Government of Dubai
Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing
First Floor,
125 Pall Mall,
London SW1Y 5EA,


Physical geography

Dubai is the second largest of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. Located on the southern shore of the Arabian Gulf, it has an area of some 3,900 square kilometres. Outside the city itself, the emirate is sparsely inhabited and characterised by desert vegetation.


Dubai has a sub-tropical, arid climate. Sunny blue skies can be expected most of the year. Rainfall is infrequent and irregular, falling mainly in winter. Temperatures range from a low of about 10.5 degrees C (50 degrees F) to a high of 48 degrees C (118.4 degrees F). The mean daily maximum is 24 degrees C (75.2 degrees F) in January rising to 41 degrees C (105.8 degrees F) in July.

Economic geography

Oil contributes just 20 per cent of economic production. Trading, manufacturing and services, including tourism, now dominate the Dubai economy.


The population of Dubai was 674,101 in 1995.

A brief history

While the early history of the area is not well documented, areaological discoveries suggest that fishing communities were living on the Gulf coast on the site of modern Dubai some four thousand years ago. It is also likely that the natural harbour of Dubai Creek was a port of call on the ancient trade route between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley.

Modern Dubai traces its origins to the 1830s. At that time, the small fishing village on the Shindagha peninsula at the mouth of the Creek was settled by a branch of the Bani Yas tribe, originally from the Liwa oasis to the south, led by the Maktoum family who still rule the emirate today. Life was harsh in those days. Nomadic Bedouin with their camel herds roamed the blazing heat of the desert interior. Sheep and goat herders scratched a living on the arid mountainsides, and cultivators carefully tended date palms wherever a trace of water could be found. On the coast, traditional occupations included dhow building, fishing and pearl diving. Indeed, the export of fine pearls became one of the major factors in Dubai's rise to prominence as a trading centre.

By the late 1870s, Dubai was being referred to as the principal port on the Gulf coast, and in the succeeding years, its commercial activity attracted traders from Iran, India and elsewhere. By the turn of the century, Dubai was reputed to have the largest souks in the region. Pearls continued to be a mainstay of the city's prosperity until the 1940s, when the development of cultured pearls led to a collapse in demand for the natural variety. However, by that time, trade in other products, including gold, had grown steadily, and Dubai, widely known in the region as the 'city of merchants', was able to absorb the setback.

Throughout the region the search for oil intensified as the 20th century progressed. It was not until 1966, however, that Dubai's oil reserves were discovered, with the first exports following in 1969. It was during this period that Britain announced its withdrawal from the region, a move significant in transforming the political geography of the area.

Their Highnesses Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Ruler of Abu Dhabi, and the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, then Ruler of Dubai, clearly saw the attractions of bringing together the individual emirates of the Gulf coast into a single nation. Accordingly, in 1971, the emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Fujairah and (one year later) Ras Al Khaimah came together to form the federation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a proud sovereign state with a land area of 83,600 square kilometres and a population which has subsequently grown to some two-and-a-quarter million people.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai are the largest and most important emirates in the federation. The two cities complement each other. While Abu Dhabi is the seat of the Federal Government and a major centre of the oil industry, Dubai is the main commercial centre with trading and business ties extending beyond the Middle East to the four corners of the world.


Islam is the officaial religion of the UAE and there are a large number of mosques throughout the city of Dubai. Other religions are respected, and Dubai has two Christian churches, St Mary's (Roman Catholic) and Holy Trinity (inter-denominational).

Languages spoken by nationals

The official language is Arabic, but English is widely spoken and understood. Both languages are commonly used in business and commerce.


The UAE is four hours ahead of GMT.


The monetary unit is the Dirham (DH) which is divided into 100 fils. The Dirham is linked to the Special Drawing Right of the International Monetary Fund. It has been held constant against the US Dollar since the end of 1980 at a mid-rate of approximately US$1 = Dh3.67.

