I’ll put it out there, I love Dubai.
I visited for eight nights and was utterly blown away, concluding fairly quickly that there really isn’t anywhere like it that I’ve been to before.
Whether you consider yourself a bit of a thrill-seeker, enjoy getting off the beaten-track to soak up a bit of heritage, or yearn to be pampered to high heaven amongst absolutely stunning surroundings, I’d say Dubai truly has something for everybody.
I planned an itinerary that would allow me to see all the key offerings of this vibrant UAE playground, whilst allowing time for a cocktail/glass of champagne/other alcoholic beverage or two. Or three.
Whether you’re curious about what Dubai has to offer or have a trip booked yourself (you lucky thing!), here is my top ten recommendations of things to do in Dubai.
1. Take a private city tour of Dubai
I did this on my first day, which paid dividends for the remainder of my time in Dubai as I was able to quickly get my bearings, notwithstanding of course the unrivaled insight given by a private guide. I wholeheartedly encourage you to consider doing the same; our guide was incredibly courteous, tailoring the pace and content of the tour towards my interests which really made for an entertaining couple of hours.
DubaiPrivateTour.com offer a 4 hour tour which includes sights such as the Burj Al-Arab (so-called seven-star hotel), Jumeirah Mosque, Palm Jumeirah Island, Dubai Mall and of course the world-famous Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building!).
It’s reasonably priced at £108 for four people given it includes hotel pick-up/drop-off, your own private guide and an air conditioned minibus. Whether you have a few days or a slightly longer trip, do this.
2. Ride across the Dubai Creek in an Abra
Dubai’s water taxis, known as Abras, are an authentic way to see the Dubai Creek and the old traditional part of the city in all its glory, whilst taking in the breath-taking skyline of downtown Dubai in the distance. Costing just 1 Dirham per person (approx. 20p) payable directly to the driver, it certainly won’t break the bank and is an ideal way to get to the Gold and Spice Souks accessed across the Dubai Creek.
3. Go on a Dubai desert safari
You can’t go alllllll the way to Dubai and not venture out to the desert!
I booked a Platinum Heritage Luxury Desert Safari and conservation drive, a little more sedate than some of the more extreme ‘dune-bashing’ tours which some operators offer, instead opting for a little bit of luxury in some rather stunning surroundings.
Picked up from my hotel in a luxurious Mercedes G-Wagon, I was driven into the desert where our guide piloted us across the rolling dunes of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, pointing out wild Arabian Oryx and other rare Arabian wildlife along the way. There was an opportunity to get out of the car as the late afternoon sun started to set, climbing a dune to get a better view of the reserve.
After an hour or so of comfortable exploration, our small party and I were whisked by camel to a secluded table nestled in a desert oasis lit by torchlight (lavishly decorated with silk carpets and soft fluffy cushions… I know, stunning right?), where our guide prepared a luxurious traditional six-course Arabian banquet under the stars. Whilst feasting, my party was entertained by a belly-dancer and latterly our host sharing fascinating experiences of life in the UAE.
Needless to say, this experience was amazing and you should definitely look to do a safari of some description when you head to Dubai.
4. Soak up a Dubai champagne Friday brunch
If you haven’t gathered already, Dubai doesn’t do anything half-hearted and this mindset is extended towards the well-established tradition of complete overindulgence at Friday brunch.
With the working week in Dubai running Sunday to Thursday, many top Dubai hotels start the weekend off right with this gastronomic delight; an exercise of glutenous courses, endless world-class buffets and free-flowing champagne.
I personally recommend Spectrum on One at the Hilton Dubai, a good balance of quality vs affordability, a wide variety of worldwide cuisines (Sushi, Wagu Beef, Indian, Thai, Oysters, Lobsters, Chinese, Mexican… you name it, it’s there) beautifully presented and with superb service to match. The bottomless Moët and cocktails on supply might have helped things along nicely too.
5. Cruise around the Dubai Marina, World Islands and coastline in a Yacht
Perhaps it’s the inner-wannabe-Playboy in me, or whether I fancied an afternoon on the water, but I jumped at the chance of renting a yacht and getting out on a late-afternoon to see what the Dubai Marina and coastline had to offer.
