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Top Things to Do and See in Dubai

Top Things to Do and See in Dubai

DUBAI, MIDDLE EAST

The biggest and most developed of the seven United Arab Emirates, Dubai has a well-deserved reputation as an oasis for cosmopolitan luxury travelers with money to burn. But the city’s most distinctive feature is its pursuit of all things over-the-top, from “seven star” luxury hotels and shopping malls with ski resorts to man-made islands built in the shape of palm trees and continents. Dubai has it all! Here’s some insider tips on the some of the things we did on our recent trip to the Middle East that you don’t want to miss.

Sunrise over the city of Dubai

Seaplane Ride

The best way to see Dubai is from above on a seaplane.  Venture onboard a Cessna seaplane tour with Seawing Seaplane Tours on a 40-minutes seaplane flight.  Experience spectacular views of Dubai’s skyscrapers, beaches and architectural wonders from above as you swoop around some of the top Dubai attractions such as the Burj Khalifa, Burj Al-Arab and palm-shaped island archipelago of the Palm Jumeirah. You can choose from two take-off locations and three departure times from each to suit your schedule.

Getting ready to board our seaplane ride with Seawing Seaplane Tours
Getting ready to board our seaplane ride with Seawing Seaplane Tours
The Dubai skyline on a hazy day from our seaplane tour
The Dubai skyline on a hazy day from our seaplane tour
A view of the Palm Jumeirah the artificial archipelago islands in Dubai
A view of the Palm Jumeirah the artificial archipelago islands in Dubai

Burj Khalifa

The tallest building in the world the Burj Khalifa stands at a stunning 2,722 feet.  The first 15 floors of the Burj Khalifa are an Armani hotel.  The Burj features two observation decks “At The Top”, one of which is the highest in the world on the 149th floor, the other observation deck on the 124th floor.  Both are gravity-defying, jaw-dropping views.   We bought the VIP tickets which allowed us to go to the 149th floor.  You first spend some time admiring the exhibit on the building’s history, then take the fastest (of course) lift in the world. In only a few seconds the doors open to a welcoming cocktail reception in the 149th floor observation desk.   It’s well worth it, as the views will blow your mind.  You can spend an hour capturing the endless panoramas towards the beach and over the city.  Once you’re done with admiring the views, take the elevator down to the 124th floor, where you can observe the view from a lower level.  On your way out, stop at the gift store to buy some a miniature Burj Khalifa to take home with you.

Burj Khalifa - Dubai
Burj Khalifa – Dubai
Looking down from the 149th floor of the Burj Khalifa - Dubai
Looking down from the 149th floor of the Burj Khalifa – Dubai

Burj Al Arab

The Burj calls itself ‘the world’s only 7-star hotel’ and, whether or not you agree, it’s certainly one of the most iconic buildings in Dubai. Soaring to a height of 321 metres over the coastline of Umm Suqeim, the Burj is designed to resemble a billowing sail. There are various viewpoints but one of the best is from the public beach next to it, for the ultimate Dubai shot of you on the beach with the Burj in the background. It is one of the most photographed structures in the world, and consistently voted the world’s most luxurious hotel, so naturally it’s rather expensive for the average visitor. Here’s a good tip however: go for a drink at the Dhow and Anchor in the hotel opposite Jumeirah Beach hotel and sit out on the terrace for an even better photo opp. If you can’t afford the $15,000/night luxury suite, try dining amongst the sea creatures in the underwater restaurant!

Burj Al Arab from above
Burj Al Arab from above
Burj Al Arab - Image Visit Dubai
Burj Al Arab – Image Visit Dubai

Desert Safari

A desert safari offers the chance to get a flavour of the Bedouin existence from when the Dubai skyline was more sand than super-city. Numerous companies offer desert safaris but check them out before booking: ask what time you’ll be dropped back at your hotel and whether they plan to stop anywhere on the way, especially what food there will be and any extras you may need to pay for. Most desert safari tours start with a 4×4 drive to an authentic Bedouin campsite where you can try ‘hubbly bubbly’ (shisha tobacco) and indulge in fresh barbecued shawarma. Opt for a thrill ride around the dunes by Land Rover or camel depending on the tempo you want, while after sunset, it’s a magical experience just to sit in the darkness and stare at the many, many stars visible away from the city lights. Companies like Arabian Nights include options like falcon-handling and belly-dancing entertainment that start at $82 for an afternoon to evening safari.

