15 things everyone has to do in Dubai
Your guide to hacking the tourist game in Dubai…
It’s a land of shimmering skylines, hidden gems, oodles of culture and more. This city is where the fun is, no matter what time of the year it is.
So, whether you’ve lived in Dubai all your life, or if you’re visiting for the first time, this is your cue and your guide to visit all the hot spots in the city.
Here are 15 things everyone has to do in Dubai
The tallest building in the world. Need we say more? This architectural feat of wonder has found many a home on the social media archives of visitors galore and continues to stun. You can visit At The Top, the tower’s observation deck on the 124th floor for spectacular views of Downtown Dubai and beyond. The building itself houses some exquisite retail and culinary experiences like Atmosphere Burj Khalifa, The Lounge Burj Khalifa and Armani/Ristorante, to name a few. From the outside, it is the central piece of the Dubai skyline – truly iconic. Visit this summer to save some dirhams as children go free.
The Burj Khalifa, Burj Khalifa Park by Emaar, Downtown Dubai, Dubai, Tel: (0) 4 888 8888, @burjkhalifa
Museum of the Future
Dubai’s very own hub of the future opened its doors to the public in February 2022. It’s located by the World Trade Centre and features a stunning facade of Arabic calligraphy – lines of poetry written by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum about the future of the city. You can’t really miss it when you’re driving down the Sheikh Zayed Road – it has a unique design shaped like an eye with a hollowed-out middle. It houses and exhibits all things innovation and the future. You can take a tour of the exhibits on display and visit the balcony viewing deck in the middle of the structure. Ensure you book well in advance.
Museum of the Future, Trade Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai, 10am to 7.30pm, starts at Dhs149, Tel: (800) 2071, museumofthefuture.ae
Take a ride in an abra
The Dubai Abra is one of the oldest modes of public transportation in the city. It takes passengers across the Dubai Creek from Deira on one side to Bur Dubai on the other, for as little as Dhs1. An array of 150 traditional ferry boats will be waiting at the dock to take you across. The boats run every few minutes throughout the day between four stations along the Dubai Creek. The boats are now motorised but still offer as authentic an experience as any. The rides start at 6am and each water taxi holds about 20 passengers. The crossing will take you not more than five minutes but if you want to explore the waters a bit more, you can hire your own boat for an hour.
The Dubai Frame
The Dubai Frame is meant to be a two-way gateway of sorts. Built to reflect the past and the future of the city, views from the observation deck show both the bright skyline of Downtown Dubai (including a perfectly centralised view of The Burj Khalifa through the walls of the structure) and the older part of town – Deira, Bur Dubai and the Creek. In true Dubai fashion, this monument holds the record for the largest frame in the world. It also houses a museum and a glass walkway which turns from opaque to transparent as you step on it is part of the experience. Word of warning – you will see a 150-metre drop to the bottom, so not for the faint of heart.
The Dubai Frame, Zabeel Park, Dubai, 9am to 9pm, prices start from Dhs50, Tel: (800) 900, dubaiframe.ae
The Jumeirah Mosque is a significant piece of Dubai’s history. Opened in 1979, it was a gift from the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the former Ruler of Dubai, and can accommodate around 1,500 worshippers. The guided tour of the Jumeirah Mosque is an integral part ‘Open Doors. Open Minds’ programs of the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU). Aside from the guided tour of the mosque, your visit will also include an authentic Emirati buffet, tours of the Once Upon a Time Museum and Mosque of the World Gallery, henna art for women and a commemorative picture with a falcon. The mosque offers two slots for the visit – 10am and 2pm, with registration opening 30 minutes before the program starts.
Jumeirah Mosque, Jumeirah Beach Road, Jumeirah 1, Dubai, Saturday to Thursday, Tel: (0) 4 353 6666, jumeirahmosque.ae
Sip a steaming cup of karak
Let us tell you about Karak. It is not just a beverage. It is a feeling, an emotion, an institution of sorts. Many of the interactions in the social landscape of Dubai begin with, ride along or are punctuated with a cup of steaming hot karak tea. It’s simple, really – just a masala chai made with water, loose tea powder, milk and a mix of spices that varies from place to place. The word Karak, meaning tough or intense, signifies the strong flavour of the tea. You can find yourself a cup of joy at almost any cafeteria or roadside eatery in the city for as little as just Dh1. And remember, the tipping temperatures must not deter you. That’s when it hits the best.
