Until this trip, I’d never been to the United Arab Emirates. There’s some pretty wild misconceptions out there about this place so I was keen to go check it out for myself. I’m going to share with you some things I learnt from my recent experience in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
On route to Svalbard, Iceland and Estonia with Etihad Airways, we had the perfect opportunity to do a stop-over trip in Abu Dhabi. With just over 2 days in this beautiful destination, we had a pretty sweet itinerary organised for us by Arabian Adventures.
First up, I want to say just how polite everyone was that I spoke to or encountered during my time in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai. I know that half the people I spoke to were in the tourism industry and very used to foreigners, however the encounters I had in restaurants, shops, the markets and taxis were all pleasant. That’s not to say that shit people don’t exist. They do. Everywhere. But overall I felt incredibly welcomed by a bunch of people who are obviously very proud to call the UAE home.
1. Misconception: It’s always hot in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
This actually shocked me. I had completely prepared myself for the brutal heat, thinking back to when I visited Egypt in the absolute middle of summer and it reached 52°C. However, I was pleasantly surprised that the average temperature while we were in Abu Dhabi and Dubai was a nice 23°C, with tops of 30°C! In fact, while we were having dinner on our Dune Safari in the Dubai Desert with Arabian Adventures it was actually getting a bit cool, dropping to around 18°C. I’d like to point out that we visited at the end of March, and you can experience these sorts of temperatures from December through to March.
2. Misconception: Women must wear Abayas/cover up.
No they do not. The UAE is a very multicultural country with a wide range of cultures, religions and backgrounds – and a lot of tourists! While it is very common to see women (and men) walking around in traditional dress, it is by no means compulsory for all women to do the same. In saying that, I did my best to cover up regardless, as it made me feel more comfortable. But not everyone did, and that was okay. Obviously I would not advise rocking a crop top through the main street, but you’re definitely free to wear your bikinis at the beach etc. I chose to wear long skirts and t-shirts, or long dresses for our outings and activities. Below is my favourite photo from my time in Abu Dhabi – in front of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque at night (right across the road from our hotel!). I borrowed the gorgeous dress in this photos from my travel buddy, Keidi, who also rocked it on our Desert Safari.
Here’s a similar dress you can get on Amazon (please note: this is an affiliate link*)
3. Misconception: There is no alcohol or pork available anywhere.
Although Islamic teachings prohibit the consumption of alcohol and pork, it does not mean everyone in the UAE must abstain. Obviously when visiting another country, it is wise to be sensitive to local customs – so don’t go wandering the streets drunk. However, most big hotels have restaurants that serve alcohol. We splashed out and stayed that the Ritz-Carlton in Abu Dhabi, and definitely enjoyed a cocktail or two at the amazing Asian restaurant Li Jiang.
4. Misconception: Men are rude and possessive.
This is an interesting topic of conversation and feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments (but only if you’ve been to the UAE!!!). I personally found men in the UAE to be kind, quiet, and very respectful. Men in the shopping centres don’t ogle you when you walk by, the guy behind the Starbucks counter could have been from Australia for the lack of difference there, and the male taxi drivers were polite and did not engage in awkward small talk, and instead pressed play on a recording to welcome us to Abu Dhabi and to fasten our seat belts. Obviously I was only there for a couple of days but I honestly don’t have one bad thing to say.
What I would like to bring up is the fact that I definitely noticed men walking around with multiple wives; most notably in our hotel, The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi. I don’t pretend to be an expert on culture and customs in the UAE, so I don’t have the authority to make an informed decision about this. All I know is, that’s not for me, and I therefore won’t do it. If that’s what they’re into, so be it.
5. Misconception: The United Arab Emirates is unsafe – especially for women.
No. I actually felt more safe walking around at night in Abu Dhabi than I did walking around at night in Oslo, Norway. Like, 100 times safer. On our last night we went back over to the Sheikh Zayeh Mosque to take more photos out the front. While doing the embarrassingly-typical tourist shot facing away from the camera with our hands in the air, a man started walking towards us. Turns out that’s something you shouldn’t do in front of the Mosque (Oops! Note to self!), and the incredibly polite security guard was coming over to tell us. He wasn’t rude, nor abrupt. He kept his distance and explained his reasons for approaching us. He encouraged us to continue taking photos of the beautiful structure, but we already had plenty and I was a little embarrassed (eek!) so we headed home. None of the encounters I had in either Abu Dhabi or Dubai left me feeling even the slightest bit unsafe.