Our 4x4 vehicles driving on the dunes with Arabian Nights Tours
Our 4×4 vehicles driving on the dunes with Arabian Nights Tours
The sunset in the desert of Dubai
The sunset in the desert of Dubai
Camel ride on our Desert Safari with Arabian Nights Tours
Camel ride on our Desert Safari with Arabian Nights Tours
Belly dancing entertainment after dinner in the desert with Arabian Nights Tours
Belly dancing entertainment after dinner in the desert with Arabian Nights Tours

 Dubai Fountains

Get ready for something spectacular, exciting and – best of all – free! If you’ve seen the Belaggio fountains in Vegas and thought you’d seen it all, Dubai does it taller, bigger, louder and with an incredible light show at night. Enjoy the 902-foot-long Dubai Fountain, which shoots water up to 500 feet in the air. The musical repertoire of the fountain show includes Sama Dubai, Baba Yetu (an award-winning song in Swahili), the Arab world’s top-selling dance number Shik Shak Shok, and the signature piece of world-renowned Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, Con te partiro: Time to Say Goodbye. The fountains are situated outside the Dubai Mall, surrounded by a lively hub of restaurants with frontrow views – book ahead to dine on the terrace and see the fountains in all their glory. The fountains operate Saturday to Thursday 1pm and 1.30pm; 6 to 11pm every 30 minutes, and Friday 1.30pm and 2pm; 6 to 11pm every 30 minutes.

The Fountain Show - Dubai Mall
The Fountain Show – Dubai Mall
The Fountain Show shooting up water - Dubai
The Fountain Show shooting up water – Dubai

Dubai Mall

The Dubai Mall is the largest shopping mall in the world and a retail heaven with over 1,200 stores. Walking in through the doors, all you can say is “Wow” and gaze in awe at the opulent mall and the uber-luxe stores that surround you.  In a city that is well-known for luxury, you better believe the Dubai mall is a must-see! You will find everything your heart desires all under one roof.   Inside, you’ll find an entrance to Burj Khalifa, an ice-skating rink,  aquarium and underwater zoo, a games center, and a cinema. Sitting outside near the dancing fountain is an experience that you may never find elsewhere. It is really an amazing place for you to spend your time with your friends or family.

Umbrellas on the ceiling at the Village Dubai Mall, United Arab Emirates
Umbrellas on the ceiling at the Village Dubai Mall, United Arab Emirates
Inside the Dubai Mall
Inside the Dubai Mall
Designer Brands everywhere you look at the Dubai Mall
Designer Brands everywhere you look at the Dubai Mall
Pearl Divers Waterfall Dubai Mall, United Arab Emirates
Pearl Divers Waterfall Dubai Mall, United Arab Emirates

Ski Dubai – Mall of the Emirates

Dubai is the only place where you can visit the desert and hit the ski slopes in the same day.  Ski Dubai, is  the world largest snow park with a huge ski slope situated in Mall of the Emirates, close to the Burj Al Arab. You can go from the 50°C desert heat to below zero temperatures.  This incredible winter wonderland features a replica indoor mountain with 5 slopes of varying difficulty, including the world’s first indoor black run.  You don’t have to worry about ski clothing or equipment because Ski Dubai offers guests winter clothing, ski and snowboard equipment rentals.  Your skis will carry you down the slope, and the quad-chairlift and tow lift will promptly carry you back to the top for another run.  They offer ski lessons for those of us that aren’t great skiers. There’s even a café-bar halfway up the ski slope in true mountain style, so you can stop for a bumper hot chocolate and watch the fun unfold.

 Ski Slope situated in Mall of the Emirates
Ski Slope situated in Mall of the Emirates
 Ski Slope inside Mall of the Emirates - Dubai
Ski Slope inside Mall of the Emirates – Dubai

Jumeirah Mosque

The Jumeirah Mosque is a much-photographed landmark, especially in the evening when its lit up against an evening sky, it’s also the only Dubai mosque to open its doors to non-Muslims with informative guided tours. The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) organises tours of the Jumeirah Mosque six days a week from Saturday through to Thursday at 10:00am. You don’t need a reservation to attend, but you should arrive at the main entrance to the mosque at 9.45am.  The tour lasts around 75 minutes.  Please remember to wear modest dress attire.  Ladies should cover their head/hair, and wear loose clothing.  You can borrow traditional attire from the mosque.  Most unusually, photography inside is allowed, so bring you carmera!

Jumeirah Mosque Dubai in the evening (Flickr: whc7294)
Jumeirah Mosque Dubai in the evening (Flickr: whc7294)
Jumeirah Mosque Dubai
Jumeirah Mosque Dubai

Gold and Spice Souks

The Gold Souk is worth a look but you might need an unlimited credit card to shop here. The Gold Souk, located on Dubai Creek’s south bank in the Deira, specializes in glitz and glamour. Featuring glittering displays of necklaces, bracelets and earrings from more than 300 retailers, the Gold Souk is one of the most renowned gold jewelry trading centers in the world. But if you’re not one for gold, don’t fret. The souk also sells platinum, diamonds and silver. Make sure to check around the souk before deciding on what to buy, as many shops sell similar items. (Haggling and comparison shopping is common.)

