Dubai is known for its luxury shopping, but it also has plenty of culture, nature and history. Here’s my guide to the best things to do in Dubai.
Dubai has it all – serene desert landscapes, world-class shopping and old Arabian markets.
Here are the best things to do in Dubai:
1. Souk Madinat
Souk Madinat is a luxury Arabian-style bazaar at the Madinat Jumeirah resort. It offers more than 75 shops, galleries and restaurants.
This Middle Eastern souk trades in luxury goods like silks, fashion, homeware and jewellery. You can buy beaded handbags and shoes, gorgeous silk scarves and designer clothing, enticing oud perfumes, spices and camel milk soap packaged in brilliant gold wrapping.
Souk Madinat boasts traditional architecture with all the comforts of a modern-day shopping mall. There are restaurants with glowing lanterns and ice cream shops. And there’s a lovely outdoor terrace with a view.
It’s also a great place to shop for unique souvenirs – and a perfect spot to spend a stop-over in Dubai.
But it’s aimed at high-end shoppers. And although haggling with store owners is expected, it isn’t the best place for real bargains. If you’re on a budget, you’ll likely find yourself just window shopping. But this souk is still fun to visit for the ambiance.
When you’re tired of shopping, stop at one of the restaurants for lunch. And don’t miss The Theatre of Digital Art, which tells the story of famous artworks and hosts live performances like weekly jazz nights.
Wander through the beautiful Madinat resort along the winding waterways and canals. Take a ride on a traditional abra boat or relax in style in a deckchair on the white sands of Jumeirah Beach.
– contributed by Linda of Muy Linda Travels
2. Dubai Miracle Garden
Dubai loves going big. And a fun fact about Dubai is that it’s home to the world’s largest flower garden. The Dubai Miracle Garden covers 72,000 square meters (780,000 sq ft) and features more than 50 million flowers and 250 million plants.
It’s quite a spectacular sight. There’s a riot of color and flower displays. The designers concocted an incredibly creative floral universe that just can’t compare to your average botanical garden.
Just picture entire homes made of flowers, giant animals made of plants, a castle and of course an Emirates airplane.
Photographers will really enjoy this place because there’s a picture-perfect scene around every corner.
The park also features cartoon characters like the Smurfs and it’s a great place to visit with children.
You can have an easy stroll through the gardens in about an hour, or spend a few hours taking it in. There are plenty of food stands and souvenir shops too.
But if you’re visiting in summer, check if the Miracle Garden is open! It shuts down during the hottest summer months so plan ahead.
– contributed by Sanne of Spend Life Traveling
3. Alserkal Avenue
Alserkal Avenue is a compound full of warehouses re-made into hip shops, galleries and cafes.
It’s a mix of industrial, business and creative spaces, housing some 60 cultural venues. During Ramadan it hosts month-long exhibits, events and workshops.
Stop for lunch at the chic Wild & the Moon, a food and juice bar that launched as a superfood cantina in Paris before expanding to Dubai. The decor is minimalist with high ceilings, exposed pipes and hanging potted plants.
Have the creamy latte and a magic budwig bowl that’s a mouthwatering mix of ground almonds, spirulina and banana. It’s a perfect light yet nourishing power lunch for a hot Dubai afternoon.
eL Seed’s studio is nestled in a warehouse nearby. eL Seed is a French-Tunisian artist whose bright, colorful murals play with classical Arabic calligraphy in a decidedly modern way.
Nearby, The Junction is a 158-seat theater that puts on plays like A Streetcar Named Desire and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. An old-fashioned popcorn machine stands at the entrance and the walls are lined with theater posters.
Also check out The Jam Jar, a community arts space aims to boost art appreciation in the UAE, and regularly hosts workshops, youth programs and events.
Alserkal creates a buzz with the city’s art lovers, but it still feels like a hidden gem tucked between rows of warehouses.
4. Al Bastakiya
Al Bastakiya is a historic district that once housed Persian merchants doing trade in Dubai, and is now home to art studios and galleries.
This old part of the city, also known as Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, dates back to the 1890s. Although half the original homes were demolished to make way for offices, the remainder was preserved thanks to the lobbying of a British architect.
Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood has now become a booming art and cultural district with cafes, museums, tourist shops and boutique hotels.
Unlike most of Dubai, Al Fahidi is walkable and pedestrian. With long promenades along the water and its connection to the gold and textile souks, it’s a great spot to take a break from the skyscrapers.
Most of the buildings in Al Fahidi recall an era before the creation of the emirates. There are wind towers and wooden beams structured around interior courtyards with shaded patios and quiet cafes.
