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Dubai Travel Guide for First Time Visitors (2020)

This article is the most comprehensive Dubai travel guide for first time visitors to the country. 

Today, I’m going to show you what do you need to know before planning your trip to Dubai that will show:

  • Budget traveling in the UAE
  • Best places to visit
  • What to expect?
  • Best tips and tricks before flying in

With an increase of fame, United Arab Emirates is currently a top destination in the Middle East. In fact, in 2020, there are an estimated 20 million visitors that will come – kickstarted by the Expo 2020.

The question is: how can you visit Dubai easily and travel the Emirate at its best? 

Well, this article will be your best shot to know more about Dubai. Additionally, we will be updating this post regularly for Expo 2020.

Let’s dive right in.


Dubai travel guide for first time visitors

When I first visited Dubai, I wasn’t able to know the basic rules of the Emirate, or even the whole United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). 

Heck, I even thought that there were only “Dubai” in the whole UAE when I was a little boy. 

But when I finally landed here and learned a few things, I found the diverse culture of the country.

They have seven Emirates, and there’s more than just “Dubai”.

Mind you, Abu Dhabi is the wealthiest Emirate of the country, did you know that?

Where am I now?

I am currently living in Dubai as an Expat for more than two years. 

In addition, I traveled to different locations and got to know the best places to visit, even for first-time travelers. 

Of course, there’s also budgeting. I can guide you on what and what not to buy.

Moreover, you’ll also get to know what to visit and what are the places that may be left behind if you’re short in time. That is when our team have decided to make this “Dubai travel guide for first time visitors”.

So, if you’re reading this article to save more before traveling to Dubai, then this will be your best shot.

Dubai camels

Dubai Travel Guide for First time Visitors - Why travel UAE?

In the Middle East, there are just a few places that will be very easy to visit for tourists, and Dubai is one of those cities.

Why don’t you use this opportunity to get to know more about the cultures of Emiratis?

Below is a quick list of why YOU should travel to Dubai:

  • Dubai is very safe and visitor-friendly.
  • Visa is straightforward to get (some passport holders have it waaay more accessible).
  • It is a center of Gold trading.
  • Shopping is cheaper even for designer items.
  • It has the BIGGEST, TALLLLLEEEST, and everything in the whole world.
  • Culture is diverse
    Foods are just almost on every corner.
  • More than 90% speak and understand the English language.
  • Awesome adventures await.

Now that you have learned just the BASIC reasons to travel to Dubai let’s head out to the City guide that you need to keep in mind.

Before Travelling Guide

  1. Visa Requirements
  2. Learn how to get Around the City (Metro & Bus).
  3. Best Budget Hotels in Dubai
  4. Where to eat
  5. What are the best things to do?
  6. Best places to visit?
  7. Dress guides for men and women.
  8. Most amazing time to visit Dubai.
  9.  ProAmateur personal tips and tricks while taking a stroll around Dubai.
Dubai Travel Guide for First Time Visitors - Dubai Travel Checklist

VISA Requirements

Tourist or Visit Visa application is pretty easy to be processed in Dubai (in my case, it took only less than a week after the Visit Visa application). 

Application of visas in UAE has different types, namely:

  • Tourist Visa (30- day, 60-day)
  • Visit Visa (30-day, 90-day)
  • Transit and Stop-over (48-hr, 96-hr)
  • Work Visa
  • All new 2-years Multiple-entry Visa (to be updated)

Some countries can even apply for Visa on arrival, as listed here

But in this article, we can only discuss Tourist, Visit, and Transit/Stop-over Visas.

Tourist Visa

  • Sponsorship from a hotel or tour operator.
  • Valid passport (at least six months expiry before arrival).

Visit Visa

  • Sponsorship from a UAE resident, hotel, or tour operator.
  • Valid passport (at least six months expiry before arrival).

Transit/Stopover Visa

  • Valid onward flight booking departing from UAE and hotel confirmation during the stay.

But wait, what’s the difference between “Visit” and “Tourist” visa?

