Visit Dubai and Expo 2020 Worlds Fair
Dubai is one of the world’s most popular destination for tourists. The city has a spectacular skyline, beautiful beaches, unique culture, and many activities for visitors to enjoy. As if that isn’t enough, Dubai will be hosting a World’s Fair in 2021 and 2022. The world’s fair, called “EXPO2020”, was originally planned to start in 2020, but was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rescheduled EXPO2020 will be held from 1 October 2021 until 31 March 2022.
Dubai can be an expensive place to visit, but in this article, we’re going to show you how to visit Dubai on a budget and still have a great time. We’ll also give you a preview of what you can expect to see at EXPO2020.
Where is Dubai ?
Dubai is in the Middle east on the Arabian peninsula. It is the largest city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). There are two large international airports in Dubai with hundreds of flights per day, making it easy to reach from almost anywhere in the world.
Things to Do in Dubai
There are many fun and interesting things to do in Dubai. To stay under budget, we are going to focus on those activities that are free or inexpensive, and we’ll also show you the best ways to see EXPO2020.
The most iconic landmark in Dubai is a skyscraper known as the Burj Khalifa. At 160 storeys tall, it is the tallest building in the world, and draws millions of tourists a year. You can marvel at the building from the ground, or you can ride an elevator to one of several observation decks for some breathtaking views of Dubai. It costs about 150 AED to visit the observation decks.
There are lots of other things to see and do at the Burj Khalifa and many of these are free. Right behind the building, there is a man-made lake with an enormous water fountain, and you can watch a beautiful water, music, and light show several times a day at no charge. For a small fee, you can enjoy a swan boat ride on the lake or walk across a floating boardwalk.
For more information on Burj Khalifa, click here.
Adjacent to the Burj Khalifa you’ll find the Dubai Mall, an enormous shopping mall that is worth visiting. It is one of the largest in the world, with about 1200 stores and a focus on high end fashion. Remember, looking is always free! The mall has a “Souk” district offering traditional Arabic jewellery, and a “Village” area with a retractable roof so you can enjoy some outdoor shopping when it’s not too hot outside. The mall also has an indoor ice rink and a dinosaur skeleton to entertain you.
For more information on the Dubai Mall, click here.
Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo
Inside the Dubai Mall you’ll find the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. This is a large, modern aquarium and zoo with many animals to see. There are large aquariums full of fish, a glass tunnel where you can walk under the water. In the zoo you’ll visit three ecological zones: Rainforest, Rocky Shore and Living Ocean. Plan on spending about 150 AED each to visit.
For more information on the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, click here.
The “Souk” Markets
A traditional marketplace in the Middle East is called a “souk” and these can be fun to visit. Dubai has four traditional “souk” markets and they are all located in the same part of the city so you can easily visit all four markets.
The markets are generally open from morning (10:00 am) until late in the evening (10:00 pm). Keep in mind these are traditional markets, with long walkways (“sikkas”) covered by a cloth roof, and are not air conditioned, so you may want to visit in the evening when it is cooler.
The sellers here deal mostly in cash, rather than credit card or electronic payments. Prices in the souk are often negotiable, so don’t forget to ask for a discount! Visiting the “Souk” markets is free.
The Gold Souk sells items made of gold, platinum, diamonds and silver. There are about 380 retailers in the gold souk.
The Textile Souk sells fabric, clothing, and jewellery items.
In the Spice Souk, you’ll find vendors selling a wide variety of fragrances and spices, especially the spices and herbs used in Arabic and South Asian food.
The Perfume Souk specializes in scented items, including perfumes, essential oils, incense sticks and the exotic traditional “oud”.
For information on visiting the traditional souk markets, and also some more modern souks elsewhere in Dubai, click here.
Dubai Creek and the “Abra” Boats
If you’re visiting the souk markets, you’ll need to cross the Dubai Creek, which is a large saltwater creek which flows into the sea. One of the best ways to cross the creek is by riding in a traditional “abra” boat. These are motorized, wooden boats that hold about twenty people and cross the creek in less than 10 minutes. It only costs 1 AED to ride and people love it! There are two Abra boat routes as shown on the map below.
Dubai Museum and Al-Fahidi Fort
If you’re interested in history, you may want to visit the Dubai Museum and Al-Fahidi Fort which are located just a few steps from Dubai Creek. The fort was originally built in 1787 and later converted into Dubai Museum. You’ll get a taste of what it was like to live in old Dubai, before the city was modernized.
The museum and fort are open from Saturday to Thursday, from 8:30 until 20:30, and Fridays, from 14:30 to 20:30. Visiting hours are different during Ramadan. The museum is undergoing renovations so check the website before you go. Admission fees are a bargain at just 3 AED.
For more information on Dubai Museum and Al-Fahidi Fort, click here.
One of the most beautiful sights in Dubai is the Jumeirah Mosque. It was built in the 1970s in a very traditional architectural style. It has been open to the public since 1998 for tours and sightseeing. A Jumeirah Mosque visit has been a key activity under the “Open Doors, Open Minds” program intended to build cultural awareness, understanding and tolerance between the different nationalities and cultures from all around the world.
