Things to do in Dubai

Dubai may be known worldwide as the artificial capital of luxury, ostentation, and consumerism, but in reality, the city has a character that goes much further.

From the little alleys of the old town to traditional souks, the magnificent desert, and loads of interesting places to visit outside the city, such as Abu Dhabi or Al Ain, you will see that there are so many things to do in Dubai that even a week may not you be enough to explore the Arab country in its entirety.

The following travel guide shows you what to do in Dubai, the most cosmopolitan city in the Arab Gulf, including a 5-day itinerary in Dubai and 2 day trips to Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.

Keep in mind that this article does not only show you the tourist places but it teaches you how to explore the most unusual places.

Things to do in Dubai

A few quick tips before planning things to do in Dubai

When to visit Dubai

Avoid summer at all costs, from June to September. In July and August, temperatures are around 45ºC on average, in addition to a really disgusting humidity.

In September, they drop slightly, but the humidity still persists, so it is not that you can live on the street, even at night. Try to come from mid-October to mid-May.

Ground Rules

Dubai is a country with Some ground rules. On the one hand, the places where we westerners hang out, the beaches are full of girls in bikini, while in the clubs, you will probably find girls dancing in outfits that look almost like bikinis.

These areas are very tolerant in terms of the way of dressing, but in more conservative places, that is, where there are stores, it is recommended to cover your shoulders and knees, although the good news is that there is no need to cover your head.

Displays of affection are not tolerated in the UAE – And not just kissing, but even hugging in public could be considered illegal, even in the most western areas.

I was once kicked out of a bar because since there was no place to sit, my girlfriend was sitting on my lap.

To be fair, the security guard warned us three times, but we never paid any attention to him, and we found such a rule totally ridiculous.

Good to know

FYI, in Dubai, you can drink alcohol. Normally, only 4 and 5-star hotels can sell it, but the thing is that people are dedicated to opening normal bars and pubs and open it next to or inside a hotel. As you can imagine, there are countless hotels in Dubai and all of them have loads of bars.

In addition, there are also several stores where you can buy, although you must obtain a license that only expats and residents can get. Alternatively, if you have a car, 90km from Dubai, in Umm Quwain there is a store called Barracuda where everyone can shop.

Sharia/Islamic Laws

By the way, remember that the Emirates is a Muslim country where Sharia law prevails. As a consequence, Western tourists traveling to Dubai have to be a little careful, and not behave as they would in their respective countries. You don’t have to worry too much. Just use common sense.

Alcohol & Drugs

Remember that alcohol tolerance is 0 – If you are caught with alcohol and driving, or even if you have drunk a quarter of a fifth, you risk being thrown in jail. In my three years of living there, I have never seen a breathalyzer test, but if you had any accident, they will blow you and as they catch you, these guys can destroy your life.

And the same with drugs – The Emirates also has 0 tolerance for drugs. If they find you, not even 0.1g of grass at the airport, they will send you a good season in Jail.

It is not a joke, and there are real horror stories of kids who were found micro-traces of marijuana in their pocket and that they came from the last joint they smoked. It is not necessary to explain how badly they ended.

The month of Ramadan

I do not recommend that you come during Ramadan, but if you happen to be here, remember that during the day, you cannot drink or eat or smoke or even chew gum in public.

If they catch you, they’ll give you a good fine. In addition, many bars will be closed and, practically, half the country is paralyzed, so I insist that you better not come to spend Ramadan because you will not find much to do in Dubai.

Activities and tours in the Emirates

There are tons of activities and things to see in Dubai that you probably want to go on an organized tour, like Musandam, the Abu Dhabi Mosque, or going on a desert safari.

Basically, tours are cheaper than taking a taxi or renting a car, and unfortunately, you cannot go by public transport. On the other hand, for other activities, such as going up to the Burj Khalifa, for example, it is advisable to buy tickets in advance, since they will be more expensive at the box office.

Whatever the activity, I advise you to keep an eye on the Desert Safari Dubai, as they offer loads of activities with different offers and combinations for endless activities and adventures throughout the country.

Travel insurance for Dubai

Remember that in Dubai healthcare is private and extremely expensive, so always travel with valid insurance.

For Dubai, I recommend IATI Insurance. Why?

They have an infinity of different plans for all types of travelers

Very competitive prices

In addition, the readers of this blog get an exclusive discount of 5%

How to get around Dubai

Metro

There are 2 metro lines that pass through the most touristic places to see in Dubai. Both the station and the wagons are fully air-conditioned and everything is very modern.