Well, if we say a “Tourist visa,” it can only be used for tourism and leisure purposes.

But a visit visa can be used for business meetings and to attend seminars or any other similar purpose.

Another difference is having Sponsors for approval (refer to the above list for the discussion).

Dubai Visa Requirements

Both visa types also have different approval timelines as well as a difference in cost, but primarily, you should ask your agent or hotel which model would suit you best.

UAE airlines are also offering visa assistance that will fast track your application.

Below is a search function to check the latest and best prices going to Dubai.

If you want to deal with your visa via your airline to book, then you may refer to the following websites below.

  1. Emirates Airlines
  2. Etihad Airways
  3. Fly Dubai
  4. Air Arabia

After knowing the requirements on the visa application, you must book your hotel/s and contact them for assistance to get fast approval in processing.

Below are the notable hotels in Dubai that you might want to check-in.

Dubai Hotel Booking Cheap

Budget-friendly Hotels in Dubai

1. Ibis, Deira City Centre

Estimated price: Less than 60 USD / night
Hotel Class : 3

How would you like a 5-min walk from the Metro before going to the best places to visit in Dubai?

Ibis stands at one of the busiest parts of Dubai. With easy access to the Metro and Bus Stops, your stay here will surely help you to manage your time and money.

2. Ibis, Al Rigga

Estimated Price: Less than 60 USD/night

Hotel Class: 3 

Just like in Deira City Centre, Hotel Ibis in Al Rigga would also be the right choice. It has much better access to almost all kinds of businesses, hotels, restaurants, and local transportation.

In addition, the hotel establishes its reign near the Dubai Creek, Al Ghurair Mall.

Also, it is just a walking distance to Al Rigga Metro Station – one of the most popular metros in Dubai.

3. Elite Byblos Hotel

Estimated Price: Less than 100 USD /night
Hotel Class: 5 star

In the heart of Al Barsha and just a few minutes away from the Mall of Emirates, a 5-star hotel lies to cater to the needs of thousands of tourists.

Since it is just near to the Mall of Emirates, you will gain access to numerous restaurants and retails stores.

It is also just less than 10 minutes walk from the Metro (Mall of Emirates Metro and Bus Station), which will give you the more accessible to different parts of Dubai.

4. Arabian Park Hotel

Estimated Price: Less than 80 USD /night
Hotel Class: 3 star

With simplistic room designs, you will feel at ease after a long and tiring day in Dubai.

Just a little bit far from the center, Arabian Park Hotel is situated almost at the end of the Metro’s Green Line. But, the stunning view of Dubai Creek will greet you every time that you will peek at your windows.

They value the simplistic design of their budget rooms, which will put you at ease after a long tiring day in Dubai.

Assuming that you already have a Visa, have a happy hotel booking, and confirmed flight, then we shall proceed in planning your trip to Dubai.

Dubai Travel Guide for First Time Visitors

What comes up in your mind when you hear about Dubai?

Let's plan your trip!

“Dubai is only pure sands and nothing but dunes, camels, and dates” – that’s what I thought when I was a young boy. 

Well, maybe a few years ago, but now it abundant with buildings, infrastructures and world-class tourist destinations.

Fret not, these human-made structures should not bother you, because you can still access the deserts if you would want to!

Additionally, there are tons of places to visit and enjoy!

Now, for the ITINERARY!

Dubai Travel Guide for First Time Travelers - Best Things to do

Are you a hot blooded tourist that is always in search of high adrenaline and memorable moments?

Then the list below might amaze you!

  • Skydiving (Palm dropzone VS Desert dropzone).
  • Gyrocopter flight.
  • Al Qudra Cycling Trail.
  • All-inclusive Desert Safari (Dune bashing, quad bike, sandboarding, falconry experience, buggy driving).
  • Hatta Mountain Safari.
  • Hot air balloon

1. Skydiving

One of the “must anything to do in Dubai” is to Skydive at the most popular skydive destination on the planet, the Palm Jumeirah drop zone.

