To us, Dubai is a city that, like New York, never gets old. Developments here happen so fast that new sights or fantastic activities are added almost every year. But don’t limit yourself to just the city itself. There is a lot to see and do just outside it. Consider extending your city trip to Dubai with a visit to Abu Dhabi. A taxi will take you there in an hour!
In this blog we describe some sights and activities that we think you should definitely see or do while visiting this hip, rich city.
Our top 10 Dubai sights
For an extraordinarily beautiful view over Dubai you should definitely go to the Burj Khalifa. With a height of 828 metres and 160 floors, this tower is (still) the tallest building in the world. There are no fewer than nine hotels in the tower! From the Dubai Mall you can go to the outside terrace at 452 metres or even to the SKY observation deck at 555).
A ticket for “At the Top” or “At the Top SKY” can be ordered online (well in advance) and costs 142 AED. Access to the higher observation deck costs around 370 AED. Check the weather forecast before you order because the tower is sometimes covered in clouds and the beautiful view is taken away.
For a really special experience you can dine in the restaurant At.mosphere on the 122nd floor. If you don’t think this is high enough you can also go to The Lounge, Burj Khalifa on the 152nd, 153rd and 154th floor for snacks or drinks.
Dubai Mall, Dubai Fountain and Dubai Aquarium
At the foot of the Burj Khalifa you will find the Dubai Mall. With more than 1,300 shops, 200 bars and restaurants and an area of more than a million square metres (!), this is the largest shopping centre in the world.
When you have finished shopping, visit the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo. With over 10 million litres of water and over 33,000 marine animals, this is one of the largest aquariums in the world. Although we didn’t actually do it ourselves, if you have a diving licence you can also dive among the sharks! Book your ticket online. By the way, you don’t necessarily have to buy a ticket to see part of the aquarium: you can see the aquatic animals swimming by in the Dubai Mall behind a very high and wide transparent wall.
Your visit to the Dubai Mall (and the aquarium) is not complete without having admired the Dubai Fountain. The largest fountain in the world has a length of 270 metres and shoots the water up to a height of no less than 150 metres. In addition to a few afternoon performances, a musical light and water show is held every half hour every evening. We attended a show once and it was a fantastic spectacle that we wouldn’t have wanted to miss.
Mall of the Emirates and Ski Dubai
Dubai wouldn’t be Dubai if you couldn’t ski there. At the Mall of the Emirates (MOE) there is a ski hall where you can both ski and snowboard. We did not do this but we understand that the hall is quite large. Although it is about four degrees below zero, you don’t have to bring gloves and a hat because they provide almost everything. More information about Ski Dubai.
For gloves and a hat, you can also visit the Mall of the Emirates. This mall was the largest in the UAE until the opening of the Dubai Mall in 2008. It is still a large and beautiful shopping mall with lots of shops, more than 100 restaurants and cafes, a cinema and several hotels. At restaurants connected to the Kempinski hotel you can also get an alcoholic refreshment.
Visit to Deira
Deira, Dubai’s old financial centre, is now a vibrant, commercial residential area with a number of old souks. One of those souks specialises in gold, another in spices.
Near the Spice Souk is also one of the boarding points for the abras, Dubai’s traditional wooden boats that let you cross the Dubai Creek. The crossing costs only 1 AED which makes it a very popular means of transport among the locals. In our opinion your visit to Dubai is not complete without having sailed by abra. It is a unique experience especially in the evening when the city is lit up beautifully.
Also in the vicinity of the Spice Souk, you will find the Dubai Museum. This museum is a must for anyone interested in the social history of the Emirate. A visit starts at the fort al-Fahidi, where you will see some examples of the traditional thatched houses and other artefacts. More interesting though is the part built underneath the fort. Here the history of Dubai is described and shown in fascinating fashion using the latest technology.
Since 2018, Dubai has gotten another special building, the Dubai Frame in Zabeel Park. The building consists of two towers, each 150 metres high, connected by a wide and fully glazed bridge. The building, which resembles a claw-washed picture frame, stands on the boundary between old and new Dubai.
A lift will quickly take you to the top where you have a beautiful scenic view over the historic district of old Dubai and the modern skyline of the new city. A walk on the floor of the bridge is a real experience. The floor is made of liquid crystal and only becomes transparent when a visitor walks over it.
