Dubai, UAE

If you follow me on social media or know me personally, then you’ll know that I moved to Abu Dhabi a few years back and settled there for a while. In many ways, I still think of it as home. Perhaps I’m in the minority here but for me personally, I had never before been to a place where I had actively envisioned myself settling down for the foreseeable future. And believe me, I’ve been to a LOT of different parts of the world in my time and, despite falling in love with those little corners of the world, I couldn’t ever picture myself living there. For those of you who didn’t know, Abu Dhabi is only around 1 hour away from Dubai (or 40 minutes if you drive like a maniac, i.e., moi) and as a consequence, I spent a good deal of time frequenting the big city on weekends and evenings.

If you haven’t been to Dubai before, I would highly recommend it! For me personally, its one of those places that you just HAVE to visit at least once in your life. Trust me, you wont regret it.

Where to eat 

Dubai is one of those wonderful places where you literally can find ANY type of food at practically any time of the day or night. I’m not kidding, the amount of times me and my friends would return home at 2am after a night of partying and order a 3 course meal of freshly cooked Pakistani food is actually embarrassing. And the best thing? It doesn’t have to be expensive. If you’re looking to get your moneys worth in the form of a top-notch buffet then check out Mistral at the Mövenpick Hotel Ibn Battuta Gate. With everything from Mediterranean dishes to Japanese sushi, they’ve got it covered and all for a very reasonable price of AED 159 (£35) for lunch and AED 199 for dinner. With prices like that, its easy to see why it gets booked up very fast so I would highly recommend booking a table in advance, particularly if you are planning to go on a weekend. Ravi restaurant, on Al Dhiyafa road doesn’t look like much from the outside (or on the inside to be honest) but it serves up the most amazing indian and Pakistani food and is super cheap. Wafi gourmet in both the Dubai mall and Wafi mall is home to some incredible Lebanese food and, despite having a bit of a fast-food vibe to it, its actually super fresh and healthy. Try their falafel’s and grilled chicken salads for a taste bud explosion! If you’re looking for something high-end then I cannot recommend enough Kaleidoscope at the Palm, Atlantis. Specializing in Indian, Arabic, Mexican and Italian FOOD, this upmarket international buffet really does have it all! Prices start from AED 225 per person but it is well worth visiting, especially if you’re a buffet lover like me. Just make sure you come with an empty stomach!

Explore the desert 

As I mentioned in my post about Abu Dhabi, a desert safari tour is a must do! It really is one of the most fun and adrenaline-inducing things you’ll ever do. Popular to contrary belief, they don’t have to be expensive either. If you can grab yourself a copy of the Entertainer-Dubai’s number voucher book, then you can get up to half price off safari tours as well as restaurants, nights out and shopping. Using the Entertainer, me and 4 friends were able to get a desert safari tour which consisted of hotel pick-up, dune bashing, camel riding, shisha, henna, a HUGE Arabic buffet in the middle of the desert, under the stars and a belly dancing show to finish it all off, all for a VERY reasonable price. If you don’t want to buy a full Entertainer booklet then take a look at Dubizzle, as many locals tend to sell off their vouchers throughout the year, particularly towards the end of the year. Honestly, sitting under the stars in the middle of the desert with a belly full of arabic food is a blissful experience that you won’t forget anytime soon!

Shopping 

I think its pretty much common knowledge to everyone who’s ever thought about going to Dubai that is is arguably one of the THE best places for shopping. Like. Ever.
With hundreds of high street brands as well as plenty of designer stores, you can, quite literally, shop till you drop. Obviously, one of the most popular places to visit is the Dubai mall, which is also one of the easiest places in the world to get lost… it quite literally is, MASSIVE.
But the mall isn’t just for shopping, oh no no no. A long with a gazillions shops, theres also an indoor theme park, an ice rink, an aquarium, and a giant cinema as well as 200+ restaurants and cafes. Oh and theres a water fountain, a huge water fountain. If you’re looking for something with a bit more of an `cultural vibe’ then check out Global village, just off Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road. From November to February, there is an international shopping festival, jam-packed with food and clothing from all corners of the earth! Take a look here for more info on opening times and which countries will be participating this year. Handy tip- if you wait until the very last week of the event, you can get discounts of up to 60% on many of the goods! Deira Gold Souk is the place to be for all things gold but is also a great place to pick up local souvenirs too. You’ll find everything from gold jewellery to actual bars of gold- only in Dubai, eh?! Make sure to take a pit-stop here before leaving to grab yourself some gifts.

