Although geographically close (a flight from Dubai to Tehran takes 2 hours), the two cities are very different in terms of history, culture, and lifestyle opportunities. Dubai is the largest city in the United Arab Emirates, and it hosts a population of around 2.5 million. Tehran is the capital city of Iran, with an estimated population of 9 million in the city proper, and 16 million in the surrounding area.
Dubai is a modern city, but it is quite spread out, meaning that car trips and taxi rides from one end to the other can take a while. On one end of Dubai is the Marina area, and this is considered “new Dubai,” in comparison to the older districts along the Dubai Creek.
Tehran is a huge city and sometimes described as grey, with overwhelming traffic congestion. However, Tehran offers an interesting cultural experience for those wishing to visit its markets, museums, and cafes.
Air pollution in Tehran is much worse than in Dubai, and sometimes causes school closures. Dubai does experience moderate air pollution, but there is less traffic than in Tehran, and the government tests automobiles for emissions before allowing registration.
The Recent Past
Dubai is built around the Dubai Creek, and for many years, it was a trading centre connecting Asia with the Middle East. Traditional activities included fishing and pearl diving. After the discovery of oil in the 1960s, Dubai grew from a small but important town to the commercial and trading hub that it is now.
Tehran became the capital city of Iran in 1796, and was home to two important imperial dynasties, the Qajars and the Pahlavis. It is built at the base of the Elburz Mountains.
A lot of Tehran’s older buildings were demolished in the 20th century to pave the way for more modern government buildings. A street grid plan for the new city was adopted in the 1920s, and so sets apart some business and residential areas of the new city.
Tourists in Iran will be shocked by the traffic, while getting around by taxi in Dubai is easy, and the metro system is very organized.
Dubai hosts an international population – only 20% of its residents are Emirati, while the rest of the population is composed of expatriates attracted to the tax-free lifestyle in Dubai. Tehran is cosmopolitan, although most Tehranis hail from other parts of Iran, with Azerbaijanis being the largest minority group in the city.
International business abounds in Dubai, and many western companies base their Middle Eastern headquarters in Dubai. However, international business presence is more limited in Tehran. While it is the Iranian economic hub, many people work for government entities.
Dubai’s economy is more dependent on trade than on oil. The economy centres around tourism, real estate, and provision of financial services. Dubai will host Expo 2020, and is actively preparing for the associated increase in tourists.
Dubai has a lot of nightclubs, malls, and tourist venues. It is a part of the circuit for international concerts and events. While Tehran boasts chic cafes, restaurants, and museums, it does not attract international events like Dubai.
Women in Tehran must wear a headscarf (locally called the roosari) and long overcoat (a manteau). There are a few tips for dressing in Tehran. Basically, women need to cover their hair and wear a loose modest style of dress that doesn’t expose their arms and legs. Men shouldn’t wear shorts when out and about in Tehran.
In Dubai, Emirati women wear the traditional abaya and sheila (long black gown with a black hair covering), but foreigners are not expected to wear these traditional clothes. Indeed, in Dubai you’ll see all manners of dress, from shorts and T-shirts to the latest designer fashions.
In Dubai, you’ll find the usual western and American food chains such as TGIF, Applebees, McDonald’s, and so on. Dubai also has a lot of Lebanese and Middle Eastern restaurants that serve delicious grilled meats and shawarma. The Emirati biryani (gently spiced grilled chicken with cashews and rice) is delicious.
In Tehran, restaurants serve grilled meat dishes (chelo kebab, which is rice with grilled meat) and tahchin (rice cooked with saffron, egg yolk, and yogurt, then layered with chicken or lamb). There are other restaurant options in Tehran, but not many of the American chain restaurants.
Dubai has good road infrastructure, and public transportation is operated by the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA). Dubai public transportation includes the Dubai Metro, buses, water buses, abras, and trams that connect the city centre with the outskirts.
The Tehran Metro alleviates some traffic in Tehran, but it doesn’t provide full coverage of the city, so metro rides should be supplemented by bus, taxi, or car.
Dubai is serviced by two airports, Dubai International Airport (DBX) and al Maktoum Airport, located on the outskirts of the city. Dubai international Airport recently exceeded Heathrow in London for the volume of passengers travelling through.
Tehran also has two airports: The Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKIA), which is around 30 kilometres outside the city, and Mehrabad airport, which is closer to the city.
The Cost of Living
The cost of living is higher in Dubai than in Tehran. The average restaurant meal in Dubai is around USD 40.00, while a similar meal in Tehran would cost about USD 20.00. A short taxi trip in Dubai would cost around USD 15.00, but would be around USD 5.00 in Tehran. A cinema ticket in Dubai is between USD 10.00 and 20.00 (depending on seating), while a cinema ticket in Tehran is about USD 2.00.
Consumer goods are definitely more expensive (and readily available) in Dubai, but the average salary in Dubai is higher than in Tehran. Compare the two at around USD 3500.00 in Dubai to around USD 530.00 in Tehran, and you’ll see that with the cost of living, you’d need to budget in both cities.
Dubai Versus Tehran
For the international traveler, a visit to Dubai would offer the “easier” option, as it is more open to tourists and the expatriate lifestyle in general than Tehran. However, Tehran holds appeal for those looking to experience traditional Persian culture.