A little trip costs less than € 1, but keep in mind that Dubai is gigantic, so moving from one place to another can take time. Also know that the main tourist places have a station, but to go to more alternative places, you will be quite limited.

How to travel from Dubai to Abu Dhabi

Bus – There is a bus to Abu Dhabi every twenty minutes, from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., leaving from the Al Ghubaiba bus station in Dubai. The buses are comfortable, air-conditioned and cost only AED 25 (€ 6).

Taxi – A trip from Dubai to Abu Dhabi costs AED 300 (€ 70), one way.

Etihad Coach Service – For those traveling with Etihad, there is a bus service from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. Make your reservation 24 hours before your trip through the Etihad page.

Taxi

The most comfortable way to get around. If you look at what each kilometer is worth, it is cheap, but since the distances are so great, getting around can be expensive. The shortest trip costs AED 15 (€ 3.50). Going from Marina to the old town can cost around AED 60-70 (€ 16-19).

How to travel from Dubai to Sharjah

Public transport – You can take the metro from Dubai to Rashidya. You can also catch a bus to Sharjah from Deira Metro Station, just a 15 minute taxi ride from Dubai Airport. If you are in Bur Dubai, take a bus from Al Ghubaiba Station to Sharjah.

Taxi – A taxi from Dubai to Sharjah costs AED 150 ($ 40)

Important: Keep in mind that although it is very easy to travel from one city to another by public transport, both in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, it is very difficult to get around the city by bus. So you should consider renting a car if you don’t want to rely on taxis.

Rent a car

Due to the lack and disastrous public transport, renting a car is highly feasible, in addition to the fact that gasoline is very cheap.

If you got your driving license in Spain, it is possible to rent a car. However, for most Latin American countries, you will need an international license.

I recommend that you rent it through Rental Cars, a search engine that finds you the best car rental deals in each city.

Where to stay?

Dubai is a huge city with even greater distances and made up of many very different neighborhoods.

The area you want to stay in will depend on what you want to visit in Dubai, as well as your budget, as prices vary greatly by area.

Also, if you decide to visit cities like Abu Dhabi, Sharjah or Al Ain, you will have to decide if you want to visit them in one day or, otherwise, you would like to spend one night there.

I recommend that you stay the whole week in Dubai, since in other cities the nights are very boring.

I also advise you to do the pertinent research regarding what area or neighborhood you are going to stay in. Keep in mind that if you decide to stay in the old part, for example, you will be more than 30km from Marina beach, which is almost 2 hours by metro and the taxi costs AED 75 (20USD).

Dubai Tourist Map

Day 1 - Things to do in Dubai - What to see in lustful and pretentious Dubai

If you are in Dubai for nothing more than a day, the following places are the most famous things to see in Dubai.

Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa

Dubai is all about extravagant and nonsensical things, so it’s no wonder its main attractions are the world’s largest shopping mall and the tallest tower on earth.

I personally do not like the Dubai Mall, basically, because I hate shopping, but I did enjoy the Burj Khalifa, and it is the most emblematic thing to see in Dubai.

By the way, you should know that despite being the largest shopping center, they just enlarged it this 2018 with a new section of luxury products.

As for the Burj Khalifa, despite being the tallest tower you will ever see, no one can deny that this 160-story building is truly impressive.

However, its fame will not last long, as its main competitors, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, are currently building two towers, respectively, that will exceed the Burj Khalifa itself.

You can go up to the Burj Khalifa, but only up to the 125th floor and, for a little more money, I think up to the 148th floor. If you want to save money, you should book the tickets in advance and I advise you to do it through The Desert Safari Dubai.

At night, you can’t miss the fountain show. It takes place every half hour, from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Tip – I recommend you dine at Mezza House, my favorite Arabic restaurant in Dubai. It’s right next to the Burj Khalifa and it’s not particularly expensive.

Souq Madinat and Burj Al-Arab

Some say that Souq Madinat is nothing more than an artificial bazaar that somehow tries to imitate traditional Arab markets.

I like to focus on the positive part of traveling so for me, Souq Madinat is an Arab bazaar adapted to the concept of what Dubai is, that is, to a luxury and modern city of the 21st century, so it is also something unique to do in Dubai.

It is a beautiful place, formed by canals where giant tortoises swim, and also since the place belongs to several hotels, there are tons of first-class bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.

Tip – Go to dinner at Tortuga, the most authentic Mexican restaurant in Dubai. When I say authentic I mean that Mexicans eat here because they serve traditional food and not fake Tex-Mex types Mexican food like nachos, fajitas, and burritos. My girlfriend is Mexican and we used to come here all the time.

