Basic commodities used to be cheaper than in most western countries, although this is changing rapidly (Dubai has moved up the ranking to be the 25th most expensive city to live in; Abu Dhabi is close behind). Hotels rates are not cheap--there is a shortage of hotel rooms available, especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which keeps the hotels often at above 90% occupancy. Vast numbers of new hotels are scheduled to come on line during the next five to ten years, but as tourism is on the rise, it is unlikely that prices will come down. All things touristy also tend to be rather expensive. Rents in Dubai are starting to compete with cities like Paris or London, and other prices tend to follow. Some places have shared accommodations available and are quite reasonable.
One of the things the UAE is most famous for is shopping. There are no sales taxes in the UAE, but it is very difficult to find any real bargains anymore as inflation is at an all-time high. If you are interested in shopping, you can't leave the UAE without visiting Dubai. Dubai boasts the best places for shopping in the whole of the Middle East, especially during the annual shopping festival, usually from mid-January to mid-February.
A fancy Arabic mixed grill. Clockwise from top: lamb kofta, chicken shish tawuk, beef shish kebab, pilaf (Arabic rice), vegetables.
Dubai and, to a lesser extent, Abu Dhabi offer a vast spread of food from most of the world's major cuisines. By Western standards most restaurants are quite affordable although it is easy to find extremely expensive food too. Most upper-end restaurants are located in hotels.
Due to the large expat populations, Indian and Pakistani restaurants abound, offering affordable and succulent choices. Also popular are Lebanese, Syrian and Jordanian cuisine restaurants.
A popular favorite is grilled chicken, available at most of the open-air cafeterias by the roadside which can be relished with other accompaniments like Khubz (Arabic Bread), hummus, etc., and the most popular rice dish is Biriyani, with grilled chicken or fish or lamb. Traditional Shawarma and falafel sandwiches are readily available and are quite cheap and delicious.
Very few traditional Emirati dishes are served at restaurants; and the closest is the Mendi-style cuisine of Yemen, in which platters of fragrant rice are topped with lamb, chicken or fish that has been slow-roasted in a pit.
Dubai has a burgeoning nightlife scene and even formerly straitlaced Abu Dhabi has loosened up and tried to catch up. Alcohol is available in alcohol stores, 5-star hotel restaurants and bars in all emirates except Sharjah, where you can only drink in your home or in an expat hangout called the Sharjah Wanderers. As a tourist, you are permitted to buy alcohol in bars and restaurants to drink there. If you are a resident, you're supposed to have a alcohol license (never asked for in bars) which also allows you to buy alcohol at alcohol stores (they do check).
During Ramadan, no alcohol is served during daylight (fasting) hours. Dubai and Abu Dhabi permit bars to serve alcohol at night, but bands stop playing, background music is off or quiet, no dancing is allowed and nightclubs are usually closed. On certain holy days in the Islamic calendar, no alcohol is served publicly in any of the UAE.
Do not under any circumstance drink and drive in the UAE. If by chance you are in an accident, this becomes a card for going directly to jail — especially during Ramadan. Taxis are widely available if you have been drinking and are a much safer and wiser option given the insane driving habits in the region.
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