Luxury Travel: An Insiders Guide to Dubai

luxury backpacking dubai

“Luxury in Dubai has another meaning” says Annie of Dubai based luxury style blog Unlavish. As someone who lives and breathes luxury, she is the perfect person to take us on a tour of the world’s most luxurious desert city…

Tell us about yourself and why you’re an expert on luxury backpacking in Dubai.

“Hi! My name is Annie Grijalva and I am a freelance social media manager and I currently live in Dubai. I grew up in California but I am a mix of Mexican-American thus I speak English and Spanish, currently learning French and Arabic (Arabic its so hard! Haha!)

I consider myself an expert in luxury backpacking because I am always looking for good deals while keeping my stay comfortable and practical. I did a backpacking trip recently to Thailand and I learned that, while hostel’s might be cool, you gotta be careful with your choices.

When I started backpacking I was a student so it was cool. Now I work full time, I am running a blog and building my own online business so hostels are not so cool anymore. When I travel I like to combine some days in hostels to meet people and learn my way around with some days in a hotel. When you work and so a short trip, you really need a comfortable bed.

My basic checklist for my choice of accommodation = hot water, clean beds (no bed bugs allowed, lol), close to best attractions in the city, that’s pretty much it.” 
luxury backpacking dubai

Image courtesy of

What made you choose to travel to Dubai and why would you recommend it to other travellers?

“I love to be honest so I am just going to say it: I do not recommend choosing Dubai as a place to go backpacking. I would recommend Dubai as a touristic spot (allocating a good budget for hotels and food) but not a backpacker spot at all. If you are looking for a luxurious getaway, this is the place for you. Luxury here has another meaning – you have the most expensive restaurants and hotels in the world, it is a big city, so except for the dessert and the beach there is not a lot else to see.

The feedback I have got from fellow backpackers who have made a quick stop in Dubai to reach Thailand is the same – they all say, “ Well at least I am happy I visited so now I know!”

But for luxury it is exceptional.”


“My advice would be to check where you can find luxurious hotels in Dubai for a good price.”

luxury backpacking Dubai

Marriot Al Jadaaf Spa, Image courtesy of


What do you love most about the food in Dubai?

“Dubai has all the food of the world since you have such a variety of nationalities living here. Only around 10% of the population are locals and the rest are expats. To try local food though, I would say go to Al Barza in Jumeirah. I went there with a local and the food was amazing! The setting is cute and it’s not expensive at all.”

Le Royal Meridiene, Brasserie 2.0. Image courtesy of

Le Royal Meridiene, Brasserie 2.0. Image courtesy of

luxury backpacking dubai

Brunch at Ewaan, an exclusive restaurant in Palace Downtown Hotel in Dubai. Image courtesy of


Are there any happy hours we need to know?

“I love the one in Taj Hotel. There are two bars that have happy hour, one of them is The Eloquent Elephant (it’s good for mojitos!) and the other one is Treehouse. You have an amazing view to Burj Khalifa while enjoying beers half price.”

Where is the best place to party in town?

“Blue Marlin Beach Club (It’s the same one as in Ibiza, it’s awesome!)

Side note: All the clubs in Dubai are super expensive. One bottle of white wine, for example, is around $60 USD which is business as usual here. You can’t buy alcohol in local groceries stores; you need a license to do that so most expats go to bars (hunting for happy hours!)

Most bars are in hotels because the license is expensive. Dubai it’s not Thailand so forget about drinking in the streets or anything like that. You have to be discrete and respectful – you’re in a country that’s regulated by religion. That said, there are tons of expats here so of course we do go out.

For girls, chase on Tuesday and Wednesdays for ladies’ nights (My favourites are Pier 7 in Dubai Marina and the bars around Souk Al Bahar) and for typical pub-like places I’d say McGettigans is your best shot.”


What do you recommend for the adventurous traveller?

“Definitely get a desert tour as they include many outdoor activities. You can also do watersports at most beaches here.

For a day or weekend trip, Oman is super affordable compared to Dubai. It has tons of colorful fishes and sea turtles so it’s one of my favorite spots to go snorkeling.”

luxury backpacking dubai

Image courtesy of

What are your picks of the tourist spots?

“The top ones are…

  • Burj Khalifa
  • Dubai Mall
  • Madinat Jumeirah
  • Burj Al Arab
  • Al Maha hotel
  • Ferrari world
  • The palm
  • The grand mosque in Abu Dhabi.

Free things to do…

  • Walk around Dubai Mall
  • Take pictures with Burj Khalifa in Souk Al Bahar
  • Walk around the old Souk – take the boat ride there (its only 50 cents in USD) and visit the mosque.” 


“Definitely visit the old souk, you can buy very cheap souvenirs there!”

luxury backpacking dubai

Image courtesy of

Where is your favourite place to watch the sunset?

“I’d go to Kite beach in Jumeirah.”

Hints and Tips…

“The best time to visit is during winter because summer its super-hot and its Ramadan (you can’t drink or eat in public in Ramadan, you can get a fine!)

Bring tons of sunblock, tons of white clothes with light fabrics as you can’t wear jeans to walk around during summer, you’ll melt!

Hmm what else? Ah yes! Girls bring a light scarf with you because in some places you’d need to cover up a bit.

If you go to the old souk, be ready to have tons of guys looking at you, I usually avoid wearing shorts when I go there. It’s funny though I get called “Shakira” even though I am not blonde!” 

And lastly: describe Dubai in one sentence!

“Dubai is a metropolitan city that offers good quality of life to expats and tons of great entertainment to tourists. People often call it “La Vegas” of the Middle East.”

Luxury Backpacking Resources for Dubai:

  • Read Annie’s full Dubai Directory for everything from the best coffee shops for entrepreneurs, the best Instagram friendly spots, and the coolest clubs for a girls night out. This directory has it all!
  • To cover or not to cover: Read Annie’s advice about what to wear in Dubai here.
  • Read her top style essentials for your trip to Dubai, here.

luxury backpacking dubai

luxury backpacking dubai

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