On the other hand, from Souq Madinat, you get stunning views of the Burj Al Arab, the most luxurious hotel in the world.

However, you cannot visit it, unless you book a tour in advance and that usually involves going to eat at one of its restaurants.

Where to stay near the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa (Downtown)

Downtown is the most elegant and expensive area of the city. Most of the people who live here are expatriates, mostly expatriate Arabs, but also many Europeans. You should stay here if you want to be close to the best shops and poshest restaurants.

 

Cheap option (Hostel) – The solo traveler – If you are on a budget, this hostel is very new and is right next to the Burj Khalifa, has a Carrefour downstairs, spooky views and offers dorms at a good price.

 

Top Rated – Rove Downtown – The best value for money in town. It’s not expensive, but its rooms and facilities are right on the edge of what would come to be luxury. At this price, you won’t find anything better.

Where to stay in Souk Madinat

In Souq Madinat, there are only 5-star hotels, so if you are short of money, stay away from here.

Top Rated – Jumeirah Mina A’Salam – A themed hotel, inspired by Middle Eastern luxury, supremely decorated and super quiet, next to the canal and overlooking the Burj Al Arab. One of the best luxury options in the city.

Day 2 - Things to do in Dubai - Dubai Marina and JBR

Famous places to visit in Dubai Marina and JBR.

Marina and Jumeirah Beach Residence

The quintessential expat area, where there is a sea-friendly boardwalk that tries to replicate the one in Santa Monica in Los Angeles, is a set of skyscrapers that look more like a resort than a neighborhood, but in fact, several hundred thousand people live here.

With only 10 or 15 years of history and a very decent beach, where you can ride a camel while admiring 80-story towers, Marina is the place where everyone spends their weekend, from tourists to expats, Emiratis, and 18-year-olds who spend the day driving around the block with their Ferrari, just to show off.

I lived in Marina for 3 years and despite sounding a bit pretentious and seedy, the truth is that it is the best place to live in Dubai, basically because it is the most comfortable for Westerners and the most impressive what to see in Dubai.

You can get here easily by metro, just by going to the Marina station, although lately, they keep changing the name. I think it is now called Damac Properties.

Where to stay in Marina

Cheap (Hostel) – Top of Marina – If you want to stay in a flat with fantastic views of the Marina skyscrapers, this hostel is brutal. It is located in the same building where I used to live and what I can tell you is that they have several swimming pools, a gym and everything you need. If you are on a low budget, this is the best place.

Top Rated – The Address Dubai Marina – My favorite building in the Marina, for its simplicity and location. It is one of the best-rated 5-star hotels in the city and inside you will find the best bars in Marina.

Day 3 - Things to do in Dubai - The Palm, Jumeirah, Kite Beach and Jumeirah Mosque

The Famous Beaches and Island in Dubai

The Palm Jumeirah

After Marina, if you continue along the street that follows the coast, you will come across the beginning of the Palm, that famous palm-shaped island that juts out from the coast and has a replica of the Atlantis hotel at its far end.

You can get to the extreme on a mono-rail that runs about 20m above the island and that for me is the best attraction, since it is the only place from where you can get a perspective of the shape of the island.

Otherwise, when you are on land it is like walking down a normal street, apart from the fact that the island itself is quite boring.

Jumeirah, Kite Beach and Jumeirah Mosque

Following the road that goes along the coast, 18km after the Palm (I already told you that the distances in Dubai are gigantic), you find Jumeirah, a set of streets with super houses where most of the Emiratis live and another of the unique places that visit in Dubai.

I like this part because it is one of the only parts of the city where you can walk, and also because here is the Jumeirah Mosque, a beautiful mosque that non-Muslims can visit, and the only cultural place to see in the new part of Dubai.

There is no metro line that goes to Jumeriah, but the bus leaves from the main street in Marina and runs the entire avenue.

Tip – Go to Bu Qtair Fish restaurant, a fairly inexpensive restaurant serving fresh fish cooked in the traditional Arabic way.

Where to stay at the Palm

Unless you want to stay at the Atlantis, which is a famous hotel, I don’t see a reason why you should stay at The Palm. There is nothing to do and everything is far away.

In three years, I only came here three times and it was because I had events related to my company. Well yes, for me it is one of the most boring things to do in Dubai.

The best – Atlantis – What can I say that you don’t already know? The Atlantis is one of the most iconic buildings in Dubai and is a replica of the hotel in the Bahamas. It also has a water park and loads of bars and restaurants.

Day 4 - Things to do in Dubai - The old part of Dubai

The old part is one of my favorite things to do in Dubai and the only place that has a certain soul. It can be easily reached by metro, although it is a considerably large area that has several stations.

