Planning any trip can be intimidating, from researching and setting a budget to creating an itinerary. This is why I have created this comprehensive guide to help you plan your trip to the United Arab Emirates.
I spent 12 days exploring Dubai & Abu Dhabi and it was the best mix of relaxation and adventure. If you want to find out what to see and do in the UAE, where to stay and how to get around, keep reading.
Planning your trip to the UAE
As UAE travel requirements for Nigerians are constantly changing, please do your own research beforehand.
Passengers travelling to Dubai as of 26th February 2022 must have at least one of these requirements:
- A valid vaccination certificate showing you are fully vaccinated.
- Present a valid negative PCR test certificate issued within 48 hours of your departure time.
- A medical certificate saying you have recovered from COVID‑19 within 1 month from the date of recovery to the date of arrival.
Visit the Emirates website for any changes to the requirements for entry to Dubai.
The entry requirement for Abu Dhabi is a little different from Dubai. Most tourist sites, hotels, malls and restaurants require you to present either a vaccine certificate showing you’re fully vaccinated or a negative PCR test was taken within 14 days or both.
TIP: DO NOT travel without travel insurance. I use SafetyWing whenever I travel because it is travel medical insurance that was created by nomads for nomads. You can buy a policy for the duration of your trip and end it when you want, it is extremely flexible.
Best time to visit
The best time to travel to the UAE depends on you. The months of November to March have the best weather, it is neither too hot nor humid. However, because this is peak travel season, it is the most crowded and expensive during this time. If you are on a budget, then the summer (off–peak season) will be the cheapest time to go. Just be aware that temperatures are highest around this time. They can get as high as 55 degrees Celsius.
So, pick what works for you.
The currency used in the UAE is Emirati Dirhams (AED), the exchange rate is fixed at – $1 to AED3.67 so it does not matter where you change your money, it will be within that range.
TIP: You can spend both dollars and dirhams. Most places accept dollars as well as the local currency but if you pay in dollars, you are given change in dirhams.
Arabic is the official language in the UAE; however, English is the most spoken language. So, if you are an English speaker, communication will not be an issue for you.
What to wear?
The UAE is a Muslim country so, it is important to respect the culture and dress modestly in public areas. In some tourist sites like the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, you will be required to cover up totally.
Do you need a local sim card?
Most places have free public WIFI which you can easily connect to, however, as a traveller, it is important to always be connected, especially if you are solo. When you first arrive at immigration, you are given a free sim card with 1GB of data already pre-loaded, this should last for at least 5 days if you don’t use any social media with it.
TIP: Facetime and WhatsApp voice calls don’t work in the UAE, so you’ll need to download a VPN in order to use them.
How long should you spend?
You should spend at least 7 days in the UAE, this will give you enough time to relax and see the top sites. If you want to visit other emirates, you will need to spend longer than 7 days.
Things to do in the UAE
There are endless activities to do and places to visit in the UAE, you are spoilt for choice. Ensure you explore more than Dubai, there are 7 emirates, all with unique landscapes and adventures to experience. Here are 6 activities in Abu Dhabi & Dubai that you cannot skip.
A Desert Safari is one of the most popular experiences you can have in the UAE and for good reason. It is so thrilling, I booked a group tour through GetYourGuide for my mum, sisters and me and it was an entire package. It included return transportation, dinner and a show, sandboarding, henna tattoo, dune bashing, a camel ride and a camel farm tour.
The best time to go on a Desert Safari during the summer is at sunrise and sunset. Wear light and airy clothing with comfortable shoes.
Sky Views Observatory
If you want incredible views on a budget, Sky Views Observatory is a perfect alternative to The Burj Khalifa. It’s a short 10/15-minute walk (depending on how fast you walk) from the Dubai Mall through an underground tunnel.
For AED85 ($23) you get access to a Glass Walk and Glass Slide which gives you panoramic views of Dubai from different perspectives.
If you want some thrill and don’t mind hanging off buildings, you can pay an extra AED504 ($137) (this price changes frequently) to experience the Sky Edge Walk which encircles the observatory from the outside and gives you a view of the city and the Burj Khalifa from beneath your feet.
Old Dubai & The Souks
I love visiting markets in the countries I travel to, you can feel the energy of the city. I can haggle, and bargain and I often find unique pieces that can’t be found anywhere else.
The souks are located in Deira, 20 minutes from downtown Dubai, it has a different vibe and atmosphere and right across the street is the Dubai Creek where you can ride a traditional Abra (wooden boat) for AED1 ($0.27).
The Gold Souk sells gold, silver and precious stones which are cheaper in Dubai compared to other countries.
If it’s your first time in Dubai, it may be worth it to book a guided tour which takes you on a tour of the Al Fahidi Historical District, a small and quaint neighbourhood in Old Dubai, the Coin Museum, and the Souks.
Did you really go to Dubai if you didn’t visit Dubai Mall? It is the largest mall in Dubai and it is unmissable. With over 1,200 retail outlets, an ice rink, a souk, the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo the Burj Khalifa (The World’s Tallest Building) and the Dubai Fountain, you could easily spend your entire day here. To make the most of your time at the mall, you should dedicate specific days to the activities you want to do, this will make sure you don’t get distracted.
