Things to Do in Dubai
When to Visit:
The best times to visit Dubai are late fall through early spring—anytime from November to March—when average temperatures range between the high 70s and high 80s Fahrenheit and you can enjoy the outdoors (provided you’re armed with sunscreen). Summer temperatures hover around 100°F and come with high humidity, making Dubai something of a sauna from May until September, but hotel rates also plunge by up to 75 percent, and you can simply hop from one air-conditioned attraction to another.
Arriving and Departing:
You have several options for reaching Dubai from its airport: metro, taxi, or bus. Take a metro train from Terminal 1 or 3 for key areas such as Deira, Downtown, and Dubai Marina—the trains operate roughly every 10 minutes from around 6am to midnight, but don’t run Friday mornings. Otherwise, taxis leave from each of the three terminals: Expect a 25-dirham standing charge, plus a metered fare of about two dirhams per kilometer. If you’re on a budget, buses are your cheapest option. Catch them at all terminals, but do your homework beforehand—the route network can be daunting for newcomers.
Dubai’s heat and highways work against walking, although it’s easier to go by foot in Deira and other older districts. The easiest alternative is a taxi, with plenty to flag down and reasonable rates—think about $1 to $2 per kilometer, plus an initial standing charge. For longer distances, use the Dubai Metro, which runs between Dubai Airport and the Creek, and on to Jumeirah, Dubai Marina, and Downtown. To save hassle, buy a Nol card, and pre-load it to avoid the often-long ticket lines at stations. You can also use your Nol on Dubai’s buses, trams, and waterbuses.
Hotels and restaurants automatically add a 10- to 20-percent service charge to bills, and sometimes an extra tourism levy of around six percent. That’s quite a sting, but it’s still customary to leave a 10- to 15-percent tip at restaurants, and to give porters and hotel room cleaners a few dirhams. Bear in mind that service charges don’t usually get to waiters and that hospitality worker earnings in Dubai are usually low. In taxis, it’s customary to round up fares to the nearest five dirhams at least.
What the Locals Know: If you’re after cheap souvenirs away from Dubai’s upscale shops, the Karama Market in the old town is the go-to of savvy locals, and does a roaring trade in low-cost clothes, gifts, and accessories. Don’t be surprised if you’re invited into backrooms filled with replica designer handbags and watches, and brace yourself for lots of elbow-tugging and pleading from the vendors. One rule: There’s no point in shopping here unless you haggle—and haggle hard.
The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building on the planet, soaring 2,717 feet (828 meters) high with more than 160 stories set in a stepped design that narrows as it climbs, syringe-like, to the sky. The design is patterned after the repetition of a single geometric shape, meant to echo Islamic art. Bringing a new meaning to the term skyscraper, the building is part of the massive downtown Dubai complex of offices, hotels, shopping malls, entertainment precincts, and apartment buildings.
Carved along the Gulf shoreline south of Dubai’s The Palm island, Dubai Marina is a skyscraper-packed waterfront community that’s one of the city’s swishest residential and leisure hotspots. At its heart is a 2-mile (3-kilometer) waterway framed by residential blocks, hotels, shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues.
The sail-like silhouette of the Burj Al-Arab Jumeirah has become a symbol of Dubai's opulence and affluence, standing at 1,053 feet (321 meters) as the third-tallest hotel and one of the most luxurious hotels in the United Arab Emirates. Opened in 1999, the landmark boasts plenty of superlatives, including its five-star status.
Jutting into the Persian Gulf from southern Dubai, the Palm Jumeirah is an artificial island in the shape of a palm tree and ringed by a crescent-shaped breakwater. The world’s biggest artificial island, it draws visitors to its palatial hotels, theme parks, and shopping malls.
Set inside Al Fahidi Fort, the Dubai Museum recounts the Emirates’ history up until the oil boom, which forever altered its skyline. Dioramas and artifacts convey what daily life was like for Dubai’s earliest communities, while life-sized re-creations of the city’s early souks and wharfs bring the past to life.
Dubai’s internationally famous Gold Souk has its roots in the 1940s, when Indian and Iranian traders began setting up stalls in the area. Today it’s one of the world’s busiest jewelry markets, with hundreds of shops and stalls selling just about everything that glitters—namely, gold. An estimated 20 percent of the world’s gold passes through the souk, with a whopping 10 tons for sale in the market at any given moment.
The seawater Dubai Creek (Khor Dubai), flowing between Deira and Bur Dubai in the historic center of the United Arab Emirates city of the same name, is the reason for Dubai's very existence. When trade with the outside world began over a century ago, this protected inlet was the obvious choice to develop a commercial seaport. The creek has been widened many times during the last century, and today, it's often busy with abra—small wooden water taxis—ferrying passengers between the souks of Deira on the northeastern bank and the historic district of Bur Dubai on the southwestern bank.
Come face-to-face with 65,000 marine creatures, dive with sharks, and walk underwater at The Lost Chambers Aquarium in Dubai’s Atlantis, The Palm hotel. This state-of-the-art aquarium is themed around the mythical Lost City of Atlantis and consists of illuminated underground chambers brimming with sea life from across the world.
