From the City of Contrasts, City of Gold, to the City of Dreams, Dubai’s many names reflect its sense of history, opulence, and magic.
The wealthiest of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is known for its rich history, culture, and geography. Facing the Persian Coast and backed by the Arabian Desert, Dubai is a unique metropolis and home to the tallest building in the world.
We spoke to Meagan Morrison, fashion illustrator and founder of Travel Write Draw to learn more about her experiences in traveling to Dubai.
Photos by Meagan Morrison (@travelwritedraw)
Originally hailing from Toronto before moving to New York to pursue her career in fashion, Meagan has always been inspired by global destinations. Many of her illustrations and prints are inspired by the cultures and sights of her own travels. Travel, Write, Draw’s name explains Meagan’s passions and hopes. The company itself is a website, brand, and creative illustration studio dedicated to celebrating the worlds of art, fashion, and travel.
Photos by Christoph Schulz (@christoph), and Zafeerah Heesambee (@Zafeerah_h)
The start of Travel Write Draw can be traced back to Meagan’s first trip to Dubai in 2010. Describing it as a ‘City of Contrasts’, Meagan could not help but be inspired by Dubai’s mix of tradition, history, opulence, and modernity.
“I just found it so inspiring. The history of it, the colours, the desert - I just really wanted to draw from it”, explains Meagan.
See Dubai in colour such as Megan’s wondrous paintings. Experience Dubai through Meagan’s eyes.
Traveling to Dubai
“I know the moment I step onto the plane, that’s when the journey begins”, says Meagan.
For many, or at least those of us living in North America, the flight to Dubai can be a lengthy one.
According to Meagan, a direct flight from New York City to Dubai can be as long as 12 to 14 hours. A layover flight could take at the very least 17 hours.
Although it’s a long flight, the traveling time would definitely be worth it.
Photos by Eva Darron (@evadarron) and Felix (@flxlsng)
To maximize comfort, Meagan recommends booking Emirates. She also books business class when possible.
Based in Dubai, Emirates is the largest airline and flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates. Reflecting its home country’s emphasis on modernity and extravagance, Emirate airplanes strive to provide efficient, comfortable, and hospitable journeys and connects Dubai to over 54 global destinations.
If you’re headed to the City of Gold, you might as well go big and book an Emirates flight.
Although Dubai is facing the Persian Coast, the city is also backed by the Arabian desert, giving it a hot and humid desert climate. The city has two distinct seasons: Summer and Winter.
Photos by Zosia Korcz (@calanthe) and Fredrik Ohlander (@fredrikolander)
The summertime climate is characterized by intense and extreme heat. Summers begin the last week of April and end the first week of October.
“In the downtown, at the peak of summer, it is hot at all hours”, says Meagan.
In May, temperatures can go up to 45 degrees celsius. However, the outskirts of the city and deserts get cool at night.
The winter season is a lot milder and goes from the end of October to the start of April. The weather is more pleasant and manageable, averaging 22 degrees celsius. Meagan recommends visiting Dubai during this period because it’s not too hot.
Cultural Differences in Dubai
The United Arab Emirates is a democratic country and adheres to Muslim and Sharia laws, making it an Islamic country. It’s important to keep their culture in mind and be respectful when visiting.
Photos by Oliver Sjostrom (@ollives) and Mathilde Cureau (@mathildecr)
Be aware that somethings may be closed on Fridays. As of 2006, Dubai compromised between the western world’s weekend (Saturday and Sunday) with the holy Friday for Muslims. Therefore Dubai’s weekends are Fridays and Saturdays, Sundays are typical workdays.
Since her first time visiting the city in 2010, Meagan notes that Dubai has become a lot more progressive.
Photos by Meagan Morrison (@travelwritedraw) and Zosia Korcz (@calanthe)
“I think there’s an enormous misconception that Dubai is more conservative than it is”, says Meagan.
Compared to other areas in UAE, Dubai is the most ‘Western’ and less traditional, largely due to the population of international visitors and residents.
“There are so many people from all over the world, it’s such an international city”, says Meagan.
Given the international presence and culture, Dubai is a mix of traditional and modern.
Dubai’s sense of dress and style also reflects its namesake of being a city of contrasts.
Many locals will be seen wearing traditional Emrarti outfits and have a deep sense of pride in their culture.
Emirati men will wear Kanduras, a single piece ankle-length garment which are often white and occasionally beige, grey, or brown; and Shemagh, Gutra and/or Bisht, traditional headdresses that represent age, status and occasion.
Opposed to the light colours Emirati men wear, Emirati women wear black Abayas, an elegant loose-fitting cloak that is worn over other clothing; Kaftans, the female version of the Kandura, is bright in colours and adorned with embroidery and worn only in front of other women or relatives, headpieces such as Burqas and Hijabs are worn to cover the hair while out in the public.
