Best Things To Do in Dubai
There is a delicate balance of old and new in Dubai, resulting in a smorgasbord of things to do. You can spend your mornings sprawled out along Jumeirah Beach and your afternoons shredding powder at Ski Dubai. Or you can start your day haggling at the traditional Gold and Spice Souks before exercising your credit card at the contemporary Dubai Mall. But first thing's first: Get to know the city. Head straight to the top of the Burj Khalifa (the world's tallest building) where you'll find incredible views stretching into the Persian Gulf. And if you're interested in a more traditional perspective, take an abra (water taxi) ride along Dubai Creek.
Updated September 27, 2018
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Skirting the Burj Khalifa in downtown Dubai is every shopper's paradise. The massive Dubai Mall is one of the largest shopping centers in the world and houses more than 1,300 stores. Even if you aren't interested in buying anything, a visit to this immense retail center is a must: The Dubai Mall also contains numerous entertainment facilities, such as an ice rink, a movie theater and several kid-friendly attractions, including an aquarium that houses thousands of underwater creatures. If you happen to be around at night, stop by the Dubai Fountain outside of the mall. Created by the team who designed the Bellagio's famous dancing fountains, the fountain features nightly shows set to a mix of western and eastern music.
Visitors were taken by how much was at the mall – everything you could possibly need can be found inside its sprawling square footage. A few visitors were keen to point out that you might not want to shop here after all. Because so much is imported, some reviewers found prices to be higher in comparison to what they've seen at home. Still, many said that shouldn't stop you from popping in for a visit. Of course, if you're on the hunt for a taste of Middle Eastern culture, this isn't the place to experience it. It is, however, a great escape from the heat, according to travelers.
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Overlooking the Persian Gulf from its perch between Jumeirah Beach and the Palm Islands, this stunning building has wowed architecture buffs since it opened in 1999. Its curved glass façade – modeled after the sails that have graced Dubai's waterways all these years – shelters a world-class, über-luxurious hotel located on its own man-made island. The hotel not only houses the tallest atrium in the world at nearly 600 feet high, but it is one of the tallest hotels in the world. Architecture aside, amenities include revolving beds in some suites, as well as a helipad, in case you thought arriving via a complimentary Rolls-Royce was too pedestrian.
But you don't have to stay at the Burj Al Arab to enjoy it (and let's face it, most can't). Those who aren't crashing at the hotel can gain entry by grabbing a bite at one of the on-site restaurants. Among them are Nathan Outlaw at Al Mahara, which features floor-to-ceiling windows guarding a massive fish tank, and the sky-high Al Muntaha, located on the scenic 27th floor of the building.
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Within walking distance of the Burj Al Arab is arguably Dubai's best strip of public sand. Sun-seekers come to this lively shoreline to revel in Dubai's bright rays, while water sports enthusiasts take advantage of the calm, turquoise waters of the Persian Gulf. Jumeirah Beach is also equipped with a children's playground and plenty of barbecue and picnic areas. Just make sure you come early as the area grows steadily more crowded throughout the day.
Although recent travelers said that Jumeirah Beach is neat and clean, defined by white sands, the water itself feels like bathwater and doesn't feel very refreshing on a hot day. The cafes that back the beach offer better spots to cool down.
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Jumeirah Mosque towers over the coast from its perch north of the Dubai Marina. Its detailed white façade – which graces the 500-dirham note – mimics the architectural style of the medieval Fatimid period. Unlike Dubai's other mosques, non-Muslims are invited inside to marvel at Jumeirah's ornate decor, featuring detailed painted panels against bright blue and yellow backgrounds. But a quick note on conduct: Those planning to enter the mosque should come in modest dress – that means long sleeves and long pants or skirts. Women will also have to cover their heads with a scarf. If you don't have traditional attire, the mosque is happy to provide you with traditional clothing necessary for entrance.
Even if you're not religious, travelers strongly recommend a visit to this attraction for its educational value and cultural significance. Visitors loved the guides' informative presentation on the architecture of the mosque and informative talk on Islam.
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Although we don't recommend experiencing it the way Tom Cruise did in "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol," the Burj Khalifa is a crucial item on any Dubai agenda. Rising 2,722 feet above the city (that's a whopping 160 stories), the Burj Khalifa proudly holds the title of "world's tallest building." But that's not the only title this tower's got under its belt. The Burj Khalifa is also the tallest free-standing structure in the world and home to the highest outdoor observation deck in the world. You know what that means: gorgeous views. Visitors are invited to ride the elevator to the 124th floor for breathtaking city vistas extending all the way out to the Persian Gulf. Special telescopes also show scenes of the city from different points in time, allowing you to experience every stage of Dubai's history. You can also travel higher to the 148th floor, the world's highest observation deck, but it will cost you extra.
Traveler reviews were mixed for the world's tallest building. On the one hand, visitors say it's a must-see simply for its world-famous distinction, but on the other hand, some found the attraction to be overpriced with lackluster views. A few tips: If you to decide to take a trip to the top, book in advance because they sell out quickly. If you can, schedule your visit around sunset: According to travelers, the spectacular views more than make up for the long wait to the top.