Bastiqaya and Bur Dubai

Inhabited by Indians for centuries, when Arab Bedouin still lived in tribes in the desert, this used to be a very important pearl industry and trade center, one of the basic pillars for the region’s economy.

Today, Bastiqaya and Bur Dubai are still mostly inhabited by Indians, who have been able to impart a deep cultural feeling, unlike the rest of Dubai. Here you will find authentic Indian restaurants, very cheap and always full, as well as bazaars and traditional architecture.

Bastiqaya is a place where you can get lost in its narrow alleys while savoring authentic Indian food where, according to the Indians, they serve the best Indian food in the world, and this is because it tastes the same as in India, but here it is much more hygienic.

Don’t forget to visit the Dubai Museum, housed within an 18th-century fortress, the Creek, the Textile Bazaar, and a Hindu temple that hosts authentic Hindu ceremonies.

Deira and the spice market

From saffron, cinnamon, cardamom, and sumac, Deira has the most photogenic bazaar of all, selling all kinds of spices, to the point that any Indian could cook the most unimaginable curry.

Deira and the gold bazaar (gold souq)

If you are into jewelry and gold, this souq sells gold at the best price in the world and one of its main attractions is the largest ring ever made, which does not make much sense because it is so big that it fits your entire body. , making it an extremely useless ring.

Where to stay in Bur Dubai

In Bur Dubai you find the cheapest accommodation in the city:

The cheapest – Gold Plaza Guest House – Not that this is a good hotel but it is very, very cheap. If you are looking for the cheapest option, this is your place.

Top Rated – Raffles Dubai – A luxury hotel, but much cheaper than other similar Downtown or Marina options. If you are looking for affordable luxury, Raffles is your hotel.

Where to stay in Deira

Deira has many cheap options and the main advantage is that it is very close to the airport.

Budget – Mark Inn Hotel Deira – Simple but cheap and with perfect service. For people with a low budget, this is a very good option.

 

Best rated – Rove City Center – This hotel has the highest number of positive comments out of all hotels located in the new part of Deira. Good service and modern rooms

Day 5 - Things to do in Dubai - Get off the tourist trail

These are my favorite unusual activities to do in Dubai. You can’t do everything in one day, but you can pick 1 or 2 and replace it with one of the above.

Camel racing

One of the most authentic events of the Emirati culture and takes place in the Marmoom Racetrack, located in the middle of the desert.

An experience like no other, where around 60 camels start running like crazy on their long legs, moving in all directions, running at lightning speed.

Enthusiasm is contagious and surely at some point, you will start yelling at your favorite camel as if it were a horse race.

The races take place on Fridays and Saturdays, from October to April. For more information, visit the official page.

Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding

The Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding is a public entity that tries to promote and raise awareness about Emirati culture, a culture that, unfortunately, few foreigners are exposed to.

You can visit the center and book different tours, but I recommend doing the brunch tour, which consists of eating with local Emiratis for 1 hour and a half, while you talk about their customs and culture.

Since you will be eating with them, the interaction will be much greater and much closer than if you did a merely guided tour of the center. If you are interested in the culture of the gulf, this center is one of the best places to visit in Dubai.

Horse Racing in Meydan

Horse racing is the UAE’s national sport and in fact, they have some of the best and most expensive horses in the world here, making it another great event to visit in Dubai.

If you want to live a traditional but modern experience at the same time, you cannot miss this weekly event at the Meydan Stadium, which takes place every Thursday at 7 pm, from November to March.

The races are impressive, but so is the atmosphere, as all kinds of people come: from wealthy locals to expats to poor Indians and Pakistanis who work in construction.

General admission is free, although there is also a VIP area with access to the bar and restaurant.

Exclusive and ecological Desert Safari

A personal recommendation:

Do not go on the typical safari that involves driving like crazy through the dunes, mostly because those 4 × 4 destroy the few plants and animals that live in the sand and basically because it is a tourist trap that is not cool at all.

If you want to do a really exclusive safari, I recommend The Desert Safari Dubai, where you will drive, very slowly, through a path between the dunes, from where you can observe the oryx and other desert fauna.

The cars are Land Cruisers and, unlike the typical safari that goes through deserts very close to the city, where you only hear the noise of people and cars, here you will have absolute silence and the true feeling of what which is a desert.

I warn you that it is a bit expensive, but if you are interested, this is their website.

They offer a multiple Desert Safari packages in different timings and prices ranges. 

They offer a multiple Desert Safari packages in different timings and prices ranges. 