Sight-seeing

The most obvious tourist attraction that seems to stand out in Dubai is the Burj Khalifa, at 829.8 meters high, it is the world’s tallest standing man-made structure. Whilst the view from its 144th floor observation desk is definitely breathtaking and does make for some incredible skyline New York type photos, it still doesn’t cut it as my favourite attraction in the city. Instead, I absolutely fell in love with the lesser-known gem which is the Dubai miracle garden. This gorgeous spot is home to the worlds largest natural flower garden and has more than 45 million different species of flowers spread about its 72000 sq. meters. It has also featured in popular Bollywood films and cost an arm and a leg to create, an estimated $11 million in fact.
The Bastakia quarter of old Dubai provides a more rustic and traditional feel amongst the busy and rather manic modern city life. Built in the late 19th century for wealthy Persian merchants, its limestone walls have miraculously survived until today, or rather, they have been preserved very well. Im a sucker for all things history so I would recommend visiting the sheikh mohammed centre for cultural understanding and the Dubai museum if you go as its always nice to learn a little something about the county you’re in!

The Palm 

That giant palm tree off the coast of Dubai? Thats the Palm and it also to be THE happens to place to be on weekends. This man-made island is one of the largest artificial islands in the world and is pretty awesome indeed. The palm itself is home to numerous high-end hotels, bars, clubs and restaurants but my favourite has to be the Atlantis.  There is literally no end to the things you can do at the Palm, want to scuba dive with sharks? Check. Relax in a 5* spa? Check. Take a helicopter ride? Check. Slide down a GIANT waterslide on a rubber dinghy? Sure, why not? To take a full look at everything the Palm has to offer, click here. 

Abu Dhabi, UAE

In 2014 I went to visit my best friend who had moved to Abu Dhabi a few years back. Up until this point, I had never really heard much about the city and I still wasn’t 100% sure if people roamed around the place on camels or if they actually had car’s… Anyway, after getting over my initial shock that Abu Dhabi was in fact pretty much an Arabic America, I decided I kinda liked the place and so a few weeks later, I moved there (as you do).

 So, if you’re planning on visiting Abu Dhabi or are new to the city and want to get clued up on some nice interesting things to do, here are some of my recommendations:

Culture

The grand mosque a.k.a- Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque- was initiated by the late president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and completed shortly after his death in 2004. It is said that he wanted to incorporate the cultural diversity of Islam whilst still maintaining modern values and art-that he certainly did. The mosque is beautifully and intricately designed with A LOT of gold detail. If you want to get some really amazing photos of this place, I would suggest you go at night when it is lit up in all its glory. The mosque is the city’s key place for worship on Fridays and during Eid prayers. If you decide to visit, do make sure you dress respectfully and not like you’re walking the swimwear catwalk as it is obviously a very sacred and religious spot. Visiting hours are from Saturday – Thursday 9am to 10pm and you can either walk around on your own or pay for a guided tour. If this sounds like the kind of place you’d want to visit then take a look here: grand mosque www.szgmc.ae/en/
.  Heritage village is another spot that offers a more traditional and cultural view of Abu dhabi. Run by the Emirates Heritage Club, the attraction is a reconstruction of a traditional oasis village, providing a glimpse of how life in the desert really was way back when noone had heard of Caribou coffee. Workshops are run around the village by craftsmen who demonstrate traditional skills such as metal work and pottery, and you’ll see lots of women weaving clothes. There are also plenty of stalls selling everything from traditional souvenirs to dried herbs and handmade soaps. Opening times are from Saturday to Thursday from 9am to 5pm, and Friday from 3.30pm to 9pm and entry is free. Visit www.torath.ae for more information.

