Having just gotten back from vacation, I wanted to get a travel guide of things to do in Dubai up before I forgot everything! Dubai is definitely the city of things that end in “est” – best, biggest, tallest, fastest. You name it and this city is striving to be at the top of the list. If you’re headed to the Middle East, here are the things to do in Dubai!
When we planned our trip to the Maldives, Dubai wasn’t necessarily on our list. Once we found out our flight connected through Dubai, we decided to break up the trip and make it a little easier on ourselves. I’m so glad we did! There is tons to do in Dubai and everything strives to be the best. Anything you could dream up is possible to do.
A few things I found interesting is that Friday and Saturday are there weekend days. Just keep that in mind when booking things as these days are the busiest just like our Saturday and Sunday in the US.
Also, PDA should be avoided if you travel with your significant other. While I had heard horror stories of people getting put in prison for displaying signs of affection, the general population seemed pretty tolerant of it. I saw many people showing PDA but Matt and I refrained outside of our hotel to be safe. Dubai is a huge melting pot of cultures so I’d imagine they have gotten less strict about this with the increase of other influences. However, when traveling it’s always best to be respectful of the local culture!
The last thing I learned is that they are planning for tourism to be there number one source of income which is why you see so many points of attraction there or being built. There was tons of construction all over the city with promises of extravagant new entertainment coming up!
Things to Do in Dubai: Where to Stay
We stayed in two different places during our stay in Dubai. One was downtown (Jumierah Emirates Towers) and the other was located nearer the beach on the Palm (The Atlantis). In all honesty, it doesn’t really matter where you stay because Dubai isn’t a very walkable city. Although there are small neighborhoods that are, you’ll most likely have to take a taxi wherever you go because the things to do in Dubai are far apart as well.
On the hotels, the Jumierah was really luxurious and affordable. They have 3 properties in Dubai. Most importantly, they have a beachfront property that we visited one night for dinner. While the food wasn’t that great at the restaurant we ate at (360 Degrees), if I could re-do things, we would spend a beach day at this property. It’s right by Burj Al Arab which is the only 7 Star Resort in the world.
On the Atlantis, it was also nice but a little more touristy as you would expect. After all, it’s Atlantis. I will say that it took a little longer to get downtown from The Atlantis but taxis were still cheap and it wasn’t significantly more time – about 30 minutes. The reason we stayed at Atlantis was because Matt loves waterslides and there is a water park on the property. We had been to Atlantis in the Bahamas a few years ago and it was always on his list to go to this one. It wasn’t really for me but 2 nights there was the perfect amount of time to keep him happy and also get a change of scenery. Everything you could want is on the resort property from multiple food options on every menu, to relaxing pools (not near the water park), spas, and luxury dining. The other reason we stayed there was because there was a Nobu restaurant there. We love Nobu and it reminds us of being back in LA so we knew we wanted to have dinner there one night.
Things to Do in Dubai: What to Eat
Dubai has some of the most amazing food in the world and quite diverse options for food. Here are some of the restaurants we went to and some that were on our list but we didn’t make it to.
- Thiptara. This is a Thai restaurant on the water right by the dancing fountains outside of the Burj Khalifa. It was really delicious and the view of the fountains was impeccable. There are tons of restaurants along the water there and this was a little more secluded which we appreciated. Even if you don’t make it here, eating dinner in this bustling part of town is a must!
- Nobu. This was the best meal of our trip which I expected. Nobu rarely disappoints and it’s one of our favorite spots for sushi. Apparently there is one opening in Chicago which we learned from our waiter. Great service, amazing food options (even for vegans), and reasonable prices for a fancier night out.
- Desert Safari. This isn’t exactly a restaurant but more of an experience. I’ll explain in the next section!
- Comptoir102. A healthy, organic spot for acai bowls! Serves gluten and vegan options!
- Cafe Des Artistes. Cute little cafe!
