Surrounded by the sultry heat of the desert, expats will find that the lifestyle in Dubai largely revolves around activities best accompanied by air conditioning – apart from those adrenaline junkies who like to play on the dunes with bikes and trucks, or surf the waves with kiteboards and windsurfers.
But for an expat community lured to the emirate by inflated salaries and visions of tax-free wealth, heavy heat means that shopping and indoor entertainment options make up the epicentre of life and go nicely with the extra income.
Nightlife in Dubai
Expats can enjoy a vibrant social atmosphere as Dubai dishes up a heady dose of everything from indoor snowboarding and phenomenal music festivals to world-class restaurants and shopping malls galore.
Most of Dubai’s nightlife is centred on the hotels, and it’s not uncommon to find expats gathered around hotel bars until the wee hours when last rounds are being called.
However, a few clubs and nightlife spots do exist outside the hotels; Arabic nightclubs have become increasingly popular with locals and expats over the years.
Shopping in Dubai
For the expat whose idea of fun is cruising the aisles, Dubai’s city centre can be thrilling, with selections of malls, souks and specialist stores on offer. Authentic Bedouin paraphernalia, Persian-style carpets and textiles abound at the local markets, while brand names and electronic goods can be scooped up for a song.
Most shops open from 8am to 1pm, and then reopen again after the heat of the day at around 4.30pm until 8pm, or even later. Malls are air conditioned and remain open from 10am to 10pm. Most shops, malls and souks usually close on Friday mornings.
It won't take long for expats to realise that malls in Dubai have revolutionised the retail experience. These shopping meccas don't settle for the stock-standard stores and food courts typically on offer in other cities – rather, they take on the roles of entertainer, curator and cultural director all at once. Expats will find movie theatres, ski slopes, ice skating rinks and libraries alongside their favourite restaurants and international brand names.
Dubai Mall is the city's largest mall and seems to take the philosophy of 'bigger is better' quite seriously. The mall boasts a fountain that rivals that of the Bellagio, one of the largest single-tank aquariums in the world, a SEGA Republic theme park and an ice rink. Other popular malls include Ibn Battuta Mall, Wafi City and the Mall of the Emirates.
Eating out in Dubai
Expats will be spoilt for choice when it comes to dining out in Dubai, with hundreds of restaurants to suit any taste and budget.
One not-to-be-missed eating experience in Dubai is the famous 'brunch'. Hosted mainly by the larger hotels, brunch is an eat-as-much-as-you-like buffet, normally accompanied by unlimited beverages or house wine, beer, and even champagne in some cases, and are held on a Friday from 12pm onwards. Prices vary widely, as does the quality of the food on offer, so it’s best to get some recommendations before deciding where to go.
Alcohol is only served at select restaurants licensed to serve liquor. In most cases, the impressive array of hotel restaurants satisfies this requirement. Any dishes containing pork or alcohol are clearly marked on the menu, and pork products are only served in establishments that have a special licence.
Bear in mind that during the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims and even some expats fast. One is not permitted to eat or drink in public during the day for the duration of the holiday. Many restaurants remain closed until evening, although those in the larger hotels still serve food.
Lunchtime dining takes place behind covered windows in order to show respect. As take-away meals are allowed, many restaurants remain partially open to provide this service, or else do home deliveries. Fasting is broken after sunset, and restaurants will open as normal at this time, often remaining open into the early hours of the morning.
Outdoor activities in Dubai
While the sweltering summer months make outdoor activities next to impossible, the city has much to offer in the cooler months of the year. There are beaches and waterparks aplenty, both of which are great places to splash around and cool down with the kids. Dubai is also home to numerous parks, perfect for a picnic or just a day out taking a walk.
Meeting people and making friends in Dubai
One of the major challenges of moving to a new place is meeting and making friends with like-minded people. Joining a club – whether for a sport, a hobby or a charitable cause – is a sure-fire way to find others with shared interests. But where to start? Here are a few clubs and societies to consider.
There are countless benefits to learning a new language, not least of which is the opportunity to meet all sorts of people. Arabic is the natural choice for a new transplant to the UAE, but the Eton Institute also offers a diverse selection of other languages from across the globe, including everything from French, Spanish and German to Turkish, Hebrew and Farsi.
One for the animal lovers, 38smiles is a non-profit animal rescue organisation. Stray animals, particularly cats, can often be seen around Dubai, and 38smiles has programmes in place to assist these vulnerable animals and help control the population of strays. This includes catch, neuter and release programmes, as well as the rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming of injured or mistreated animals.
A well-established cycling club, the Dubai Roadsters offer a fun and easy way to get into the emirate's cycling culture. For those who enjoy a bit of fresh air, this club has the benefit of being both a great way to meet people and an enjoyable form of exercise. Numerous weekly rides are held both on-road and at cycle tracks.
►See What's On in Dubai for information about annual events
"What I enjoy most about Dubai is the culture and the food. I learned to love the food and whenever I am back home I miss it so much." Read more of SA expat Cormandré's interview about Dubai.
"Anyone who’s ever been to Dubai would tell you that the shopping is spectacular, shops delivering items straight to your front door, Amazon’s endless online shopping options, etc., are all the little things that I tend to enjoy." Mariëtte shares her experiences in her interview about Dubai.
Are you an expat living in Dubai?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Dubai. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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