Dubai’s glamour doesn’t have to break the bank
August 3, 2009 ·
Dubai has earned itself an unlikely spot amid the world’s ritziest — and priciest — beachside hot spots. Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and David Beckham have all been spotted partying in this opulent Arabian playground, where a poolside beer can easily top $10 and one hotel boasts rooms starting at $1,000 a night.
That doesn’t mean you need to be a rich oil tycoon to afford this sunny desert boomtown, however. Here are some tips to get you started. And yes, despite the tough neighborhood (across from Iran and down the coast from Iraq), it’s totally safe.
GETTING AROUND: The blast-furnace heat and humidity make long daytime strolls unrealistic in summer, when the mercury can approach 120 degrees. Even during the pleasant period from October through May, you’ll likely need some sort of transport.
Until the Dubai Metro opens in September, your best bet is one of the ubiquitous sand-colored taxis. All are metered and cheap by Western standards. Fares start at 82 cents (3 dirhams), but beware the $5.48 (20-dirham) surcharge from the airport. Drivers are generally honest and, like most people you’ll meet, speak good English.
Another option is a seat on the double-decker buses operated by Big Bus Tours. The hop-on, hop-off tickets are not cheap — a one-day pass costs $60 (220 dirhams) for adults and $27 (99 dirhams) for kids — but the tours are an efficient way to see the sprawling city’s highlights. Don’t forget sunscreen if you plan to ride up top. Details at http://www.bigbustours.com/eng/dubai/default.aspx.
HISTORICAL SITES AND MUSEUMS: Dubai is rightly known as an unabashedly modern city of gleaming high-rises and extravagant shopping malls. That makes its rare historical sites all the more special. Take time to stroll the winding streets of the bustling old neighborhoods straddling the downtown creek.
Start your visit at the Dubai Museum, housed in the renovated Al Fahidi Fort in the Bur Dubai district. Exhibits depict activities such as pearl diving and date farming that shaped life in the region before the discovery of oil. Tickets are a bargain at 82 cents (3 dirhams) for adults and 27 cents (1 dirham) for kids.
Next, get lost amid the refurbished wind towers and minarets of the Bastakiya quarter’s walkable lanes. Then make your way down to the quay, where you can catch a ride on one of the traditional wooden abras ferrying passengers across the creek. A one-way ride costs just 27 cents (a dirham). Or charter your own for $27.40 (100 dirhams) per hour.
On the Deira side, head to the colorful old souk (market). Follow your nose first to the spice market, where you’ll find great deals on saffron as well as non-edible aromatics like frankincense. Continue to the covered gold souk. It’s worth a visit just to ogle the wares. If you are buying, ignore the touts at the market’s entrance and be sure to haggle hard once inside.
Four days a week, the Jumeirah Mosque south of Bur Dubai opens its doors to non-Muslims. Guides from the Sheik Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding end each 10 a.m. tour with a question-and-answer session about Islam and Arabic life. Women should wear a head scarf, and all visitors must dress conservatively. Details on the tour and other programs are at http://www.cultures.ae/index.php.
MODERN WONDERS: With little oil of its own, Dubai has staked its future largely on becoming a global marketplace for big (and little) spenders. That makes the city’s malls among the world’s most incredible. And rambling through their super-chilled corridors doesn’t cost a dirham.