There you can view the magnificent cityscape beauty of Dubai starting from the Palm, Burj Khalifa, Dubai Marina, and Burj Al Arab.

And in the future, just a few more months from now, another building which is taller than the Burj Khalifa will rise with confidence.

Dubai Travel Guide for First Time Visitors skydiving

When booking a skydive, allow at least one to three months before your visit.

Before going, you will know the availability of slots, and if ever there will be re-schedules, then it won’t be hard to do so.

If you’d like to experience this extreme adrenaline rush, then what are you waiting for now?

2. Gyrocopter Flight

Another worth noting adventure to experience is to fly in a gyrocopter.

The experience will be extremely different from being on a commercial plane.

…. or a helicopter!

A gyrocopter will only accommodate two persons, the pilot and one pax, YOU. 

Yes, I’m pointing at YOU!

Worry not, for everything can and will be recorded.

You will feel the wind touching your face. 

And then, you will fly like a group of geese. 

Furthermore, you will soar through the skies of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Despite all of the above, there’s nothing to worry; it’s just like riding a big toy which only fits two people, and flies. 

That’s it!

Additionally, riding in a gyrocopter is perfectly safe!  Your pilot is a professional.

Just have some fun.

things to do in UAE gyrocopter

While flying in the copter, you will be able to see the beauty of Dubai from above, but this time, you can take your time. You can be toured all around the city for 20 minutes.

“Gyrocopter riding will be an incredibly memorable joy ride of your life. It will fuel your adrenaline while cherishing the views of the most iconic places in the City, up above.”

3. Al Qudra Cycling Trail

Do you love cycling?

What about the deserts?

If both answers are yes, then pack up your suits, and let’s take a ride in Dubai.

The cycling track is viral to adventurous tourists. 

It has around 86 km of stunning views of the desert. 

Sometimes, there is wildlife that can be spotted, such as Falcons and Oryx.

As per the recommendations, it would be best to ride at Al Qudra during sunrise to witness the spectacular view of the desert partnered by the mild color of the sky while the cold breeze of winter is touching your skin.

4. Desert Safari Adventures

Dubai is probably one of the most famous cities in the whole world that can offer an astonishing desert adventure.

While in the desert safari, you can do the following:

Sandboarding (it’s like skateboarding on sands)

  • Dune Bashing 
  • Falconry
  • Dancing at night
  • Night SKy chilling
  • Buffet or eating 
  • Camel riding
  • Sand buggy driving
  • Quad biking
things to do in UAE sand bashing

As you can see, a Desert Safari adventure is an all-in-one package that you must have while in Dubai. 

Meaning, this trip will usually cost you about a whole day till night!

After a rough time figuring out what are the best places to visit, and the best hotels to book it, now it’s time to fly in Dubai.

Dubai Flights and Airlines

If you’re going to visit the Emirate, then obviously, from the start, you would also need to plan which airline should you fly?

Do you want it done on a budget? 

Would you like a really fancy flight experience?

Just to let you know, one of the best airlines in the whole world is just sitting in the United Arab Emirates. 

And even budget airlines are capable of providing a high quality of services.

emirates airlines

In 2019, Business Insider named Emirates Airlines as the top 5 best airlines of the year, Which had been popular because of its in-flight entertainment and top-notch customer service.

Another notable airline company to watch out is Etihad Airways (EY), which is the second-largest airline company in UAE.

They are then followed by Air Arabia and Fly Dubai – two of the budget airlines in the country, which you can use to transfer to nearby Gulf regions.

When is the Best Time to Visit Dubai?

Before going into a country, you need to always research when is the best time to go there and have fun. Otherwise, it might be a disaster in your part.

You will not want to go on a rainy season if you’re going to get a tan, right?

But don’t worry, rain in Dubai is rare.

Following, the seasons in Dubai are just Summer and Winter.

Summertime starts from April to September.

On the contrary, winter comes around in early October to late March.

But which time is the best to visit?

Which season will show you the best of the Emirate, especially for first-time travelers in Dubai?

