Beyond the skyscrapers and shopping malls, there are many Dubai attractions that will surprise you. Albeit, the malls, and skyscrapers are very impressive. From desert adventures to cultural encounters, beach escapes, and luxury experiences, Dubai has it all! Dubai is the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates and is one of the most exciting cities in the Middle East to visit.
Dubai is a city of the future, to say the least. Dubai has the world’s tallest building, the world’s tallest hotel, and the world’s tallest residential building. It houses the largest shopping mall in the world, the world’s largest aquarium, and the second-largest man-made marina on earth. Dubai is a city that people should see once in their lifetime but there are plenty of things to do in Dubai. My friend, now a PR in Dubai basically told me you can do anything in Dubai as long as you have the money.
The logistics – Visa
You will need Visa to enter UAE/Dubai. If you are eligible for Visa on Arrival it is the most straightforward. But if you come from other Third World country like me you will need a Visa. If you fly with Emirates and Etihad, the airlines will take care of it. But if you’re not, just contact any travel agent. They can help with your Visa. You don’t need to give your physical passport. They will issue an eVisa and you can print it to show the airline counter and Immigration.
Many major airlines fly to Dubai and Dubai International is the busiest international airport in the world, so it is important that you know which terminal you’re flying through.
Terminal 1:All international airlines (except Emirates).
Terminal 2: flydubai and other regional and international airlines.
Terminal 3: Emirates and some flydubai flights.
How to get to the City from Dubai Airport
Follow the signs to the official taxi rank at each terminal, or ask our Guest Experience Ambassadors team. The ranks are well organised, with taxis waiting 24/7. There’s an AED25 flag charge from the airport. The charge for each km is AED1.96.
Dubai International (DXB) has two stations on Dubai Metro, one of the world’s most modern transit systems. Trains run frequently from DXB Terminals 1 and 3, with both stations on the Red Line. The Red Line runs from 5 AM till midnight, Monday to Thursday; 5 AM -1 AM (the next day) on Friday, and 8 AM till midnight on Sunday.
The Metro only have two lines, making the network simple to use even for newcomers. Most stations have connecting buses and taxi ranks for onward travel. Most major hotels and tourist destinations are relatively close to a station. Tickets can be bought at the airport stations. The cost depends on how many zones you travel. Try the Nol card. It can be charged up with credit, and also gives you a discount on standard fares.
The front carriage on each train is ‘gold class’, for a small premium – kids will love the view through the driverless front window! There is also a carriage for women and children only.
Buses are a low-cost option, mainly suited to residents or people familiar with the city, as the network is extensive. Between Dubai International and the city
Buses arrive and leave from stands opposite Terminal 1, 2 and 3. You will need to buy a Nol card in advance; you can’t pay cash to the driver.
Where to Stay in Dubai
Dubai is a city of huge dimensions. It has a population of 3.1M spread across a vast area of 4,114km². This means that in Dubai there is a lot of empty space and distances between the different places are huge.
Therefore, unlike European and some Asian cities, Dubai is a city not to be walked, as many neighborhoods and places which look like they are close, are actually separated by several kilometers which can’t be walked, even if you wanted to, basically because there is no place to walk. Hence it is important to plan which area you are going to stay depending on what activities you want to do.
These are the most tourist-friendly areas where to stay in Dubai:
Marina & Jumeirah Beach Residence
The relatively new neighborhood of Dubai Marina and JBR is the most Westernized area in the city, practically the only properly walkable part of the new Dubai. JBR refers to the beach, the promenade and all the buildings which are in the first line. The Marina is everything behind there, including the tallest skyscrapers and the canal. Stay here if you want to be where the fun is. There is the beach, plenty of restaurants and bars and with the canal and all the skyscrapers, and it is also very well connected to the metro.
However if you traveled to Dubai for shopping, Marina doesn’t have great options, even though the Mall of the Emirates, the second most famous mall, is just 7km away. It is also far from Downtown, where Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall are, around 23km, and even further from the Old City and Deira (30km). This area is one of the most expensive in Dubai, even though you can find a few budget options.
Al Barsha is the functional neighborhood of Dubai. Besides wandering around the Mall of the Emirates, tourists don’t have much to do here. However the area is very well-connected to the metro, is close to both Marina and Downtown. It has everything you may need, from a Carrefour to many types of shops and some really good local restaurants.
This area is a good option for those who want to be near the main landmarks but don’t want to spend a fortune.
Downtown Dubai is Dubai as seen on TV and, for many people, the best area to stay in Dubai. With some of the tallest skyscrapers, including the Burj Khalifa, the most luxurious shops, fancy boulevards, and the most glamorous clubs and fine-dining restaurants, Downtown is the reason why Dubai is famous.
