Dubai is a city of superlatives. The world’s tallest building, the world’s tallest hotel, the world’s largest man-made island, the world’s biggest mall, and the world’s only 7-star hotel are all located in Dubai.
With all these record-breaking landmarks and destinations, one might ask: is this all what Dubai can offer? The answer is no.
Despite the influx of modern structures, Dubai has preserved much of its old charm. Travelers who want to try a more “old world” experience can go to museums and heritage sites, shop at the souks, or take a nature trip in the desert.
Here is a recommended list of 10 best things to do in Dubai. This collection of Dubai’s most high-value yet low-cost activities allows us to have the greatest time and the most well-rounded experience in Dubai.
Burj Khalifa currently stands as the tallest building in the world. Inaugurated in 2010, it towers at 828 metres (2,716.5 feet), dominates the Dubai skyline. It was originally named Burj Dubai before its completion but was later renamed to honor UAE President, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
This architectural wonder has broken so many world records including tallest building, tallest free-standing structure, tallest elevator installation, and building with most floors.
The Burj Khalifa has 163 floors and houses corporate offices, residential suites, the Armani Hotel, the Armani residences, and observation decks.
There is no better way to get to know the city and enjoy a panoramic view of Dubai than from the world’s highest observation deck, namely At The Top Burj Khalifa Sky.
From the reception area, move along the travelator while watching the multi-media display about Dubai’s history and the building’s construction. From there, step into the world’s fastest elevator and travel 10 metres per second to the observation decks.
Start your experience at Level 124 and marvel at the unobstructed 360-degree view of Dubai, the Arabian Gulf, and the surrounding desert.
Take the spiral flight to Level 125 and check out the Falcon’s Eye View of Dubai.
Finally, move further up to Burj Khalifa’s crowning glory, the observation deck at Level 148 that sits at 555 metres above the ground. Viewing the city from this height is like looking at a live miniature model of Dubai!
Dine from the top
Complete your experience and dine at the world’s highest restaurant, At.Mosphere, located at Level 122 of the Burj Khalifa.
The Dubai Creek is considered as the vein that feeds the heart of Dubai. This saltwater creek has been a focal point of Dubai’s economic activity for centuries. It is believed to be the original area of tribe settlement in Dubai, and a vital take-off point for pearl diving and fishing activities of the early settlers.
Today, the Dubai Creek serves as a major waterway that divides Bur Dubai and Deira. It gives local residents and visitors a convenient route between the souks of Dubai and other major stops.
Nothing can beat the value of a one-dirham abra ride across the Dubai Creek. It is definitely the cheapest way to experience the sights and sounds of Dubai while aboard a traditional wooden watercraft.
We can take in a different view of Dubai with this trip, an exciting sight of where yesterday meets today, and East meets West.
A customized abra ride is also available for those want a longer journey along the creek. It is best to ride at sunset for a more breathtaking experience.
Best places to visit along the creek
Dubai’s souks or traditional marketplaces are located along this waterway. Shop for the cheapest gold at the Dubai Gold Souk, then take an abra and continue your shopping spree at the Spice and Textile Souks on the other side of the creek.
A place for the entire family to have fun together is the Creekside Park. This relaxing green space is complete with children’s play areas, a swimming pool, an amphitheater, and a cable car. Enjoying an encounter with dolphins at its Dubai Dolphinarium is one of the hottest activities there.
The Burj Al Arab is perhaps the most distinct structure and most recognizable icon of Dubai. This sail-shaped hotel building rises 321 metres (1,053 feet) above the ground on its own man-made island off the shore of Jumeirah Beach.
The Burj Al Arab is dubbed as the world’s only 7-star hotel. It is constantly awarded as the world’s most luxurious hotel and it perfectly captures Dubai’s penchant for luxury and opulence.
Needless to say, entry to the hotel is difficult without a reservation at one of the hotel’s luxurious suites or expensive restaurants.
It is often said that the best feature of Burj Al Arab is its exterior. That is why most visitors of Dubai would rather marvel at this iconic structure from afar and save precious cash for shopping or enjoying other activities at Dubai’s other destinations.
A photo with one of the world’s most photographed icons is a must for visitors and residents alike.
