Dubai Travel Guide: What to see when you love nature and culture and hate shopping

Dubai Travel Guide: What to see when you love nature and culture and hate shopping
Floral installation at the Address Hotel in Dubai Marina

Dubai has never been on my bucket list. It’s far from my dream holiday destination. I love exploring authentic places with heritage, rich culture, beautiful lush nature, outdoor activities as well as exciting nightlife and dancing. I don’t like staying in a resort and I get bored if I have to lie in the sun the whole day. I’m not interested in shopping, soulless cities or anything flashy, fake, over-materialistic and over-the-top.

Doubtful about Dubai?

So basically, I had absolutely no desire to visit Dubai. Yet, when a friend suggested an 8-day girls’ trip last March , I decided to give Dubai a chance – and had a fantastic time. Read on if you want to know what to see and do in Dubai if you are a Dubai doubter like me.

NATURE: DUBAI MIRACLE GARDEN

Dubai travel guide: Dubai Miracle Garden for garden and nature lovers

The natural elements in Dubai are basically sand, sea and the odd palm tree here and there. If you want to see plants and flowers, there is one truly magical destination for you. This place is the Dubai Miracle Garden. It’s out of this world, immaculately presented and not surprisingly, in true Dubai style, the LARGEST natural flower garden in the world.

150 million blooming flowers decorate heart-shaped pathways, all kinds of structures, even castles and a full-sized, real airplane! I love flowers and gardens so my heart was bursting from the overwhelming beauty and epicness of it all. I totally forgot that I was in a desert.

CULTURE: ARABIAN TEA HOUSE AND OLD SOUK DUBAI MARKET

We spent a fascinating afternoon exploring the historic Dubai and old Emirati lifestyle. First, we took a taxi from our hotel in Dubai Marina to the Al Fahidi area and had a spot of local tea at the famous Arabian Tea House Restaurant. (Taxis are a very convenient and cheap way to travel: e.g the 30 km journey from the airport to our hotel cost only £20/23€.) The tea house is incredibly quaint with turquoise benches, white soft furnishings and lace curtains in a secret garden like setting. Even though the place is relatively new (est. 1997), it’s full of old-world charm and you get to eat traditional Emirati food based on family recipes.

Next we caught a water taxi (which cost a few pence) to the other size of the Dubai Creek to visit the Old Souk, a collection of traditional Arab markets. If you want to experience genuine Arab culture, you must pay a visit to the souks. Even though they are full of tourists, they are as authentic as it gets in Dubai.

The souks are exotic, buzzing places showcasing the cultural heritage and craftmanship of the region. You can buy for instance spices, jewellery, rugs, perfume and souveniers from the endless rows of market stalls. The sales people can be a bit pushy but they are also respectful. Be prepared to haggle as bargaining is an integral part of the cultural experience. Without access to the internet (roaming charges are excessive) and Google Maps we got utterly lost in the maze of little streets and alleyways but it was all rather exciting and magical.

Dubai Travel Guide: Old Souk Dubai
Image credit: AboutHer.com

SIGHTSEEING: BOAT TRIPS

I’ve always loved sightseeing by boat because you get a great perspective and panoramic views away from the crowds. The sea is the perfect vantage point for the iconic landmarks and beaches in Dubai too. In fact, Dubai is all about the sea and boats. So for the full Emirati experience, you really need to be on the water to truly appreciate the place.

Dubai Travel Guide: Sighseeing by boat

There are several boat tour operators in Dubai Marina offering everything from relaxing dinner cruises to speedboat experiences. We did a fun and exhilarating 1.5 hour speedboat ride around all Dubai’s top spots including The Palm Jumeirah, Atlantis and Burj Al Arab.

On our last day, we went on a 90-minute dinner cruise with breathtaking views over the JRB Beach and Dubai Marina. The food was served as a buffet on the open air upper deck accompanied with live music. The meal was fairly average but it was a lovely and relaxing experience nonetheless.

BEACH: JBR Beach

Our hotel was near the Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) beach. It was pretty impressive with fine, white sand, a promenade with gorgeous restaurants and a dense jungle of high-rise buildings as a backdrop.

Dubai Travel Guide: JRB Beach

I’m happy to sunbathe for a few hours but I prefer to be on my feet and see things. The beach is nearly two kilometres long and we walked it bare-footed from one end to the other and back most days. It was a glorious way to enjoy the beach and get some exercise too.

We had delicious iced coffees or exotic cocktails in the beach bars and lunch at the seafront restaurants. The food was truly great in every single establishment and it wasn’t that expensive either. You are spoilt for choice as the cuisines range from Arabic and Lebanese to Greek, Turkish, Asian and American.

BEACH CLUBS: ZERO GRAVITY AND BLA BLA

The Zero Gravity Beach Club at the very end of JRB beach offers great food, sun beds, pool and a DJ. We often had lunch or a drink there and occasionally hired a sun lounger for the afternoon. One day we stumbled upon their Bottomless Brunch (unlimited alcoholic drinks and food) and had a rather entertaining 4-hours of eating and drinking in the sun.

Bla Bla at the opposite end of the beach was my absolute favourite though. It’s a super trendy all day entertainment venue with a stunning beach club, 20 bars, 3 restaurants and a night club.

The beach club is beautiful and tastefully designed and the ambience is very chilled. Anyone can pay for access for the day. The food and drinks are delicious and served directly to your sun lounger. Under 21s are not allowed in, so it’s the perfect place for adults to relax.

Bla Bla is the place to go for great nightlife too. The roof top bars have stunning views, great cocktails and a brilliant atmosphere. The majority of the guests were local Dubai recidents; Arab men and expats from all over the world. We didn’t make it to the actual nighclub because we just loved exploring the huge bar area. One of the bars was playing fantastic new and old hits that got everyone on the dance floor. We danced the night away until 3 am and thoroughly released all the pent-up energy: I love dancing but I hadn’t been out partying since the pandemic broke out.

View from Bla Bla roof top bar in Dubai
Evening view from the rooftop bar area at Bla Bla

In summary, I had a great holiday even though Dubai wasn’t and will never be my ideal destination. I’m glad I went with an open mind though and found activities and experiences that I enjoy. We left the comfort and safety of our resort, explored further afield and embraced the local culture as much as possible. I came home buzzing with energy and rich in new experiences so it was a successful trip all around.

I hope you enjoyed reading my Dubai travel tips!

Check out my trip to my home town Savonlinna in Finland next.

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