We need some gold to go with our Henna Tattoos at the Gold Souk in Dubai
We need some gold to go with our Henna Tattoos at the Gold Souk in Dubai

On the other side of the creek lies the pungent Spice Souk, where vendors hawk flavors from across the globe, including cinnamon, ginger and chili. This is also the place to stock up on saffron, as you’ll find this delectable spice at a much lower cost here than you would at home. Recent visitors strongly suggest bargaining when visiting the souks in Dubai.

Several selection of spices to the Spice Souk
Several selections of spices to choice from at the Spice Souk

Have you ever been to Dubai? If so, please add your recommendations of things to do in the comments so we can add them to our list when we return!

About the author

Carmen Edelson is the Founder and Senior Editor of Carmen's Luxury Travel. Carmen has been traveling the world for over a decade. Our travels allows her the opportunity to pursuit her itch to travel to the best luxury destinations, and experience those first class tastes from around the world.

42 Comments

  1. Venkat Ganesh
    January 4, 2017 at 5:08 am
    Reply

    Looks like Dubai has a lot of things to check out and do. And here I thought it was nothing but a commercial city full of high-rises and shopping malls.

    The markets/souks are the ones that I am most interested in.
    Venkat Ganesh recently posted…The Ultimate Guide to Motorbiking in North VietnamMy Profile

    • Carmen Edelson
      January 9, 2017 at 3:04 am

      Yes, definitely go to the souks! You won’t be disappointed 🙂

  2. Rajkumar Gaikwad
    January 4, 2017 at 7:57 am
    Reply

    Seems you have covered almost all the major attractions of Dubai Carmen, that’s really amazing.
    We had been to Dubai this new year, seriously enjoyed a-lot.
    But we missed the desert safari part. 🙁
    Rajkumar Gaikwad recently posted…How to Apply for Dubai Visa from IndiaMy Profile

    • Carmen Edelson
      January 9, 2017 at 3:04 am

      Thanks! Sorry you missed the desert safari but now you have a reason to return!

  3. Ollie
    January 7, 2017 at 6:34 am
    Reply

    I was thinking about skydiving in Dubai 🙂 And I am going to get henna on my hands tommorow in Malaysia! 😉

    • Carmen Edelson
      January 9, 2017 at 3:06 am

      How exciting!! I hope you’re enjoying Malaysia. I’m planning to go this year.

  4. Steph Be
    January 7, 2017 at 10:30 pm
    Reply

    I loved your blog! Dubai is such an amazing place and it looks like you got to experience a lot on your trip! I love the henna tattoos- those artist are so creative, and the Arabian Night Tour is definitely something that is on my list when I head out there. Thanks for a great read!

    • Carmen Edelson
      January 9, 2017 at 3:07 am

      Thanks Steph! I really appreciate it.

  5. Chloe GoGo Budget Travel
    January 8, 2017 at 1:26 am
    Reply

    All too beautiful! Look at the dessert view! I wish I can be there soon!

    • Carmen Edelson
      January 9, 2017 at 3:07 am

      It really is beautiful! Hope you can visit in the future 🙂

  6. Maria
    January 8, 2017 at 4:43 am
    Reply

    Didn’t know there was so many different things you could do in Dubai! Desert trips and skiing in one trip is certainly not something you get on every trip..

    • Carmen Edelson
      January 9, 2017 at 3:07 am

      Exactly! It’s such a unique place.

  7. Kaylene
    January 8, 2017 at 4:56 am
    Reply

    I’ve never been to Dubai. I’d love to go on a desert safari, and the views from Burj Khalifa look stunning! Also, it’s so crazy there’s a ski slope inside the mall!

    • Carmen Edelson
      January 9, 2017 at 3:08 am

      I know – completely crazy and cool! Thanks for reading 🙂

  8. Patti (The Travel Sisters)
    January 8, 2017 at 5:05 am
    Reply

    I really want to go to Dubai – sounds like a very unique and city. I think it would be fun to see the Burj Al Arab and do a desert safari.
    Patti (The Travel Sisters) recently posted…Snow Monkeys in Japan: How to VisitMy Profile

    • Carmen Edelson
      January 9, 2017 at 3:08 am

      It’s definitely unique and worth visiting! Thanks for reading, Patti.

  9. amanda
    January 8, 2017 at 6:39 am
    Reply

    this is a great guide – i haven’t been to dubai yet but when i do will definitely use it! thanks

    • Carmen Edelson
      January 9, 2017 at 3:12 am

      You’re so welcome!

  10. Lillian
    January 8, 2017 at 9:56 am
    Reply

    Dubai is such an interesting place. I didn’t realize there was so many interesting things to do there… I just thought it was just shopping 🙂

    • Carmen Edelson
      January 9, 2017 at 3:12 am

      Trust me, the shopping is fantastic, but there’s so much more to do! Thanks for reading, Lillian.

