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Where We Are: United Arab Emirates

We’re back in the UAE, folks! Dubai is one of three cities we’ve gone to on this trip that we’ve already vacationed to in the past (Munich & London being the other two). We look back on our first time in Dubai mostly fondly (we seem to have mixed memories), but we didn’t come back because we loved it. We came back for same reason we’ll continue to come back: location! Dubai and Abu Dhabi are hubs for Emirates and Etihad airlines respectively, and those are two airlines that have great rewards availability and serve as a great gateway to the Middle East, a region we’re insanely excited to explore.

Throwback to our first visit to Dubai from the top of the Burj Khalifa

We started out in Abu Dhabi, the capital city. Abu Dhabi is usually seen as a day trip for tourists in Dubai; we spent six nights there. Someone could do every tourist activity they could find and still not fill that many days. As you can tell by my recent influx of blog posts, we spent most of our time working from the hotel (or swimming in the pool because it’s a million degrees). The only thing you must do in Abu Dhabi, and man is it a MUST DO, is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This mosque made all of our time in Ahu Dhabi worth while because it was the most beautiful structure I think I’ve ever seen.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi will take your breath away

Then we hopped on a bus and made the 90 minute journey north to Dubai. We’re excited to make it back to some of the sights we loved so much our first time around, including the fountain show in front of the Burj Khalifa, the souks of Old Dubai, and maybe even try to track down the Heritage Village that prompted our first #travelfail.

On our first trip to Dubai, we tried to walk from the souks to the Historical Village. We walked for almost two miles only to discover that it was closed for construction. And then we walked through the world’s longest, deepest and creepiest underpass that popped us out in the middle of a highway because Dubai does not understand pedestrians.

The UAE this time around was intended to give us a reboot. There’s not a ton to do in Abu Dhabi and we’ve already been to Dubai so we didn’t feel pressure to be doing a lot. We’ll end up spending our two weeks in this country adjusting to the dessert heat and catching up on life as we prepare for the whirlwind of travel that’s on the horizon.

First Second Impressions on UAE:

  • There is so much construction. New York is the City That Never Sleeps, and Dubai is the City Where Construction Workers Never Sleep. There is construction everywhere in Dubai and they never stop working. But that’s how you build a city basically overnight. When we were here last year, we thought when we came back again, the city would be more established. The truth is, I don’t think this city will ever stop building, so the cranes in the skyline aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
  • It lacks identity. If you asked a computer to build a city, it would build Dubai. It checks all the boxes, but it doesn’t have any character. It’s almost Stepford. Everything looks like a cardboard facade that they didn’t try too hard to get the details right. It almost feels temporary— like it was built for the carnival that they’re waiting to come into town, and at the end of the season, it will be packed into trucks and driven off to the next location.

    The city is beautiful but just feels very robotic

  • There is no local culture. Beyond its architecture, the country lacks an actual culture. Emirati only account for 11% of the country’s population (you can read more about UAE’s population here, which is quite fascinating). Everyone else is immigrants or expats, making the country a melting pot of cultures. There is Emirati food if you look hard enough (but it’s mostly lamb, so we don’t), but most of the food here is just a mix of ethnic cuisines from Egyptian to Thai to Indian. Other than food, the rest of the “culture” of the country seems to revolve around money: making it and spending it in extravagant, character-less ways.

    Okay, it has some culture and it’s all in Old Dubai. One of our favorite things about Old Dubai is taking the abras across Dubai Creek for only 1 AED (~$0.25 USD) each way!

  • Malls are the social epicenter of the city. Malls in Dubai are a huge deal. They’re known for them and they are always packed. We walked around for 10 minutes today just trying to get a seat at a food court. The Dubai Mall is THE place to be on a Friday night and was filled with families, groups of friends, couples, everyone! The extreme heat forces people inside and malls serve as a great place for people to just be.

    The malls in Dubai are unlike anywhere else. They are gigantic and have things like indoor ski slopes and giant aquariums of sharks and sting rays.

Disclaimer: These things all sound negative, but aren’t intended to be! We really do like it here, but these are the elements that stand out most to us.

What you need to know — UAE:

  • Population: Abu Dhabi – 1.2 million / Dubai – 3 million
  • Altitude Temperature: (changing up this metric during our time in the Middle East because it’s more fun than altitude) 91°F
  • Exchange Rate:  3.67 AED to $1 USD
  • Primary Language: English
  • Walking Tour: No
  • Time Zone: Gulf Standard Time Zone, UTC +4 (9 hours ahead of US Central Time)
  • Taxi: Yes
  • Uber: Abu Dhabi – No / Dubai – Yes
  • Public Transit: Yes — trains, trams and buses.
  • Emergency Number: 999
  • Running: Yes, there are some great routes, but it’s crazy hot so you have to run early. In Dubai, the marina has a nice 4.5k loop and Jumeriah Corniche runs along the beach for 14k from the Burj Al Arab. Abu Dhabi has several running routes as well, but I’m not as familiar with those. We haven’t actually run in either city, but we’ve talked about it a lot, which is almost the same thing.
  • American Football: No longer in season.
  • Starbucks: Yes
  • Local Starbucks Specialty: I’m not sure what’s local and not these days, but their specialty features are the Burnt Caramel Latte and the Dulce de Leche Latte.
  • McDonald’s Veggie Burger: Yes, it’s an Indian-style patty with a spicy sauce that’s delicious
  • Coffee Price: 15 – 20 AED (~$4 – $5.50 USD) for a cold brew or latte
  • Beer Price: Expensive. We got happy hour Stellas for 27 AED (~$7 USD), but you can expect full price to be around 35 – 40 AED (~$10-$11 USD)