It’s an ideal way to see Dubai through a slightly different lens, taking in the Marina district from afar, getting up close to the famous Palm and World Islands and exploring key sights such as the Burj Al Arab up close which sit on Dubai’s coastline. I used and would recommend Xclusive Yachts for chartering a yacht.
6. Soar above the Dubai desert in a hot air balloon
I could share various superlatives about how awesome and utterly breath-taking silently floating above the desert at 5am whilst watching the sun rise above the horizon was, but I simply wouldn’t be doing it justice.
Putting it simply, floating above a nature reserve in the Dubai desert at sunrise was by far the most spectacular thing I’ve ever done in my life; gliding silently as-if-by-magic-carpet over camels, occasionally interrupted by the roar of the magnificent burner firing to inflate the balloon and watching the most beautiful sunrise from a few thousand feet in the air are things I shall remember forever.
Platinum Heritage and Dubai’s Balloon Adventures operate a variety of different hot air balloon experiences and offer a central Dubai hotel pick-up and drop-off service starting at AED 995 (roughly £185pp), which may be one of the more expensive of my recommendations but I assure you is most definitely worth it, especially for a lifetime’s worth of fabulous memories.
7. Stand in awe and watch the Dubai Fountains
The Dubai Fountain, at the base of the impressive Burj Khalifa set in a 24-acre lake, is simply a work of art and really is something to behold.
With jets that fire water as high as a 45-storey building (.. wow!), the Dubai Fountain performs every thirty minutes from 6pm-10pm to a repertoire of 30+ songs to hits such as ‘All Night Long’ by Lionel Richie, ‘Hero’ by Enrique Iglesias and the classic ‘Nessun Dorma’ by Luciano Pavarotti, you will find yourself simply aghast and probably open-mouthed in amazement.
The best thing about the Dubai Fountain is that this must do attraction is entirely free, located at the base of the Burj Khalifa and outside of the Dubai Mall.
8. Visit the Dubai Gold and Spice Souks
If you love a bit of heritage and culture, the Dubai Gold Souk and the ancient Covered Souk markets are the right way to experience a bit of traditional Dubai.
Accessed via the traditional water taxi’s or Abras (see #2), the world-famous Souks are a labyrinthine of traders who underpin the history of Dubai as a key trading port. Whether you’re taking in the astonishing glistening displays at the Gold Souk or navigating your way through the bustling narrowing passages of the Spice Souk (which happen to be a real assault on the senses!), you can be sure that you’re experiencing the authentic Dubai. Don’t forget to barter!
9. Go up to the top of The Burj Khalifa
It’s really tough to get across just how impressive the Burj Khalifa is; as the tallest building in the world at 2,717 feet, the Burj stands proud across the city and guarantees the most breathtaking view across downtown Dubai, the Arabian Gulf and beyond.
The observation deck sits on the 124th floor (of 160), but remains the highest observation deck in the world despite not being at the very top of the structure – and of course, Dubai is a city of world records – so you can of course access this via the world’s fastest lift. The views will simply blow your mind.
You can book tickets to visit the top of the Burj Khalifa through the official website for around £25pp, I visited both late afternoon and returned again late evening, both times offered stunning views but late afternoon is perhaps best for taking the surrounding area in better.
10. Shop-until-you-drop at the Dubai Mall, the largest shopping mall in the world
As the world’s largest shopping mall (1.1 million square metres!), Dubai Mall gives visitors every plausible worldwide brand and major food outlet that you could possibly ever wish for – not to mention hosting a huge aquarium and ice rink!
The Dubai Mall is a perfect place to get out of the madness of the midday sun whilst indulging in some retail therapy and has something for everybody.
.. so there you have it: Dubai
Of course, Dubai has so much more to offer than the above top ten things to do in Dubai, but you wouldn’t go far wrong by picking a few (if not all) of the above to see and do. Dubai is an incredible city to visit, it’s rich in culture, tradition, glamour, lavish excess, luxury and history like no other place I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.
As soon as my bank balance allows, I’m going back!