Dubai, someone told me during my recent visit, is like its own brand, with the aim of becoming the Chanel or Dior of cities. A shining, modern, and ever-rising skyline meets traditional culture in a place surrounded by seemingly endless desert and sea; you can expect a destination unlike anywhere else.
My most recent trip to Dubai felt rushed. Three days at a conference for my “day job” meant I saw little more than the inside of a hotel, but I was lucky enough to have two days to myself afterwards to see the sights.
My experience in this city isn’t that different from many who travel here, whether for business or a stopover on an even longer journey. Then there are those lucky ones that have come to soak up the sun and experience everything this city has to offer. It is possible to make the most of your time here, no matter how brief or leisurely your trip is.
Trip #1: The Stopover
Dubai’s airport is a popular spot for changeovers, and for those in Europe heading towards the eastern edges of the globe, it is the perfect halfway point for some much-need leg stretching and fresh air.
Luckily, DXB is a short, 20-minute taxi ride from the downtown area. The journey cost me around 50 AED (about £10 or $13). Have the cab drop you off at the Dubai Mall and start from there.
In the mall, you’ll find the entrance to the Burj Khalifa experience, At The Top, which will zoom up 124 stories in the world’s fastest and longest continuous elevator (you’ll quickly find that they don’t do things subpar in this country). The view once you emerge is a 360 degree, bird’s eye view of the city below.
Walk around the 124th and 125th floor, far above the surrounding skyscrapers and see the city from all angles. There’s also a virtual reality booth to make you feel like you’re abseiling down the side of the building (if you’re into that kind of thing), a visual history of the construction of the world’s tallest building, and cafe/gift shop.
After coming down from Burj Khalifa, it’s time to do some shopping. Dubai Mall is huge and is likely to have any shop you can think of (and plenty you’ve never heard of). Given I now live far from some of my old favourites in the States, I stocked up at the likes of Sephora, Bath & Body Works, and more before browsing a few designer shops, dreaming of my next new handbag.
But even if you aren’t looking to fill your suitcase, the mall is still worth a visit, featuring an ice rink, huge waterfall, and an aquarium.
I decided to check out the latter, which features a tunnel to walk under the huge shark tank, a tropical area featuring a variety of fish tanks, animals such as otters, parrots, penguins, crocodiles, and creatures native to the UAE. It doesn’t take long to get around, but it’s a nice way to spend an hour or two. Outside, several eateries have views of the main tank so you can enjoy your lunch while watching the fish swim about.
Across from the mall, the Souk Al Bahar offers even more shopping, as well as a plethora of restaurants to choose from, many with views out over the fountains and Burj Khalifa.
End your day by joining the crowds in front of the Dubai Fountains, the world’s largest choreographed fountain system.
I went at sunset, when the fountain show was choreographed to a traditional Arabic set, an atmospheric end to my first free day in the city.
Trip #2: The Long Weekender
Coming to Dubai for a mini-break? You’ll be able to fit in some more time in the sun. After you’ve seen the downtown area, head over to Jumeirah Beach for golden sands, warm seas, and plenty of things to do.
If you are looking for sights and sports, head over to the Kite Beach area where you’ll find everything from kite surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, and more.
Still have some free time? Get to know the more authentic and traditional side of the city in Old Town Dubai.
Browse the Souks for spices, perfumes, and jewellery, visit the Dubai museum and learn about the history of the city, and wander the streets of the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, with its traditional Arabesque style buildings. If you want to get between the two parts of the Old Town, Deira and Bur Dubai, take a water taxi (abra), it’s the quickest and cheapest way to get between the two.
Trip #3: The Full Holiday
Get ready to add some adventure into your itinerary; you have plenty of time to experience everything this city has to offer. By the time you’ve done all of the above, you’ll probably want to explore outside of the city, or at least take on something more adventurous. If you are staying at a larger hotel, it is likely they will be able to take care of this for you and should have a lot of options.
Some of the many options for adventure include:
- Camel rides.
- Dune buggy safaris.
- Hot air balloon rides.
- Sand boarding.
Some places offer full or half day excursions to take on a few of the above, often including a bbq to end the day.
I will likely be returning to Dubai before long. Anything you’d recommend I add to this list? Let me know in the comments!