Morning Mosque visits are available daily at 10:00am except Fridays. Registration begins 30 minutes before the program starts and there is no charge.
For more information on the Jumeirah Mosque, click here.
Not too far from the Jumeirah Mosque you’ll find “Dubai Frame”, which is a really unique tourist attraction. It is a very large building constructed to look just like a huge picture frame!
Dubai Frame measures 150 meters high and 93 meters wide. The main attraction is the view from the top. Looking east you’ll see the old city, and looking west you’ll see the new city. Admission is just 50 AED for adults.
For more information on Dubai Frame, click here.
Dubai Garden Glow
Just a short walk from the Dubai Frame is another cool tourist attraction called “Dubai Garden Glow”. The main attraction here is the “Glow Park” which is a large collection of illuminated figures that really “pop” if you visit in the evening when it is dark. You can also visit “Dinosaur Park” which is a collection of life sized, animated dinosaurs. All that for just 65 AED each! Garden Glow is open until 10:30 pm.
For more information on Dubai Garden Glow, click here.
Jumeirah Beach and Marina Walk
Okay it’s time to hit the beach! Dubai has lots of public beaches to choose from, but we recommend a visit to Jumeirah Beach. It’s a wide, sandy, beach with lots of space to walk or sunbathe. It’s easy to get to, with both Metro and Tram stops nearby. Locals often refer to this area as “JBR”, which is short for Jumeirah Beach Residences.
There are food vendors, public toilets, showers, and change houses located nearby so you can relax and enjoy your visit. There is even an enclosed shopping mall called “The Beach” next to the beach so you can enjoy some shopping or dining. You’ll get a great view of the world’s largest Ferris Wheel, the “Ain Dubai”, which is nearby.
For more information on “The Beach” shopping mall, click here.
If you feel like wandering, you can easily walk along the nearby “Marina Walk”, which is a long waterfront promenade. There are great views of the marina, lots of shopping and dining choices, and a lot of great people watching.
For more information on Marina Walk, click here.
Just a short walk from Jumeirah Beach you’ll find the world famous “Palm Jumeirah” development. This is a man made series of islands that, viewed from the sky, are in the shape of an enormous palm tree. There are a number of things to do on Palm Jumeirah, although many of them are too expensive for visitors to this website. Let’s take a look at some of the affordable options.
First, you can ride the “Palm Monorail” to visit the islands. The monorail is an elevated train that runs all the way from “Palm Gateway” station on the mainland to the very end of the island at Aquaventure Waterpark. You’ll get a great view of the residences and the magnificent Atlantis Hotel. A round trip ticket on the monorail is a bargain at only 15 AED.
For more information on the Palm Monorail, click here.
The first monorail station is called “Al Ittihad Park”. Here you’ll find a very nice public beach called “Palm West Beach” with lots of bars and restaurants nearby. The station is connected to a small shopping mall called “The Golden Mile Galleria”.
The monorail will soon have a new station called “The Pointe” where you’ll find a promenade with shops and restaurants and the world’s largest water fountain. The fountain features two giant floating platforms covering 14,000 square meters, towering 105 meters high, lit up with 3,000 LED lights, and popular music from all around the globe. Until the new station is completed, you can take a shuttle bus from the Nakheel Mall station to reach the Palm Fountain.
For more information on “The Pointe”, click here.
Finally, ride the monorail all the way to the last station which is called “Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark” and you’ll find yourself at the magnificent Palm Atlantis Hotel. You should wander around, just to see the size and beauty of this extraordinary hotel. Be sure to check out the “Avenues at Atlantis”.
For more information on the Palm Atlantis Hotel, click here.
Visit the Desert
Dubai is a vibrant big city with beautiful beaches, but it is surrounded by desert, where you can enjoy some unique activities and experiences. We recommend spending a day or an evening in the desert.
Riding the sand dunes in a 4×4 Jeep or “Quad”
Camel Racing at Al Marmoon Camel Racing Club
“Sandboarding” down the dunes – like surfing, but on sand
Riding a Camel
Enjoying an evening barbecue under the stars
All of these activities take place out in the desert about 40 kilometers from the city center. It’s too far to get there on your own, so we recommend that you find a reputable tour operator and book a package tour. The package should include transportation from your hotel, meals, activities, and a guide to help you. If you shop around for a good deal, we think you should be able to find a package for around 150 AED per person.
EXPO 2020 World’s Fair
We’ve saved the best for last………the EXPO 2020 World’s Fair!
EXPO 2020 promises to be an exceptional world’s fair. It will be a “Class A” world’s fair, as determined by the Bureau International des Expositions https://www.bie-paris.org/site/en/. That means it will be a large, diverse fair with multiple themes and exhibits from countries all over the world.
Originally scheduled for the winter of 2020-2021, it was postponed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. EXPO 2020 is currently scheduled for October 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022.
EXPO 2020 themes will be “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”, and are based on the belief that innovation and progress are the result of people from different fields and backgrounds, who would not normally collaborate, coming together in new and unique ways to share ideas and solve global challenges.
Expo 2020 Dubai will also focus on three key sub-themes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability. These are areas fundamental in shaping our world.