Watersport’s

Despite being in the middle of the desert, Abu Dhabi DOES actually have sea (and quite a lot of it too) which means water-sports have become a popular activity in the city for locals and tourists alike. Watersports are not only really fun but are also a great way to stop yourself melting away in the blazing hot sun. Whether you just want to have a play around in the sea or you want to learn a new skill, there are plenty of places you can do so. Watercooled Club house is located at the Hilton’s Hiltonia Beach Club along the Corniche and offers an array of Watersports activities at competitive prices- I found them to be cheaper than most other places. The club offers everything from wake and paddle boarding, sailing, windsurfing, fishing amongst others. Visit www.watercooleddubai.com for more information. Yas water world also makes for a great day out with family or friends, with 43 rides, slides and attractions, prices start from 240 AED (around £40) for an all day pass. Take a look at yaswaterworld.com for more information. The park is open from 10-6 Monday to Friday although these times are subject to change during Ramadan.

Dining

If there is one thing us humans love to do, its eat. But Arabs take dining to a whole other level, which is probably why 33% of the population are now obese…. Nonetheless there are a whole host of amazing restaurants dotted all around the city serving up every type of cuisine from typical Arabic, Indian, Iranian, Pakistani, Philippine, German, the list goes on… One of my personal favourites is ‘Rosewater’ at Jumeirah Etihad towers which does an amazing International buffet and has won a number of certificates of excellence from TripAdvisor and Timeout magazine. And you’ll soon see why, not only is the food out of this world but if you can nab a table outside on a cool summer evening, the views alone are worth the nail-biting 200aed upwards bill. But we only live once and all that so check out www.jumeirah.com to book your table in advance. If you’re looking for a taste (and feel) of good old blighty then head to Abu dhabi city golf club which has a great selection of typical British grub for very reasonable prices. With a friendly atmosphere and regular events such as pub quizzes, sports shows and BBQ’s, this place quickly became a home from home for me. Visit adcitygolf.com to find out more. Flavours, Marakesh, Asia de Cuba, Lebanese Flower, Hakkasan, Chamas Churrascaria and Quest (which gives a great panoramic view of the city) are all also highly recommended to suit every budget.

Night life 

Although predominantly a muslim country and thus consumption of alcohol is technically illegal, the city has loosened up a little on its strict no-drinking ban to cater for its vast increase in non-muslim expats. You will find alchohol served in almost every resturant/bar and on various nights throughout the week, women can drink for free between certain times (yes, you read that right). If you’re looking for a few quiet drinks in a swanky spot with an amazing view of the city then Rays bar at Etihad towers is the perfect spot for you. Visit www.jumeirah.com for more information on prices and offers. Mcgettigans at Al Raha Beach Hotel and Resort is also a great spot for a more culturally varied hang-out but I would advise arriving early on Thursdays (the first night of the weekend) as it gets seriously rammed with half of the UK and Ireland. If you’d prefer to go all out and get your finest glad rags on then Yacht club at Intercontinental hotel, Rush nightclub on Yas Island and People by Crystal at The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort are definitely worth checking out.

Prefer a quieter night?

If attempting to navigate your way around a crowd of lairy drunkards in your 6 inch stilettos ‘aint your kinda thing (nope, me neither) then why not take a walk around the city’s centrepiece. The corniche is known as one of Abu Dhabi’s main attractions and meeting points and at night you’ll find it full of families and fitness fanatics galore. Ever seen a burka-clad woman complete a full military-style fitness regime without dropping a single tear or sweat? I hadn’t either until I walked along this place at night. Stretching across eight kilometres of beautiful waterfront full of both public and private beaches, parks, cafés and restaurants, this place is perfect for unwinding after a long day of doing all those touristy things. If your legs are too tired to walk then take a look at the numerous spots along the way where you can rent out a bike for 40 minutes +, a great, fast and cheap way to explore this beautiful sight. At the end of the Corniche you’ll find the brightly shining Emirates palace, a luxury 5 * hotel and landmark showcasing palatial yet traditional Arabic culture (the place is literally dripping in gold and even has an ATM which hands out gold). Surrounded by 85 hectares of blossoming gardens and lawns, 114 domes that are 80 meters high, the palace comprises 394 rooms and suites and various bars. See www.emiratespalace.ae for more details. Finally, if you just want to sit back and relax whilst still emerging yourself in the Arabian culture, then head on down to one of the cities many Shisha bars. Al bateen Marina has some great spots for low-priced shisha with a chilled out atmosphere and if you’re looking for some great views then try Skylite lounge, Maï Café, Stars ‘n’ bars and Ess lounge.

