From a skyscraper that’s the top of the world to a restaurant that’s under the ocean, from 21st century shopping to ancient Bedouin traditions, Dubai has an intoxicating mixture of attractions and activities to keep you busy. Whatever you choose to do, you’ll soon realise that Dubai always aims to do things bigger and better than anywhere else.
1) Be on top of the world at Burj Khalifa
Let’s take it from the top. While you’re in Dubai you simply have to come to the Burj Khalifa. Take the world’s fastest lift up the world’s tallest building to see the world’s most awesome view. Yes, you’re high enough to be able to see the horizon curve. A great time to come is the early evening, as you’ll get to see the view both in the daytime and once night has fallen too.
2) Go back in time
Before oil was discovered, this was Bedouin country. And you can still get a feel for what life was like back then by taking a desert safari. Most take you in a 4x4 drive out to the desert and to a Bedouin campsite where you can try some barbecued food or have a puff on a shisha. You might even be able to add on extras like belly-dancing entertainment or an evening meal under the stars should you wish.
3) See the fountains
Dubai likes to put on a show, and this one’s free. Come to the Dubai Mall and stand and watch the fountains. The sprays and displays are huge, and all carefully choreographed to music. The fountains are in operation from Saturday to Thursday at 1pm and 1.30pm (Fridays 1.30pm and 2pm), and every day of the week from 6pm to 11pm at half hourly intervals.
4) Experience 7-star luxury
The Burj Al Arab markets itself as the world’s only 7-star hotel. And there are plenty of reasons why. The double floor suites, the private butlers, the underwater seafood restaurant that you can only access by submarine. If it’s just a little beyond your price range to stay here, you can still come and take a look. One of the best places for a selfie with the Burj as a backdrop is on the public beach right next door.
5) Get out on the water
Traditional dhows still plough the waters of the Dubai Creek, and you can hitch a ride by taking what the locals call an ‘abra,’ which is an old roofed boat. For just a small fee you can take a ride from Bur Dubai Abra Station and ride across the creek to the spice souk. Once you disembark, wander through the narrow alleys and get a feel of what like must have been like way back when.
6) Fly a kite
If you’re feeling very adventurous, Kite Beach is the place to come and try a spot of wind- or kite-surfing. But even if you’re not so intrepid, it’s a great place to come and chillax. There are plenty of open-air cafes where you can grab a smoothie and watch the world go by. The locals often play volleyball and other beach games – why not stick around a while and watch?
7) Shop, eat, shop and shop
There are plenty of upmarket shopping malls across the city, including the Dubai Mall. One must-see destination is the Jumeirah Beach Residence, where you can stroll along the pathways, go shopping, grab some fine dining and watch a movie. You don’t really need to go anywhere else!
8) Cross the palm
Palm Jumeirah is a staggering example of ‘what if’ thinking. This is a vast man-made island in the shape of a palm tree, and is home to some of the area’s most exclusive hotels, and private addresses. There’s a monorail running down the main drag, so it’s easy to get out on the palm and get exploring. Or just stay on the train and gaze out on it all through the window.
9) Get to know the history
Bur Dubai is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city, and home to its oldest building – the Al Fahidi Fort. This is where you’ll find the Dubai Museum which has a fascinating display of dioramas showing how life was lived in the emirate. You can also visit the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding to learn a little Arabic and get to know more about the local culture.
10) Haggle in a souk
The souks in Dubai are vibrant and exciting places to stroll and search for bargains. Whether you’re looking for a piece of jewellery at the Gold Souk, or an essential cooking ingredient at the Spice Souk, you’ve got to haggle. The stall holders expect it, and many will drop their price significantly once you get going.