You can catch the Dubai Fountain Show every 30 minutes from 6 pm until 11 pm daily. It is the world’s tallest performing fountain accompanied by lights and music, and best of all, it’s FREE!
It is open:
Sunday to Thursday: 8 am – 12 am
Friday & Saturday: 8 am – 1 pm
TIP: Download the Dubai Mall App to help you navigate the mall.
Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque
I visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi and it was magnificent, from the architecture to the 24-carat gold chandeliers and domes, every single thing was GRAND.
Related post: Top 8 things to do in the UAE
Spend about 45 minutes to an hour here just admiring the marble and taking pictures. If you travel during the summer, visit the mosque in the early morning or late evening because it gets very hot during the day.
TIP: If you’re doing a day trip from Dubai, planning can be a bit tedious, so it may be more convenient to do a tour where transportation is already provided.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is a museum that represents the dynamic nature of the contemporary Arab world and its multicultural heritage. With over 8 gallery rooms you can easily spend over 2 hours here, just walking around and admiring the art.
A general entry ticket costs AED63 ($17) and the museum is open Tuesdays – Sundays from 10 am to 6:30 pm. Apart from viewing the art, you can Kayak around the museum early in the morning or late afternoon for an extra AED126 ($34.30).
To enter, you need to show your vaccination card and a negative PCR test that was taken within 14 days and masks need to be worn at all times inside the museum.
The grounds around the museum are truly beautiful, so after looking at the art, spend some time outside (just know the afternoon summer heat is almost unbearable).
Yas Island – Ferrari World
If you love theme parks, Yas Island is where you need to be. It’s home to 3 theme parks – Ferrari World, Warner Bros World & Yas Waterworld. I spent a full day at Ferrari world where I rode Formula Rossa, The World’s Fastest Rollercoaster – this ride is so exhilarating! It goes from 0 – 240km/h in 4.9 seconds and you’re given goggles to protect your eyes from the speed.
TIP: Save this ride for last while you enjoy all the other thrilling coasters to build anticipation.
To make sure you beat the crowd and don’t have to line up for any of the rides, get there as soon as it opens at 11 am or 12 pm (depending on the time of the year) and expect to spend at least 6 hours if you want to go on all the rides at least once before the park closes at 8 pm.
A single-day ticket costs AED310 ($84.40) and AED345 ($93.93) if bought at the park and it gives you access to all the rides, except for a few like go-carting and the Ferrari Driving Experience (you can drive a Ferrari or be a passenger and cruise around Yas Island) that cost extra.
To enter, you need to show your vaccine card and a negative PCR test that was taken within 14 days and your mask needs to be worn at all times when you’re not on the rides.
P.S.: the park is huge, so get ready to WALK.
Where to Stay in the UAE
The UAE has accommodation options for every budget, from budget stays to some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. We stayed in 2 different hotels during our trip in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Summer in Dubai is less crowded than other months of the year but, hotels still book up fast so make sure you book your stays ahead of time. We stayed at Double Tree by Hilton Hotel in Al Jadaf for the 3 nights we spent in Dubai and it cost an average of $64 a night.
What drew us to the hotel was its central location and free shuttle bus to the Dubai Mall which operates twice daily. It has a rooftop pool with incredible views and a great breakfast.
- Abu Dhabi
As the capital of the UAE, it is the most expensive emirate and our hotel reflected that. We stayed at the St. Regis Hotel Corniche, till date, this is the best hotel I have ever stayed in. It is a 10/10 all around from the service to food, rooms, design and amenities.
We stayed in the Superior Guest room with 1 king bed and the price may vary depending on the platform and time of the year you make your booking. It is cheaper to book through third-party sites like booking.com than directly on Marriot’s website. However, on average, it is $550 a night. So, please do your research beforehand.
Read more: St. Regis Hotel Abu Dhabi Review
Where to eat & drink
When it comes to recommendations on places to eat and drink, we ate mostly from our hotel restaurants and at the mall but check out Lonely Planet’s UAE Travel Guide for some recommendations.
Moving around in the UAE
While Uber is widely available, it is very expensive. The best and most convenient way to get around the UAE is using Careem, a ride shares app which is a cheaper alternative to Uber. You can also use the local licenced taxis which can be found outside all major locations and they cost roughly the same as Careem.
The metro is the cheapest transportation option however, it is not the most convenient as it does not drop you at your exact destination. Another great but expensive option is a private car which you can book through your hotel concierge.
Shopping in the UAE
It is difficult to shop for my favourite brands when I’m in Nigeria so The Dubai Mall gave me the perfect opportunity. With over 1,200 retail outlets you are sure to spend some money. If you are looking for traditional items like abayas and scarves, the souks in Deira have everything you need at the best prices.
These are some things I wish I knew before travelling to the UAE so, I hope this helps you plan your trip and makes the process easier. If you have any additional questions let me know in the comments!
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