Dubai is a city of contrasts – from the tranquillity of the desert to the hustle of the city, there’s so much to see and do! Thanks to its central location at the centre of so many international long haul routes, Dubai is the perfect stopover city to enjoy for a few days, so if you’re passing through, here are some of the best things to do in the city!
Everything you must do in Dubai
1. Take in the Views from the World’s Tallest Building
A great way to start your time in Dubai and gain an appreciation for the scale of the city, head to the top of the world’s tallest building – the Burj Khalifa. From here you can take in views of the entire city, though do note that the view changes every day! For our visit, the view was quite hazy, but on a good day, you can see well into the distance. Sunrise and sunset are also magical times to visit and find yourself on top of the clouds, but be sure to book your visit a few weeks in advance of your trip as the tower is booked out daily!
Location: Burj Khalifa
Price: $40 USD per person
2. Swim in a glass pool
After stepping off the 14 hour flight from Australia, my first port of call was the hotel swimming pool to refresh for the day. We were staying at the Four Seasons DIFC, which we soon discovered was home to Dubai’s only glass pool with an incredible view of downtown Dubai.
Location: Four Seasons Dubai International Financial Centre
Price: From $350 USD per night
3. Visit the Al Maha Desert
The city of Dubai has a lot to offer by way of activities, but if its tranquility you’re in search of, there’s no better place to visit than the desert. I’ve visited the desert of Dubai a couple of times now and my favourite operator is still Platinum Heritage, who take their guests to a private desert reserve called Al Maha. This reserve is owned by the royal family who have a weekend home here and own a part of the tour company who are renowned for offering the most authentic and engaging desert safari to visitors.
Location: Platinum Heritage Safari Tours, Al Maha Desert
Price: $160 USD per person for the Heritage Safari or Camel Safari
4. Experience the Talise Spa at the Burj Al Arab
One of my favourite experiences on all of my trips to Dubai has been arriving at the Talise Spa, located on the eighteenth floor of the Burj Al Arab. This hotel is known for being the world’s only 7 star hotel, a title that is not at all correct (five stars is the international max), but you’ll soon see why it gained this title when you step inside! The spa is a world of mosaic tiles, filled with millions of them and many of them gold (so incredible to see!)
Location: Talise Spa, Burj Al Arab
Price: 45 minute neck massage $176 USD per person, includes access to spa facilities
5. Visit the Spice and Gold Souks
It took me a few visits to Dubai to finally visit the souks, given their location is a short taxi ride out of the way and I had heard they were a little on the touristy side (correction: a lot!) Despite this, the souks are a great way to get a feel for “old Dubai”, especially if this is your first visit to a souk. They have nothing on the experience you will find in Muscat (Oman) or Marrakech (Morocco), but they’re still an experience nonetheless.
Location: Old Dubai Spice Souks and Gold Souks
6. See the Dubai Fountain Show
Each evening outside of the Dubai Mall and underneath the Burj Khalifa, visitors to Dubai can enjoy the renowned Dubai fountain show. While it might not sound like much, the show is pretty speccy and cool to see, with the glittering lights of the Burj Kahlifa in the background. My favourite place I have found to watch the fountain show is at Thiptara Thai Restaurant.
Location: Dubai Fountain Show // Thiptara
7. Go Skiing indoors at Ski Dubai
I can’t say it was the best ski experience I’ve had (granted I’m comparing to the mountain scenery of the likes of Zermatt, Arosa, Jasper and Chile), but it was an experience nonetheless! There’s just one chairlift and one full run, but if you’re up for an activity and want to see what all the fuss is about, then this is a great way to spend a couple of hours in the Mall of the Emirates.
Location: Ski Dubai, Mall of the Emirates
Price: $74 per person
8. Go Dune Bashing in the Desert
If a 4:00am wake up call for a hot air balloon ride is not your thing, dune bashing just might be a little more to your taste. There are a range of tour companies offering afternoon dune bashing excursions, so be sure to pick one that best suits your style. My preference is Platinum Heritage safaris for anything desert-related in Dubai.
Location: Dubai Desert
Price: $160 USD per person with Platinum Heritage
9. Overload on Arabic Pastries
Still one of my favourite aspects of a trip to the Middle East is to enjoy all of the delicious Arabic pastries! My favourite is still the old and faithful baklava, but there are so many variations around the continent that you’ll be spoilt for choice!
10. Spend the Day at Jumeirah Beach
If you’re more of a lay-in-the-sun kind of traveller, then you’ll love Jumeirah Beach. Personally I have a short attention span, so lasted approximately 20 minutes on the beach before making my way to a new activity (ha!) The beaches don’t compare to the beauty of Aussie beaches, though I find it hard to find comparable beaches anywhere else in the world outside of the Pacific!
Location: Jumeirah Beach
Price: Non-alcoholic drinks for 50 dirhams (not cheap!)
