Dubai is one of those destinations on everyone’s bucket lists. It’s known as the destination of “the biggest”s and “the largest”s, of glittery luxury experiences, and of extreme adrenaline activities. Add in the year round warmth, daily sunshine, and blue waters, and you’ve got yourself a real winner. There are honestly so many things to do in Dubai, so let’s get straight to it.
The most famous of Dubai’s attractions are neatly packed in downtown Dubai. They’re all within the same complex, so you should not have any trouble getting from place to place.
It’s the tallest building in the world, and it’s absolutely not to be missed when visiting Dubai. Luckily for you, it’s pretty hard to miss this gigantic icon. The most popular spot to view the Burj Khalifa’s full exterior is from the Souk al Bahar Bridge over Burj Khalifa Lake. But the best way to experience the Burj Khalifa is definitely to go all the way to the top!
If you want to be able to say you’ve been to the top of the tallest building on earth, then you should purchase At the Top, Burj Khalifa SKY. This grants you access to floors 124, 125, and 148 – the top floor. Official tickets for At the Top, Burj Khalifa SKY start at 359 AED ($98) for adults. If that’s a bit too much for you, you can purchase At the Top, Burj Khalifa. This grants you access to floors 124 and 125, but not 148. Official tickets for At the Top, Burj Khalifa start at 149 AED ($41) for adults. As you can see, it’s quite a bit of savings for a very similar view!
I bought my own tickets from the ticket office in person. There, they had more time options than are available at the online links I’ve provided above. So I selected a sunrise time slot! It came with a free pastry and juice or soft drink from the cafe afterwards.
Right in front of the Burj Khalifa is the Dubai Fountain, which is the world’s tallest performing fountain. The Dubai Fountain performances last around 5 minutes, and they are scheduled every 30 minutes daily, between 6:00pm and 11:00pm. The free show is quite the crowd pleaser, so arrive ahead of time if you want to stake out an unobstructed view! There are many angles from which to watch, so make your way to the Souk al Bahar Bridge, and decide from there.
Abra Ride on Burj Khalifa Lake
If watching the Dubai Fountain show crowded amongst the masses just does not cut it for you, then book an abra ride on the lake instead! An abra is a traditional wooden boat, used kind of like a water taxi. Its name comes from the Arabic verb “abara,” which means “to cross.”
The abras leave every thirty minutes from 5:45pm – 11:00pm, just in time for each show. You can book the Burj Khalifa Lake ride tickets for 68 AED ($19) online at the official site.
Dubai Fountain Boardwalk
If you’re looking for something in between viewing the Dubai Fountain show for free and viewing it from the abra ride, then the Dubai Fountain Boardwalk is the perfect option for you. The boardwalk is a floating platform located within the Dubai Fountain, allowing you to get within 9 meters (30 feet) of the fountains during the show! You can book the boardwalk tickets for 20 AED ($5.50) online at the official site.
No trip to Dubai is complete without a stop by the Dubai Mall, the world’s largest mall by total land area. It’s located right by the Burj Khalifa, so you’ll surely walk through it during your time in downtown Dubai.
There is so much to do and see in the Dubai Mall – besides shopping ‘til you drop, of course. You can choose from the many dining options, ranging from fine dining cuisines, to fun sweet shops, to fast food, to popular international namesakes like Nando’s, The Cheesecake Factory, and Magnolia’s Bakery. There’s also an ice skating rink, a movie theater, the first haunted house in the Middle East, and a full fledged aquarium (more on that down below).
Even if you have no intent of shopping, eating, or playing in Dubai Mall, I still recommend strolling around for some time, just to take in the beautifully decorated grandeur of it all. The Dubai Mall opening hours are 10:00am to midnight on Sundays through Wednesdays, and until 1:00am on Thursdays through Saturdays.
Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo
The Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo is located on the second floor of the Dubai Mall. Even if you don’t have time or interest to go inside, be sure to get a look from outside at the 10 million liter (over 26 million gallon) shark and ray tank. If you do want the full experience – like walking underneath the famous aquarium tunnel – you’ll need to head inside.
The most basic entry starts at 149 AED ($41) and includes a glass-bottom boat ride over the shark and ray tank. But you can select larger entry packages and even individually tack on extra experiences, like cage snorkeling, or even shark diving. Check out the entry packages and basic add-on experiences here, and check out the more extreme add-on experiences here. You can buy tickets in advance online at the official links I provided, or in person (where there might be a line).
Dubai Old Town
Dubai is famous for the attractions in its downtown. But it’d be a shame to leave without seeing the other side of Dubai; the old town. I recommend taking a quick cab from downtown to the first item on this list. From there, you can walk around and ride a water taxi to the other items on this side of town.
Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood
We think of Dubai as glitz and glamour, but just a few decades ago, it was far from what it is today. And you can get a peek into that former Dubai by leaving downtown and strolling around Dubai’s Old Town, aka Al Bastakiya.
In this area, located along the Dubai Creek, you’ll find the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood. Spend some time walking through the alleyways here, where the original buildings with traditional wind towers have been restored and preserved. This is also a cute area to grab a meal in a more traditionally decorated setting, as opposed to Dubai’s very cosmopolitan downtown.
Dubai Museum & Al-Fahidi Fort
In the old town, you’ll find the Al-Fahidi Fort, also known as Dubai Fort. It was built back in the 1700s and originally used as a defense fort. Today, it is open to the public as a museum showcasing Dubai’s heritage and history. Entry into Dubai Museum is a mere 3 AED ($0.82) for adults, so there’s little reason not to enter! Double-check opening hours at the official site.