Desert Safari Dubai

Standard Deal
@
150 AED / Person

Pick up via 4x4. 45 Minutes Dune Bashing and more. All-inclusive.

Morning Desert Safari Dubai

Desert Safari + Quad Bike
@
300 AED / Person

Standard Package with 20 minutes of Quad biking self Drive. All-inclusive

Private Desert Safari Dubai

Private Desert Safari
@
900 AED up to 5 Persons

Standard Package Private Vehicle only for you family. All-inclusive

Day 6 - Things to do in Dubai - Trip to Al Ain

Places to visit in Al-Ain

When you have tired of things to do in Dubai, it is time to get out of the city and if you are still eager to know more about Emirati culture, I recommend that you go to the Al Ain Camel Market, a chaotic animal market in where you can haggle the price of a camel and where you will find literally hundreds and hundreds of camels and a truly authentic atmosphere.

To this day, the sellers are not Emiratis, but Pakistanis and Indians, although the owners are most likely local.

However, the bazaar is still very genuine and if you stay for a long time, you will see rich Emiratis who come with their pick-ups to buy camels and other animals.

The market is obviously free and I assure you that you will be one of the only, if not the only, tourist. Al-Ain is 1 hour and a half from Dubai and can only be reached by car.

In addition, Al Ain also has tons of historical places to visit, such as the Jahili Fort, a 19th-century fortress built in the middle of a beautiful oasis.

If you have a car, I also advise you to go to Jebel Hafeet, a mountain whose road was voted among some of the best roads to drive on in the world.

Where to stay in Al Ain

As you can see, there are several things to do in Al Ain, so if you want to spend the night here, I recommend these hotels (the good news is that accommodation here is much cheaper)

Cheap option – Ayla – Cheapest option (make it decent) in town, with loads of good reviews.

Best rated – Ayla Grand Hotel – One of the most typical options, this 5-star hotel has unbeatable prices.

Day 7 - Things to do in Dubai - Abu Dhabi City Tour

Sheikh Zayed Mosque (mandatory visit)

One of the largest mosques in the world that can host up to 40,000 worshipers.

It has 82 domes and 1,000 marble columns. The main room is dominated by a chandelier 10 meters in diameter, 15 meters high, and weighing twelve tons, making it the largest chandelier in existence.

As if that weren’t enough, the mosque also contains the largest carpet in the world, handcrafted by authentic Iranian carpet designers.

The mosque is surrounded by pools where the building is reflected. The gold that shines during the day turns into a unique light show at night that reflects the different phases of the moon. The best time of day to visit is during sunset, around 5-6 in the afternoon.

Remember to dress modestly. Women are provided with a typical local abaya. Men must cover their knees and shoulders. The mosque is open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, except Friday mornings, when prayer time takes place.

How to get there

Well, there is no public transport. You must first go to the outskirts of Dubai to catch the bus to the center of Abu Dhabi and from there take a taxi. I do not recommend this option.

Going by direct taxi would cost around 300AED (one way), so the best option is to either rent a car or go on a tour.

Abu Dhabi City Tour

Standard Deal
@
150 AED / Person

Pick up 6 to 7 hours Abu Dhabi Sightseeing Tour. Grand Mosque, Date/Carpet Market and much more. All-inclusive.

Abu Dhabi City Tour

Abu Dhabi Tour + Ferrari World
@
350 AED / Person

Standard Package with General Entry Tickets of Ferrari World .
All-inclusive

Abu Dhabi City Tour

Private Abu Dhabi City Tour
@
1200 AED up to 5 Persons

Standard Package Private Vehicle only for you family.

All-inclusive

Bonus! Extend your Emirates itinerary - What to see in Dubai

Liwa Oasis (2 additional days, minimum)

My favorite place in Emirates and one of the top places to visit in the Middle East.

However, due to its remoteness, it takes a minimum of 2 days to visit it.

It is located in the southwestern part of the country, about 250km from Abu Dhabi and 350km from Dubai, very close to the border with Saudi Arabia.

The oasis is located on the northwestern edge of the Empty Quarter (Rub-al-Jali), a desert located between the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Yemen, which is classified as the largest continuous sea of dunes in the world, occupying a 650,000km² land and dimensions of 1000km long by 500km wide.

Where to stay in Liwa

Cheapest – Liwa Hotel – The hotel is fine, nothing fancy, but its location is superb, right in the middle of the sea of dunes, from where you get great views of the Empty Quarter.

The Best – Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort – This hotel is the most amazing desert resort in the country. With some of the eeriest views, this 5-star hotel blends tradition with Emirati luxury to perfection.

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