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Amid the towering skyscrapers of downtown Dubai lies the Bastakiya Quarter, the city's historic district. This former fishing village earned its name from the numerous Bastak (Iranian) traders that settled here in the 19th century. The charming little neighborhood houses the popular outdoor café, the Arabian Tea House, and several art galleries that feature the work of local and international artists, among others. Some of the restored buildings also include wind towers, which was an early form of air conditioning. The Dubai Museum is also located here.
Recent visitors found the Bastakiya Quarter to be a nice respite from the glitz and glam of downtown Dubai, and enjoyed seeing what the city looked like before all of its developments came to fruition. Some recommend taking a quick and affordable abra (boat) ride across the Dubai Creek to a market, where trying the street vendor's ice cream and purchasing Arabic perfume are musts.
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Dubai is and has been a titan of trade for centuries. To get a sense of what commerce was like back in the day, take a stroll through one of the city's traditional souks, or bazaars. The Gold Souk, located on Dubai Creek's south bank in the Deira, specializes in glitz and glamour. Featuring glittering displays of necklaces, bracelets and earrings from more than 300 retailers, the Gold Souk is one of the most renowned gold jewelry trading centers in the world. In fact, approximately 20 percent of the world's gold passes through this market. But if you're not one for gold, don't fret. The souk also sells platinum, diamonds and silver. You're also guaranteed to get what you're paying for. The government tightly controls what is sold and by who in the souk, so you don't have to walk away thinking there's a chance you may be holding something counterfeit.
On the other side of the creek lies the pungent Spice Souk, where vendors hawk flavors from across the globe, including cinnamon, ginger and chili. This is also the place to stock up on saffron, as you'll find this delectable spice at a much lower cost here than you would at home.
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"Surreal" is one way to describe Ski Dubai. Even when the city is enveloped in sizzling triple-digit temperatures, this massive indoor winter wonderland is never without fresh powder. The Middle East's first indoor ski center, Ski Dubai boasts five ski runs (the longest of which spans more than 1,300 feet with a 197-foot vertical drop), a freestyle snowboard zone, a chairlift, as well as room for toboggan runs and snowball fights. Inside there's also the world's first indoor black run, ski lessons for the kiddos, as well as a penguin colony.
Recent travelers loved the idea of skiing in Dubai, but warn that avid snow bunnies may lose interest. As one might expect, those who've never skied, or didn't do it often, were thrilled by the attraction, while those who knew their way around the slopes were quickly bored. Although proper gear is available at the facility, some travelers warned that it is very cold inside, and to bring any extra winter accessories you may have, especially a hat and gloves. Families, in particular, found this attraction to be a hit with their youngsters. But many travelers warn that the hidden fees for services, such as locker usage and pictures with penguins are pretty high –even unreasonable.
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Located at the foot of the Burj Al Arab, the Wild Wadi Waterpark is a collection of 30 water rides and play areas designed for all ages. The entire park is modeled after Juha, a character often referenced in Arabian folklore and featured predominately among the park. Thrill-seekers can slide down Tantrum Alley or the Burj Surj, while those looking for a little more relaxation can glide along the lazy river. There are also multiple moderate slide options, as well as a water park just for the kiddos and the Wipeout and Riptide, a simulated surfing ride that's one of only four of its kind in the world.
Travelers say Wild Wadi is a guaranteed hit with kids of all ages, from toddlers to teenagers. However, despite all the fun-filled things to do, some found the park to a bit too pricey.
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When the glitz and glam of urban Dubai grows tiresome, visitors strongly recommend escaping to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. The UAE's first national park sits on the outer edges of the city, and occupies about 87 square miles of the Arabian Desert. The reserve mainly acts as a research unit, but travelers are allowed to explore the area – with one caveat: visitors aren't allowed to tour the reserve by themselves.
Luckily, the park offers many different types of activities that will cater to travelers with varying interests. Thrill-seekers can go sand boarding, dabble in archery or go dune driving on a luxury four-wheeler. Those looking for a more relaxed experience can soak up the spirit of the desert on low cushions in Bedu tents for a delectable Dune Dinner, or arrange a more intimate Private Desert Dinner. There's also traditional camel treks available, as well as horseback rides, and even a class on falconry. Visitors can also camp on-site, or retreat to the luxurious Al Maha A Luxury Collection Desert Resort and Spa at the end of the day. The interesting flora and fauna, as well as all of the fun activities, including barbecues and camel rides, made the experience unforgettable for most travelers.
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Sitting near the Bastakiya Quarter, the Dubai Museum offers visitors a glimpse of where this monumental city has been and where it's going. The museum occupies the Al Fahidi Fort, which is the oldest building in Dubai, previously used by the monarch and as a defense station. Today, the museum features a variety of wings dedicated to Dubai's cultural, historical and geographical landscape. Wander around and you'll find everything from goods sold in the 1950s, located in the markets wing, to information about the marine life that lies under the Arabian Gulf, appropriately located in the sea wing. There's also a folklore wing that will likely keep younger ones entertained, and a courtyard equipped with models of local boats and bamboo houses decorated with furniture used during that time period.
Travelers recommend a visit if you're into history, or looking to beat the heat for an hour or two. Many said it was a "must-see" if it's your first visit to Dubai.
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