Have some mint tea and relax at XVA Cafe and Gallery, one of the first artsy spots in this neighbourhood, for a break between museums.
Don’t miss the Dubai Museum, one of the oldest buildings in Dubai dating back to 1787. It’s a great place to learn about the history of this Emirate from its humble pearl trade origins to today’s business hub. Check out the impressive aerial photos of Dubai that show the city’s development over the past four decades.
Visit the Sheikh Mohammed Center of Cultural Understanding next door, which hosts cultural exchanges, lunches and tours of the area.
And stop at the Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House, where the grandfather of today’s Ruler of Dubai grew up. The house is filled with family portraits and beautiful regional architecture.
The Dubai Marina is perfect to stroll along the beautiful palm-dotted promenades, hit the beach, take a sunset cruise or shop at the Dubai Marina Mall. It’s an impressive spot that’s definitely worth adding to your Dubai itinerary.
It’s also a great spot to admire the towering skyscrapers, known as the “tallest block.” Most of the buildings here measure more than 300 m, making it the tallest block of skyscrapers in the world.
The Dubai Marina is also home to the world’s longest urban zip line. It also boasts the Princess Tower, the world’s tallest residential building. The modern, glimmering glass architecture here is stunning.
The Dubai Marina was inspired by the Concord Pacific Place in Vancouver, Canada. The project began in 1999 and aimed to build a city within a city. Today, development is still ongoing. And once it’s finished, it will accommodate more than 120,000 residents in both villas and residential towers.
Like many places in the city, the Dubai Marina is famous for its luxury. You’ll find plenty of yachts and some of the city’s most luxurious apartments and hotels. If you’re a lover of fine-dining, the marina is packed with incredible restaurants and superb views.
The Dubai Marina is a great place to relax and enjoy one of the city’s most beautiful cityscapes.
Located about 20 km from the famous Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Marina is easily reached by taxi or metro.
– contributed by Laura of Laure Wanders
6. Hot Air Ballooning
Surrounded by rolling dunes of fine sand, it’s no surprise that the desert is Dubai’s playground. From dune bashing to quad biking, there are plenty of activities to keep you entertained in the desert.
It’s not a great option if you love sleeping in. A sunrise hot air balloon requires – unsurprisingly – a very early start. Pick-up is at 4am from your hotel, and it’s a good two-hour drive to the launch site.
But trust me, it’s all worth it when you’re gliding over the desert in all its glory.
Drift over the dunes in a blanket of silence – only punctuated by the sharp blast of the burner firing – is an otherwordly experience. The fast-changing dawn light picks out a thousand golden hues as it illuminates the dunes.
The skyscrapers and cityscape light up in the distance as the sun slowly rises. It’s an incredible sight.
If you’re lucky, you might also spot some wildlife. Camels, goats and even snakes make their way across the sand, while hawks circle overhead in search of prey. Herds of oryx and gazelle also frequent the area to roam in search of food.
Once the balloon comes to a gentle stop, it’s time to enjoy a traditional Bedouin breakfast and watch the sun slowly making its ascent. There’s nothing like hot coffee and dates as you witness the last delights of a desert sunrise.
– contributed by Julianna of The Discoveries Of
7. Desert safari
The desert makes a wonderfully tranquil escape from Dubai’s glitter and glamour.
A desert safari lets you to experience the magic of the vast sandscape – and teaches you a thing or two about Bedouin culture. It’s a great opportunity to discover the Emirate’s rich heritage.
Morning safaris are more activity-focused and perfect for those who don’t want to spend all day in the desert. Options include dune-bashing, ATV tours, sandboarding, falconry demonstrations, camel rides and sunset photography sessions.
Evening desert tours are the most popular because of their mesmerizing Arabian Nights atmosphere. They include a choice of activities, a desert sunset experience, dinner in a torch-lit desert camp, evening entertainment and transportation to and from your hotel.
Dinner is usually a barbecue with grilled veggies and rice. For dessert there’s fresh fruits, dates and sweet dumplings. There’s plenty of lively entertainment too including traditional dances, drumming and henna tattooing.
The drive to and from the desert usually takes about an hour, depending on your tour provider. But note that evening entertainment may not be available during Ramadan.
– contributed by Sarah of CosmopoliClan
8. Burj Khalifa
The Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building with stunning views of the city – especially at sunset. It’s one of the top attractions in Dubai with lightning-fast elevators and dizzying observation decks.
Rising above the clouds at the height of 829.8 meters, this architectural masterpiece opened in 2010 after some 5 years of construction.
The tower features 160 floors and two observation decks on level 124 and 125. These offer incredible 360-views of Dubai, the Persian Gulf and the surrounding desert. Level 125 is dedicated to arts and culture with an interior inspired by mashrabiya, or traditional lattice windows.
