) from public beaches. The transport problem is real, because the subway lines are far from beaches, and it is expensive to go there and back by cab every day.
A good option is if the hotel provides its own bus to a beach, it removes the problem. We recommend looking for such a hotel in the first place.
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The third disadvantage - no All Inclusive. Many tourists love the All Inclusive (AI) system as they don't want to find a place for lunch or dinner outside the hotel, and some go to the hotel to consume alcohol without limits. In Dubai, the AI system is offered by no more than 10 hotels, and this AI does not always mean unlimited food and alcohol. Read more in our review "All Inclusive in the UAE". We talked about how much money you would need for food, transportation, and sightseeing tickets in the review "How much money to take in the UAE".
The fourth disadvantage - alcohol is expensive and not always available. For those who like to rest "tipsy" the Emirate of Dubai will not do. Alcohol is not sold in common stores or supermarkets, and you need to look for a special liquor store. Drinking even beer on the public beach is prohibited and punishable, especially to be drunk. Read our review "Alcohol in Dubai and the UAE" for details.
You can drink in peace only in a bar or your hotel room. Alcohol is sold only in specialized stores and prices are high. You can take alcohol from home or Duty Free, but the quantity is limited. Find the limits in our detailed review "What and how much can you bring into the UAE".
Dubai is a multicultural city. There are Europeans, Indians, Pakistanis, Malaysians, Iranians, Egyptians, and many other people from different countries.
On the one hand, it is a big plus. You can try all the cuisines of the world, walk through the many ethnic stores, buy all the spices that only exist on the planet, and communicate in different languages within only a week of vacation in Dubai.
However, many Europeans are afraid of other cultures and nationalities, and Indian food causes even more fear.
Any emirate in the UAE can safely be called multicultural, but in Dubai it is especially expressed. Dubai has been the main trading center of the Persian Gulf since 1894, and since then it has been home to many foreigners. Let's go a little bit deeper into the history of the emirate.
In ancient times, the Umm Al-Nar culture flourished in Dubai. The round tombs of this civilization were found in 1994-95 in the Al Sufouh area. The tombs date back to 2500-2000 BC. The area was also home to nomadic herders. The first traces of date palm cultivation date back to 2500 BC. Since then dates have been an important part of the culture of the local inhabitants and have not lost their importance even today. Read our review "Dates in the UAE".
In the second millennium BC, the climate changed dramatically and the Arabian Desert came to these areas. The soil became almost unsuitable for agriculture and the culture of Umm An-Nar faded away.
The next archaeological find dates back to the 6th century AD. Traces of a caravan stop were found in the Jumeirah area, showing the trade activity in the emirate at this time.
The Umayyad dynasty brought Islam from the center of Arabia in the 7th century. It is believed that at that time Dubai was the port for the Arab Caliphate's trade with India and Pakistan. The locals were engaged in fishing and pearl diving.
The first written mention of Dubai dates back to 1095. The traveler Abu Abdullah al-Bakri described many cities and regions he visited personally in his book Majam Ma Ostozham.
Then for another 500 years, Dubai was no longer mentioned. The Venetian Gasparo Balbi, a famous traveler and pearl merchant at the time, was the next to speak of Dubai. He visited Dubai in 1580. At that time European traders were actively penetrating the region, interested in buying pearls.
Dubai was not a regional center at the time, being in the shadow of neighboring Sharjah, but was in fact an independent sheikhdom.
On January 8, 1820, many of the sheikhs of the small Persian Gulf states signed the "General Maritime Treaty" with Great Britain. The sheikhs gave up piracy and slave trade in exchange for peace with British and some protection by the British from the Turks and Persians.
An important event occurred in 1833. A large group of Arabs from the Bani Yas tribe, led by Maktoum bin Butti bin Suhail, advanced from Abu Dhabi to the east and seized power in Dubai. Maktoum's descendants rule the emirate to this day.
In 1841, there was a major smallpox epidemic in the city and many residents moved to the east bank of the Creek Canal to escape the epidemic. Since then, the city of Dubai has consisted of two main areas: Bur Dubai on the west bank of the Creek Canal and Deira on the east bank.
In 1894, Sheikh Rashid bin-Hushur signed a treaty of trade cooperation with Great Britain, and his successor (brother) Sheikh Maktoum bin-Hushur completely exempted foreign traders from taxes.
It was these two events that defined the further development of Dubai as the commercial center of the region. Within a few years the emirate was flooded with merchant ships, sailors and merchants from all over the world, most of all from Great Britain. Even then, Europeans began to settle in Dubai and the foreign population in the Emirate was already 25%.
In 1903, Sheikh Maktoum bin-Hushur signed a very profitable contract with the British Shipping Company, and Dubai became a port of call for most of their ships.
In 1912, Sheikh Saeed II bin Maktoum came to power and ruled until 1958. He is often called the "Father of Dubai." During his reign, trade provided the main income for the emirate, and many pearls and fish being caught. The emirate prospered until cultured pearls entered the world market in the 1920s, and pearl prices collapsed. The Great Depression in the '30s and World War II drastically reduced trade. In fact, the Emirate of Dubai and its inhabitants became paupers.
In 1949, the long-standing dispute between Dubai and Abu Dhabi over the border escalated into open warfare. The Dubaiis seized several border settlements and the dispute had to be resolved by the British, and a buffer zone was created. The dispute was not fully resolved until 1979, after the formation of the UAE.
In 1959, Rashid bin Saeed ascended to the throne. In 1963, with the help of the British, he enlarged the Creek Canal so that any ship could enter the port, which revived trade. In 1966, oil was found in Dubai, and the first shipment took place in 1969.