Whether you want to go to the top of Burj Khalifa, shop in the world’s largest mall or just check out the fountain show, all tourists come here at some point during their trip. The area, however, is the most expensive in the city. Not suitable if you are on a budget or you prefer to be closer to the beach in Marina, which is 23km away.
Bur Dubai is the heart of the Old City of Dubai. Composed of narrow alleys, real bazaars, and traditional architecture, Bur Dubai is the real soul of the city, a place which has been inhabited for centuries. If you want to choose which area to stay in Dubai based on price, Bur Dubai also offers the cheapest rates when it comes to accommodation. This is the best area to stay in Dubai for people on a budget and those more interested in traditional culture than luxury stuff. But note that it is also far away from famous the extravagant Dubai monuments.
Deira is like the continuation of the Old City (Bur Dubai) but it is a bit more modern. This is a good option if you are on a budget or want to be close to the airport. Also, this would be a good alternative to Bur Dubai, as they have built many modern buildings with plenty of fine-dining restaurants and a lot of bars. However being close to the airport means that it is far away from everything else, including the beach and all landmarks but it is well-connected by metro.
Palm Jumeirah (or The Palm) is one of Dubai’s most remarkable landmarks. It’s basically a palm-shaped island which is attached to Dubai’s mainland. It is huge, with a length of several kilometers from the beginning till the edge of the island, where you find the Atlantis Hotel, one of the most luxurious hotels in the city and a replica of the same hotel in The Bahamas.
This is a good option if you are looking for real luxury or just because you feel like staying in The Palm. There are no budget options and there is not much to do besides the beach and your hotel. It is far away from everything and not very well-connected.
Top Things to Do in Dubai
The Burj Khalifa is at the top of all Dubai attractions. It is located in the heart of the city with gorgeous views. Take the high-speed elevator up 160 stories to see awe-inspiring views of Dubai. Be warned though, it’s crowded and once you’ve had a look at the city, there’s not a lot more to do up there.
It is that famous building that Tom Cruise climbed during Mission Impossible
Downtown Dubai isn’t much of a walking city, but when you make your way to the Dubai Marina, it’s your chance to stroll along the promenade. There are coffee shops and restaurants surrounding the second-largest man-made marina in the world where you can book boat tours and dinner cruises from here.
For one of the more thrilling things to do in Dubai, make your way to the Amwaj Towers to take a zip line over the marina to the Dubai Marina Mall. Dubai does everything bigger and better and this zipline is one of the steepest and fastest in the world. Reaching speeds of 80 km an hour, you’ll soar through the air for one kilometer.
Go to the Beach
Dubai has fabulous sandy beaches. Like all beach destinations, there are a lot of watersports to choose from and many beach chairs or free patches up sand to set up shop for the day to catch some rays. The famous Burj Al Arab towers over a public beach. It’s Dubai’s most luxurious accommodation being a 7-star hotel.
Skiing at the Mall of the Emirates
If you go to the Mall of the Emirates, you can go snowboarding or skiing at Ski Dubai, catch a movie or do some shopping. There are malls galore in Dubai and many hotels offer free shuttles to visit them where you can freely spend your hard-earned money. One of the coolest feature was Ski Dubai – an indoor ski resort.
Go to Dubai Mall
The Dubai Mall is the largest shopping mall in the world with so much more than clothing stores and boutiques. The Dubai Mall houses the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo where you can even go diving with sharks, there’s a skating rink, waterfalls, and top-name brand clothing outlets where you can get lost for the day.
Dubai Fountain Show
Just like the Bellagio in Vegas, Dubai has its own waterfall show at the Dubai Fountain. Only the fountain show in Dubai is bigger and better making it the top of all fountain shows in the world. Make sure to add going to the Dubai fountain to your list of must-see Dubai attractions.
Each night a display of water and light runs for 10 minutes every half an hour until midnight. The songs, light show, and choreography change again and again so you never have to see the same show twice. Pick a seat and have a drink at one of the restaurants on the lake where the show is located or get there 10 minutes early for a front-row premium spot right at the fence.
Take a Scenic Flight and see Burj Al Arab from Above
A scenic flight offers amazing views of the Dubai skyline and the Persian Gulf coast and see the skyscrapers from different vantage points. You will also be able to see all of the magnificent modern architecture in the city.
The view of The Palm Jumeirah from above is astounding. This engineering feat is difficult to comprehend as Dubai has built an extra 650km of coastline for its residents to work and play. There’s also a map of The World with hundreds of man-made islands waiting to be developed 14 km off the shore of Dubai. The Palm Jumeirah is a wonder of the modern world. This archipelago of islands juts out into the Persian Gulf and is completely man-made.