At the Top on Level 148 is a lounge where you can experience the Dubai views from the comforts of an outdoor terrace and premium lounge. Tickets are available for Levels 124/125, or for all three levels – pre-book your tickets online to access all the options and avoid the waiting lines.
To experience the sunset from atop the Burj Khalifa, book your experience 90 minutes before closing time.
Or treat yourself to some fine dining on level 122 at At.mosphere, the world’s tallest restaurant. The restaurant offers high tea, light lunches and a haute dinner menu of European cuisine.
– contributed by Elena of Passion for Dubai
9. Dubai Mall
Dubai Mall is the world’s biggest shopping mall with a myriad of exciting things to do, from dancing fountains and aquariums to traditional markets.
It’s so huge that you can easily spend a few days exploring it. And it’s an absolute must on your Dubai itinerary.
Catch the musical Dubai Fountain Show, the world’ largest choreographed fountain, to start your visit. Experience the illuminated water show in the evening from an abra, or traditional boat, floating on the waters of Burj Lake.
You can also visit Burj Khalifa from Dubai Mall – there’s an entrance to the stunning skyscraper right inside the mall.
And don’t miss the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, which is home to more than 33,000 beautiful marine creatures including the 700-kilogram King Cros. You can even have the adventure of your life and go cage snorkeling and swimming with sharks.
Stop for a snack at Candylicious, the region’s largest candy shop.
Or explore Souk Al-Bahar, a traditional market at Dubai Mall that features Arabian style architecture. You can also get your photo taken here in traditional Emirati attire.
When it’s too hot in the city, teleport yourself to a winter wonderland and ski or snowboard at Ski Dubai.
After all these adventures, settle down for an amazing meal – there are restaurants at Dubai Mall to fit every budget. The cafés and food courts offer a wide variety of cuisines. No other shopping mall has this much incredibly tasty food and impeccable customer service.
And, of course, shop until you drop at the 1,200 shops carrying brands from fast fashion to high-end.
If you want to stay longer, there are some fantastic luxurious hotels right inside Dubai Mall. The best one is Palace Downtown, which looks like a royal palace and has stunning views of the Dubai Fountain and Burj Khalifa.
– contributed by Diana from The Globetrotting Detective
But few people know there are actually two Olympic-sized ice rinks in the city.
The easiest and flashiest is the Dubai Ice Rink at Dubai Mall. Prices start from AED 93.50 per person for 90 minutes of skating, including the skates. Book your time slot online to avoid waiting lines. You can also rent extra equipment like a gliding aid or helmet on the spot.
Or you can just watch from the balcony as the local talent practice their skills.
Another option is the Al Nasr Ice Rink at Al Nasr Leisureland in the Oud Metha district.
This rink is more down to earth and doesn’t have the bling that Dubai is known for. You can also watch local and foreign talent practice their figure skating skills here. Though you might forget you’re in the Gulf with the echoing shouts of all the Russian coaches.
Prices are lower here at AED 50 per person for two hours – and as low as AED 30 with Groupon. Prices include skates but not gliding aids.
There are more rinks across UAE like the Hyatt Regency and Sport Society. But Al Nasr and Dubai Ice Rink are Dubai’s main venues – and great spots to escape Dubai’s summer heat.
– contributed by Iris from Mind of a Hitchhiker
11. Jumeirah Mosque
Jumeirah Mosque is one of the most beautiful mosques in Dubai – and the only one in Dubai that’s open to non-Muslim visitors.
Opened in 1976, Jumeirah Mosque is built in the style of the Fatimids, the 8th-century conquerors of North Africa.
A guided tour of Jumeirah Mosque is a must-do for an insight into Emirati culture and traditions. The tour is offered by the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Cultural Understanding as part of their “Open Doors. Open Minds” program. It’s held daily at 10 AM and 2 PM except Fridays, and lasts 75 minutes. You don’t have to sign up in advance – just arrive at the mosque a half hour before the tour starts to register. The fee of 35 AED includes Arabic tea and coffee.
Wear long sleeves and cover your legs if you’re a woman. Women will also need to bring their own headscarves before entering.
There’s a wonderful American guide who does the tour, who’s also a convert to Islam and married to an Emirati. She has great insight into the mosque, the pilgrimage to Mecca and women’s rights in Islam. Though each guide will add their own touch and personal stories to the tour.
Jumeirah Mosque is alongside Jumeirah Beach, where you can also enjoy a stunning view of Burj Al Arab, the world’s only 7-star hotel.
– contributed by Vanessa of The Travelling Colognian