Official holidays

Business hours

The weekend has traditionally been Thursday afternoon and Friday, but some organisations now close on Friday and Saturday, working through Thursday afternoon instead. Government offices are open from 7.30am to 1.30pm (7.30pm to 12 noon on Thursday). Private sector office hours vary, but are generally from 8am to 1pm, re-opening at either 3pm or 4pm and closing at 6pm or 7pm. Shop hours are similar in their opening times, but most shops remain open until 9 - 10pm. Department stores, boutiques, the souks and many food shops remain open on a Friday, apart from Prayer Times (11.30am and 1.30pm), while larger shops re-open on a Friday afternoon around 4 - 5pm. Embassies and consulates are generally open from 8.45am to 12.30pm and are closed on Fridays and in most cases on Saturdays, but will leave an emergency number on their answering machines.

National holidays

New Years Day, 1 January; Accession of H.H. Sheikh Zayid, 6 August; UAE National Day (2 days), 2-3 December.

Islamic Holidays

These holidays apply to the public sector only. For the private sector, they are not strictly observed. Some private companies do not close on some of these holidays, or if they do, they may close for less days.

The Islamic (Hijri) calendar is based on lunar months. There are 354 or 355 days in the Hijri year, which is divided into 12 months. The Hijri year is thus about 11 days shorter than the Gregorian year, and the events of the Hijri year fall about 11 days earlier on the Gregorian calendar each year. However, the Gregorian dates of Islamic holidays are not very precise, as they depend on the sighting of the moon. The actual dates on which Islamic holdiays will fall might therefore differ slightly from those shown by the table below.
Lailat Al Mi'raj7 December 1997
Ramadan Begins30 December 1997
Eid Al Fitr (3 days)31 January 1998
Pilgrimage Begins30 March 1998
Eid Al Adha (4 days)8 April 1998
Islamic New Year28 April 1998
Prophet's Birthday5 July 1998

What one should not fail to see

The ancient palace of Sheikh Saeed, former Ruler of Dubai and grandfather of the present Ruler, Sheikh Maktoum, has been lovingly restored to stand proud again on the Shindagha side of the Creek. The palace, which dates from the late 1800s, was built in a commanding position near the sea so the Ruler could observe shipping activity from its balconies. With its wind-towers and layers of rooms built around a central courtyard, it is a fine example of the region's architecture.

The city has many fine mosques. One of the largest and most beautiful, the Jumeirah Mosque, is a spectacular example of modern Islamic architecture and is one of the most photographed sights of Dubai. Built of stone in the medieval Fatimid tradition, the mosque, with its twin minarets and majestic dome, is a landmark of the city. It is particularly attractive at night when subtle lighting throws its artistry into relief.

Al Fahidi Fort, which houses the Dubai Museum, is another imposing building. It once guarded the landward approaches to the town. Built around 1787, it has served variously as palace, garrison and prison. It was renovated in 1970 for use as a museum; further restoration and the addition of galleries was completed in 1995. Colourful and evocative dioramas complete with life-size figures and sound and lighting effects vividly depict the atmosphere of everyday life in pre-oil days. Galleries recreate scenes from the Dubai Creek, traditional Arab houses, mosques, the souk, date gardens, and desert and marine life. One of the most spectacular exhibits portrays the underwater world of pearl diving, and is accompanied by sets of pearl merchants' weights, scales and sieves. Also on display are artefacts from excavations in the emirate, such as fine copper, alabaster and pottery objects found in graves made 3,000 or 4,000 years ago at Al Qusais. The main fort itself is a fascinating military museum.

No visit to Dubai would be complete without a trip into the desert. Such excursions, which are best organised as part of a group tour, offer a taste of the true heartland of Arabia. The majesty and magic of the desert can be experienced in a choice of exciting half-day, full-day and overnight safaris offered by major tour operators. Such action-packed trips can cover varied terrain ranging from desert to mountain and take in remote camel farms and isolated villages.

Highlights of a safari in Dubai may include the following:

Dune driving: Driving in sand is an adventure in itself, combining the excitement of a roller-coaster ride with the challenge of remaining mobile on the shifting surface. Courses in sand driving are available, with four-wheel-drive vehicles provided along with expert instruction.