Just as I have said, it still depends on you.

But if you want to get a tan, and lie down on the beach, then the Wintertime is the best time to visit.

Dubai travel guide for first time visitors winter edition

During the winter season, the temperature will be bearable compared to summer. Because in summer, it is sizzling hot! Like very HOT, which urged the government to implement a law about midday break for outdoor workers.

If you want to know more about the best things to do in Dubai during the summer, just visit the link below and try to learn more about Summertime in Dubai.

Summer or Winter time?

Moving forward, most of the tourists still visit Dubai during winter, it is the season of the year where restaurants, live shows, and all fancy gigs will pop up!

Everyone will party, and numerous events will show up.

It’s cold at night, but the best thing is, you can go out at daylight and won’t feel the extreme heat of the Middle East.

Additionally, the morning breeze will feel really refreshing.

I recommend sitting on a park, or do your morning Yoga and exercise routines.

Now that you have settled when to go (most probably winter time), let us proceed in learning the basics of Dubai’s public transportation.

With the use of the next information, you won’t just have a hard time in getting through the city.

Dubai Travel Guide for First Time Visitors

Dubai's Public Transportation

Upon landing in Dubai, you will be able to have instant access to the public transport of the country. 

You must purchase a Nol card (for tourists) at the station. 

This Nol card (some countries call it Beep Card) will be your mode of payment in the Metro, Bus, parks, some hypermarkets, etc. 

It will act like a “credit card” for public transport.

Dubai Metro Dubai Travel Guide for First Time Visitors

1. The Dubai Metro

Our Dubai travel guide for first time visitors won’ be complete without sharing the number one transport system of the Emirate.

The train is one of the best public transportation in the whole world. It carries a lot of people, and the cost will be low.

And it’s the same in Dubai. It is one of the cheapest (if not), mode of transportation in the whole city.

Yes, it’s crowded at rush hour, but it can still save your day!

Dubai Metro is straightforward to understand; there are just two line colors right now, the Green Line and the Red Line.

It is best to install a map application on your smartphone. 

I’m always using the 2GIS app here in Dubai, and it is yet to fail me.

Always understand where you are, and where your destination is. 

Dubai Metro Do's and Don'ts

  • Gold Cabin (VIP) – There is a Gold Cabin that has a higher cost. If you are on the regular (Silver Nol Card), stay away from it. It can found at the end of the train. It’s just a small cabin with a Gold finish.
  • Female Cabin – Female-only cabin imposed strictly in Dubai. If you cross the line, you might get fined. It can be spotted easily at the other end of the cabin. If you saw that you are facing the Gold cabin, then the Female-only car is located at the other end. A pink color mark is the primary indicator of signs.
  • It’s not allowed to smoke, drink, nor eat while in the Dubai Metro.
  • Sleeping is also not acceptable. Stay awake on the whole trip.
  • Again, PDA is frowned upon while in Dubai.
  • Always wear appropriate dress codes.
  • Metro will be full during rush hours, try not to join the fight if possible from 7-10 am and 5:30-7:30 pm.
  • Don’t expect that the metro will be open before 10 am during Fridays.
  • Fighting is not allowed at all public transportation, as well as cursing.

Above are just the basic do’s and don’ts while in the Dubai Metro. You can head on to this article for more information.

2. Dubai Bus Transportation

Dubai has always been following the P2P style of a bus route. Meaning, they will only stop at the right bus stop at a designated time interval (typically 20-30 minutes gap).

There are different bus stops all across Dubai, with or without a shed.   It could become a little bit problematic if you missed a bus under the heated sunlight, that’s why I would recommend bringing an umbrella and a bottle of water.

Just like the Dubai Metro, there is also a female-only section of every bus.

You can easily spot it in the front part of the bus, which is separated by a swivel.

Always tap your Nol card while going in and out of the bus.

A passenger caught, which did not tap his/her card will get a fine of around AED200 (USD 55).

Pretty much, the rules and regulations are almost the same with the Dubai Metro except that there is no VIP Gold section.

