Despite being considered one of the best travel destinations for many years now, the glitzy Gulf emirate has maintained some untold aura. For many tourists, this has created many misconceptions about life in Dubai.
One prevailing myth, for example, is that drinking is not allowed in Dubai.
Dubai is a global hub for tourism with a progressive and open outlook. Drinking is allowed at licensed restaurants and bars. Alcohol is also available for purchase in online liquor stores in Dubai and at several licensed shops.
This one example exemplifies how misconceptions have skewed the perspective of life in Dubai.
If you’re traveling to Dubai for the first time, the information shared below looks to clear up all the common misconceptions surrounding this beautiful and wonderfully diverse emirate.
1. The temperature is always hot.
While it’s true that temperatures in Dubai can soar as high as 50°C (122°F) in the summer months, Dubai’s “winter” months (November to March) make for a pleasant holiday. Average temperatures during these months are a comfortable 16°C (61°F) to 24°C (75°F).
Even if you do arrive during Dubai’s sultry summer, the city offers many cool escapes.
Dubai’s many attractions, from the Burj Khalifa to its many malls, offer solace from the soaring temperatures. The Mall of the Emirates, one of the largest malls in the world, even has an indoor ski resort to help you cool off.
2. There’s a strict dress code.
As a first-time traveler to Dubai, you may rightly be confused about what clothes to pack for your trip. Undoubtedly, you may have heard the misconception that women must be covered up when outside the house. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
While Dubai is steeped in Islamic traditions, it is incredibly progressive. As a cosmopolitan city, there is no need to cover up in many places like the beach, pool, or resort. When visiting cultural sites or several public places, it is recommended that tourists dress modestly.
This allows you to show consideration for the local people, their culture, and their beliefs.
3. All food is imported.
Because of its desert terrain, arid climate, and limited rainfall, growing food in Dubai and its surrounding areas can be a challenge. Despite this, the government of Dubai has gone to great lengths to grow locally sourced produce.
Using hydroponics, Dubai is boosting its food security efforts. These locally grown ingredients are finding their way to some of the city’s top restaurants, ranging from international fusion restaurants to the best steakhouses in Dubai.
4. Dubai is a dry city.
As previously mentioned, many travelers are surprised to find that Dubai is a city ablaze with a lively nightlife. Licensed bars and restaurants throughout the city serve up artfully mixed cocktails, innovative suds, and celebratory sparkling wines.
Travelers can also buy alcohol from licensed stores in Dubai. No matter your preference, there is a great selection of wine, spirits, and beer available. You just need to show your passport and sign a simple form to start buying from any authorized alcohol retailer in Dubai.
Just as a last important note, the legal drinking age in Dubai is 21 years.
5. Dubai is expensive.
While there is some truth to this claim, as the city is regularly named as one of the most expensive cities in the world, travelers can still enjoy many of Dubai’s offerings on a budget. Amidst the five-star hotels, Michelin star restaurants, and designer fashion brands, travelers will find many budget-friendly experiences.
Dubai’s traditional souks (marketplaces) offer old-fashioned retail therapy.
These markets are a great place for travelers to haggle over gold jewelry, spices, perfumes, and souvenirs. If shopping isn’t your thing, many cultural sites like the Dubai Museum and Jumeirah Mosque can be visited for an affordable sum.
To easily get around, Dubai’s metro offers stops to many of the city’s attractions, from Sheikh Zayed Road to Dubai Creek. At Dubai Creek, hopping on an abra (traditional wooden sailboat) to get across the creek costs less than a dollar.
6. There’s nothing but desert everywhere.
Undoubtedly, Dubai is surrounded by sand dunes, which are excellent for thrill-seekers looking for adrenaline-pumping activities like dune bashing, sandboarding, and desert safaris. Yet, this desert landscape is just one facet of Dubai’s diverse ecosystem.
In the heart of Dubai lies the Ras al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. This nature preservation area is home to 450 species of animals that include migratory and rare species of birds, sea mammals, and fish.
And as a coastline city, Dubai has a rich tradition of pearl diving and deep-sea fishing, making it a great outdoor activity for the whole family.
There are other outdoor pursuits travelers can participate in like camping, hiking through the Hajar Mountain Foothills, and deep-sea diving or snorkeling.
7. The Dubai economy is fueled by oil.
Oil has always been an important part of the UAE economy. But as the country has grown and developed, so, too, have its assets. Dubai, like the other emirates, has begun diversifying its assets in recent years.
Early-stage start-ups see Dubai as a global center for entrepreneurship. And with the world ready to converge in Dubai for the World Expo 2020, the country’s transition away from oil seems to be a promising one.
Tourism, of course, is a major contributing factor to Dubai’s booming economy.
8. Dubai’s tap water causes hair loss among residents.
A perpetuating myth among the expat population is that water from the taps in Dubai is to blame for hair loss, dry skin, and premature aging. Rest assured, this urban myth has been dispelled by some serious testing and research.
While desalinated water that comes out of the taps can dry out your scalp, a prominent news outlet in Dubai performed an investigation that tested the tap water from several neighborhoods in Dubai.
The results clearly showed no correlation between Dubai’s taps and hair loss among residents.
9. You need to speak Arabic
Aside from Arabic, the official language of the UAE, English is the most widely spoken language in Dubai. All pertinent information that you would need to get around, such as road signs, notice boards, or wayfinding signage is available in both Arabic and English.
This is because Dubai is a tolerant emirate with a multicultural population.
Over 200 nationalities call Dubai home, making it one of the most diverse cosmopolises in the world. Of course, learning Arabic is encouraged as smaller towns throughout the UAE may not be as English-dominant.
10. Dubai is a country.
This misconception borders both fact and fiction. While Dubai is a federate emirate, one of seven that makes up the United Arab Emirates, its ability to exert complete sovereignty over its internal affairs makes it an independent city-state.
Despite maintaining a significant degree of independence, Dubai is still subject to the authority of the UAE federation, which is governed by the Federal Supreme Council, the highest constitutional authority. Members of the Federal Supreme Council comprise the seven emirs.
Come and experience everything Dubai has to offer
Like any other travel destination, Dubai celebrates its uniqueness and vibrant culture. Visitors to Dubai will find a city that exudes a sense of community and an animated atmosphere. No matter your reason for visiting, Dubai is a fascinating place to explore.
Valentina Chessa is the Retail Marketing Manager at African + Eastern, the largest alcohol retailer in the Middle East with a network of 29 stores in the UAE, 5 in Oman, and a team of over 400 professional staff. The company boasts an extensive portfolio of beer, wine and spirits, and customers can shop online or at one of its conveniently located stores.