All I have to say is have your wits about yourself, don’t do anything abroad that you wouldn’t typically do back in your home country, and respect the locals and their customs.
Have you been to Abu Dhabi or Dubai? Did anything surprise you about the destination? I can’t wait to share with you the awesome adventures we got up to with Arabian Adventures and the lavish 48hrs we lived at the Ritz-Carlton and Etihad Business class. Keep your eyes peeled!
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Shit people exist everywhere haha – best line and so true. I think there’s definitely a lot of misconceptions and it’s good to hear from someone who’s experienced it first hand! Sounds like everyone was really respectful and kind. And that it isn’t super scary to be a woman there either! I’m looking forward to when we can get over to Dubai and Abu Dhabi now! Also Ritz-Carlton sounds amazing!
Omg Cassie, seriously, book the Ritz-Carlton. Even if it’s just for the night. We felt like celebrities haha. Actually there was a celebrity in line at reception one of the times we were in the lobby (an Estonian celebrity – I didn’t recognise them haha, but my Estonian travel buddy, Keidi, was so star-struck!). I normally go for value options with my accommodation, so I can stay in the best location. But we went all out for the 48 hours we spent in the UAE. I’ll definitely be back! I think next time I’ll stay in Dubai though (as opposed to Abu Dhabi), seems to be pumping a bit more. It’s definitely worth heading to the UAE 😀
I have to admit that I am one of those that have some misgivings about going to UAE so thank you for clearing up some of the myths.
No worries Vicki! Even as we landed into Abu Dhabi, I looked over at my travel buddy, Keidi, and said “I’m glad I’m visiting UAE for the first time with someone” (she’s been a few times before). And she basically laughed at me. I do A LOT of solo travel. And I’ve worked in travel for years now. And even I was hesitant at travelling here on my own. I was so wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with solo female travel in the UAE. I had so much fun, and can’t wait to go back! Although somehow I think Keidi will get on that plan with me again next time too hehe 😛
Love your post! I’ve always wanted to go there! The buildings just look insanely beautiful! So what was wrong with the way you were taking the picture of the selfie in front of the mosque?
It’s ridiculous here! Everywhere you turn there is some more incredible architecture. It’s a real mix of insanely high-tech to authentic elegance. Can’t get enough. I’m not 100% sure what was wrong actually – I was too awkward and left haha. He said it was the way we had our arms up to the mosque. So, we had the camera set up on a tripod (like how the main image of this article is taken) and we were both standing way down closer, facing the mosque with our hands up in like a “Y” shape. I wonder if it was some kind of praying position (eek, getting awkward just thinking about it). And yeah, I wonder if it was seen as disrespectful, because we were not praying, just taking a picture. It goes to show, it’s definitely worth researching customs and culture when travelling to a new destination. Obviously we did not set out to offend, and were genuinely sorry when we were informed, but still, not a situation you want to get yourself into anywhere around the world. And as I said, everyone I met was super friendly, as was this security guard. I bet he gets it ALL the time, and yet still kept his cool, completely. Definitely book that ticket to the UAE 😉
Wow! I’ve always worried about flying through UAE but this article makes me less worried. I think I’ll definitely add it to my next trip!
For sure Belle! For an Aussie, the UAE is the perfect stop-over destination on route to Europe. I’m not too big into the Asia stop-overs – don’t have a real reason, there’s just other countries currently higher on my travel list 🙂 But yeah, that epic travel distance over to Europe seems so much more doable when you can spend a few days chilling out in the UAE. I’ll definitely be back – add it to your list! hehe 🙂
Awesome article. I’ve never been but you make it sound loads of fun.
It really is Alicia! We spoiled ourselves and stayed at The Ritz-Carlton (definitely not something I’m used to haha!) but it just made the experience completely different. There’s so much more to explore, my 48hrs was far from enough. But it’s given me a strong desire to come back. Glad you liked the post!