Dubai Tram Line

3. Dubai Tram

A secondary mode of transportation in Dubai is the Tram system. It is operating at the JLT-Marina side of the City.

Tram is the smaller version of the Metro. It runs across the tramway tracks that are designed to be with the public highway. 

It moves way slower than the Metro Trains, but it is an excellent mode of transportation to visit a few spots in Dubai.

You can have easy access to the Dubai Tram at DAMAC Properties Station and DMCC Station.

The rules in Dubai Tram are almost the same as the Dubai Metro and Bus.

For more information about Dubai Public Transportation, you can head to the Dubai RTA website.

After a long haul of day travel, let us share the best places to eat in Dubai.

Dinner in Dubai

Dubai Restaurants List

The City of Gold consists of different nationalities from around the world. 

It might be one of the Best Cities on Earth where you can easily find different varieties of restaurants and food palate. 

Below are some of the best Dubai Restaurants for our Dubai travel guide for first time travelers. In addition, we have also gathered the best budget but a cozy place to stop by.

Local Cuisine

1. Al Hadheerah

Situated at a little bit far from the City’s center, Al Hadheerah offers a wide range of local cuisines.


They offer plates of seafood, barbeque, and Middle Eastern cuisines specializing in Arabic foods.


It is also just a few minutes away from Flamingo Lake in Dubai, where you can view thousands of flamingos around it.


It is best to visit the restaurant for a relaxed dinner and a late-night date.

Webpage: https://babalshams.com/al-hadheerah

2. Sufra Restaurant

Just a few minutes away from the DHCC Metro Station, you can find this instagrammable restaurant.


Sufra offers Middetereanian and Middle Eastern foods with specialties for vegans and vegetarians.


They have an exceptional service for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.


Website: https://www.hyatt.com/en-US/hotel/united-arab-emirates/hyatt-regency-dubai-creek-heights/dxbhc/dining

3. Arabian Tea House

It is situated just a few minutes away from Al Fahidi Metro station and only near the Dubai Museum in the area of Bur Dubai.


If you want to revamp your Instagram posts and increase your twitter followers, then this might be your best restaurant to visit.


Above all, they have an astonishing shop design and delicious foods for less than AED80 per order.


They specialize in healthy Arabic cuisines that is very popular in the region.



Fine Dining Restaurants

1. Doors Freestyle Grill

Doors Freestyle might be one of the most popular restaurants in Dubai because of its steaks and barbeque.


They offer the best meal every service with the touch of fresh music in the background.


Dors Freestyle is almost perfect at all aspects packed with friendly staff, which will make your dinner memorable.


Additionally, they specialize in Dinner and late-night lunch, which aligns for a perfect date with your loved one.


Website: https://www.doorsdubai.com/en

2. Andawar Revolving Restaurant

A stunning view of the whole city will barge right into your sight.

Andawar rests on the 25th floor near the center of the City.

At the cost of around AED400 (USD 110) for two, you’ll experience a very romantic meal.

Website: https://www.hyattrestaurants.com/en/dining/uae/dubai/international-restaurant-in-deira-corniche-al-dawaar-revolving-restaurant

3. Billionaire Mansion Dubai

Just like what their brand suggests, this fine dining restaurant will cost you– well, not billions but just a fortune.

The restaurant rests near the Burj Khalifa at Business Bay, just a few minutes from the main road of Dubai.

Guests can experience unlavished and luxurious dining that tops in the Dubai gourmet world. You’ll experience being a “billionaire” for a night.

They have numerous events and night club access that will make your night extreme and pumping.

Website: https://www.billionairemansiondubai.com/

Dubai Travel Guide for First time Visitors - Budget Restaurants

1. Fish Hut Seafood Restaurant - Al Barsha

For around AED30-40, you can have a decent meal here, we actually recommend going here, that’s why we have added it first on our Dubai travel guide for first time visitors.

They have three locations to choose between Oud Metha, Al Barsha, and Business Bay. So if your hotel is just nearby or your itinerary will pass through those locations, then maybe visiting the restaurant will be fruitful.