In 1971, the British withdrew from the Persian Gulf. The rulers of Dubai and Abu Dhabi met and agreed to create the UAE, later joined by 5 more emirates. In 1973, Dubai adopted the UAE dirham currency.
Since then, oil and trade revenues have been used to build Dubai's largest artificial harbor at Jebel Ali, the world's tallest building, the largest fountains, the largest and dozens of smaller shopping malls, hundreds of skyscrapers and luxury hotels, dozens of parks and entertainment venues. Naturally, all these objects were built not by Arab citizens, but by guest workers from various countries.
The population of the UAE is nearly 10 million people, of which only a little over a million (10%) are citizens. The remaining 90% are guest workers from India, Pakistan, Malaysia and other countries. Read our detailed review "Population of Dubai and the UAE".
In Dubai, the percentage of citizens is even smaller - about 5%. The most numerous are Indians, most often encountered by tourists at hotel receptions, behind the counter in stores, driving cabs, and as waiters in restaurants.
The composition of the population varies greatly depending on the area of the city. For example, many citizens and Europeans live in Jumeirah, while Indians and Pakistanis only work there. In Deira, it's very rare to meet an Arab citizen.
The official language of Dubai (as well as all of the UAE) is Arabic, but almost everyone communicates in English. Read more in our review "What language is spoken in the UAE".
The pandemic has hit the emirate's economy hard. In 2020, Dubai's GDP fell by 11 percent, from USD 110.5 billion to USD 98.4 billion.
In 2021, however, there was already a growth of 6.3 percent to USD 104.6 billion. In 2022, there are already figures for the first half of the year, there is a growth of another 5.8 percent. Presumably, the year-end figure will be 110.6, and Dubai's economy will fully recover from the pandemic.
Without a doubt, Dubai is one of the world's best examples of recovery from the pandemic. And this growth and this recovery are not accidental. It is the result of wise management decisions and several important reforms, most notably legal reform. There is a lot to learn from this.
The GDP of the Emirate of Dubai is about USD 100 billion. It is the second highest after Abu Dhabi (USD 253 billion). Dubai's economy does not depend on oil, unlike Abu Dhabi, where oil accounts for 60% of GDP.
Many tourists mistakenly believe that everything in Dubai is built with oil money. However, this is a big misconception, because oil has never been the main source of income of the emirate, trade has always brought more. Now oil accounts for only 4% of GDP.
The biggest sector of Dubai's economy is retail trade, accounting for 26.6% of GDP. Its role as a "shopping mecca" generates gigantic profits. In 2018, total retail revenue was USD 35 billion, more than only London.
A large part of the GDP comes from constructing. Dubai is considered one of the best places in the world to live. Real estate is in great demand and is constantly rising in price. In some areas of the city, foreigners are forbidden to buy real estate to exclude speculation and investment purchases.
Another important sector of the economy is tourism, which we talked about in detail at the beginning of this page. Other developed sectors are services, industry, fishing, financial services, and insurance. There are thousands of companies registered in Dubai because of the low taxes.
You can see the map of the city districts below, click on the map to enlarge it to full screen.
Downtown is the heart of the city, a small area of about 1 square mile (2.5 square kilometers). It is there that the Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall, Dubai Fountains are located. This is the place with the most expensive real estate. Only very rich people can afford to live in the Downtown. Read more in our review "Downtown Dubai".
Jumeirah is another expensive neighborhood of 13 miles (21 kilometers) along the coast. It is home to some of the most chic beach hotels, including the Burj Al Arab. Jumeirah beaches are considered the best in all the United Arab Emirates. Read more in the review "Jumeirah district in Dubai".
Bur Dubai is the historical center of the city and is home to the former residence of the Emirs of Dubai in the fort, the Grand Mosque and all the other historic buildings of the city. The government offices and consulates of other countries are still located there. Despite this, it is cheap (by the standards of the UAE) real estate, rent, and hotels. Read more in the review "Bur Dubai district".
Deira is located on the east bank of the Creek Canal and has been the commercial center of the city since the epidemic of 1841. There are now four famous markets: gold, perfume, spices, and fish. In addition, the area has one of the largest shopping malls in the UAE - Deira City Center. Deira attracts tourists with its cheap hotels and wide range of shopping possibilities. Read the review "Deira district".
Jebel Ali is a port and industrial area. There are many wonders there - the world's largest artificial harbor, the world's largest desalination plant. You can see US aircraft carriers (The Fifth Fleet) in the port sometimes. But tourists cannot see these places, the entrance is only for staff.
Dubai Marina is an area with Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) - an elite residential area whose waterfront could argue with the Corniche in Abu Dhabi. JBR's beach is popular with tourists. Read our detailed review "Dubai Marina".
Al Barsha is an area behind the Sheikh Zayed Road. It is almost uninteresting for tourists, except for the fact that the Mall of The Emirates is located there. And to visit Mall of The Emirates you do not need to go deeper into the Al Barsha area, as the mall is located right next to the metro station. The Al Barsh area has a lot of budget hotels along the Sheikh Zayed Road.
Al Quoz is the area very similar to Al Barsha, but further east along Sheikh Zayed Road. It is worth visiting for its inexpensive hotels and lots of art galleries located on the sites of former warehouses. The most famous are Carbon 12 Dubai, Isabelle Van den Eynde Gallery, Green art gallery, FN Designs, The Mine.
In addition to those listed above, there are dozens of districts and suburbs in Dubai. But for tourists they are not of great interest, we will not talk about them.
Read our TOP-ranking of Dubai attractions in the review "TOP Attractions in Dubai".
Have a great time in Dubai and read our interesting and useful for tourists pages about the UAE (find the pages list below).
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