Here are the places to visit inside Palm Jumeirah
Atlantis The Palm Dubai – There are jet boat rides, paddling, and plenty of water sports but one of the bucket list extreme adventures to be had in Dubai is to skydive over The Palm.
Aqua venture Waterpark – You don’t have to stay in Palm Jumeirah to see the Atlantis Dubai. Visitors can buy a pass to play in Dubai’s top-rated attraction. It is the world’s largest waterpark with world-record-holding waterslides for thrill-seekers, and it houses Dubai’s largest aquarium. The Lost Chambers Aquarium houses 65,000 marine animals.
Wander Through the Souks
Dubai is a new city and it’s difficult to believe that there is somewhere that feels old. The souks were fascinating to visit. They are busy and filled with shoppers. We were told that 20% of the world’s gold passes through the Gold Souk. I can only imagine how rich the people were walking these alleys. Get lost in the alleyways and streets that you can get lost in while shopping and exploring your way through a fast-disappearing Middle Eastern culture in Dubai.
Make sure to take the water taxi along Dubai Creek, it’s a great affordable way to explore the old part of town. Dubai Creek is divided into two parts, Deira and Bur Dubai.
Al Fahidi Historical District
Dating back to 1900, this district was built by the Persians who settled in Dubai after doing trade. Thanks to efforts by locals and even Prince Charles, the area was saved from demolition. It’s a good thing because, with all the modern skyscrapers and buildings of Dubai, there is now a historical district to glimpse into Dubai’s past.
Jumeirah Mosque is the only mosque open to non-Muslims in Dubai making it one of the top Dubai attractions. I visited this on an organized tour, but you can book one of the guided tours that happen daily at 10 and 2 pm. (It is closed on Fridays). Make sure you are properly dressed when visiting any mosque or place of worship keeping legs and shoulders covered.
Visit the Dubai Museum
Dubai Museum is located in the old part of the city and inside you can stroll through a display of Dubai’s early days and humble beginnings. Follow the journey from its foundation as pearl divers. Pearl diving was prosperous for the people of Dubai and many in the the United Arab Emirates can trace their fortunes back to their pearl diving routes. The UAE was also prosperous during the silk route trading times to the discovery of oil. Today, the city is an example of the extreme wealth and flash of the 21st century. It’s a fascinating display.
Visit the Desert
If you’ve never been to the desert, this will be an exciting excursion for you. Not all Dubai attractions are located in the megacity. Visiting the desert and getting out of town just might be the best thing to do in Dubai. The Dubai Desert is part of the world’s largest sand desert and there are countless desert safaris offering fun and fabulous experiences.
There are various activities you can do as part of your Desert Safari:
– Dune Buggy Tour
– Desert Conservation Reserve
– Bedouin Dinner Show at Al Jabal Village
– Take a Camel Ride. This is an interesting experience to try. It’s different with riding a horse because camel is much taller than a horse and the scariest part was when the camel stand up to start the ride and then later when it is back to sitting position. Brace yourself!
Want to see the most Instagrammable spot in Dubai? Be sure to check one of the newest Dubai attractions when you visit the city. The massive picture frame stands 500 feet tall and is the highest picture frame in the world. Guests can take an elevator up to the top for panoramic views of the city as they walk along the clear glass bridge that spans 313 feet.
Dubai Theme Parks
Dubai has many attractions to keep families busy. Here are a few Amusement parks that are fun for the whole family.
- IMG World of Adventure is the world’s biggest indoor amusement park
- Dubai Parks and Resorts is the largest integrated amusement park in the Middle East with four themes. Motion land combines DreamWorks Animation, Columbia Pictures and Lionsgate for a movie themed park, Bollywood Parks highlights the best from Bollywood Theater, there’s Lego Water Parks and Legoland.
- Global Village is an entertainment complex and amusement park featuring cultures from around the world. At Global Village there’s no need to travel the world, you can visit 90 countries all in one place.
Dubai Miracle Garden
Botanical Garden lovers will love the Dubai Miracle Garden that displays millions of flowers and plants. 150 million flowers to be exact. Like everything in Dubai, this garden is over the top spanning 72,000 square meters of displays from the floating lady to the floral clock. Umbrella Tunnel will get your Instagram mojo running or you may want to visit the sunflower field. The Dubai Miracle Garden is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest flower garden in the world.
Day Trip to Abu Dhabi
It’s easy to visit Abu Dhabi from Dubai. You can book a day tour to see the capital of the United Arab Emirates. The typical tour takes you along the Persian Gulf Coast to explore Abu Dhabi’s top landmarks including:
- The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – One of the world’s largest mosques
- The Observation Deck of Etihad Towers
- And Arabian heritage Qasr Al Watan Palace