The highest building of the world. The largest shopping center. The largest water park. The fastest police cars. Yes, Dubai is considered a city of superlatives for a reason. For decades, Dubai has been home to a number of free spirits and visionaries from all over the world who always try to make the seemingly impossible somehow possible. The result is a city in constant change – and striving for more. More luxury, more options, more freedom. That is exactly the reason for many holidaymakers to travel to the emirate.
But anyone who has ever been there knows: the superlatives are only the flagship of Dubai, but only a small piece of the puzzle of what the city has to offer. We've collected eight surprising insights about Dubai that you'll probably only get once you've experienced the city.
One: There is no one Dubai - there are probably a hundred different versions
If men in kandora (white long robe) stand at the traffic lights next to women in hot pants and bikini tops without looking at each other askance, then they have probably arrived in Dubai. Both of them live in the same city, but probably in completely different worlds. If you ask local people what sets Dubai apart for them, it is primarily the internationality of the place. The city's approximately 3.3 million residents now come from more than 190 countries around the world - giving the city an urban but also difficult to grasp vibe. There is not just one Dubai, but many. Because every nationality brings its own culture and cuisine with it to Dubai in order to live it out authentically.
Two: The dress code is not that strict in Dubai - at least most of the time
Speaking of hot pants: The many expats who have emigrated to Dubai in recent years have also relaxed the dress code somewhat. Anyone who reads online about the best way to dress in Dubai will often be advised to always cover their knees and shoulders. However, hardly anyone sticks to it - especially in the areas popular with expats. And anyone who observes the interaction between classic Emiratis and the somewhat more permissive immigrants quickly gets the impression that neither party is bothered by the quiet compromise. However, there are areas where predominantly Muslims live - for example The Greek. There it is still appropriate to wear slightly longer clothing.
Three: You won't find pristine nature in Dubai - it's still green
Dubai has developed into a global metropolis over the last 50 years. Where once there was only desert, there are now holiday resorts, shopping centers and skyscrapers. The original nature can therefore hardly be found in the city center anymore. But there are still well-kept green spaces, palm gardens and beaches in Dubai - all artificially created. Untouched nature can only be found outside the city limits - for example, 100 kilometers southeast of Dubai in the Hatta Mountains or in the desert about an hour's drive away.
Four: If you live in Dubai, you don't have to worry about your luggage - or your apartment
Dubai is one of the countries with the lowest crime rate; officially it is almost zero. That's no secret at first. But how much the emirate's residents rely on their local security confuses the German need for control. It often happens that Emiratis do not lock their apartment doors or even go out without a front door key. Many people in Dubai also simply leave their backpacks and bags in public - hardly anyone there is afraid of theft. This is not only due to the strong basic trust of the local people, but also to the fact that most public areas and residential buildings are monitored by cameras. So the likelihood of being caught committing a crime is very high - and the punishments range from flogging to prison to the death penalty.
Five: You can't explore Dubai on foot - taxi, Uber or public transport are better
Lisbon, Paris and Milan are popular travel destinations for city trips - also because the city centers and the most important sights of the metropolises can be discovered on foot. Dubai is different. With an area of 35 square kilometers, the emirate is significantly smaller than, for example, France's capital Paris (102 square kilometers). But Dubai doesn't really have a city center. Rather, it is divided into many different districts that are well connected to each other. And each of these districts has its own attitude to life, its own highlights and its insider tips. The best way to discover Dubai is by public transport, Uber or taxi. Or of course with an ambitious day’s hike.
Six: Dubai smells no matter where you go - and for good reason
A good scent remains in our memories for a long time and, when it reaches our nose again, it often brings old feelings back to life. And anyone who has ever been to Dubai has given their sense of smell a lot of new input. Because scents are part of Dubai’s DNA. Almost all public buildings smell pleasantly of a mixture of oud, saffron and a hint of musk. But it is not only there that the traditionally produced fragrance oils play a role: the residents also attach great importance to a good scent - whether in the home or on their body. But Dubai doesn't just smell where fragrance oils are specifically designed to ensure that. You can also smell the sea when you stand on the beach; enjoy the many different culinary smells at the famous spice market - and yes, sometimes you can also smell the heat rising from the asphalt or the exhaust fumes from the many cars that drive through Dubai's city center every day.
Seven: Dubai doesn't have to be incredibly expensive - if you make compromises
Speaking of heat: There is a good reason why the peak travel time for Dubai is when the temperature in this country tends to be below zero, i.e. between October and April. Then, mainly well-off people from all over the world travel to the Arab Emirate to spend the winter in pleasant temperatures between 15 and 30 degrees. During high season, Dubai is often considered a luxury travel destination. There are also accommodations such as hostels or holiday apartments that, with a bit of luck, you can book at a bargain price. Or you travel to the desert city when it gets too hot for others. In summer, the heat dominates the travel destination, with the thermometer showing a crisp 50 degrees Celsius. To ensure that the hotels and holiday resorts do not remain empty, many offer attractive special offers, especially for families.
Eight: Dubai places great value on wokeness – not just for marketing
Less taxes on alcohol, more commitment to sustainability, freedom as a defining attitude to life: Dubai is woken up. But is the Arab Emirate really as liberal as it seems? The question is difficult to answer, even once you have been there. Because of course there are many construction sites in the emirate - for example in relation to human rights - that are not exactly characterized by wokeness. The pursuit of the next superlative and the ultimate luxury experience at the expense of guest workers and the climate is probably the most memorable contradiction in this regard.
But it is also a fact that Dubai is a role model in some other areas. For example, accessibility plays a major role and is often taken into account when new buildings are constructed. In restaurants there is a lot of information about allergens and food intolerances - there are usually alternatives for those affected. And Dubai is also clearly making efforts when it comes to sustainability. For example, the emirate is trying to reduce its own carbon footprint somewhat through solar systems in the desert or water dispensers in public places; Dubai wants to be climate neutral by 2050. A lofty goal - but it would not be the first time that the Arab Emirate, which has developed from a fishing village to a global metropolis within just a few decades, surprises.
Note: The research took place as part of a Dubai Tourism press trip.