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How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Dubai

This fast-paced metropolis is best explored through its cultural roots.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Dubai

Dubai's skyline in sunset viewed from the north.

Dubai offers plenty of superlative experiences, from taking camel rides along sand dunes to admiring jaw-dropping views from the Burj Khalifa.(Getty Images)

With its renowned attractions – including the world's tallest building, the world's largest mall, and the world's only seven-star hotel, Burj Al Arab – it's no wonder Dubai calls itself a city of superlatives. Built on the Arabian Dessert and bordered by the Persian Gulf in the United Arab Emirates, Dubai delights and excites visitors with its gleaming skyscrapers, international cuisine, unparalleled shopping, posh hotels and resorts and beautiful beaches. A fast-growing metropolis where native Emiratis still adhere to Middle Eastern customs and traditions, Dubai's intrigue also lies in its fascinating culture and history.

Read on to explore can't-miss experiences and highlights on your next trip to this ever-changing, larger-than-life city.

Explore Dubai's Heritage District and Old City

Before exploring Dubai's awe-inspiring sights, begin your visit in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood. Dating back to the early 1900s, this is one of the oldest heritage sites in Dubai. Wander through the picturesque courtyards, narrow alleyways and buildings constructed from ground coral, mud and water. These structures were designed to facilitate air circulation in extreme summer conditions. Nearby is the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, where a guide will give an informative tour of the center followed by a visit to the Diwan Mosque.

One of the first Emirati customs you'll learn about at the center is a traditional greeting. Plates of sweet and delicious dates and small cups of strong and aromatic Arabic coffee are served upon entering a house or business. After your visit to the Heritage District, take a ride on a traditional wooden abra on Dubai Creek and bring your best bargaining skills to the heart of the city to peruse the lively spice, textile and gold souks. Wander the colorful stalls and listen to the owners beckon to show you dates, spices, prized saffron, pashminas, handbags and handmade shoes. In a city that's known for the world's largest gold market, the gold souks are not-to-be-missed. The jewelry is on display in the windows, some with gemstones, and all crafted in 18- to 24-carat gold. After a bit of haggling, you might even come away with a few small trinkets and more than just a memorable experience at the souks.

Check Out Major Attractions in Downtown Dubai

Put several tourist attractions on your must-see list, including a visit to the Burj Khalifa's At The Top observation deck. The sweeping views, which overlook the city, sea and desert from the world's highest human-created vantage point, are extraordinary. Take the elevator and travel upward at 22 mph to the 124th floor, or opt for the premium experience and visit the record-breaking observation deck on the 148th floor and the At The Top Sky Lounge. After landing back on the ground, head to the Dubai Mall for a bit of shopping and lunch, and don't miss the spectacular Dubai Fountain show that takes place each day at 1:30 pm.

As one of the world's tallest and most impressive choreographed water displays, the daily show is captivating. There are points along the 30-acre Burj Lake where you can view the display, but for two of the best spots, book a ride on the lake for a front-row seat or take a stroll along the Boardwalk. There are additional show times, depending on the day, and colorful nightly spectacles beginning at 6 pm.

Take a Balloon Ride Over the Arabian Desert at Sunrise

Looking for a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience in Dubai? A sunrise balloon ride over the desert just might fit the bill. There are several tours offered by outfitters Platinum Heritage and Balloon Adventures Dubai, including one featuring an overnight stay in the desert. Alternatively, arrive before dawn to climb aboard the next best thing to a magic carpet ride and float above the golden dunes of the Arabian Desert in a hot air balloon as you watch the sunrise. Following the balloon ride, enjoy breakfast and hospitality in a traditional desert camp and then hop in a vintage Land Rover for an African-style safari through the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, where you can view Arabian gazelles and oryx. You might even have an opportunity to take a camel ride before heading back to the big city.

Stay in Luxurious Accommodations

The iconic Burj Al Arab is in full view from the soft white beaches of Jumeirah Al Naseem. The latest addition to Madinat Jumeirah or "City of Jumeirah," this luxury resort offers a peaceful retreat from the busy shopping malls and lively attractions of Dubai. The rooms and suites are appointed in soft colors inspired by sand dunes and include subtle Arabian-inspired touches, along with balconies overlooking the beach and ocean or gardens and pool.

Madinat Jumeirah features three large resorts as well as individual guest houses and villas, and boasts more than 50 restaurants and bars. Guests also have access to Talise Spa and Souk Madinat Jumeirah, a shopping and dining complex. The hotel is located just a short distance from Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach Hotel, a luxury family-friendly resort, as well as Wild Wadi Waterpark, a popular destination for families with children, especially during the summer.

Time Your Trip Strategically

The best time to visit is between fall and spring when the weather is pleasant, the evenings are cool and breezy, especially along the water, and all of the outdoor attractions are open. Once the summer months arrive, temperatures in the desert can reach 125 degrees, and you run the risk of finding yourself spending most of your time shopping at an indoor mall. If that happens, you can ice skate at Dubai Mall's Olympic-size skating rink or have a shark encounter at the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, slalom down the slopes at Ski Dubai at the Mall of the Emirates or visit the world's largest indoor amusement park, IMG Worlds of Adventure. And no matter when you visit, keep in mind that while Dubai is a vibrant and modern international city, there are still traditional customs that must be respected. Adhere to those traditions while you are there.

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