11. Encounter Marine Wildlife at the Dubai Aquarium
Marine wildlife conservation and education is a strong theme here in Dubai, with both the Dubai aquarium and the Lost Chamber at the Dubai Mall having two very large and impressive aquariums. Personally I’m not a huge fan of seeing wildlife in enclosures, but if you’re travelling with kids this is a great way to educate them and learn about the conservation projects.
Location: Dubai Aquarium at the Dubai Mall
Price: $28 per person for the underwater zoo; Free if standing at the shopping mall viewing point
12. Take a Hot Air Balloon Ride over the Desert
On our last morning in Dubai we woke up at 4:00am to take a hot air balloon ride over the desert. This was my third hot air balloon experience but definitely the most memorable. Compared to other hot air ballon rides, the scenery and landscape of the desert was incomparable!
Location: Dubai Desert
Price: $360 USD pp with Platinum Heritage
13. Step inside Talise Ottoman Spa at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray
Another beautiful spa to check out if you like to spoil yourself is at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray. The property is a little out of the way if you’re not staying on the palm, but the spa is totally worth it! It is not only popular with out of town visitors, but locals too.
Location: Jumeirah Zabeel Saray
Price: Treatment prices vary, from $150 USD
14. Stay Overnight in the Desert
Another way to encounter the Dubai desert for those looking for a real adventure, is to stay overnight at a traditional Bedouin Camp. You can join a safari tour in the late afternoon, followed by a night underneath the stars and a morning waking up to a tradition bedouin breakfast.
Price: Available with Platinum Heritage Safari Tours; Add-on to chosen Safari Package
15. Check out the Palace Hotel Downtown
One of my favourite hotels in Dubai is also one of the most beautiful to come to check out, even if you’re not staying there. The Palace Hotel Downtown is connected to the Dubai Mall via the Souks, so be sure to wander along if you want to see the symmetry of the hotel’s exterior. The lobby is also equally impressive and non-hotel guests can visit for a drink or meal at one of the restaurants. I can highly recommend Thiptara Thai restaurant connected to the hotel and it has an unbeatable view of the Dubai fountain show!
Location: Palace Hotel Downtown
Price: Free if you’re coming for a look around!
16. Take a Boat Ride at Madinat Jumeirah
If you find yourself over on Jumeirah beach, then be sure to drop by the Madinat Jumeirah for a traditional boat ride along the waterfront. There are plenty of restaurants in this area and beach clubs to stop by and enjoy a drink. This is quite a residential part of town, making it a great location to check out if you fancy moving to Dubai (remember, the United Arab Emirates has some great tax benefits!) There are some great movers and packs in Dubai to help get you there if you fancy a move to the middle of the world.
Price: $23 USD per person
17. Book a Room with a View
Often the best way to see Dubai is from your hotel window or balcony, so be sure to request a room with a view! Some of the best views are often found in the Dubai financial district, which is not commonly a first choice for leisure travellers. This view is from the Shangri-La Downtown Dubai, which has more of a business hotel feel to it, but undeniably one of the best views over the city!
18. Eat a Milkshake for Lunch
This little gem has long been on my foodie bucketlist in NYC, but the lines have always been so long that I wind up opting for a second choice elsewhere. When I heard that Black Tap had opened a restaurant in Dubai, I knew it was fate for me to visit! While they are most famous for their milkshakes (which go for a whopping $25 AUD in Dubai), they also do a really great burger. It’s not cheap but what, if anything, is in Dubai!?
Location: Black Tap Dubai
Price: Milkshakes are a whopping $18 USD a pop, but worth it!
19. See Dubai From Above
One of the experiences I am yet to try in Dubai is also one of the most popular – a helicopter flight over the city to see the Palm from above. Although not cheap, this is another great way to see Dubai from above and get a birdseye view of the city (a cheaper option would be to visit the top of the Burj Khalifa and hope for clear skies!)
Location: Heli Dubai
Price: 12 Minutes for $180 USD per person
20. Spot Wildlife in the Dubai Desert
Another activity I would highly recommend in the desert is to join a wildlife safari and see the famous Oryx and Gazelle. It took my three visits to Dubai to finally do this, but I’d say it would have to be one of my favourite experiences!
Location: Dubai Desert
21. Check out the Atlantis the Palm Hotel
As one of the most iconic structures in Dubai, the Atlantis Hotel is a staple in most visitors’ Dubai itineraries. The hotel is often booked out and doesn’t come cheap, but the good news is you can visit the property without staying. If you are visiting as a non-hotel guest, you’ll only be allowed in restricted areas (like the Aquaventure park, Lost Chambers, shopping area and restaurants).
Location: Atlantis the Palm Dubai
22. Make a Day Trip to Abu Dhabi
With such close proximity between the cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, you’ll be selling yourself short if you don’t make at least a day trip to to nearby Abu Dhabi. Here I would recommend visiting the Grand Mosque (truly a sight for the eyes), Emirates Palace (ditto on that one), and if you haven’t already, venture out to the desert.
Location: Abu Dhabi (139 kilometres from Dubai)
Over to you! What are your favourite things to do in Dubai!?