Dubai is the fourth most visited city in the world, and for good reason. From its humble origins as a small trading village to its transformation into a metropolis with Vegas-like glitz, beautiful beaches, luxurious hotels and endless shopping opportunities, it’s a city unlike any other.
Here’s what to do in Dubai (plus one bonus tip that will take your experience to a whole new level):
1. Head to the desert
Many visitors overlook the obvious – Dubai’s stunning setting in a vast and beautiful desert. It’s worth including a desert stay in your itinerary and it’s an easy one to plan. There are lots of providers, and many offer packages that include exhilarating dune bashing, camel rides, sand boarding and a traditional Arab dinner with lots of dancing and music. If you aren’t too full from all the food, consider joining in on the dancing!
2. Get wet at the Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark
Another not-so-obvious option, but an absolute must-do. Located on The Palm – a vast artificial palm that expanded the city’s beachfront by 72 km – at the Atlantis Aqua Park you can scuba dive with dolphins, hang out with sea lions or slide through a shark aquarium. Make sure you have a great haircut and cool trunks because photographers are scattered across the park, capturing your most exhilarating moments.
3. Go skydiving
Dubai is one of the coolest places in the world to skydive. Not only do you have the chance to see the above-mentioned Palm in all its glory, you can also choose to do it over the desert, getting a bird’s-eye view of the vast and wonderful desert surrounding the city.
4. Hit the Mall of Dubai
The word “mall’ does not do this place justice. In addition to the 1,200 stores, it’s fitted with an indoor skiing center, an indoor ice hockey rink, an aquarium and underwater zoo. If you can’t find what you are looking for there, it probably doesn’t exist. And in case you are missing your favorite foods while in Dubai, the European supermarkets in the mall stock all your favorites from back home.
5. Admire the Burj Khalifa
It’s impossible to miss (and it’s right next to the Mall). It’s the tallest building in the world and an engineering marvel, standing proud at 828 m. In addition to admiring it from the outside, I highly recommend heading up to the observation deck on the 124th floor, perfect for Instagram shots and selfies with a view. Feel like lingering? Hit up the Sky Lounge on the 148th floor for drinks, or get some food at the ‘At.mosphere’ restaurant. It’s a busy place, so make sure to book your visit in advance (tickets are needed even for the observation deck).
6. Check out the Dubai Fountain
Nestled next to both the Burj Khalifa and the Mall of Dubai, you can experience the world’s largest performing fountain show in this spectacular setting. Even if you’re not a massive fan of fountains (who is?), this is worth it, if only because you’re not likely to see anything quite like it ever again. The show is on every day at 13:00 – 13:30 and every evening from 18:00 – 00:00 every 30 minutes. On Friday the afternoon show starts at 13:30 and runs for 30 minutes.
7. Visit the Dubai Gate
Say hello to the largest picture frame in the world – and undoubtedly one of the best backdrops for pictures. Commissioned by the government, the frame is 150 meters tall and 105 meters wide. When the structure was being designed, the chief architect didn’t want the frame to be yet another emblem of the glitzy city, but a frame that captured all that Dubai has to offer. And don’t just look at the gate from the outside – head in for a fascinating look at the city’s past, present and future in a stellar multimedia exhibition, as well as a spectacular observation deck.
8. Soak up the old-school charms of the Bastakiya Quarter
Take a trip back in history and see what Dubai would have looked and sounded like before all the skyscrapers were built. The 19th century trading hub is now a popular cultural destination that hosts great cafes, cultural activities and even the infamous Majlis Gallery, housing an impressive collection of Middle Eastern Art. While there, test your haggling skills at the local market and pick up some souvenirs.
9. Go on a safari
The 119-hectare Dubai Safari Park, separated into ‘African’, ‘Arabic’ and ‘Safari’ themes, is an unexpected must-see – and a welcome break from the city’s bustle. With over 1,000 animals from around the world, the park is particularly interesting as it hosts about 350 species that are on the endangered animals list. The park has come up with high tech solutions that ensure the animals stay cool even when the temperatures soar, including air conditioned rocks.
10. Hit the water
It’s possible to escape the bustle within the city as well – just hit the water by going on a boat tour. You can enjoy the Dubai skyline from a distance while spying on some spectacular beach properties on the Palm. The stunning sunset and calm seaside vibes will complete the experience.
Bonus tip: We’re a little biased, yes, but we think it’s worth staying in this spectacular destination a little longer and delving into the local culture by studying Arabic. It’ll make you see the city in a whole new light.