Only 80 years ago, people might have asked: “Dubai? Where is that?” Not anymore. The glittering city located on the southeast coast of the Persian Gulf has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a desert town to becoming a world-famous center of incredible riches, towering buildings, artificial and natural islands, and plenty of gold. Yes, everything that glitters in Dubai is indeed gold, including such a thing as ATMs that distribute gold coins and ingots instead of cash. But only a few miles away, the desert is still there in all its glory.
What I like so much about Dubai that makes me return time and again is the contrast and the many possibilities this place offers. From shopping and sightseeing to adventures and indoor skiing, these things to do in Dubai will ensure a wide variety of fun and entertainment. Then, leave the glitz and glamour behind for a while and venture into the desert with one of the many tours that are on offer. One of the best is a tour that combines camel riding, falconry, and sandboarding. You will never have a dull moment in Dubai. Follow me to take your pick of the best things to do.
1. Rise In The Sky At Burj Khalifa
Burj Khalifa is probably the most famous landmark in Dubai. At 2,720 feet, it’s the world’s tallest building and has a very distinctive design. Rise into the sky by going up to the 124th and 125th floors for an unparalleled view of the city. Even better is to make your way to the Sky Lounge and observation terrace on the 148th floor. You need tickets to visit, so buy your Burj Khalifa tickets here to avoid long lines.
2. Get Close And Personal With The Fish At Dubai Aquarium And Underwater Zoo
Water plays a big role in many things to do in Dubai. The Dubai Aquarium features a massive tank that holds 2,641,721 gallons of water and is home to 30,000 species of fish. You can wander along and look, but for an extra thrill, you can dive with the sharks in a cage or just don an oxygenated helmet and get in the water. There is, of course, an instructor who will film you if you wish, and you can buy the card for a lasting memory.
3. Ride A Hot Air Balloon Over The Desert
There is hardly a more fascinating view than to drift silently in a hot air balloon over the vast, orange desert at sunrise. The ride includes transport and a breakfast at a desert camp, and you might even spot camels and gazelles.
4. Experience The Past In The Al Fahidi Neighborhood
Get a glimpse of what life was like before the Emirates were formed in 1971. A labyrinth of lanes is lined with traditional buildings made from stone, palm wood, gypsum, and teak. It feels like you have come to a secluded village. Not a skyscraper in sight! The district of Al Fahidi is located at Dubai Creek and hosts some seasonal cultural events.
5. Whizz Around Palm Jumeira In A Speedboat
You can’t miss a view of the Dubai skyline from the water, and an exciting way to do so is going on a speed boat ride. Departing from the marina, the boat, complete with an English-speaking guide and safety equipment, takes you around the world’s most iconic man-made islands, Palm Jumeira, with the Burj Al Arab and other landmarks in the distance.
6. Eat To Your Heart’s Content On A Dubai Food Tour
With all the activities awaiting in Dubai, you must not forget to look after your taste buds. There’s no better way to sample the delicious Middle East cuisine than on foot on an approximately 4-hour tour guided by a local insider who knows all the best places and plenty of backstories. Don’t forget to try ouzi, the national dish of the UAE. It’s slow-cooked lamb served with nuts and raisins over rice.
7. Shop Till You Drop In The Dubai Mall
Still the world’s largest shopping mall, the Dubai Mall downtown offers more than 1,300 retail outlets and 300 dining places and cafes. The shops mostly sell luxurious brands, and there are branches of Galeries Lafayette and Bloomingdale’s. The AC makes for a pleasant change from the heat outside, and if you still feel like cooling down further, there is also an Olympic-sized ice rink.
8. Hang Tight And Fly XLine Dubai Marina
Another thrill and adventure is flying down one of the world’s longest, steepest, and fastest urban zip lines. With a helmet and harness on and your belly down, off you go across the panorama of Dubai that you can now see from a bird’s-eye view. XLine starts at the Marina, but there is another one called the XLine Dubai Fountain that is a bit shorter and slower, but equally exciting. It starts in front of the Burj Khalifa. The fountain is the largest in the world and several water shows are scheduled every day.