The world’s largest shopping mall by area, The Dubai Mall boasts a huge range of attractions—making it a full-blown UAE entertainment destination. At the heart of Downtown Dubai, this 4-level colossus houses around 1,300 stores, plus restaurants, cinemas, Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, and the Burj Khalifa.
Brave water rides, see marine animals, and much more at the Aquaventure Waterpark in Dubai. One of the Middle East's biggest and best water parks, it sits next to Atlantis, The Palm resort on Palm Jumeirah island. Visit for record-breaking slides, river rides, multiple pools, and a private beach spread over 42 acres (17 hectares) of seafront.
More Things to Do in Dubai
A floral wonderland of 50 million flowers, the Dubai Miracle Garden is one of the UAE's most original attractions. Branded as the world's largest natural flower garden, it boasts hundreds of flower-formed displays spread over 18 acres (7.3 hectares), all of which create an extravaganza of color and scent on the outskirts of Dubai.
Built from white sandstone and crowned with a central dome and two towering minarets, Jumeirah Mosque is Dubai's main place of worship and arguably one of the most beautiful mosques in the United Arab Emirates. Aside from being an extremely popular photography site in Dubai, the landmark is also notable in that it is the only mosque in the city open to non-Muslim visitors—an excellent way to gain a deeper understanding of Islam and its traditions.
Located south of Dubai Creek, Bur Dubai is one of Dubai’s oldest districts, with a traditional atmosphere to match. Extending from Al Raffa in the west to Al Jaddaf in the east, it’s home to an array of sights, from the Bastakia Quarter—also called the Al Fahidi Historic District—to souks, parks, and several top museums.
The first national park in the United Arab Emirates, the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR) offers visitors a stunning landscape of sand dunes and desert fauna. Once a huge camel farm, the land it occupies was bought by Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in 1993, who, inspired by the national parks of South Africa, decided that Dubai needed its own reserve. The reserve is a must-visit for adventure travelers and outdoor enthusiasts, with its rolling dunes setting the scene for thrill-seekers to experience fat-bike riding, off-roading, camel trekking, sandboarding, and falcon demonstrations.
Tucked into Dubai’s Deira district just north of Dubai Creek, the Dubai Spice Souk offers some of the city’s most rewarding shopping. Here, covered alleyways brim with stalls that sell all manner of Arabian and Asian spices, herbs, and delicacies, making the souk ideal for souvenir hunters and anyone hoping to get a sense of old Dubai.
Running about 15 miles (25 kilometers) along Dubai’s Persian Gulf coast, Jumeirah Beach is a go-to for sun and surf lovers. Named after Dubai’s nearby residential Jumeirah district, the beach extends from Jumeirah Mosque in the north to Palm Jumeirah in the south, and includes of a string of private sections and public beaches.
Part of Dubai’s luxe Madinat Jumeirah resort, the Souk Madinat Jumeirah is a modern re-creation of a traditional Arabian souk, with an upscale touch. In place of higgledy-piggledy stalls, a web of alleyways echoes a classic bazaar filled with boutiques, souvenir shops, restaurants, and cafés.
Sheikh Zayed Road is Dubai’s main artery and carves through the city north to south, parallel to the coast, before continuing to neighboring Abu Dhabi. Extending for a total of 346 miles (558 kilometers), it’s best-known for the skyscrapers along its central Dubai section—creating a scene reminiscent of a sci-fi movie.
Within the Dubai Mall, the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo is no stranger to superlatives, including the world’s largest collection of sand sharks and one of the world’s largest acrylic panel viewing platforms. Numerous marine habitats, including an underwater tunnel, house 33,000 marine animals, from crocodiles to tropical fish.
In Dubai, a hotel can be considered a top tourist attraction, and that’s certainly the case with the extravagant Atlantis, the Palm The 1,539-room, ocean-themed resort occupies the top portion of the crescent of land surrounding the man-made Palm Islands, just off the coast of Dubai, and it includes 42 acres (17 hectares) of amusement and entertainment space. Even if you’re not a resort guest, it’s worthwhile to spend a day enjoying everything it has to offer.
Global Village is one of Dubai’s most popular evening entertainment destinations. A combination of festival and theme park staged on the edges of Dubai, it opens yearly between November and April and takes visitors on a virtual world tour with replica international architecture, cultural zones, food pavilions, shows, rides, and markets.
Fly over Dubai and you'll notice something unusual about the shoreline — the unique shapes of Palm Islands and the World, some of the world's largest artificial islands. From above, these islands resemble a trio of palm trees (Palm Jumeirah, Palm Jebel Ali, and Palm Deira) and a roughly circular world map, golden on the otherwise azure surface of the Persian Gulf in the United Arab Emirates.
The Dubai Fountain, which sits in the Burj Khalifa Lake in Downtown Dubai, beneath the Burj Khalifa, is the world’s largest choreographed fountain system. Visitors flock to the shop- and restaurant-lined lakeside to watch the spectacle: water jets bursting to life and swaying in synchronicity to lights and music.
Covering an area of 28 American football fields, IMG Worlds of Adventure in Dubai is the world’s biggest indoor theme park. Situated on the edge of the city, this destination offers four adventure zones—Marvel, Cartoon Network, Lost Valley Dinosaur Adventure, and Novo Cinemas—all based on the fantasy worlds of movie superheroes.
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