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Abu Dhabi and Dubai, UAE – An Introduction to the Middle East

Author: Ben Szweda
Date of Trip: June 2014

Everyone I told that I was going to the UAE in summertime told me I was crazy. With temperatures reaching 45ºC/113ºF and with a chance that humidity would top 90% I was beginning to believe them.

While the beaches of Dubai and Abu Dhabi were not empty during my trip, if 45 degrees is a bit much for you there are countless other activities to do.

First of all, take note that Dubai and Abu Dhabi are close enough to each other where you can and should visit them both on the same trip. There is a public bus running between the two cities, but for an option that departs when you want it to you can also take a local taxi, use Uber, or book a hotel car. I used a hotel car heading to Dubai and took Uber back. Both cost me around 400AED/108USD/63GBP/80EUR, which I thought was a good price for a one-way, private 150km/95mi ride. The hotel car is a nice option as the price does not go up if your ride takes longer owing to traffic, which is plentiful in both cities.

In Dubai, the hotel I chose to stay at was the Grand Hyatt Dubai. I would highly recommend this property on all fronts – as of my trip it is my favourite hotel to date. The grounds offer expansive and relaxing indoor and outdoor pools and outdoor walking paths. There are several highly rated restaurants in the hotel. The location is in walking distance to the Dubai Metro (Dubai Healthcare City stop on the green line) and to Wafi Mall (stop #1 on the Big Bus hop-on hop-off tour). The Creekside Park where you can get cable car rides is also nearby.

As for the physical hotel, the rooms were spacious, luxuriously appointed and in new condition. I highly recommend a room with a Dubai Creek view to add some value to your stay.

The Dubai Big Bus hop-on hop-off tour is a great option for anytime of year, but especially summer as it provides an always-present air-conditioned environment – and unlimited free bottled water and free WiFi! The true value from your 24- or 48-hour ticket however comes from the narration provided (in eight languages) on the bus and its extensive route network.

Like in Abu Dhabi, Dubai Big Bus offers two routes. The blue route is the beach route, so if its summer and you are heat adverse it is understandable that you might not want to hop at most of the stops along this route. You shouldn’t skip it though for the sake of the narration and because the last stop on the blue route is the Burj Khalfia, the world’s tallest building and home to the world’s fastest lift. As for the rest of the blue route, aside from some shopping, the Jumeirah Mosque might interest you, though opening times for visitors are slim.

The Burj Khalifa is indeed the last stop on the route, but it takes nearly two hours to get to it from the route’s starting point. Therefore if you have a timed entry fast approaching you might consider another method of reaching Dubai Mall, home to the Burj Khalifa. I recommend the Dubai Metro, which has a stop connected by indoor walkway right into the mall. Once there, as always with such attractions, I recommend the audio guide (an mere 25AED extra).

The other route of Big Bus Dubai – the red route – features attractions more central to the heart of the city. It drops you off at the Dubai Museum to which you get free admission with your Big Bus ticket. It also provides several opportunities for crossing the river on a boat, and for taking a river cruise – also included free with your ticket.

After spending the majority of your holiday in Dubai, a trip south to Abu Dhabi is required. Abu Dhabi can currently be seen in a day, if you don’t plan to enjoy the beaches. This may soon change however as more museums open up on Saadiyat Island.

In Abu Dhabi again utilize the services of Big Bus Tours. While they operate two routes here as well, if you only have one day or if you are not a thrill seeker, the red route is what you should focus on.

The key sight in Abu Dhabi is Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It is stop number 3 on the red route and located at the far east of the island that is Abu Dhabi. If you being your trip in Abu Dhabi you will see it as you travel from the airport into the city.

Once at the mosque, an hour should be sufficient for your self-guided tour and will let you catch the very next Big Bus. Make sure to collect the free audio guide to enhance your experience.

Other attractions worth checking out in Abu Dhabi include the malls (in order of likely appeal): Galleria, Marina and World Trade Center (WTC). While the WTC has a souk you are likely to be happier with the souks in Dubai. In Dubai, unless you are after something specific like gold, the Khan Murjan Arabian Souk should please the average traveller. It is located inside Wafi Mall at Big Bus Dubai stop one.

If you do chose to overnight in Abu Dhabi, I recommend choosing a hotel on the west side of the island. There are several chain (e.g., Hilton, IHG, SPG) and luxury properties to choose from in this area, including the famous Emirates Palace and Etihad Towers. I personally stayed at the Intercontinental Abu Dhabi. This hotel featured several nice restaurants which offered a variety of international cuisines. Each night one of the restaurants, as seemed common, offered a themed buffet night. There was also a private beach and outdoor pool complex.

As a final note, when planning your UAE vacation and booking tickets, check if any special opening times are in effect. During Ramadan and during the summer some places adopt restricted opening times. Additionally mosques may only be open to non-Muslims at certain times and not every mosque offers tours for non-Muslims – the mosque in Dubai along the Big Bus blue route has more restrictions than the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Also, as with all international travel, to get the best currency exchange rate it is advisable to exchange your currency before leaving home. As a last resort, use cash machines located in country, but certainly avoid airport change stations.

Travel to the country is easy via international air carriers. If flying to Dubai (airport code: DXB), Emirates (airline code: EK) is a popular choice. Into Abu Dhabi (AUH), Etihad (EY) is most common if you want a direct flight from America. Delta also has nonstop service from America to AUH out of ATL. Other airlines will require a connection in Europe, which may be preferable to some if you don’t fancy 15 plus hours on a plane. Regardless of class of service, this can be quite boring, though EY does quite a nice job pampering its premium passengers.

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