Exploring the wadis: A popular pastime with both residents and visitors is known as wadi bashing - exploring the wadis or dry beds of streams that flow after the winter rains from the Hajar mountains. Many of these wadis offer scenes of unexpected beauty: attractive rock pools, some with water year-round, surrounded by greenery. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are required and are available for hire with or without drivers.

Sand-skiing: Those with a taste for speed and enthusiasm for an unusual sport will enjoy sand-skiing down the dunes of the Dubai desert. Special skis are used and high dunes in the interior of the desert are chosen as slopes. Sand-skiing sessions can be arranged on request or as part of a full-day or half-day safari.

Camel riding: The camel, a symbol of Arabia, is also a major tourist attraction. Camel rides are part of some tours and desert safaris. Tour operators and hotels can also arrange camel rides separately. It is even possible to take lessons in camel riding, and earn a 'camel driver's licence'.

Desert feasts:Particularly popular are safaris that culminate in the evening with spectacular sunset views followed by a traditional Arabian barbecue under the stars. These can be tailored to meet every taste from a romantic and peaceful experience to elaborate fun-packed evenings complete with music and a belly-dancer.

Bedouin village: Some local tour operators offer the opportunity to visit a Bedouin village outside Dubai. This provides an experience of the traditional desert way of life and may include camel riding lessons.

Most favourable seasons for sojourns and touring

Those who cannot take the heat should avoid Dubai during the height of summer, since it does get very hot indeed. However, beyond that there is no particular 'best' time to visit.

How to dress

Lightweight summer clothing is suitable for most of the year, but sweaters or jackets may be needed for the winter months, especially in the evenings.

Compared with certain parts of the Middle East, Dubai has a very relaxed dress code. However, care should be taken not to give offence by wearing clothing which may be considered revealing, for example low-cut dresses, very short skirts or tight jeans.

Men should always wear a short or top in public. At the pool or on the beaches, trunks, swimsuits and bikinis are quite acceptable.

Good quality sunglasses are advised, and photochromatic lenses for those who wear spectacles. Hats or some protection for the head are advisable when in direct sunlight.

Main holiday sports

Dubai's climate and first-class sporting facilities make it an ideal destination for visitors who enjoy an action packed holiday. The variety of sports on offer is on a par with the best resorts of Europe and Asia, and includes some sports which are unique to the region. They range from deep-sea fishing to ice-skating, and from golf on grass courses to sand-skiing in the desert.

All major Dubai hotels boast well-equipped sports centres where holiday-makers will find floodlit all-weather tennis, squash and badminton courts, swimming pools, snooker, table-tennis and fully equipped health and fitness centres at their disposal as part of their accomodation package.

Golf: Dubai is the pioneer of golf in the Middle East, with championship standard grass courses to challenge the skills of even the most experienced players. Golfers have a wide range of options in Dubai: the Emirates Golf Club, the Middle East's first championship grass course; the course of the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club, also a championship standard course; the course at the Dubai Golf and Racing Club, Dubai's third grass golf course; the sand course at the Dubai Country Club, the oldest course in the emirate, which features 'browns' instead of 'greens'.

Diving: The waters off Dubai offer considerable attractions and variety for all scuba divers from novices to experts. With minimal tidal flow, the Gulf is safe for beginners. The weather is seldom a negative factor, visibility is good and life underwater is rich. Dubai's diving clubs and centres are well equipped to cater for visitors, hiring out a comprehensive range of equipment, offereing courses with internationally qualified instructors and supervised shore and boat dives.

Watersports: Conditions in the Gulf are near-perfect for sailing, with a constant and predictable wind year-round, little current or tide and warm weather. Wind-surfers and dinghies dot the waters around Dubai's sailing clubs and marinas as residents and visitors take advantage of the conditions. Lasers and a limited range of other boats as well as surfboards and jet-skis are available for hire, with instruction if necessary, from specialised clubs and the hotel-linked marinas. Facilities for water-skiing are readily available in Dubai, and arrangements with professional local operators can be made through most hotels.

