10 Best Things to Do in Dubai

What is Dubai Most Famous For?

    Dubai is the eponymous capital of one of the UAE’s 7 emirates. The city is known for its riches, its glitzy and innovative development and architecture, and its shopping scenes. But Dubai isn’t all about 5-star glam, though that’s likely to be a big part of any visit here.

    It’s easy to discover both local and more cultural sides to the so-called City of Gold. From the tranquillity of the deserts to the hubbub of the souks, there is a huge range of things to see and do. In one day, you can see vast dunes, traditional villages and remarkable skyscrapers.


    Start the day on an Arabian Desert safari

    Cruise the sand with the wind in your hair

    A trip into the Arabian Desert is a popular excursion for many visitors to Dubai. There are a whole host of tour companies that can take you out to either tear up the sand in a 4x4 – including exhilarating dune bashing – or explore it at a more leisurely pace atop an obliging camel.

    There is also the possibility of spending a night in the desert at a private desert camp, where you’ll be treated to a barbecue feast, music, and belly dancing. But for perhaps the most magical start to a day in Dubai, head out on a desert safari in the morning. This also means you’ll have the rest of the day free for other exploring back in the city itself.

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    Must-See: Grand Mosque

    Admire the spiritual symbol of Dubai

    The Grand Mosque in Bur Dubai features Dubai's tallest minaret that offers dizzying heights – it stands at an impressive 70 metres tall and boasts 45 small and 9 larger domes. Each dome sports beautiful stained-glass panels that glisten in the sun.

    The Grand Mosque is one of the city's most recognisable landmarks, and the morning or early evening make for good times to walk around it to avoid the searing heat of the midday sun.

    Location: Ali Bin Abi Taleb Street, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

    Open: Saturday–Thursday from 9am to 10pm, Fridays from 4.30pm to 10pm

    Phone: +971 (0)800 600

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    Discover local cuisine on a Dubai food tour

    Get a taste for Arabic flavours

    A Dubai food tour allows you to get a taste of the local fare. Middle Eastern cuisine might still not have quite the strong reputation internationally that it deserves but it’s something every visitor to the city should make time for.

    Run by sisters Arva and Farida Ahmed, Frying Pan Adventures takes guests out on a 4-hour walking food and culture tour of the city. Five tours offer different tastes, including a night-time option, so there’s a chance for everyone to explore Arabic flavours. Eating a mezze platter is another must for foodies visiting Dubai – the diverse range of dishes on offer makes this a great way to get a quick overview of local specialities.

    Location: 67 22B Street, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

    Phone: +971 (0)56 471 8244

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    photo by Unai Guerra (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    Get a thrill at Atlantis water parks

    Get wet or go home!

    Three thrilling water-themed parks are based in the Atlantis resort for you and your family to experience. Aquaventure Waterpark – complete with zip lines, and slides through shark-infested lagoons – is the top water park in all the Middle East and Europe, with 42 acres of stimulating water activities to enjoy.

    The Lost Chambers Aquarium alone has an astonishing 65,000 marine animals to look at. Also, not to be missed is the sensational Dolphin Bay, where you can interact with these beautiful creatures 1-on-1.

    Location: Atlantis The Palm, Crescent Road, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

    Open: Daily from 10am to 6pm

    Phone: +971 (0)4 426 2000

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    photo by Fabio Achilli (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Explore the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood

    A feel for Dubai before the modern day

    The Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood lets you stray away from your first thoughts about Dubai as an affluent oil-fuelled economy and vibrant tourism destination. Dubai’s emergence in its current, modern form is a relatively recent development.

    Taking a stroll through the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, alongside the Dubai Creek, lets you gain another perspective on the heritage of this jewel of a middle-eastern city. Amid traditional-style houses and other buildings from before Dubai’s rapid modernisation in the 1970s, you’ll find art exhibitions, creative studios, museums, and more.

    Phone: +971 (0)600 560000

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    photo by Ankur P (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Must-See: Dubai Museum

    The cultural and historical primer every visitor needs

    Dubai Museum is where you can trace the history of Dubai – and that of the country at large. See recreated reed houses and a pearling-era souk among other interesting artefacts, while learning about the city's amazing transition from a backwater into an affluent modern city.

    The Dubai Museum is set in the historical Al Fahidi Fort, the oldest remaining building in Dubai, and was constructed at the start of the 1970s – as the city’s breathtaking reinvention began to materialise – as a way of preserving the traditional way of life that had existed beforehand.

    Location: Al Fahidi Street, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

    Open: Saturday–Thursday from 8.30am to 8.30pm, Fridays from 2.30pm to 8.30pm

    Phone: +971 (0)4 353 1862

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    photo by A.Davey (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Take a yacht out around Palm Jumeirah

    Islands that embody ultra-luxe Dubai

    Take a tour by yacht around the iconic Palm Jumeirah, an artificial archipelago on the stunning coastal area of Dubai created using reclaimed land. Jumeirah is in the shape of a palm tree and, astoundingly, it’s as large as 800 football pitches.

    Relax on a chartered yacht in the sunshine, and watch people go about their daily business along its coastline. Once you step back onto dry land again, take time to explore the sights of the area’s luxurious hotels, or go diving around the exotic artificial reef – impressively, it was created by purposely sinking two F-100 Super Sabre fighter jets.

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    Must-See: Burj Khalifa

    Towering at an amazing 828 metres

    No list of things to do in Dubai would be complete without a mention of the Burj Khalifa. Enjoy the exhilarating feeling of being on top of the world at the At The Top Burj Khalifa observation deck, located on the 124th floor of the world’s tallest tower and guaranteed to be a highlight of any visit to the Middle East.

    Marvel at the dazzling lights of Dubai that lie below you at dusk. If you come by day, you can also bask in the sun on their funky outdoor terrace. The queue for the lift to the top can be quite long, but The Dubai Mall is at the base of the tower, so you can do some shopping while you wait for it to get shorter.

    Location: 1 Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

    Open: Daily from 8.30am to 11pm

    Phone: +971 (0)4 888 8124

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    Catch a performance at the Dubai Opera

    A slice of musical or theatrical culture

    The downtown Dubai Opera is well worth a visit for culture enthusiasts spending time in the city. Even if opera isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Dubai (you’re not alone), Dubai Opera’s varied programme of performances can become a highlight of your visit.

    Performances include not just pure opera but also ballet and classical music. There are also theatre productions, fashion shows, and comedy sketches, meaning there’s something to catch most nights, and many shows are family-friendly.

    Location: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

    Phone: +971 (0)4 440 8888

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    photo by Greger Ravik (CC BY 2.0) modified


    End the day with cocktails at the Jumeirah’s Skyview Bar

    Toast Dubai with a view to die for

    Skyview Bar sits on the 27th-floor of the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab Jumeirah Hotel. If there’s one thing all the glitz and glamour of Dubai makes you want to do, it’s to leave behind the drabber elements of your day-to-day and live the high life here instead. Start by toasting the dramatic beauty and extravagance of the City of Gold with killer cocktails to match equally stunning views (through vertigo-inducing glass walls) from the heights.

    Among the signature cocktails here is Eyes Looking at Heaven – you might just feel that’s exactly where yours are peering down from.

    Location: 27th floor, Burj Al Arab Jumeirah Hotel, Jumeirah Beach Road, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

    Open: Saturday–Thursday from 3pm to midnight, Fridays from 7pm to 2am

    Phone: +971 (0)4 301 7600

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    Chris Wotton | Contributing Writer

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