Twelve hours in Dubai


I staggered out of Dubai International Airport at around 1pm (I had just flown in from Hong Kong), where I met my pal Yaz. Together, we had one mission: to smash Dubai in under twelve hours.

We bought a Nol card (day pass) for 22 dirhams (£4.80*). Dubai’s subway, along with Hong Kong’s, is world class: clean, cheap and very efficient. I would happily eat a meal off the platform it is that clean. The carriages ban eating and drinking, and some sections are reserved for women and children which can be a pain during rush hour.

Our first stop was Deira and its markets. The day was hot and dry, so I was glad to be wearing shorts. We visited the gold, spice and silk “souqs” (markets), where every shop keeper was eager for our money. Some were quite pushy but we made it through to the creek where we got a water boat across the blue river for 1 dirham. This was pleasant under the Middle Eastern sun. After disembarking, we managed to walk through the busy Dubai museum: a medium sized, competent but not outstanding, exhibit of Dubai’s history.

Just around the corner was Al Fahidi’s historic district, which has lots of small outlets such as cafés, galleries and restaurants with lots of local cuisines on offer. Ploughing on, we made our worst decision of the trip: Palm Jumeirah. It took over an hour to get there from Al Fahidi. We took the subway, tram, and then the monorail (for an additional 25 dirhams). Unfortunately, when we got to the final stop, we found that we needed to pay to enter Aquaventure Waterpark.

The subway trains are the best way to build a quick picture of Dubai. It is an incredible, currently booming city. Sandy buildings are nestled in a cutting-edge cityscape of magnificent high-rises, pristine six-lane freeways and Lamborghini and Ferrari dealerships. It’s like Vegas, with more desert and many buildings mid-construction.

At around 7pm, heading back from Palm Jumeirah I stopped off at the colossal Dubai Mall. This building is so huge that I only finished touring up to the third floor after what felt like hours of walking. There’s designer clothing, toys, beauty and electronics… But a Lamborghini baseball cap will set you back 250 dirhams (£55).

The Dubai Mall’s food court (or “district” might be a more appropriate noun) is enormous: fish and chips for 38 dirhams (£8.35), Indian cuisine, or Italian, or Chinese, or Greek… I also stopped off in Sega Republic to play the arcades. A range of passes are available or you can purchase credit as and when.

Near the Dubai Mall is the Burj Khalifa, but it was not lit up and had heavy construction work in front of it. I headed back to Dubai airport, arriving around 11pm to check myself back through security.

In total, I’d managed to cram numerous major sights into my half-day stop over. Next time I would stay longer, to do the water parks on a brilliantly sunny day, or maybe check out the casinos. You need to blow some serious money to have a truly great time, but on a tight budget (the day cost me £50 tops) you can still see a lot of Dubai. My Emirates flight left Dubai at 3am. I slept well.

*Prices are correct at the exchange rate on 10 April 2017 and are subject to change.

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