A newbie’s view: 15 things that surprised me about Dubai


A Dubai newbie shares their first impressions…

Dubai is one of those cities that is often unfairly maligned.

Before moving here from New Zealand, I definitely had some preconceptions about the place, based on what I’d read or been told – they may or may not have involved the words (whisper them) “soulless” and “artificial”.

I’ve been living in Dubai for a grand total of three weeks now, and these are the things that have surprised me the most about the city (some of them might be obvious to you old timers, sure…). 

*Dubai in the eyes of a tourist: 10 first impressions*

1. The skyline is enormous (and spread out).


I imagined all of the high rises would be lined up neatly in a row, with the Burj Khalifa and the Burj Al Arab standing side-by-side. I was wrong. Dubai consists of giant clusters of skyscrapers, instead of one compact skyline (like, say, Hong Kong).

2. The metro is super easy to use.


While some city’s metro maps are a complicated squiggle of colours, it couldn’t be easier to use the Dubai Metro – it only has two lines, and a large part of it cuts through the city in a perfectly straight line. You’d have to be trying really hard to get on the wrong train.

3. There’s so much sand.


Ok, I knew Dubai was in the desert, but I didn’t expect to be interacting with it so much in my everyday life. Sand is everywhere – in giant pits, on the pavement, in my shoes… sometimes there are even sandstorms, which can disrupt flights and bring traffic to a halt.

4. It’s a BIG deal when it rains.


Because it rarely does. Even the slightest chance of the smallest drops is enough to send residents into an excited frenzy.

*In pictures: Rain in Dubai today*
*In pictures: The rain in Dubai*

5. Everyone talks about summer like it’s Lord Voldemort.

Desert Warrior Challenge

It’s the Season Which Must Not Be Named… but every expat still loves sharing tales of their first Dubai summer, and offering their best survival tips to newbies (“make sure you bring a towel to work” and “don’t use the cold wash”).

*Here are 8 gifs that sum up the quirks of the Dubai summer

6. Everywhere delivers.


Pharmacies, corner stores, EVERYONE. Plus, the fact I can get Burger Fuel (a NZ burger chain) delivered to my door without even speaking to anyone on the phone was definitely one of the best surprises.

7. You can find almost everything you could ever want (albeit with some slight differences).

The commercialisation of Ramadan, Dubai.

The supermarkets stock products from EVERYWHERE. Craving a ginger beer? It’s called “ginger bev”. Want any of the thousands of cereals sold in the US of A? There will be a supermarket that stocks them. Really fancy some pickled veg straight from Russia? It’s likely there’s a corner store in your neighbourhood with its very own Russian section.

8. The working week starts on a Sunday.

Which means the weekend is on Friday and Saturday. The shift definitely takes some getting used to – let’s be honest, TGIT doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

9. Brunch isn’t just a mid-morning meal.

Nine7One Brunch

Dubai seems to have pioneered both the all-day Friday feast and the “evening brunch”, which takes the daytime concept to the next level (and is basically dinner, right?). It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted – the set-up usually involves all-you-can-eat dining and unlimited house beverages.

10. The shopping malls are insane.

Mall Of The Emirates to sell record-breaking festive cake

Ski slopes and aquariums and dinosaurs, oh my!

11. The service is often amazing.

Even just buying a bottle of water at Zoom feels like a VIP experience. Nope, I don’t need a plastic bag for this individual item, but thank you for asking and being so lovely in the process!

12. You can go to the beach.

DXBeach music festival in Dubai - party pictures of Dubai festival goers

I knew about the sun, and the sand (and the shopping malls, and the skyscrapers)… but not the sea, and how clear it is. Turns out, there are plenty of stunning beaches where you can dip your toes in the Arabian Gulf. The best part? You can still enjoy beach days in the middle of winter!

13. You can go camping.


Back home for me, camping means going bush and burning some sad-looking sausages on a BBQ. In Dubai, camping means taking a four-wheel-drive and bashing around the sand dunes, before setting up camp in the heart of the desert and watching the most spectacular sunset of your life.

14. It’s so diverse.

Dubai is a true melting pot of cultures – and an amazing study in tolerance. Just going to the supermarket is like being at the United Nations, with all of the different nationalities represented. Each neighbourhood also has its own distinct flavour. Whoever said Dubai was “soulless” clearly hasn’t been to Karama for a curry…

15. It’s beautiful.

The Burj Al Arab 7-diamond hotel stands prominently along the coast with downtown Dubai in the background.

If you’d tried to tell me how beautiful Dubai was before I came here, I would have been unconvinced. Now I know it’s a city you have to see with your own eyes to truly appreciate.

What surprised you most when you came to Dubai? Let us know in the comments!

– For more about Dubai straight to your newsfeed, follow us on Facebook.