Photos by Roman Logov (@prostoroman), Meagan Morrison (@travelwritedraw) and Darcy Beau (@darcybeau)
The international presence and culture contrast the traditional and modest clothing with opulence and extravagance. The glamour of the city calls for a more adventurous dress.
Where to Stay in Dubai
Dubai’s emphasis on glamour and extravagance doesn’t fall short when it comes to hospitality and hotels.
“Their standards of hotels are so much different than the standard of North American hotels - and that’s not a dig at North America”, says Meagan.
Photos by the Renaissance Downtown Hotel and Nathan John (@jnate)
Book a stay at Meagan’s favourite hotel, the Renaissance, for an unforgettable stay. Located in the heart of downtown Dubai, the hotel’s convenient location is one of many reasons why this is Meagan’s favourite hotel in the city.
“It’s like an oasis in downtown Dubai, you’re facing the creek, the dessert, and the tallest building in the world”, says Meagan. Enjoy remarkable views from the floor-to-ceiling windows featured in each suite.
If you’re looking for more of a beach-style vacation, check out the Mandarin Oriental. This hotel overlooks the pristine waters of the Arabian Gulf and the glimmering downtown skyline. The Mandarin Oriental is along the closest beachfront to downtown Dubai and is only a 15-minute drive away from the city’s downtown attractions. Enjoy the warm waters of the Arabian coast while being minutes away from the city.
Photos by the Ritz Carleton and J Shim (@uncertainthink)
Another beach hotel option is the Ritz Carleton. With numerous locations, the Ritz has become one of the leading luxury hotels around. Situated along a private beach, guests can enjoy the beautiful view in seclusion. If you’re not a fan of the open waters, the hotel also boasts a magnificent outdoor pool.
As beautiful as the beachside hotels are, Meagan recommends staying downtown due to convenient access to all of the exciting attractions.
Day Trips from Dubai
Just an hour and 25-minute drive away from downtown Dubai is the emirate of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE. Besides housing local and federal government offices, Abu Dhabi is a hub for UAE’s rich history and culture. From galleries, desert tours, museums, and even the Yas Marina Circuit and Ferarri World, there’s something for everyone.
Meagan recommends checking out the Louvre Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island. The museum began in 2007, as a cultural exchange between France and the UAE. A combination of France’s expertise in the world of art and museums with UAE’s openness for cultural progression. Today, the Louvre Abu Dhabi stands to celebrate universal and human creativity.
Photos by Dan Calderwood (@dancalders) and Thomas Drouault (@thomasdrouaultphotography)
What’s truly striking about the gallery, is the building itself. The building was inspired by the city’s rich architectural traditions, and the museum’s unique location at the point where the Arabian sky meets the sands of Saadiyat Island and the waters of the Arabian Gulf. The centrepiece of the building is its ceiling.
“The ceiling is almost like a bird’s nest”, describes Meagan.
Inspired by the cupola, a distinct feature in Arabian architecture, the dome is built with 7,850 geometrical stars. As the sun passes through the open spaces in the ceiling, the museum is met with an enchanting effect.
Photos by Mayur (@mayurpixamind) and Vera Davidova (@veradavidovaphotography)
Visit the UAE neighbouring country Oman. Although Oman is approximately three times as large as the UAE, it’s easy to get to due to its large Wajajah Border.
What to do in Dubai
“I’ve been so many times now, and I never get bored”, says Meagan. Dubai has so much to offer and so many different experiences.
Check out some of Meagan’s must-see and must-do activities when in Dubai:
“Get into the dessert! Because where else would you do that”, says Meagan.
Photos by Alina Grubnyak (@alinnnaaa) and Alessa Ciraulo (@alessaxci)
Dubai lies directly in the Arabian Desert. Similar to the rest of the city’s theme of contrasts, the desert can be fit for those looking for a thrilling adventure to those who want a relaxing view of deserts golden dunes.
For an adventure, embark on a desert safari with expert tour guides through Dubai’s Desert Conservation Reserve. Feel a rush as you speed down dunes, see wild animals in their natural habitat, while gaining an appreciation for history as the local guides tell stories of the desert.
Photos by Musab Al Rawahi (@musabinho) and Fernando Jorge (@fx24)
As daunting as the desert may seem, it’s also the perfect spot for secluded relaxation. If you’ve ever dreamed of sleeping comfortably under the stars and in the desert, Nara Private Escape’s glamping experience is perfect for you. Dubai is called the city of dreams for a reason. Guests can choose from being picked up by car or a gentle ride from a camel from the city to the campsite. Choose from numerous activities such a falcon shows, camel rides, astronomy, storytelling, massages, and etc, then enjoy a gourmet dinner made fresh by French chef, Franck Sanna. Sleep easy in one of their stunning and luxurious nomadic tents.