Things to Do in Dubai: What to Do
- Desert Safari. There are so many companies that do this and your hotel can most likely arrange this for you as well. I would recommend arranging it with them in advance if you’re only staying in Dubai for a few days as they do book up. You can do a morning one to watch the sunrise and an evening one to watch the sunset. Both are about 4 to 5 hours in total. The activities are mostly the same except you get a little more in the evening: entertainment (belly dancing), henna, and a few more lively activities. If you like the social aspect go for sunset. If you would prefer to be intimate, go for sunrise (you leave at 5AM). We went with Rayna Tours and there were multiple things included in addition to watching the sunrise. The sunset tours were sold out the nights we were there so it just didn’t work out for us. We got to ride ATVs, take a camel ride, eat breakfast in the desert, go on a desert Safari (aka crazy driving in the sand dunes), and go sand boarding. It was quite a packed morning! We were dropped back off at our hotel around 9:30AM and already felt so accomplished!
- Dubai Miracle Garden. This is probably what I was most excited for! Matt always makes fun of me for taking him to various gardens around the world but even he enjoyed this one. Entry was 40 AED and it was worth it. The park is massive and there are so many floral arrangements that it is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest flower structure. It’s definitely a photo taking paradise! You guys loved this photo so much it made my top 13 posts on Instagram for the month of November!
- Burj Khalifa. This is the tallest building in the world and a must see in Dubai! You can buy your tickets in advance for various time windows (highly recommended as they do sell out especially at peak times like sunset). We opted to go at sunset. There are two tiers of the experience – one which takes you to the 148th floor and the other is to the 125th. If you buy the more expensive package for the 148th floor (we did) it’s a little more exclusive, you get to go on the outside observation deck (highest in the world!), you get beverages and snacks, and you can also go down to the 125th floor as well. I would recommend this option!
- Day Trip to Abu Dhabi. Also a must if only to see the Sheik Grand Zayed Mosque! This was one of my favorite things in UAE because it was so unique and I loved learning about the culture. Our hotel concierge also arranged this for us. It was a private day trip and we went to Ferrari World, the Emirates Palace, a date market (where I got conned into buying $40 work of dates at wholesale), the Sheik Grand Zayed Mosque, and an art gallery. We had lunch at Emirates Palace at the Lebanese restaurant but it wasn’t anything spectacular. It wasn’t bad, just nothing to write home about. They also serve coffee with gold flakes in the lounge which would be my recommendation for coffee lovers. That way you can get the full experience without having the full cost! And you can still see the beauty of the Palace from the inside! Other than the Mosque and the Palace, we could have skipped everything else and made it a half day trip. The drive from Dubai is an hour so you could even rent a car (they drive on the right like in the US) and drive yourself. Just make sure to check the times the Mosque is open to the public beforehand – we had to enter after prayer at about 4PM.
- Dubai Mall. This mall is amazing! If you need to do any shopping, it’s the spot. They have a beautiful umbrella ceiling in one area of the mall and some incredible fountains as well. The food court is also very nice. To get to Burj Khalifa, you have to walk through the mall so leave yourself a little time before or after you see Burj Khalifa to walk through and knock it out at the same time. We did this and then had dinner in the marina at night at Thiptara.
- La Perle. This is a show that was advertised almost everywhere. We didn’t get a chance to go but it reminded me a lot of Cirque de Soleil. It looked amazing! Next time we go back, we would definitely work this in! We just didn’t have the time. Also book this in advance – there are 2 shows a day and they sell out!
- Aquaventure at The Atlantis. I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this in my list. Matt would be ashamed of me! While waterparks aren’t my thing, it’s pretty cool to say we went to this one in Dubai. They have rides for people of all ages and levels of bravery. If you’re not into it but your spouse or children are, there are plenty of lounge chairs and lots of sun in Dubai to enjoy instead!
- Go snowboarding or skiing inside a mall. Yes, this is possible! You can do this inside the Mall of Emirates.
- Beach day. Since the weather is so hot (it was 85 degrees over Thanksgiving), this makes sense! There are multiple beachfront resorts to hang out at if you stay in one or you can head to Kite Beach. This is more of an underground beach that we only learned about from locals. We didn’t get to go but it’s on our list for next time!
I hope this travel guide was helpful! If you are ever bearded to Dubai, you can check these things to do off your list. If you have any questions or want more recommendations, send me an email here!