Handy tip: If you’re looking to explore the city on a bit of a budget then I would suggest picking up an ‘Entertainer booklet’ which offers discounts on various sites, restaurants and bars and is valid for one year. The full price of a booklet is AED 395.00 but with an estimated saving of AED 278,000, its a pretty savvy investment. See www.theentertainerme.com for more info. If 395.00 is a bit out of your budget then take a look on uae.dubizzle.com (which is similar to the UK site gumtree or craigslist) or various buy/sell Facebook pages then you can purchase individual vouchers for a cheaper price- You’re welcome 🙂

Pisa, Italy

I went to Pisa back in July after deciding to book a last-minute getaway with one of my friends. Being completely honest, we only actually booked flights to Pisa because it was the cheapest airport to fly to from London on our way to Cinque Terre. Not that I have anything against Pisa! But Cinque Terre was where we really wanted to spend our holiday, relaxing. All together we spent 3 days in Pisa, which I can honestly say is more than enough because its actually quite a small city. In fact, you could probably walk from one end of it to the other in just over an hour, yes, it really is that small! That being said, we still managed to do a whole lot of walking during our 3 days in Pisa, cramming in all of the city`s beautiful architecture and stuffing our faces with local food and of course.. cafe latte. Luckily for me, my friend is as crazy about coffee as I am and no-one does it quite like the Italians!

The leaning tower of Pisa 

Going to Pisa and not seeing the iconic leaning tower is kind of like going to a cinema but only watching the adverts..you just can’t do it. After trawling through the millions of Instagram selfies of tourists from all over the world posing next to the humungous tower, I was already pre-planning selfie poses in my head. However, upon arriving at the tower, me and my friend suddenly burst out laughing because it was surprisingly…erm…small. Perhaps its just the angle that everyone takes their photos at or perhaps we just had high expectations haha, but either way, its much smaller than you’d think. It is also jam-packed, I mean, literally overflowing with tourists. If you’re hoping to visit soon then I would try and get there as early as possible to avoid disappointment/get that perfect photobomb-free selfie. Interesting facts, construction of the leaning tower began in August 1173 but was put on hold several times due to wars, debt and whilst engineers attempting to correct the `lean`.  It was eventually completed in the mid-1300’s but was still (obviously) leaning. This is all down to the shifting soil at the towers foundations, mainly because it was built on soft ground made up of clay, fine sand and shells.

There are other building to visit too though… 

The Camposanto (also known as the “Holy Field”) was constructed in 1278 so as you can imagine, it is home to some pretty beautiful architecture and is conveniently located next to the tower of pisa. Tickets cost €5 but its definitely worth taking a look inside at the historical and lavish decor. The Palazzo della Carovana is one of the many palaces surrounding the Palazzo dei Cavalieri and was constructed by the Duke of Tuscany himself,  Cosimo dei Medici I for the Knighthood of St. Stephen. San Michele in Borgo,  San Piero a Grado and Pisa Baptistery are all worth checking out too. Generally speaking though, the city itself is full to the brim with some incredible architecture so even if decide to just walk around for a couple of hours, you’re sure to see some picturesque places.

My final chosen leaning tower of pisa selfie face. Beautiful, I know…

Pasta, Pizza, pretty much everything carbs. 

 As you can probably imagine, I went IN when i got to Italy and by IN I mean headfirst, into carbs. Pasta, human-sized pizzas, ravioli dripping with fresh tomato sauce, gelato laces with caramel syrup, oh I went IN. And why not? If you’re a carb lover like me then Italy is the best place to shove your mouth full of fresh and cream-filled (or fresh cream filled) food till your hearts content! L’Ostellinoat Piazza Felice Cavallotti has been rated number 7 out of 785 restaurants in Pisa and had some of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had and for a very reasonable price too! Fresh salami with melted mozzarella and sundries tomatoes on a toasted fresh panini for €3? Im sold. Il Campano at Via Domenico Cavalca was another favourite of mine. Tucked away in the old town, this lovely little place has a menu to die for. Grilled octopus, fresh cod pasta with porcini mushroom and the most tender t-bone steak you’ll evert taste in your life, this place has it all. The staff were also very accommodating and patient with the language barrier! Finally, La Bottega del Gelato at Piazza Garibaldi, has long been known as home to the best ice cream in Italy and it docent disappoint! Unsurprisingly, the queue for this place was out of the door and onto the street, even late at night. But its worth it (plus you get a nice view of the river!) Salted caramel and tiramisu were the absolute bomb.