By the way, don’t miss the Future Zone. Here, a kind of time tunnel reveals what Dubai is expected to look like in 50 years’ time.
Palm Jumeirah with the Atlantis hotel and the Aquaventure Water Park
The three largest artificial islands in the world are just off the coast of Dubai. One of those islands is Palm Jumeirah near Dubai Marina. The island has the shape of a palm leaf where the trunk is connected to the mainland. In addition to the palm leaves, there is a crescent moon that surrounds the trunk and leaves as a breakwater. On “the Palm” you will find marinas, luxury villas, luxury resorts and luxury shopping areas.
At the end of the island is the famous Atlantis hotel which is the most photographed hotel of the region on Instagram. The hotel has its own sandy beach with a fantastic view over the Arabian Gulf. For the avid shopper there are also many boutiques in the hotel complex.
The hotel also offers free access to the fantastic Aquaventure Water Park and the Lost Chambers Aquarium for all ages. Even if you are not a guest of the hotel, you can go to the water park for 289 AED. We had an unforgettable day there.
Now, even if you’re not a big water fan a helicopter flight is an absolute must during your stay in Dubai! At Helicopter Tour Dubai you can book several tours. We went for the Helicopter Fun Ride. You will also get to see ‘the World’ from the air, developed by dredger Van Oord.
Dubai Marina and Ain Dubai
One of the newer and popular neighbourhoods among residents and tourists in new Dubai is the Dubai Marina. The developer of the Marina was inspired by the False Creek in Vancouver, Canada. In the district, you find a fantastic skyline of skyscrapers, world-class hotels, a great beach, a shopping mall and two promenades with many cafes and restaurants. From one of the high tower blocks, the Amwaj Towers, there’s also a zipline all the way to Dubai Marina Mall. Not cheap but definitely fun to do!
Along the inland waterways of the Marina, the Marina Walk runs on both sides. During the day it can get pretty hot but in the evening the promenade offers a nice, sporty opportunity to walk from your hotel to one of the many great restaurants. In the morning you will see many expats and western tourists jogging along the water. It is also worthwhile to go to the old town by ferry instead of a walk along the promenade!
By the seaside, there is ‘JBR the Walk’, the promenade of the Jumeirah Beach Residence. Besides many cosy beach bars and restaurants you also find many shops and a delightful beach where both locals (and expats) and tourists can be found. In addition, on Friday and Saturday you can enjoy the day market in the open air, as well as performances by street artists.
If you walk down JBR’s beach further southwest, you’ll end up at the pedestrian bridge to Bluewaters Island. This man-made island is currently putting the finishing touches to the world’s 210-metre-high Ferris wheel. Construction must be completed before the 2020 Expo in Dubai. From the Ferris wheel you will be treated to a phenomenal view of the beautiful coastline and impressive skyline of the city. You will also see the famous sights such as Burj Al Arab, Palm Jumeirah and Burj Khalifa.
Souk Madinat, which is part of the Madinat Jumeirah Resort, is a particularly cosy, modern version of traditional souks. Just like in a ‘normal’ souk, you can wander through the many alleys and passageways, but with the comfort of air conditioning. There are 75 shops, restaurants and cafes, a nightclub, theatre and many bars. Most bars and restaurants have a liquor licence.
The souk is particularly interesting to visit in the evenings. Finish off a beautiful evening with a dinner in one of the many restaurants with a view of the Burj al Arab and then get brought back to your hotel by abra!
If you visit Dubai somewhere between mid-November and mid-May, then a visit to the Miracle Garden is a must on your city break! The large garden of over 70 thousand square metres contains 150 million colourful flowers planted in very special shapes. For example, you have flower beds in the shape of an Emirates Airbus A380. And you’ll find some of Dubai’s many iconic buildings in flower form. Truly a breath-taking landscape.
Dubai Sky Dive
What is high on our wish list is a tandem jump with Skydive Dubai above the Palm. You will then be treated to a more than fantastic view over the Palm and the rest of the unique city. Skydive Dubai has its own runway in the Dubai Marina near the Palm. During the free fall from high altitude you will reach a speed of more than 200 kilometres per hour with your instructor! We once booked the parachute jump but it was cancelled due to external reasons. High time therefore that we go that way again.