Best vantage points
If you want to have a photo op with the Burj Al Arab for free, bring the whole family for a picnic at the public area at Jumeirah Beach.
You can also view the Burj Al Arab while enjoying a drink or two at one of the bars or cafes at the nearby Madinat Jumeirah.
For a more unforgettable experience, go out on a romantic dinner date with your special someone at Pierchic restaurant and enjoy the best evening view of Burj Al Arab while savoring the best seafood dishes in Dubai.
Ski Dubai inside the Mall of the Emirates is the city’s first and only indoor snow and ski park. It is built on a 22,500-square metre area and is filled with snow all year round.
The ski resort features an 85-metre high snow mountain with 5 ski runs of varying difficulty for snowboarding. An adjoining snow park area is also available for tobogganing.
It is only in Dubai where one can enjoy desert and snow on the same day. The ski resort is also a welcome break from a day of shopping at the Mall of the Emirates.
Ski Dubai offers a wide variety of activities for visitors of all ages. Beginners can take ski lessons and try out the Bunny Run. If skiing is not your cup of tea, you can check out the ice caves at the park, roll down the icy slopes at the Giant Ball run, or simply enjoy the view of the entire ski resort from the chairlift. Children can also spend time at the play area, throwing snowballs or making snow angels.
At Ski Dubai, animal lovers also get a chance to see real penguins up close. That would surely give you an interesting story to tell about your travel to this desert city!
Snow gears are available for rent at the Ski Dubai. However, the temperature can get too cold for some so it is advisable to bring extra accessories like gloves and hats.
The Dubai Fountain is the world’s largest musical fountain. It sits at the center of the Burj Khalifa lake and shoots water up to 140 meters high with accompanying classical and contemporary music.
The Dubai Fountain is also a technological wonder that uses 6,600 WET Superlights and 25 color projectors with a total output of 1.5 million lumens.
One can say that a visit to Dubai is not complete without visiting the delightful Dubai Fountain. Late afternoons can be spent strolling around the lake as the captivating water, light, and music spectacle can be viewed from any point on the lake promenade. This is also a wonderful opportunity to enjoy Arab culture through its music.
Since it is located near the Dubai Mall, one can shop around and wind down at the Dubai Fountain in a single trip to the area.
Best of all, the performance is free! So, there is no need to shell out extra cash to enjoy this wonderful treat.
Most notable performances
The show opens with “Sama Dubai”, a tribute to Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed. Another interesting performance is the UAE National Anthem. For the young at heart who wish to have a more Western experience, Demi Lovato’s “Let It Go”, from the Disney blockbuster movie, “Frozen”, is also included in the repertoire.
The Dubai Gold Souk, located at the Deira side of the Dubai Creek, is the ultimate shopping destination for gold hunters. One can find gold bars and gold jewelry, as well as platinum, silver, diamonds, and other precious stones at this souk. The shops are under strict government control to ensure that all purchases are genuine.
The Dubai Gold Souk has over 300 retailers that offer 10 tons of gold at any given time.
The Dubai Gold Souk is where you can buy the cheapest gold in Dubai.
Even if you’re not out to buy gold, a stroll around the market is a must if only to marvel at the intricacy of some of the gold pieces on display.
A trip to the Gold Souk is also the perfect way to enjoy an authentic Arab market experience. Take in the hustle and bustle of a traditional marketplace with all the dazzling display of gold and precious stones amid a cacophony of music and vendor calls.
The art of haggling
Always haggle to get the best price for your gold. As a useful tip, start bargaining at 50% off and haggle your way around until you get a good price that you are willing to pay for. Some vendors are willing to give as much as a 30% discount! The more you buy, the higher chance you have of getting a good price cut.
The Dubai Desert Safari is one of Dubai’s most popular must-do activities. A number of operators offer daily tours for a fun-filled adventure in the desert.
A typical full day schedule normally starts out from your pick up point from where you head out to the desert aboard a 4×4 vehicle. You can choose to visit a camel farm for a chance to ride one of the gentle desert animals. From there, you can move on to a more adventurous ride along the desert dunes. Dune bashing, quad biking and sandboarding are among the favorite activities of thrill-seekers. Spend the night at a Bedouin camp complete with a campfire feast, belly dancing, shisha pipes and henna tattoos.