They offer a wide variety of seafood, salads, soups, and desserts. So visiting the restaurant will surely be a right choice for a budget experience.

Website: https://www.dubaifishhutrestaurant.com

2. Ravi Restaurant

Do you want a very welcoming restaurant while on a budget?

Ravi’s Restaurant is what I would recommend if you want to chill while spending a few dirhams here in the Emirate.

The owner, Mr. Ravi, is hands-on to his restaurant and customers.

He cooks and serves dishes with a smile, and warmly greets his customers.

The restaurant stands in Al Satwa just along the main road.

They offer Pakistani, Indian, and some Asian foods. It is a great restaurant that will not spell death in your pockets while trying a different variety of international cuisines.

Website: https://www.facebook.com/RAVIRESTAURANT.ae/

indian foods

3. Special Ostadi

A simple and tasty menu awaits its customers.

They offer amazingly excellent services and friendly staff that will help you out when you’re starting from your day of Dubai adventures.

Prices are very budget-friendly, ranging from 20 to 30 dirhams and above.

What to Bring in Dubai?

To complete our Dubai travel guide for first time visitors, we need to also share a few packing list, but very important in your stay at te Emirate.

Feel free to add more options with regards on our below list. However, always remember to pack light during your flights.

Personal Identifications – It is essential always to bring your personal documents when visiting another country. You should always have at least a copy of the following:

  1. Passport
  2. Visa copy
  3. Hotel vouchers, address, and contact
  4. Airline Ticket
  5. A couple of government ID’s

Items to purchase..

Sunscreen and Sunblock – you would not want to damage the largest organ of your body, right? Bring a couple of sunscreen or sunblock. Similarly, you can just straight away buy in Dubai. It’s cheap and found almost in any pharmacies.

Umbrella or Cap – It’s not very popular to bring an umbrella here in Dubai despite the extreme temperature even in winter seasons. But bringing an umbrella would be a great addition to your arsenal to fight the heat.

Sunglasses – You need sunglasses that will protect you from harmful UV rays, not just in UAE, but whenever you are going anywhere. Moreover, it will also help you protect from dust and/or sandstorms.

Summer clothes and outfit (Even in Winter) – Dubai is relatively hot all year round; hence, you should pack your summer clothes when visiting the Emirate. Even though it is winter, expect to bring your most comfortable clothes.

Consider bringing the most decent clothing from your wardrobe. Below are a few tips for reviewing when choosing your dress.

dubai clothes

What to Wear in Dubai?

Dubai is an open city in the Middle East.

But it is still a Muslim country, and tourists are expected to follow even the proper dress codes. This section of our Dubai travel guide for first time travelers, you will know the outfits that are fine to be worn while in the city.

OK to Wear – Women Edition

  • Knee-length dresses
  • Comfy T-shirts
  • Long dresses
  • Pants and Jeans
  • Decent looking shorts and skirts
  • Abaya

AVOID Wearing – Women Edition

  • Very tight dresses
  • Short shrots
  • See-through dresses
  • Swimsuits and bikinis (IF not in a pool or beach)
  • Revealing clothes
  • Dresses with inappropriate words, jokes, etc.

OK to Wear – Men Edition

  • Shorts that at least cover the knees
  • Cotton pants
  • Jeans and jogging pants
  • Suits and long sleeves

AVOID Wearing

  • See-through shirts
  • Cross-dressing
  • In some cases, shorts that show the knees
  • Very tight pants and shirts
  • Dresses with inappropriate words, jokes, etc.

Final Thoughts

Dubai may be an “open city”, but there are a lot of rules that must be followed while you’re in the Emirate. It packs a ton of tourist destinations which are mostly man-made and some involves shopping and dining. Even so, there are also a lot of adventures that await the travelers. We hope that this Dubai travel guide for first time visitors had help you a lot during planning stage. If you have more suggestions after your UAE visit, don’t forget to share your thoughts below.


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