Fishing: The Gulf is rich in marine life, and fishing was once a mainstay of the local economy. Kingfish, jack, red snapper, rock cod (the popular hamour on most Dubai menus), barracuda and other species are caught commercially and for sport. Sailfish and bottom-feeding sharks are regularly landed by visiting fishermen who can hire fully-equipped boats with crew for deep-sea fishing trips.

Sand-skiing: For a novel sporting experience, visitors may like to try their hand at sand-skiing. Trips to the desert dunes can be organised by leading tour operators.

Horse riding Riding and horses are part of the local tradition, upheld today by several active riding centres including the Dubai Equestrian Centre and Jebel Ali Riding Stables. Rides through the desert are organised regularly.

Go-karting Dubai has the Middle East's first fully-equipped indoor go-kart facility, Formula One. Outdoors, an active go-karting fraternity races regularly at the track beside the Jebel Ali hotel.

Flying Planes may be hired from the Emirates Flying School at Dubai International Airport. However, visitors who wish to fly are required to have a PPL or must be accompanied by an instructor.

Ice-skating Dubai has two ice rinks, operated year-round, and located at Al Nasr Leisureland and the Hyatt Regency Galleria. Skates may be hired and instruction is available. The rinks are closed to the public during special instruction periods; timetables should be consulted.

Other sports Dubai is also ideally equipped for many other sports, including jogging, shooting, archery and cycling.

What to eat and drink

Dubai is an excellent place to sample all types of Gulf and Middle Eastern cuisine, including Iranian, Moroccan and Lebanese. Arabian food makes up an important part of most buffet spreads. Specialities include:

  • Hoummus, a paste made from chickpeas and sesame seeds;
  • Tabbouleh, chopped parsley, mint and crushed wheat;
  • Ghuzi, a whole roast lamb on a bed of rice mixed with nuts;
  • Wara enab, vine leaves stuffed with rice;
  • Koussa mahshi, stuffed courgettes.

Local dishes include:

  • Matchbous, spiced lamb with rice;
  • Hareis, a rich delicacy of slow-cooked wheat and tender lamb;
  • Seafood served with specially seasoned rice.

Naturally, dates are a feature of any Arabian meal. Delicious regional desserts include:

  • Umm Ali, (literally 'Mother of Ali'), a type of bread pudding;
  • Esh asaraya, (meaning 'bread of the harem'), a sweet kind of cheesecake with a cream topping;
  • Mehalabiya, which is a pudding sprinkled with rosewater and pistachios.

Visitors especially enjoy fresh fish from the Arabian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, lobster, slipper lobster, crab, hamour, shrimp, tuna, king fish, pomfret and red snapper.

A traditional Middle Eastern snack is the shawarma - grilled shavings of lamb or chicken mixed with salad and rolled inside a pocket of Arabic bread - sold in many small outlets around the city.

There are also numerous juice bars where visitors can buy a fresh juice cocktail or a mango milkshake.

What to buy

Dubai is an open port with low import duties, and the city draws large numbers of 'shopping tourists' from countries within the region and from as far afield as Eastern Europe, Africa and the Subcontinent. Freed from taxes imposed elsewhere, many top brand-name products are actually cheaper in Dubai than in their country of origin.

In addition to the souk districts described below, there are many top-class department stores, shopping malls and boutiques throughout the city.


Bargaining is expected in the souks and is quite usual elsewhere. Vendors will usually drop the price and often quite substantially, particularly for a cash sale.

Foodstuffs: These range from the traditional narrow streets of the spice souk, a stone's throw from the Dubai Creek, to the modern fish souk with the many varieties caught in Gulf waters and the fruit and vegetable souk with its bustle and vivid colours.

Gold: Dubai's most famous market of all is the gold souk where narrow streets are lined with shop windows glinting with bracelets, necklaces and earrings in 18, 21 and 22 carats. Bars of 24 carat in any form and weight and bullion coins in 24 and 22 carat are also available. Prices are very reasonable and are largely determined by weight rather than design and craftsmanship.

Carpets: In Deira Tower's shopping mall, traders in carpets from countries across the Gulf such as Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan have established a carpet souk where prices in the 40 shops range from a few hundred dirhams to many thousands.

