travel UAE

Dubai – An Itinerary for Any Length Trip

April 3, 2018

Dubai, someone told me during my recent visit, is like its own brand, with the aim of becoming the Chanel or Dior of cities. It’s 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.

View of Dubai and skyscrapers from hotel in Al Habtoor

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 everything.

Downtown Dubai

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.

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.

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Dubai Itinerary #1: A Stopover at Dubai Airport

Dubai’s airport is a popular spot for changeovers. 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. After you’ve landed, grab a cab from the airport. 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.

Burj Khalifa

World's tallest building - Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE
View from At the Top Burj Khalifa, Dubai

In the mall, you’ll find the entrance to the Burj Khalifa experience, At The Top. Start early and book tickets ahead. Then 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.

View from At the Top Burj Khalifa, Dubai

Walk around the 124th and 125th floor, far above the surrounding skyscrapers and see the city from all angles. After you’ve had your fill of the views, you can a virtual reality booth to make you feel like you’re abseiling down the side of the building, a visual history of the construction of the world’s tallest building, and cafe/gift shop.

Girl looks out window at top of Burj Khalifa at Dubai

Dubai Mall

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.

Dubai Mall
waterfall in Dubai Mall

Even if you aren’t looking to fill your suitcase, the mall is still worth a visit. Inside you’ll find an ice rink, huge waterfall, and an aquarium.

Ice rink in Dubai Mall
Dubai Aquarium in Dubai Mall

In the afternoon, I decided to check out the aquarium. It 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.

Penguins in Dubai Aquarium
Pink, blue and yellow fish in Dubai Aquarium

Souk Al Bahar

Souk Al Bahar Dubai - places to eat and shop in Dubai

After the mall, there’s even more shopping to do. Across from the mall, the Souk Al Bahar offers high end shopping, as well as a plethora of restaurants to choose from, many with views out over the fountains and Burj Khalifa.

Souk Al Bahar Dubai - places to eat and shop in Dubai
Souk Al Bahar Dubai - places to eat and shop in Dubai

End your day by joining the crowds in front of the Dubai Fountains, the world’s largest choreographed fountain system.

Downtown Dubai

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.

Fountain show in Downtown Dubai
Fountain show in Downtown Dubai

Dubai Itinerary #2: The Long Weekend

Enjoy Dubai’s beaches

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.

beach in Dubai

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.

Kite beach in Dubai

Explore the Old Town

Still have some free time? Then get to know the more authentic and traditional side of the city in Old Town Dubai.

water taxi (abra) to Old Town Dubai

First, browse the Souks for spices, perfumes, and jewellery. Next, visit the Dubai museum and learn about the history of the city. Then 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.

Colourful lanterns in a Souk in Old Town Dubai
Old wooden boats in Old Town Dubai
Spices in a Souk in Old Town Dubai

Dubai Itinerary #3: The Full Dubai Holiday

Take a day trip

Get ready to add some adventure into your Dubai 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. Perhaps even 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.

Desert Village near Dubai

Some of the many options for a day trip adventures include:

  • Camel rides.
  • Dune buggy safaris.
  • Hot air balloon rides.
  • Sand boarding.
Camel in desert near Dubai

Some places offer full or half day excursions to take on a few of the above, often including a bbq to end the day.

You can find some options for tours and day trips below.

I will likely be returning to Dubai before long. Anything you’d recommend I add to my Dubai itinerary? Let me know in the comments!

Downtown Dubai at sunset

Tips for visiting Dubai

Looking for some advice for visiting Dubai for the first time? Check out my Dubai travel advice.

The perfect itinerary for any length trip in Dubai
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