  11. Milosz Zak
    January 8, 2017 at 11:34 am
    Reply

    Very nice. My brother was in Dubai recently, and he said that a lot of the city remains under construction. Moreover, much of it for the purposes of real estate speculation, with a lack of a real, value-added economy. It’s definitely nice to look at it, but it’s possible it might all be paint-thick.
    Milosz Zak recently posted…Top 28 Things to See and Do in LuxorMy Profile

    • Carmen Edelson
      January 9, 2017 at 3:13 am

      There are fascinating places to visit like the markets too! But yes, lots of construction. I’m interested in coming back in around 5 years to see how much it’s changed.

  12. Lara Dunning
    January 8, 2017 at 1:56 pm
    Reply

    I’m not sure I’ll make it to Dubai, but there sure is plenty of interesting things to do, and some I’ve not seen posted on other sites. Thanks so much for sharing your adventures. BTW the Pearl Divers waterfall is really neat!
    Lara Dunning recently posted…10 Favorite Stays of 2016My Profile

    • Carmen Edelson
      January 9, 2017 at 3:14 am

      You’re so welcome, Lara! Thanks for commenting.

  13. Sia
    January 8, 2017 at 3:14 pm
    Reply

    The spices look so tempting! I imagine this part of the world as not only luxurious but very colorful and rich in flavours and spices.
    I had no idea that there’s the biggest mall in the world, look very futuristic! I always try to see a city from above so the plane tour sounds fantastic!
    Sia recently posted…Hlebar Bakery in Sofia, BulgariaMy Profile

    • Carmen Edelson
      January 9, 2017 at 3:14 am

      The plane tour was fantastic! Such a unique way to see such a unique city 🙂

  14. knycx.journeying
    January 8, 2017 at 8:46 pm
    Reply

    Dubai is on a construction spree and it’s exciting to see something new every time visiting the city. Thanks for sharing and the information! @ knycx.journeying

    • Carmen Edelson
      January 9, 2017 at 3:16 am

      I know! It would be interesting to visit again in about five years time to see how much the city has changed!

  15. Castaway with Crystal
    January 9, 2017 at 3:28 am
    Reply

    Looks like you had a really cool time! I really want to visit Dubai ASAP! Thanks for the inspiration 😉
    Castaway with Crystal recently posted…100 Things to do in 2017My Profile

    • Carmen Edelson
      January 17, 2017 at 8:36 am

      I spend three days in Dubai and it wasn’t enough time. I could of easier stayed longer. There is so much to do and see.

  16. Emily
    January 9, 2017 at 7:45 am
    Reply

    Next time I go to Asia I’m going to have a stop over in Dubai. I’ve only transited through and it looks like I’ve been missing out! Think I’d like the souks and visiting the mosque the most, although the ski slope has to be done just for the weirdness of snow in the UAE!

    • Carmen Edelson
      January 17, 2017 at 8:38 am

      My favorite was the shopping and the views from the top of the Burj Khalifa. It was an amazing experience.

  17. Agness of a TukTuk
    January 9, 2017 at 12:31 pm
    Reply

    Dubai is a city o luxury. But don’t you get distracted with all these gold and shine? 🙂

    • Carmen Edelson
      January 17, 2017 at 8:42 am

      Dubai is a city with a lot of wealth, and the sky is the limit when it comes to shopping and luxury toys. I rather enjoyed seeing it all.

  18. Bethanny Sudibyo
    January 9, 2017 at 5:41 pm
    Reply

    I really loved this list. I never been to Dubai before but it looks super nice! I love belly dancing, I dance it but I would imagine it would be nice to be in the audience once in awhile.

    • Carmen Edelson
      January 14, 2017 at 9:54 am

      It’s a fun experience! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  19. Llamateurs
    January 9, 2017 at 5:57 pm
    Reply

    Never been to Dubai, but seaplane and safari is so tempting… ! Seeing all this beauty form above! And desert for dessert!

    • Carmen Edelson
      January 14, 2017 at 9:52 am

      If a seaplane is something you’d be interested in, it’s really the best way to take in the whole city!

  20. Wiz tours
    January 14, 2017 at 4:09 am
    Reply

    Woow, Cool times in dubai.

    • Carmen Edelson
      January 14, 2017 at 9:51 am

      Absolutely! It’s a very cool city.

  21. Desert Safari
    February 25, 2017 at 3:38 am
    Reply

    Overall you had a great time in Dubai, We will hope to see more tips & travel ideas from you in future 🙂
    Stay Blessed.

    • Carmen Edelson
      February 27, 2017 at 1:01 pm

      Thank you! My time in Dubai was pretty fabulous.

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