Dubai Creek divides Dubai into two parts; Bur Dubai and Deira. Back in the day, this area was the most successful pearl diving port in the Persian Gulf. Today, you can use your imagination to picture how it once was while watching modern abras transport locals and tourists back and forth.
An abra ride only sets you back 1 AED (less than $0.30) each way. So I highly recommend it as a means to cross from Al Fahidi to the following attraction – Dubai’s souks.
The abra crossings depart every few minutes and run two routes. The first is between Deira Old Souk Abra Station and Bur Dubai Abra Station. The second is between Al Sabkha Abra Station and Dubai Old Souk Abra Station. Click on the links I provided to get the Google Maps locations for each station if you want to plan ahead.
While shopping in Dubai is perhaps most synonymous with a trip to Dubai Mall, you absolutely shouldn’t miss shopping (or window shopping) in Dubai’s souks. A souk is a traditional market, and a walk through the Deira souks is sure to have you feeling set back in time.
There are several souks to explore, but the most famous are the Gold Souk and the Spice Souk, as well as the Perfume Souk and Textile Souk. Click on the links I provided to get the Google Maps locations for each souk.
Like with souks anywhere in the world, you have to haggle (barter) to settle on a price. Start with a price much, much below what you are willing to pay, and the seller will start with one much, much higher. Then, go back and forth until you meet somewhere in the middle!
Dubai Heritage & Diving Village
This reconstruction of the fishing villages and Bedouin communities that used to occupy Dubai is located on the strip of land connecting Bur Dubai and Deira. It’s another peek into the past, and its location made it a lot less crowded than the other things to see in Old Town Dubai.
Other Things to See in Dubai
There’s downtown Dubai, Old Town Dubai, and…well…the rest of Dubai! The remaining things to do in Dubai are rather spread out from each other and from the downtown. So your easiest bet is to use a cab or rideshare to get to and from these spots.
No trip to Dubai is complete without a stop by the city’s most famous hotel, the Burj al-Arab. As it (and the rest of the Dubai attractions in this guide) are a little spread out, I opted to join a jet ski tour that went by this uniquely-shaped icon, as well as the next two attractions.
This beach is famous for its unobstructed view of the Burj al-Arab hotel. Entry to the Jumeirah Public Beach is free to the public.
The Palm Jumeirah is the famous, man-made archipelago you’ve probably seen people skydiving over when in Dubai. It’s shaped like a palm tree and filled with residential homes and luxurious hotels, such as Atlantis, the Palm and FIVE Palm Jumeirah.
It’s not quite the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, but it is the mosque to visit in Dubai. For over two decades, this mosque has had a program of “Open Doors. Open Minds.” They encourage visitors to interact with and ask questions of their guide and even provide Arabic coffee and Fuala – light Emirati snacks.
The program runs daily at 10:00am, except Fridays, and registration begins 30 minutes beforehand. Modest clothing is not strictly required but preferred, however ladies are required to bring their own head scarves.
Dubai Miracle Garden
The Dubai Miracle Garden is aptly named, boasting over 150 million colorful flowers arranged in everything from a full-sized commercial plane, to full size villages, to the Instagram-famous hearts arch. My only regret while visiting this wonderland? Not applying bug spray! You’ve been warned!
The garden is open from mid November to mid May and tickets are 55 AED ($15) for adults.
Sheikh Zayed Road
Sheikh Zayed Road is the main highway running through Dubai. And if you’re like me and driving into Dubai after first visiting Abu Dhabi, it will also be how you enter Dubai. With huge skyscrapers on either side of the highway, it’s a pretty impressive way to enter the world-famous city.
Mall of the Emirates
As if the Dubai Mall wasn’t enough, Dubai also has the Mall of the Emirates. It does not boast the title of largest mall in the world, but its famous indoor ski resort is a pretty worthy attraction.
The Mall of the Emirates opening hours are 9:00am to midnight on weekdays, and until 1:00am on weekends.
I did not make it here during my trip to Dubai, but photo-loving me definitely will stop by on my next visit. This recently-added structure “frames” an iconic view of Old and New Dubai in one view. Opening hours are 9:00am – 7:00pm daily, and adult tickets are 50 AED ($14).
Dubai Day Trips
Some of the most famous things to see in the United Arab Emirates are not in Dubai. But luckily, the remaining top attractions in the UAE are doable as a day trip from Dubai.
Day Trip from Dubai to Abu Dhabi
Second to the Burj Khalifa, I think the most famous building in the UAE is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi is actually the country’s capital city and can definitely occupy you for more than a day trip from Dubai. But if 24 hours is all you’ve got, here are the top things to do in Abu Dhabi with one day.
Desert Safari from Dubai
Whether you prefer interacting with camels, racing 4×4 cars across sand dunes, stargazing overnight from a cozy desert camp, or experiencing traditional dinner and performance, there are several options to mix and match when selecting your desert safari package.
What Do You Think of Dubai?
Needless to say…that was a lot! So as you can see, there are so many things to do in Dubai. Some visitors find the city overrated, but I think if you come with the right mindset of exploring the city of “biggest” and “largest,” plus make an effort to learn about Emirati culture and history, you’ll have a grand time. Let me know what you think in the comments below after you visit Dubai!