Your Next Big Trip

Our 9 hour overnight stopover in Dubai

Beginning our Next Big Trip in Dubai.

Today’s the big day! We have officially started our Next Big Trip. As usual we booked the cheapest flight available which offers little benefit other than price. For the sake of about €80 we landed ourselves with a 9 hour Dubai stopover at night on our way to volunteer in Zambia.

burj khalifa

We had originally planned to book into a SnoozeCube but where’s the fun in sleeping?! Instead we found ourselves in a taxi heading into Dubai at 1 am.

The dark side to Dubai

Full disclaimer here: I have never wanted to visit Dubai. Truth be told I hate everything it stands for. From the buildings built by slave-like migrant labour, to its backward laws on things like worker’s rights, sexual assault and LGBT rights, for me Dubai is a nightmare combination of capitalism and conservatism.

There are other articles (such as this one) that go into the shady side of Dubai and Adventurous Kate does an excellent post on the ethics of visiting Dubai. The conclusion I came to was that I was better off giving my money to a taxi driver to show me the sights, than spend it in the airport trying to pass the time.

Taking advantage of our Dubai stopover at night.

Despite my grievances we definitely made the right decision. We got really lucky with our taxi driver, an Indian man who has been living in Dubai for 10 years. He was a mine of information who pointed out everything from famous buildings to construction sites for future projects (mostly more shopping malls). When he first moved to Dubai, the Jumeirah Beach Hotel was the largest building- now it almost blends into the scenery and is obviously dwarfed by the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.

burj khalifa at night

The scale of development in Dubai is staggering and I just kept thinking this kind of growth, particularly in a desert region, is simply unsustainable. One thing’s for sure, they are pushing the land to it’s limits and show no signs of stopping. Although they did see sense and halted plans to build a refrigerated beach!

Dubai never sleeps.

For our Indian taxi driver, this is one of the great things about Dubai- it is constantly changing. He talks a lot about the good life here and seems to really love it. His enthusiasm is infectious. I will admit, I can now see the attraction for some people that I couldn’t see before. To live in a city that has everything you want at your fingertips is the dream for many. There are not many places where you could sit in KFC at 4 in the morning and see car after car filled with not only young people, but families with children, pull up for a late night snack.  Dubai really never sleeps.dubai mosque at night

The verdict: worth leaving the airport at night?

Now that I’m back in the airport, relaxing on one of their fancy reclining seats, I can say it was worth getting out of the airport for a few hours. Immigration was smooth (Irish people don’t need a visa) and the queues coming back in were minimal. We definitely hit the jackpot with our taxi driver. When leaving I told him he should really be a tour guide- he knew everything which made it totally worth the 300 dirhams (about €75) for almost 4 hours. While I still have no desire to come back for a longer visit, it was worth seeing an unexpected part of the world and hearing another perspective on somewhere I thought I knew everything about. Isn’t that what travel is all about?

dubai from above

Useful info:

  • In arrivals there are ATMs where you can take out local currency. We took out 400 dirham between 2 of us (around €100).
  • There is a taxi rank outside arrivals. Take one of the beige taxis with a red roof. There are also taxis for ladies and families driven by ladies. These have a pink roof.
  • We heard there was a special rate of 300 dirhams for 3 hours. When we enquired the taxi driver told us that the meter would be less than that. In the end it came in at 286 dirhams for almost 4 hours.
  • Our stops included the Burj Khalifa, Burj al Arab (7 star hotel), KFC for some late night food (the meter was stopped here) and the Atlantis Hotel at the Palm Jumeirah (the world’s largest man-made island that happens to be in the shape of a palm tree. I thought it was funny that the streets are named by frond, so you could be staying in Frond A or Frond B). We were back at the airport by 5am.
  • In terminal 3 there are some reclining seats near the B gates. These are like gold dust but it’s worth sitting nearby to grab even an hour’s sleep on one. Just keep your bags close!

Have you any suggestions for what to do on a Dubai stopover at night? Let me know by commenting below.

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Dubai Stopover at night

8 thoughts on “Our 9 hour overnight stopover in Dubai

  1. Bhushavali

    Interesting read! Being someone who loves to visit places that aren’t very touristy, countries like Dubai or Singapore are really not at the top of my must visit places. But then, these countries too have some spots that aren’t very touristy. I may not really plan to visit these places, but we never know what future has in hold for us!

  2. Jen Morrow

    I love your honesty! Dubai is not on my top travel wish list, either. I would certainly take advantage of a layover to check out the architecture, it is quite astounding.

  3. Suma Jain

    Like you, I too have mixed feeling about Dubai city. While my stay here was nothing more than perfect, but the larger than life structures sometimes does look soulless. Over the years the city has changed a lot and even though there are strict rules everywhere, Dubai has lot to offer for people living there. Your lucky enough to have a driver who was kind enough to show you around Dubai so enthusiastically.

  4. Raymond Carroll

    Good read, I kind of unofficially boycott Dubai for the reasons you quoted (except for transfers to other destinations); a bit like I boycott Koh Tao in Thailand because of the blatant corruption over the backpacker murders in 2014. Dubia does look obscene in many ways, I think, when you consider the problems around the world that could be addressed with the money from Dubai. Good post! Than!ks for sharing

  5. Vicki Louise

    I think getting out of the airport for a few hours was a great way to see a little bit of Dubai – especially when you didn’t want to see it! We stayed there for 4 days a few years back and found it to be soulless and oppressive; add in the ridiculous heat and humidity and I’m quite happy limiting our visit to the one occasion. Good tip about the taxi’s coloured roofs tho – I would have had no idea!

  6. Ling Ge

    I appreciate your honestly about your reservations for Dubai and sometimes those conditions can be tough to deal with. I think almost every place will have some kind of negative practice or perception you’ll have to encounter and it can be a tough pill to swallow. I do believe that despite what flawed experiences and dark sides you might experience in a country, you do learn from what you experience and you are able to share it with others. That’s how you can influence positive change by experiencing or seeing the wrong and calling it out. It would probably take a long time to see tangible change but that’s what history has taught us so I do believe it’s always worth visiting a country despite its negatives (even if I may not visit them myself).

    I do want to visit Dubai, as I do architectural photography for a living, though not necessarily high on my list. I’m still amazed at what mankind is able to accomplish but I definitely would become conflicted with human rights as well as the unnecessity of it all. I think it would just be a confusing visit but it wouldn’t be the first country to do so.

  7. Diana - MVMT Blog

    Wow I am super impressed! I’ve had overnight layovers in airports before and never even thought about leaving. I had no idea that Dubai was so active around the clock. It kind of reminds me of NYC. I’d love to visit one day and will definitely think about checking out a city on an overnight layover next time!

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