9. Explore Dubai Creek
The creek is a saltwater inlet that splits Dubai into two halves: the Deira and the Bur Dubai. They are connected by several bridges, the oldest being the Al Maktoum Bridge. Many important hotels and banks line the banks of the creek, as do cafes. It’s a pleasure to walk the creek (provided the temperature isn’t too high) and to visit Zabeel Park and the famous Dubai Frame, a structure shaped like a massive picture frame that’s actually a bridge with a glass-bottom floor. On the Deira side of the creek, you find the gold and spice souk in case you want to do some more shopping.
10. Take The Best Selfies At Miracle Garden
Dubai’s Miracle Garden must be one of the most photogenic places in the city. Imagine the color and scent of 50 million flowers and 250 million plants, all arranged to form natural, giant sculptures. It’s the world’s largest natural garden. There are buildings, a heart-shaped tunnel of love, and even an entire Emirates Boeing made from flowers. You can spend hours there.
11. Enjoy Culture From Around The World At Global Village
A mixture of entertainment, education, shopping, shows, and an amusement park, Global Village, located on the outskirts of Dubai, is a venue to be enjoyed by the whole family. 78 cultures from around the world are represented in presentations and country pavilions. See the pyramids, the Kremlin, and much more while mingling with tourists and locals alike.
12. Bash The Dunes On An Evening Safari
Hopefully, you have already seen the sunrise on your balloon ride; now you can see a glorious sunset over the desert on an evening tour in a 4×4. But it gets more exciting on this tour than just watching the sun set over the dunes. You actually get to bash down them at full speed and then you can experience shows by local dancers and a sumptuous dinner.
13. Take A Day Trip To Al Ain
If you wish to venture further into the desert and are more interested in history than dune bashing, take a day trip to the ancient town of Al Ain. You’ll have a chance to see the Sheik Zayed Palace Museum, the old fort, the Al Ain Oasis, and a colorful camel market. Jebel Hafeet is a nearby mountain that rises out of the desert.
14. Sniff The Air At Al Shindagha Museum Perfume House
If you visit just one museum, why not the one dedicated to the age-old Arabian tradition of perfume making? Located at the Dubai Creek, the Al Shindagah museum takes you on a journey to explore and understand the art of perfume making, especially local scents like oud, saffron, and roses. You can see the techniques used and also learn about the region’s perfume trade routes. It is, quite literally, a sweet experience.
15. Be A Kid Again At Legoland
Despite the marketing saying that this is an attraction for kids from 2-12, Legoland Dubai is a ton of fun for the whole family. You can play around all day on 60 interactive Lego-themed rides, a water park, and run around among 15,000 Lego sculptures. If you feel the inner architect in you, you can buy building material on your way out.
16. Roll In The Snow At Ski Dubai
Yes, you can ski and play in the snow in Dubai! Ski Dubai is an indoor ski resort located within the Mall of the Emirates. It consists of an artificial mountain with 5 slopes. Lifts take skiers up. Next to it is a snow play area for snowboarding or just making snowballs. You don’t need to bring any equipment; skis and jackets are provided with your ticket. They also have penguins that are released from their enclosure several times a day.
17. Be Respectful At Jumeira Mosque
The beautiful Jumeira Mosque located on the Jumeira Beach Road is the only mosque that allows non-Muslim visitors every day of the week except Fridays. Carved entirely out of white stone in the medieval Fatimid style, the mosque is a much-loved landmark. Guides are available for explanations. Don’t forget to adhere to the dress code and be sure to take your shoes off. If you aren’t totally covered, appropriate clothing for both sexes is provided at the entrance. It should go without saying that you should neither disturb nor take photos of people who are worshipping.