The river Arno 

The river Arno is one of those gorgeous spots that acts as the `meeting point’ or reference for friends, families and tourists! If you ever get lost in Pisa, just ask for the river Arno and you’ll know where to go from there! At night, the river banks really come alive with young people, families and couples strolling along whilst soaking up the gorgeous view. The buildings surrounding the river itself have a very medieval feel to them and make for the perfect photo session! During the day, you’ll find lots of cafes and restaurants dotted around the the banks, serving freshly brewed coffee and sandwiches.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam, the city where dreams come true and life seems easy, magical and slightly hallucinogenic. For most people, the city holds one major appeal- clue: it starts with ‘W’ and ends with ‘D’ and no its not because of its fine collection of wood…

I visited Amsterdam a while back and although the weather was not the greatest (it rained almost every day) I found that there was a lot more to do besides sitting in a cafe and and getting horrendously high. I would recommend visiting during the Spring/Summer months when there are more outdoor activities available and the city is a lot more picturesque.

Markets:

Amsterdam is a great place for low-cost shopping and is home to an abundance of markets like the Albert Cuyp market where you can fill your basket full of delicious food for next to nothing. The Noordermarkt is also a great place to find all things healthy and organic and they hand out so many free samples that you could probably just skip lunch all together and head right there. My favourite market was the Waterlooplein flea market though. This place had everything from antique furniture to cheap souvenirs and so many sweet cakes and cheese, literally, so much cheese everywhere! (the edible cheese, not the other one).

Museums:

There are so many museums to choose from in Amsterdam, all offering something completely different to the next. One of my favourites was the sex museum not just because it made for some really uncomfortable silences amongst its visitors but also because it was informative and demonstrated just how much societies’ view of all things ‘sex’ has changed and progressed over the years. Admission is only € 4 and the museum is open from 9.30 a.m. to 11.30 p.m every day. So I didn’t really understand why there were huge crowds of people queuing up to go in throughout the afternoon, try going later on in the evening when it is generally quieter. The Anne Frank museum is another must-see, especially if you’re as fond of the book as I am. Anne’s original diary and other notebooks are displayed here as well as photographs and original objects belonging to those who lived with her. You can also do a virtual journey of annes house which really brings the book to life but is quite emotional when you see just how tiny the secret annexe was. Finally, the Van Gogh museum has recently been renovated and is home to the worlds largest collection of his work, if you like his weirds and wacky work (the one of the screaming person really freaks me out) then I would definitely recommend checking it out.

Red light district:

What is it that makes the red light district so fascinating? Why do many of us feel so compelled to see a real-life hooker? I have no idea but I definitely wanted to see one, so I did. The Red Light District is known locally as De Wallen and is a well-known tourist spot. However, the city authorities are trying to cut down on the number of ‘ladies’ and ‘coffee shops’ in the area resulting in a slightly tamer district (but not quite district 12 just yet). Nonetheless, when I visited I still saw plenty of half naked women gyrating against thin air in windows and guilty looking men doing a sort of pre walk of shame into a softly lit red room. Maybe they thought they were going in for a candlelit dinner? I’d like to think so.

Rent a canoe (don’t get high before-hand)

This may seem a little random but during the spring and summer months, rowing along the Waterland, the beautiful nature reserve in the north of Amsterdam is so peaceful and relaxing. The views along the waterline and all the quirky little houses make for some great photos showing a very different and dainty side to Amsterdam that you just don’t get in the centre. There are several companies that offer canoe rental at a reasonable price and most of them include extra activities such as barbecues and group adventure packages. Check out iamsterdam.com for more information.

Rent a bike

Like canoeing, renting a bike is a great alternative to getting around the city and feeling more like a local. There are so many different bike trails to chose from but I recommend taking one that will bring you a little out of the city to a more rustic and serene environment. Again, there are an abundance of rental companies to chose from and the prices are relatively cheap but I preferred rentabike.nl as they were easily located in the centre of the city and were a bit more relaxed about the time limit i had on the bike. Just be careful you don’t break or damage the bloody thing as you will incur a fine.

And of course, once you’ve done all of the above, you can always pick up a pack of double chocolate chip cookies from the nearest bakery, find yourself a nice cafe and get yourself so high that you start to question the meaning of life and wether you really are you or just an alien impersonating you.