A desert safari is the best way to immerse in Arabian culture. It is also a good escape for city dwellers who want to take a break from the Dubai city life.
This nature trip gives you an opportunity to be awed by the vast expanse of the desert and admire the ever shifting desertscape of Dubai.
Some desert safari operators also offer balloon rides. Hop on a hot air balloon with a loved one and enjoy a romantic sunset ride across the desert!
The Walk is a popular 1.7-kilometre beachfront promenade lined with shops and restaurants. It is located at the Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR), a waterfront residential community, near the Dubai Marina along the shore of the Arabian Gulf.
The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence officially opened in August 2008 and became an instant hit among locals and visitors alike. At present, there are 330 establishments along The Walk, composed of cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and gyms, among others.
This bustling promenade is also filled with activities to suit varied interests. Art events and street performances regularly provide entertainment for visitors.
The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence, or The JBR Walk, as the locals call it, is the perfect venue to enjoy shopping, dining and people watching all in one place along the beach and away from the air-conditioned malls of Dubai.
It is the ideal spot to observe Dubai’s diverse mix of cultures through the sheer number of Western, East Asian and Arab visitors who come to The Walk daily. After an exhausting shopping exploration at The Walk, you can sit outdoors at one of the cafes and sip coffee while observing the parade of passers-by in Western clothing alongside Arabs in traditional attire.
Car lovers can ogle at the flashy supercars or luxurious limousines that constantly roll along the strip. On a lucky day, you might spot a gold-plated Porsche or a limited edition Ferrari.
The Beach at JBR is the latest addition to this complex. Check out the open air cinema or simply enjoy a stroll at this sandy strip at Jumeirah Beach Residence.
Jumeirah Beach is a stretch of sand along the coast of the Arabian Gulf at Dubai’s Jumeirah District. It spreads from the Jumeirah Mosque in the northeast down to the Palm Jumeirah in the Southwest.
While some portions of the beachfront are enclosed for private use, there are public areas where crowds gather on a daily basis.
The whole Jumeirah beachfront is dotted with luxury hotels, restaurants, residential complexes, parks, and shopping malls.
Jumeirah Beach is the best place to spend a day at the beach for free and enjoy a wonderful view of Burj Al Arab, Dubai’s most iconic structure.
Aside from swimming, visitors can enjoy various water activities or simply delight in a family picnic at the beach.
From the Jumeirah Beach, you can swing to any of the nearby destinations such as the Jumeirah Beach Residence or the Jumeirah Beach Park.
Most important landmarks
While at Jumeirah Beach, you cannot miss the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab. Don’t miss a photo op with the world’s only 7-star hotel!
On the southwestern tip of Jumeirah Beach, you can find the Palm Jumeirah, a man-made palm-shaped island that is home to residential villas, hotels, and resorts, including the iconic Atlantis. The Palm Jumeirah is currently considered as the largest artificial island in the world.
The Jumeirah Beach Park is a mix of sand and green space that offers affordable amenities for the beach-bound crowd. After frolicking at the beach, you can also enjoy a game of volleyball at the court or dip in non-salty water at the swimming pool.
The Dubai Museum is located at Al Fahidi Fort, a former defense structure that is now Dubai’s oldest facility.
The Dubai Museum chronicles Dubai’s history from being an ancient trading port to a hub of modern commerce. It is divided into several galleries that contains life-size dioramas and interactive displays that showcase the rich history and culture of Dubai.
The museum also houses recreations of Dubai life such as Bedouin tent, souk and mosque.
Every trip to a new city requires a deeper understanding of its history and culture. In Dubai, this can easily be learned through a quick visit to the Dubai Museum.
Understanding the city’s culture and history allows you to have a better appreciation of Dubai.
More historical and heritage sites
To complete your historical tour of Dubai, explore the whole Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood, also known as Al Bastakiya, and walk along the narrow walkways to marvel at the old housing units of Dubai. From there, head towards the nearby Heritage and Diving Villages for a glimpse of Dubai’s culture of fishing and pearl-diving.