Most people use Dubai as a stopover destination. They fly in, spend a night or two, then fly onward to their final destination. While Dubai is often seen as “Vegas in the desert,” there is a surprising number of things to do here. Dubai is a city trapped between the old and the new. A place in a conservative culture with old-world customs while at the same time a Middle Eastern Vegas.
Malls in Dubai are not like malls anywhere else in the world. There are over 65 malls in the city with more on the way. Between the Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates, you’ll find a ton of amazing things to see and do. There’s luxury shopping, nightly fountain shows, an aquarium inside the Dubai Mall and even indoor skiing at the Mall of the Emirates (the Mall of the Emirates also has over 650 stores and 100 restaurants). You can also visit the world’s largest themed mall, the Ibn Battuta Mall. It has a Moroccan theme and is named after the eponymous explorer. It has over 270 stores and 50 restaurants too. Be sure to dress appropriately and avoid tank tops, shorts, or miniskirts.
This is Dubai as it used to be. Markets like the famous gold market pepper the area, small shops line the streets, and you can get lost in a dizzying maze of alleyways. Take a boat across Dubai Creek to Deira and wander aimlessly around the streets, eat at some of the traditional restaurants, explore the art district, and see Dubai as it is away from the glitz of the malls and high-rises. Don’t miss the Dubai Frame which is a landmark offering the best views of the city, the gold market which has upwards of 10 tons of gold at any time, and the spice souk.
The marina area is surrounded by tall buildings and is composed of a beautiful scenic boardwalk. Here, you’ll find lots of fancy boats, beautiful condos, and bars and restaurants overlooking the harbor. Be sure to check out Pier 7, which is seven floors of restaurants and bars on the water.
Located in nearby Abu Dhabi, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is definitely worth a half-day trip. Built between 1996-2007, the mosque and its surrounding gardens span over 30 acres. The mosque and its massive square are almost all white, giving it a very majestic look. It’s a 90-minute drive from Dubai You’ll want to make sure you wear appropriate clothing since it is a place of worship, and they have cover-up items available for anyone without suitable attire. During Eid, upwards of 41,000 people visit the mosque each day. Admission is free.
It’s quite easy to book a spot on a boat and head out to sea if you want to try your hand at deep-sea fishing. Tour operators cater to all ages and levels of experience, and most packages even include lunch. Prices will vary depending on what sort of vessel you book and how long you go.
Brunch is a tradition among locals and visitors. Every Friday, everyone flocks to a midday buffet of unlimited drinks and food. As the day goes on, it often turns into a party atmosphere that can get a little wild. However, brunch is not a cheap affair so ask your hotel staff where the best value brunches are.
This white-sand beach is a fantastic place to sunbathe and stroll along the boardwalk. Located along the coast just south of the city’s historic district, there are lots of shops to visit, and there is even an outdoor movie theater. Not only is this a great place to visit, but it’s a great area to stay because you’re surrounded by so many things to do. There are playgrounds here for kids as well as areas to BBQ. It’s perfect for picnics but gets very busy on the weekend so try to enjoy it during the week to beat the crowd.
Opened in 1979, this beautiful mosque is one of two in the city you can actually visit. Built in the Fatimid style, it consists of one large room and there is a guided tour every day at 10am (except for Fridays). There is a charge and comes with a great breakfast spread. If you don’t know much about Islam or the role it plays in the UAE, it’s a very interesting tour.
This souk market is in a modern building designed to look like something out of Aladdin but it’s actually home to some incredible restaurants. There’s a beautiful inner courtyard pond in this complex, too. Come here if you want to splurge if you’re a foodie! Don’t miss Al Makan for local dishes, Anar for Persian cuisine, and The Noodle House for tasty Asian eats.
On this famous man-made palm tree-shaped island, you’ll find a large shopping walkway, the Atlantis resort, Aquaventure waterpark, and a host of fancy restaurants, bars, and clubs. It’s beautiful to walk around and explore during the day but pretty quiet at night.