For a break from the city, Meagan recommends visiting the Bab Al Shams Desert Resort and Spa. Relax by one of the three temperature-controlled pools overlooking the desert.
“It has an infinity pool that looks off into the desert that goes on forever”, remarks Meagan.
With its combination of luxury and nature, the Bab Al Shams infinity pool is the perfect activity for ultimate relaxation. Day passes cost AED $250 (CAD $89) from Sundays to Mondays and costs AED $350 (CAD $125) on the weekends.
Photos by Alireza Khoddamn (@alixrezax) and Sara Santandrea (@sara_santandrea_2404)
Visit the Dubai Mall, and your outlook on other malls will forever be changed. Being one of the world’s largest malls at 502,000 square meters and four floors, the Dubai Mall is much more than a luxurious shopping destination. The mall is home to thousands of shops, it’s own luxury hotel, 120 cafes and restaurants, and even its own aquarium showcasing over 300 aquatic animals.
In 2019, the Dubai Mall had approximately 84 million visitors. Meagan notes how the mall is one of the best people-watching spots.
Best Restaurants in Dubai
Dubai’s culinary scene is much more than the popular meme of ‘Salt Bae’ - but if you were looking to find Salt Bae, you might see him at his steakhouse Nusr Et. Being an international city, Dubai’s culinary scene is a mix of international cuisine to traditional Arabic delights.
In Dubai, restaurants are not a place to simply eat, but a much more intrinsic experience. Guests are to enjoy unforgettable tastes, phenomenal design, entertainment, and beautiful views.
Compared to other regions, brunch and breakfast are done quite differently in Dubai. Check out some of Meagan’s favourite spots:
Photos by DRIFT Beach Club
In typical Dubai fashion, brunch is an occasion to eat, drink, celebrate, and live lavishly. DRIFT Beach Club at the One and Only Resort, is serving up a party with a side of brunch. DRIFT puts an emphasis on using high quality and organic ingredients, which is complemented by their innovative cocktail list. Enjoy brunch by the pool and music at a live DJ at this party style brunch spot.
According to Meagan, breakfast restaurants and cafes are often combined with another concept, such as shops or galleries. This is likely due to the low walkability score of the city, and so each place is made into a destination.
See The Lighthouse, located in Dubai’s design district for a cafe meets concept shop. For breakfast, you will find all the best staples, from bagels with smoked salmon, eggs florentine, to shakshuka. After breakfast, browse the shop for home goods, gifts, stationery, and lifestyle products. The Lighthouse is truly a one-stop-shop.
Photos by Kulture House (@kulturehousedubai)
Visit Kulture House, one of Meagan’s favourite spots in the city. Located near Jumeriah Beach, Kulture house is both cafe, concept store, gallery, and event space.
“One of my favourite places to go to, it’s a combination of curated gallery and cafe”, says Meagan.
The shop features a rotating list of local and international designers and creators. The cafe showcases everything from jewelry, tapestries, silks, paintings, home goods, take-home food, and so on.
Photos by Flamingo Room (@flamingoroombytashas)
For dinner, you can find Meagan’s favourite spot, the Flamingo Room by Tashas right by the iconic Sailboat Hotel in the Jumeriah Al Naseem’s turtle lagoon. The Flamingo Room’s interior design and menu is inspired by African glamour.
“It’s almost like walking into a scene from the Great Gatsby”, Meagan describes the restaurant’s interior.
Using the highest quality of ingredients and primarily focusing on seafood, the Flamingo Room is known for its revamped classics and glamorous food.
The Flamingo Room defies the cliches and stereotypes Africa is often connected to and celebrates the continent which is glamorous, sensual, multi-talented, and at the cutting edge of global design.
Nightlife in Dubai
With the city’s exotic and opulent style, it only makes sense for Dubai’s nightlife scene to be just as extravagant. From rooftop bars, speakeasies and nightclubs, the city doesn't come short on nightlife entertainment.
Photos by Sahil Moosa (@sahilkv_) and Maid Milinkic (@lensilium)
As mentioned before, the weekends in Dubai are Fridays and Saturdays, so the party scene starts Thursday night. In the Middle East, Friday Junior has been promoted to full on Friday night.
Before heading out to the streets of Dubai for a party, the UAE has a few strict alcohol consumption regulations:
The legal drinking age in Dubai is 21, and make sure you bring adequate identification with you. Locals may use their driver licences, but it’s recommended that tourists use their passports.