Consumer goods: In Bur Dubai, Al Fahidi Street is noted for its electronic goods ships, while nearby Cosmos Lane is lined with stores selling the textiles of West and East, from cool printed cottons to exotic brocades.

Further out from the city centre, Karama is Dubai's bargain basement, with an array of busy shops selling toys, household goods, textiles, fashions, accessories and much more.

Frontier formalities

Passports and visas

All visitors except AGCC nationals (Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia) require a visa sponsored by a local entity such as a hotel or tour company. There are two types: transit visas for 14 days and visit visas for 30 days (renewable). Airlines may require confirmation that the sponsor is holding a valid visa for incoming visitors.

British citizens with the right of abode in the UK and expatriate residents of the AGCC of certain nationalities and professions may qualify for automatic 30 day visit visas on arrival but current regulations should be checked before travelling.

German and US citizens may obtain visas from the UAE Embassies in their respective countries. Visas are easily obtainable for other visitors except Israelis. Israeli nationals will not be issued visas.


Duty free allowances: cigarettes - 2,000; cigars - 400; tobacco - 2kg; alcohol (non-Muslim adults only) - 2 litres of spirits and 2 litres of wine; perfume - a reasonable amount.

No customs duty is levied on personal effects entering Dubai. Dubai Duty Free has a sales outlet in the Arrivals Hall, but alcohol may only be purchased on departure.

Health requirements

No health certificates are required for entry to Dubai, but it is always wise to check before departure as health restrictions may vary depending on the situation at the time.

Main travel routes

Dubai's location at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa makes for easy accessibility. London is seven hours away, Frankfurt six, Hong Kong eight and Nairobi four. Most European capitals and other major cities have direct flights to Dubai, many with a choice of operator.

Some 80 airlines take advantage of Dubai's open skies policy and operate to and from Dubai International Airport to over 120 destinations, making it one of the world's busiest airports. Dubai is the home base of Emirates, the award-winning international airline of the UAE, which operates scheduled services to more than 40 destinations.

Representatives abroad

Government of Dubai
Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing

PO Box 594,
United Arab Emirates
Tel: 00971-4-511600
Fax: 00971-4-511711

Overseas Offices

North America - East and Central
8 Penn Center,
PA 19103,
Tel: 001-215-751-9750
Fax: 001-215-751-9551

North America - West Coast
11999, San Vicente Boulevard, 4th floor,
Los Angeles,
CA 90049,
Tel: 001-310-471-2361
Fax: 001-310-471-2830

UK and Ireland
125 Pall Mall,
London SW1Y 5EA
Tel: 0044-171-839-0580
Fax: 0044-171-839-0582
Brochure line (24 hours) Tel: 0044-171-839-0581

15 bis, rue de Marignan,
75008 Paris,
Tel: 0033-1-44-95-85-00
Fax: 0033-1-45-63-13-14

Neue Mainzer Strasse 57
D-60311 Frankfurt am Main,
Tel: 0049-69-253422
Fax: 0049-69-253151

Piazza Bertarelli 1,
20122 Milan,
Tel: 0039-2-7202-2466
Fax: 0039-2-7202-0162

Russian Federation, CIS & Baltic States
Chapaevskiy per., 14, 4th Floor,
125252 Russia
Tel: 007095-258-4450
Fax: 007095-258-4455
Fax (international): 007095-258-4408

East Africa
Jubilee Insurance Exchange
Kaunda Street,
PO Box 30702,
Tel: 00254-2-225103
Fax: 00254-2-219787

South Africa
5th Floor, Sandton City Office Towers,
Sandton City,
Johannesburg 2000,
PO Box 782551,
Sandton, 2146,
South Africa
Tel: 0027-11-784-6708
Fax: 0027-11-784-6442

Far East
18th Floor Tung Hip Commercial Building,
244-248 Des Voux Road, Central,
Hong Kong
Tel: 00852-2827-5221
Fax: 00852-2511-5472

One-Win Yoyogi Building, 4th floor
3-35-10 Yoyogi,
Tokyo 151,
Tel: 0081-3-3379-9311
Fax: 0081-3-3379-9313