What’s better when you’re traveling than finding ways to get a taste of local life in the cities you’re visiting? From immersing yourself in local history and culture, trying authentic foods, connecting with locals and visiting places that are off-the-beaten-path, there’s so much more to every city than just the famous tourist attractions. While Dubai has some amazing famous landmarks and sights to see, there’s also so much off the beaten path that is worth exploring too! Here’s our best tips for exploring Dubai like a local.
Ditch the malls, head for the markets
Malls are amazing (and The Dubai Mall is one of the best in the WORLD) and definitely worth a visit. However, once you’ve explored the Dubai malls, you might be looking for somewhere you can have a more local shopping experience. For that, you’ll want to explore the souks in Old Dubai. From spices to handmade items to clothes and more, the souks are a great way to experience local Dubai.
Get there the local way via Dubai Creek
Get to Dubai’s historic districts via a traditional wooden ferry boat (aka an abra) across Dubai Creek—it’s an attraction in its own right, but it’s also a traditional way to get around. Expect to pay the *very* expensive sum of approximately $0.30.
Immerse yourself in Dubai’s culture
Want to fast-track yourself to the local experience of Dubai? Learn about Dubai’s history and culture at the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Cultural Understanding. You’ll be able to have conversations with Emiratis about Islamic culture, Arabic customs, local food, the history of Dubai and more—what better way to get an understanding of where you’re traveling? Make sure to book an appointment in advance, then head to the Al Fahidi district of Dubai to immerse yourself in Dubai’s culture and history.
Make good use of public transport!
Taxis are for tourists. Move around like a local and use the super swish Dubai Metro. It snakes through the city underground and above-ground via tunnels and viaducts, and is fully air conditioned (a must in Dubai’s summer weather!). You’ll be able to get just about anywhere via the Metro, and you’ll save a ton of money too.
Avoid chains & eat local
There’s no getting away from the fact that big chains are drawn to Dubai like sand flies are drawn to… well, sand. But you can avoid McDonald’s in favor of traditional Emirati cuisine—staples include meat, fish and rice infused with spices like saffron, mint and cardamom. Try a fancier local restaurant or stop by a street market or street food stand for delicious local eats on a budget!
Explore the history
Dubai is a distinctly modern city, with stunning skyscrapers, modern architecture and luxury to rival just about anywhere in the world. But there’s also a lot of history in Dubai, and you’ll be able to immerse yourself in Dubai’s rich culture if you take some time to explore some more historical sites as well as the new, modern ones. The Al Shindagha Museum is a good place to start, as are the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood and the Museum of the Poet Al Oqaili. Of course, getting out of the city and experiencing the culture of the Bedouin lifestyle at a Bedouin-themed camp is a great way to immerse yourself in Dubai’s local culture, too.
Learn some of the local customs before you go
Learning a bit about Dubai’s culture and customs before you go can give you a leg up on having a unique local experience once you arrive. For example, did you know that Dubai’s weekend days are Fridays and Saturdays? (That means that Thursday and Friday nights are the most energetic nights around town.) Or that you should never take photos of anyone without asking first (this should be true everywhere, but you can be fined for it in Dubai)? Learn some customs in advance so you can fit right in while you’re there.
Explore some modern local hangouts
While Dubai has pretty clearly distinguished tourist areas (that are well worth visiting!), you can also pay a visit to some areas where locals tend to hang out more, too. Explore some modern art and culture at Alserkal Avenue, an unassuming venue packed with modern art exhibits, local bands and concerts, events, tours and more. Spots like the Community Café in Al Mamzar Beach or One Life Kitchen & Café are also good places to get off the beaten path in Dubai.
What are your favorite ways to get a local feel for a new city? Share your ideas with us on Instagram, or test out our ideas for yourself with a trip to Dubai. Need some help getting there? Take $35† off your flights to Dubai when you book through StudentUniverse—no promo code needed, just search and save.