Planning your trip
Though Dubai is a popular destination, we still employ our same philosophy of finding new, different ways to look at a country, listening to your individual needs and interests to design an experience. Dubai is best known for its malls and beaches, and we can advise you on where to find the best of those, but we can also help you find the local culture that’s sometimes obscured by the city’s glitz.
Though Dubai’s official language is Arabic, you’ll find that English is even more widely spoken and that most signs are in both languages. However, the prevalence of international workers means you may occasionally encounter hotel staff members who don’t speak English very well.
Food & drink
Dubai is one of the world’s great culinary destinations, with a wealth of exceptional restaurants, often run by Michelin-starred chefs. Blockbuster restaurants like Nobu and Zuma have outposts alongside destination restaurants serving everything from fine formal French cuisine to Peruvian ceviche to Australian barbecue. This smorgasbord of choices does come with a price tag, however. This is not to say you can’t dine inexpensively. The areas around Al Muraqqabat Road and Al Rigga Road in Deira are overflowing with inexpensive cafés serving international fare.
Oddly, Emirati cuisine is one of the few that’s hard to find. The local gastronomy features typically Middle Eastern dishes with strong influences from Lebanese, Moroccan, Tunisian and even Iranian cuisine. Expect lamb and beef dishes served with rice, as well as hummus, tabbouleh, baba ghanoush and falafel. If you’d like, we can arrange for a food walking tour of the old town to explore local food.
Though Dubai is a Muslim country, you won’t have trouble finding alcohol. Alcohol is available in licensed bars and restaurants, which are generally attached to hotels. In accordance with cultural sensitivities, many bars and nightclubs speak in an oblique manner about what exactly they serve: ‘hops’ means beer, ‘grapes’ means wine, ‘bubbly’ means prosecco or Champagne, etc.
Festivals & public holidays
The month-long festival of Ramadan is perhaps the most important religious event in Dubai’s calendar. The city is quieter then, making it a good time to travel. However, you may want to avoid visiting during Eid Al Fitr, the three-day festival of feasting that marks the end of Ramadan, which can be a very busy time across the Middle East. Ramadan, like all Islamic holidays, moves throughout the year, so check with your specialist.
The calendar is also packed with secular events and celebrations. National Day celebrates the country’s freedom from the British with fireworks, car rallies and public events. Other highlights include the prestigious Omega Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament in January and February; The Dubai World Cup, held each March and billed as the world’s richest horse race; the Dubai Jazz Festival, in March; and the Dubai International Film Festival, held in December.
- 1st January - New Year's Day
- 30th November - Commemoration Day
- 2nd December - National Day
- Date moves year to year: Ramadan
- Date moves year to year: Eid Al Fitr
- Date moves year to year: Arafah day and Eid Al Adha (Feast of Sacrifice)
- Date moves year to year: Hijri New Year
- Date moves year to year: The Prophet Mohammed’s birthday
Dubai, like all of the UAE, uses the dirham (AED). ATMs are widespread and cash is the primary means of payment throughout the city (though credit cards are widely accepted everywhere except the souqs).
Tipping is customary but not compulsory. As a rough guide, consider adding 10-15% to the bill for restaurant staff, while AED 5-10 is sufficient for taxi drivers, valets and bellboys. A tip of about AED 40 – AED 60 is sufficient for your private guide on a half-day tour. Drivers who don’t act as guides can receive about AED 15 per person a day. You’re welcome to tip more if you feel the service was outstanding.
The UAE’s country code is +971. We suggest that you speak to your phone provider before you visit to purchase international data packages. Wi-Fi is widely available in most hotels and many cafés, though the internet is censored to filter out sites that conflict with the country’s values.
Our certified country specialists can advise on any safety concerns you may have. For current information, please refer to the Canadian Government Travel & Tourism website.
When to go to Dubai
You'll find temperature and rainfall information, together with a month-by-month guide on visiting, on our guide for when to go to Dubai.
From Toronto: 13 hours