The View at the Palm
This observation deck on the 52 floor of the Palm Tower offers spectacular, panoramic views of the Palm Jumeirah, the Arabian Gulf and beyond. It sits 240 metres above the ground and has a 360-degree vantage point. You can spot landmarks from the outdoor terrace and premium lounge. To complete the experience, visit The View Exhibition. It is a tribute to the vision and creativity of The Palm, and you can learn more about the history of the tower, go through interactive aquarium tunnels and witness floor mapping.
The view at The Palm, The Palm Tower, The Palm Jumeirah, Tel: (800) 843 8439, theviewpalm.ae
Explore the Dubai Gold Souk
The Dubai Gold Souk is to this day, the heart of the heritage of Dubai. The rest of the city might have evolved, taking a metropolitan flight to a 21st-century town with tall towers, stacked houses and all the luxury facilities of today. But the Souk remains traditional, complete with haggling and eager vendors who butter you up for a sale. There’s a gold market and a spice market to explore, and also some shops with trinkets and souvenirs. The tiny lanes are all open air and some of them have rustic wooden archways. It’s a wonderful glimpse into a different face of the city, away from all the glitz and glamour.
Dubai Gold Souk, Deira, Al Ras
Seek thrills with a desert safari
If you come to the desert, you have to live the desert way. The desert safari is an umbrella UAE experience and takes you into the heart of the sandy dunes that are so prominent here. With sustainable-focused Platinum Heritage, you start the tour off in a Vintage Land Rover where you will get a gentle desert tour. After you reach the camp in the middle of the desert, you’re introduced to a buffet of local foods, snacks and refreshments You can head back home at night or choose to spend it under the stars, depending on your package.
Book via platinum-heritage.com
Sample authentic local delights
For some local-loved eats, try the mandi – a rice and meat dish, the falafel and the street food supreme – the shawarma. All of these are dishes featured in the cuisine of the Middle Eastern region and are sure to satisfy your local food fix. Another popular delight found in this region is the luqaimat – little balls of fried dough drenched in sweet, sticky honey or date syrup. Consider the kunafa, too – widely popular in this region and a hearty sweet treat that will warm you from the inside.
Fly high with the Dubai Balloon
The Dubai Balloon offers views from across the city from up to 300 metres high. With tickets priced from Dhs175 for adults and Dhs75 for children, up to 30 passengers at a time can rise up from a doughnut-shaped platform, which they can walk around in. Once the 10-minute flight comes to an end, the tethered rope will gently pull the balloon back down to ground level. After this, guests can enjoy a hot or cold beverage in the chic coffee bar, which lives above the gift shop. The space features three outdoor terraces, all with prime views of the balloon as it takes its next flight. Head here over summer and save some cash as kids go free.
Indulge in retail therapy – Dubai style
If you’re the kind to shop till you drop and some more, the malls and retail offerings in Dubai will be a straight match for you. Spots like The Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates, Ibn Battuta Mall, City Centre Mirdif, Dubai Festival City, Dubai Marina Mall and many more house the biggest brands in the world. The variety is impressive and there’s something for everyone – whether you’re looking for luxury, high-end, streetwear or concept. Summer is the season of sales, discounts and offers, so you’re sure to find items for a steal.
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Spend a day in the snow at Ski Dubai
One of Mall of the Emirates’ most popular attractions offers a lovely break from the sun and the sizzling temperatures of the city. The indoor ski resort has loads of fun things to do, including hitting the slopes for some real skiing fun (with lessons if you can’t quite ski), a snow cinema, a chance to meet penguins and a snow park. You can even host the coolest birthday party in there (pun absolutely intended). The summer family pass is priced at Dhs1,200 and includes a bunch of different experiences.
Ski Dubai, Mall of the Emirates, Mon to Fri 10am to 12am, Sat to Sun 9am to 12am, Tel: (0) 4 409 4000, skidxb.com
Take a ride on the world’s longest driverless rail system
In getting from Point A to Point B in the city, the Metro will be your best friend. The Metro network of the city extends across all the most important locations. From one end of the city to the other, the network has a total of 47 stations across two lines – Red and Green. The Red Line provides access to areas like parts of Karama, Rashidiya, Deira, the Sheikh Zayed Road strip and beyond. The Green Line covers places like Nahda, parts of Deira and Bur Dubai and areas closer to Sharjah. A variety of passes are available – both temporary and permanent – so get one which works best for you.
Images: Supplied and Unsplash