Alcohol consumption does not follow Muslim laws, therefore anyone who would like to sell, buy or consume alcohol would need an alcohol licence. To even consume alcohol in your home or hotel room, you would technically need a licence. The law is more flexible when regarding tourists. Tourists can drink at licensed bars and restaurants, however if you wanted to buy liquor at a store, you would need an alcohol license. Tourists over 21 years old can buy temporary alcohol licenses at most liquor stores with their passport.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the UAE has a strict no publicly drinking or drunk behaviour law. Being caught outside of licensed establishments while drunk may lead to a fine or jail time. Don’t wander or loiter around the club after a night out, make sure you have your nightly destinations mapped out and Uber/Taxi from point A to B.
Now that we’ve gotten the rules and regulations out of the way, it’s time to get to the fun stuff. Check out Meagan's favourite Dubai nightlife spots:
Meagan recommends heading to the financial district of Dubai, also known as the DIFC area. The area’s mix of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs makes it a perfect hub for a night of fun.
Photos by Galaxy Bar (@galaxybardxb)
If you’re not a fan of long lines and busy clubs, check out Meagan’s favourite spot, Galaxy Bar.
“To me, Galaxy Bar is the equivalent of a private members bar…. It’s much smaller than other cubs in Dubai that are large and over the top but it’s bit hard to get into”, says Meagan.
Much quieter than the other clubs in Dubai, Galaxy Bar is known for their innovative cocktails, intimate lounge and live DJ.
What to Pack for Dubai
If you’re headed to Dubai during the winter season, it’s important to bring a few layering essentials. The days may be warm, but the nights can get a bit cooler.
Meagan suggests to bring mostly spring/summer clothing as well as a few layering pieces such as a light sweater or jean jacket.
Photos by RKTKN (@rktkn) and Ling Tang (@linglivestolaugh)
“I could actually get away wearing jeans during this time of the year”, says Meagan. She would also wear longer skirts or dresses.
In terms of weather, Dubai winters call for a mix of spring and fall attire. For overall dress code, Dubai allows for more opportunity to dress up and match their opulent surroundings.
“New York is more casual, you can dress casually to go to a bar”, says Meagan. “(In Dubai) I would even dress up more, there’s more opportunity to dress up”.
Most girls wear heels while out in the evening, whereas guys can get away with a clean white sneaker or a suede leather boot.
The main takeaway is to pack a few layers and bring some dressier pieces when packing for Dubai.
Flying Emirates and business class makes a trip a lot more enjoyable, however being in a plane for 14-20 hours can take a toll.
Meagan’s travel hacks are simple but definitely can make a flight more relaxing.
Photos by Ahmed Syed (@shotbyraza) and Leio Mclaren (@leio)
If you ever suffer from stiff legs while on a long flight, Meagan recommends walking the length of the plane if possible.
“Do a lap and take an extensive walk to the restroom”, says Meagan. “Even getting up for a minute would be great to make sure you’re getting that circulation”.
Meagan passes her time on flights by sleeping, taking notes, meditating, or reading.
“I’m a big sleeper on flights. If I eat a meal and watch a movie, I’m typically out for the rest of the flight”, laughs Meagan.
Meagan recommends taking notes while in the air. You might as well be productive while on a long flight.
“I think my head gets really clear when I’m in the air”, says Meagan.
Meagan also meditates and listening to tapes by Dr. Joe Dispenza, a neuroscientist who specializes in self healing and meditation.
“If I don’t mediate at the start of the day, I can feel it”, says Meagan.
It takes practice and dedication to meditate in an area filled with hundreds of people. Meagan connects her meditation to her mental well being and productivity.
Travelling during Covid-19
We started this series to inspire and bring hope during Covid-19, as many of us were staying at home and quarantining.
When the Covid-19 lockdown began in March 2020, we were left unsure and anxious as the situation unfolded. Some of us, including Meagan herself were met with complications while on vacation.
Having planned a trip to Chile and Peru back in February, and leaving for it early March, Meagan was met with surprise when the Covid-19 situation escalated across the globe.
“We had planned it back in February, and we had no clue of the severity and the impact (Covid-19) would have over the world”, describes Meagan.
As borders began to close and anxiety grew, Meagan had to cut her trip short and fly home.
“It was a mad dash to get out of the area”, says Meagan.
As we reach the ninth month of Covid-19 restrictions and the possibility of a vaccination, we can only dream of the possible trips around the world.
“I don’t want to think of another year without traveling… I’m just going to take it one day at a time”, says Meagan.
Brighter days are coming and we’re glad that we’re here together as a community to support one another. Everyday our dreams of global travel become a bit closer to reality.
See the world through Meagan’s colourful lens and connect with her via Instagram. For all things fashion, travel, and art, check out Meagan’s site Travel Write Draw. Get a bit more travel inspiration by checking out Meagan’s beautiful travel illustrations through her Getaway Collection.
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