24 Essential Things to Do in Dubai
Updated: May 17
An insider's guide on things to do and places to visit in Dubai, a.k.a. Dubai for Dummies.
You have just landed in Dubai or are planning your getaway to this vibrant hub of the Middle East? You're in the right place - we have hand-picked 24 of our favorite things to do, as well as some hacks to getting around the city. We have compiled this list based on our personal experiences and some of our favorite memories which we have collected over the two years that we have now been living in Dubai.
First of all, some of our TOP spots where we like to hang out. In case you are looking to visit any of these, we have linked the locations to Google Maps for easy navigation.
1. In case you are looking to impress your followers with photos of fancy yachts next to futuristic skyscrapers, Dubai Marina is the place to go. It is also our favorite place to go for a walk in Dubai. Once you are done taking the shots, head to Mama Zonia in Pier 7 for an Aperol, and enjoy the stunning view from this enchanted forest-looking bar.
2. From Marina, go for a walk on the Bluewaters man-made island that is 5 minutes' distance way. The island was recently opened in 2019 and therefore is not yet known to most visitors. To get to the island, you will cross Dubai's only footbridge which is especially beautiful at night when it's illuminated in... You got it, blue! Food tip: we like to grab a coffee and a bite at the London Project.
3. Another popular hang-out space among Dubai locals, City Walk just next to Downtown Dubai even has street musicians to entertain you while enjoying a cup of coffee. We also found the Roxy Cinema there has some of the most comfortable reclining cinema seats we have ever tried.
4. Alternatively, for an evening stroll by the sea not too far away, La Mer is the location of choice for many locals in Dubai, and has not yet been discovered by most tourists.
5. On another day, for a glimpse of historical Dubai, visit the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. The area consists of traditional Fareej type buildings which, due to their layout and design, offer natural shade and privacy for communities, and have recently been regaining popularity in designing residential districts around the UAE.
6. Continuing in the footsteps of pearl divers, walk over to the Abra dock. Crossing the Creek river in one of the traditional Abras costs just one dirham (0.25 EUR). Not quite a private yacht experience, but close enough if you're looking to save a few dirhams...
7. Once you are back on solid ground, for panoramic views, head up the Dubai Frame at sunset. Make sure to book the ticket online to skip the intimidating queue at the entrance. You will find that Dubai Frame is not only better value for money than alternatives, but also offers the best views of Downtown Dubai as it is located a few kilometers away from downtown itself.
8. Wrap up the day at Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) which is not only a place for Dubai's bankers to gather, but also a hidden gem given outsiders almost never visit the area. A unique concept where Finance meets Art, DIFC even features a number of contemporary art galleries. Drink tip: head up the Luna Sky Bar at Four Seasons for good cocktails and rooftop views of Burj Khalifa.
9. Next day, to get that iconic photo at the top of the Burj Khalifa, if you're looking to head up the world's tallest building, reserve a table at At.Mosphere. For almost the same price as visiting the observation platform, you will be served tea and can avoid all the crowds - at one point, we had a whole floor just to ourselves! If you're already going up you might as well have some tea...
10. If you are by chance missing some winter spirit in Dubai, regardless of the season, there is a large ice-skating rink inside of Dubai Mall and an indoors mountain-skiing slope at Mall of Emirates. Where else to polish your skating or skiing skills if not in the middle of a desert!
11. Next door, despite a misconception that Dubai lacks cultural experiences, the Dubai Opera frequently features some of the world's best artists and performances. A perfect way to impress your date!
12. If the night is still early, we like to visit the terrace at L'ETO cafe in Dubai Mall's Fashion Avenue for the best views we have seen of the famous Dubai Fountains show. As a sign of quality, the tiramisu there is Giulia-approved (i.e. meets the Italian standards).
13. Looking for a day on the beach? In this case, Kite Beach is our favorite one in the city. Not only do you get to enjoy views of Burj Al Arab while swimming in the Gulf, the beach walk was also recently renovated to include food trucks and other places to sit down.
14. To admire the seven-star Burj Al Arab hotel, most people like to walk around the Madinat Jumeirah market area. However, we recently discovered it is possible to avoid all crowds and enjoy a completely unobstructed view by visiting Pearl Lounge at Jumeirah Beach Hotel, located literally in front of Burj Al Arab. Also a great place to grab a drink to end the day (yes you can do this in Dubai).
15. No proper Dubai expat experience is complete without attending a Friday brunch. Avoid scheduling any other activities for the day as a proper Dubai brunch will take you at least 4-5 hours! For ideas on places where to go, see point 17 or grab a copy of TimeOut Dubai magazine.
16. To recover from the brunch, sign up for a free trial of ClassPass and go try out a fitness class. Dubai is very extra also when it comes to fitness classes - for example, go to Crank at Alserkal Avenue for a unique RPM class combining cycling, dance music, as well as neon lights that make the whole experience feel like going to a nightclub for a workout. After the workout, walk around Alserkal Avenue to see the artsy side of Dubai.
Finally, a few hacks to help you feel more comfortable and make the most out of your visit:
17. Check out the options on Groupon. You will find everything from lavish dinners to even experiences involving hot air balloon rides at a substantial discount of 50% or even more.
18. Get Careem. Most of Dubai's residents leverage this as a convenient alternative for transport, especially given that by using discount codes at locations around the city, the rides end up costing the same as a regular taxi ride, except in a sport Lexus ES350.
19. Before visiting Dubai mall, download the Dubai Mall App on your phone, which includes a Google Maps style navigation assistant to help find your location in the mall. Dubai Mall deserves its name as the world's largest mall and even after living in the UAE for 5+ years, we would still be unable to find our way around without a good map.
20. For a night out, Ladies nights and Ladies days at beach clubs in Dubai, as surprising as it might seem to people visiting for the first time, offer exclusive discounts including unlimited free drinks, discounted beach passes, and even food for all ladies. There are ample options available online.
21. Instead of getting a taxi from the airport, use the Dubai Metro for a fraction of the cost. Do not be intimidated by the crowds, and get the golden pass to feel significantly more comfortable on your journey. On rush hours, also consider using the Dubai Tram as an alternative if you are commuting around Dubai Marina / Jumeirah.
22. Grab a jacket. Trust us, you will need it on one of those nights out. During winter, an umbrella might help shield yourself from some of these cloud-seeded showers as well.
23. For accommodation, make sure the hotel is near Sheikh Zayed road and has a good connection to the metro. We like to stay at Downtown Dubai, Trade Centre, Jumeirah Lake Towers, or Dubai Marina areas.
24. Be prepared for a visit that will change any of your earlier conceptions about the Middle East. Dubai over the past years has evolved in uncountable ways into the hub it is today, making it both liveable with numerous walkable areas as well as superbly hospitable, which is why we have chosen to stay in this vibrant city for so many years.
Surely, there is way more to do in Dubai than we can fit in one blog post. Leave your ideas in the comments and we will make sure to include them in the next posts! 👇
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