- Opportunity: Unlocking the potential for individuals and communities to shape the future.
- Mobility: Creating smarter and more productive movement of people, goods and ideas, both physically and virtually.
- Sustainability: Respecting and living in balance with the world we inhabit to ensure a sustainable future for all.
EXPO 2020 will host 190 countries, with many of these building pavilions specifically for EXPO 2020. In these pavilions, you’ll be able to get a glimpse into the lifestyle, art, culture, and geography of each of these countries.
EXPO 2020 will also feature live performances, parades, cutting-edge innovations and architecture, and special celebrations. There will be more than 200 food and beverage outlets serving more than 50 cuisines.
Here are some artist’s impression of what you’ll see at EXPO 2020.
Here are some of the pavilions that you’ll be able to visit:
Ticket prices for EXPO 2020 are not yet finalized but we expect a single day ticket to cost 120 AED and a three day ticket to cost 260 AED. We highly recommend purchasing a 3 day ticket so that you can enjoy everything the show has to offer.
For more information on EXPO 2020, click here.
Practical Information for Dubai and EXPO 2020
When to Go
We recommend that you visit Dubai while EXPO 2020 is open, which will be October 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022. The weather will be ideal at that time, avoiding the summer heat in Dubai.
Language and Currency
The official language in Dubai (and the United Arab Emirates) is Arabic, but English is widely spoken there. You won’t have any trouble communicating with people or with understanding signs.
The currency in Dubai is the dirham, which is often shortened to AED (United Arab Emirates Dirham). One dirham is divided into 100 fils. One US dollar is worth 3.67 AED. The dirham has been “pegged” to the US dollar since 1997, meaning the exchange rate never changes.
Passport, Visa, and COVID-19 Requirements
You need to determine if you need a passport and visa to enter the UAE.
Click here for the Passport and Visa website.
You also need to satisfy the UAE COVID-19 entry requirements.
Click here for the COVID-19 entry requirements.
Where to Stay
Hotel prices in Dubai can be very high, so you will need to shop around to find a hotel that is within your budget. We think you should be able to find a nice hotel with an air conditioned private room and ensuite bathroom for less than 200 AED per night.
Some of our suggested properties include:
Getting to Dubai
Dubai is surrounded by ocean and desert, with few roads connecting to other countries, Driving to Dubai is not practical.
Dubai does not have any long distance passenger train network. Taking the train to Dubai is not possible.
Dubai has two large, modern airports with flights going all over the world. Flying to Dubai is the only practical way to get there. The main airport is called Dubai International Airport and is located just a few kilometers from central Dubai. The IATA code for this airport is DXB. Dubai’s second airport is called Dubai World Central (also known as Al Maktoum International Airport) and is located about 30 kilometers from central Dubai. The IATA code for this airport is DWC. Together, these two airports handle more than 6,000 flights per week, so you will have a lot of choices on flights to Dubai.
Dubai International Airport is connected to the city’s Metro system, so if your hotel is close to a Metro station, this may be the best way to travel. Otherwise, you can take a taxi. If you’re arriving at Dubai World Central, you can take a free shuttle bus to the other airport and then transfer to your hotel from there. The nearest metro station is located at Ibn Battuta Mall which can be reached via bus or taxi.
For more information on Dubai Airports, click here.
Getting Around Dubai
Dubai has a modern, efficient public transportation system. It is inexpensive and safe to ride, so we recommend riding public transport rather than renting a car.
The public transportation network includes a Metro (subway) system, a Tram (streetcar) line, and multiple bus lines. Except for the desert excursion, all of the “Places to Visit” that we have described can be reached by Metro system.
There are currently two Metro lines in operation: a Red line and a Green line. Dubai is building a third Metro line to connect to EXPO 2020. The tram operates on it’s own line. The Red, Green, and Tram lines are shown here.
For tourists, the best choice is to purchase a “nol Red Ticket”. This is a paper-based ticket that can be bought from any ticket vending machine at any time for only 2 AED. It can be loaded with up to 10 Single Trips. When you purchase a nol Red Ticket, the price includes Metro, Tram, and Bus rides. Each ride costs 4 AED for up to 3 “travel zones”, which covers most of the city.
For more information on public transportation in Dubai, click here.
For more information on visiting Dubai, click here.
Okay, it’s time to see how much all of this is going to cost. We’ve drawn up a budget for two people visiting Dubai for a week. The budget includes 3 day tickets to EXPO 2020, and a number of inexpensive or free attractions to visit. We did manage to include a visit to the “Dubai Frame” and an inexpensive desert excursion, but not much else. We just managed to stay under our $100-per-day budget, coming in with a budget of USD $ 668 for a seven day trip. Not bad, for a week in one of the world’s more expensive cities and a visit to a World’s Fair!
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading the article, and we really hope that you’re able to visit Dubai someday, especially during EXPO 2020.
And here’s something to look forward to….the next “Class A” World’s Fair will be held in Osaka, Japan in 2025. Here’s a link to the “EXPO 2025” website: https://www.expo2025.or.jp/en/ Start saving your pennies!