Best Places in Dubai
Glitzy Dubai is the United Arab Emirates' holiday hot spot.
This city of high-rises and shopping malls has transformed itself from a desert outpost to a destination du-jour, where tourists flock for sales bargains, sunshine, and family fun.
Dubai is famous for contemporary sightseeing attractions such as the Burj Khalifa (the world's tallest building) and shopping malls that come complete with mammoth aquariums and indoor ski slopes.
But this city has many cultural highlights and things to do, as well as all the glamorous modern add-ons.
Take a wander around the Al Fahidi quarter, and you'll discover the Dubai of old, then cruise along Dubai Creek in a traditional dhow, and you'll soon realize there's more to this city than its flashy veneer.
1. See Dubai's Famed Cityscape at Burj Khalifa
Dubai's landmark building and major tourist attraction is the Burj Khalifa, which at 829.8 meters is the tallest building in the world and the most famous of the city's points of interest.
For most visitors, a trip to the observation deck on the 124th floor here is a must-do while in the city. The views across the city skyline from this bird's-eye perspective are simply staggering.
The slick observation deck experience includes a multimedia presentation on both Dubai and the building of the Burj Khalifa (completed in 2010) before a high-speed elevator whizzes you up to the observation deck for those 360-degree views out across the skyscrapers to the desert on one side and the ocean on the other.
Nighttime visits are particularly popular with photographers due to Dubai's famous city-lights panoramas.
Back on the ground, wrapping around the Burj Khalifa, are the gardens of Burj Park, with walkways dotted with modern art sculptures.
Burj Park is where you come to see the Dubai Fountain display on Burj Lake. Modeled on the famous Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas, this is the world's tallest performing fountain, with water displays shooting up to 150 meters high into the air.
2. Visit an Underwater World at Dubai Aquarium
One of the city's top tourist attractions, the Dubai Aquarium houses 140 species of sea life in the huge suspended tank on the ground floor of the Dubai Mall.
Although there is free viewing from the mall, the highlight of a visit here is entering the Underwater Zoo, with its three-story high, 270-degree views along the length of the glass-panel tunnels.
As well as viewing the vast amount of marine life, the Dubai Aquarium offers plenty of aquatic experiences and things to do for visitors who want a close-up encounter with some of the aquarium's inhabitants, from hand-feeding eagle rays to diving with reef and tiger sharks.
3. Soak Up the Sun at JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence) Beach
Some of Dubai's most popular beach resorts are strung out all along its length, making this one of the most popular places to stay for visitors who want to make hitting the beach a major part of their Dubai stay.
The large public areas of the beach have excellent facilities, with plenty of sun loungers, restaurants, lifeguards patrolling the stretches designated for swimming, and water sports operators offering jet skiing, kayak rental, parasailing, and boat rides.
This is a safe beach choice for families traveling with tots, as the turquoise water of the Gulf lapping the shore is shallow and calm.
4. Head Out into the Desert
You don't have to travel far from Dubai's coastal skyline of skyscrapers to reach some of the UAE's desertscapes of rippling dunes.
Both the dune fields and desert of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve and the orange-hued dunes of Maleha (actually in the Emirate of Sharjah) are within day-tripping distance of the city.
Desert adventure tours can combine a range of activities, from sandboarding, camel rides, and 4WD safaris to traditional Arabian falconry displays and desert dinners under the stars. There are also options for overnight camping under the stars.
The typical tour itinerary, giving visitors a taster of desert life, is easily slotted into even a short trip to Dubai, taking around six hours door to door, with a mid-afternoon departure from the city.
The Dubai Desert 4x4 Safari offers a half-day desert adventure and includes a camel ride, sandboarding lessons, a sunset barbecue, and a belly dancing show.
For a less rushed tour experience, choose one of the companies that operate inside the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, where trips can include wildlife drives to spot the reserve's free-roaming herds of gazelles and, if you're lucky, Arabian oryx.
5. Walk through History in Al Fahidi Quarter (Old Dubai)
The Al Fahidi Quarter (previously known, and sometimes still referred to as the Bastakia neighborhood) was built in the late 19th century to be the home of wealthy Persian merchants who dealt mainly in pearls and textiles and were lured to Dubai because of the tax-free trading and access to Dubai Creek.
Al Fahidi occupies the eastern portion of Bur Dubai along the creek, and the coral and limestone buildings here, many with walls topped with wind-towers, have been excellently preserved.
Wind-towers provided the homes here with an early form of air conditioning - the wind trapped in the towers was funneled down into the houses. Persian merchants likely transplanted this architectural element (common in Iranian coastal houses) from their home country to the Gulf.
Lined with distinct Arabian architecture, the narrow lanes are highly evocative of a bygone, and much slower, age in Dubai's history.
Inside the district, you'll find the Majlis Gallery, with its collection of traditional Arab ceramics and furniture (housed in a wind-tower), and the Al Serkal Cultural Foundation with a shop, café, and rotating art exhibitions (located in one of the historic buildings).
6. Ski then Shop at Mall of the Emirates
Mall of the Emirates is one of the city's most famous malls, with the spectacular (and surreal) Ski Dubai facility inside.
The indoor ski slope is complete with chairlifts and a penguin enclosure, all at a continuous temperature of -4 degrees Celsius.
There's also a cinema complex and a family entertainment center with a whole host of rides aimed at both the big and small.
The shopping opportunities are boundless, as are the eating options, offering every conceivable world cuisine.
7. Snap Sunset Pics at Dubai Frame
Sitting slap-bang between Dubai's older neighborhoods clustered around the creek and the city's modern sprawl, this ginormous 150-meter-high picture frame is one of Dubai's latest sights.
Inside, a series of galleries whisk you through the city's history and explore Emirati heritage before you travel up to the Sky Deck, where there are fantastic panoramas of both old and new Dubai to be snapped on the viewing platforms.
Afterwards check out Future Dubai gallery, which imagines what a futuristic vision of the city will look like.
8. Take to the Water at Kite Beach & Umm Suqeim Beach
Thanks to its surf and prevailing wind, the northern section of Umm Suqeim Beach is Dubai's top spot for kitesurfing.
The beach is home to an array of water sports operators offering equipment hire, as well as kitesurfing lessons, along with paddleboarding and kayak rental.
This long stretch of yellow-sand beach sweeps south along the coast (becoming Umm Suqeim Beach), with plenty of space for sunbathers looking to lap up a lazy day of swimming and soaking up the rays on the sand and excellent facilities and dining choices. There are good views of the Burj Al Arab from the southern end of the beach.
While in the Jumeirah area, it's well worth brushing off the sand for an hour to visit the Majlis Ghorfat Um Al-Sheef just a three-kilometer hop from the beach. Built in 1955, this was the summer residence of the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum.
The residence, made out of gypsum and coral-block, has been restored and maintains much of the original beautiful decor, giving you a better understanding of the opulent lifestyle of Dubai's rulers.
The Majlis Gardens feature a reproduction of an impressive Arab irrigation system, and many shady date palms.
9. Explore Dubai Creek
Dubai Creek separates the city into two towns, with Deira to the north and Bur Dubai to the south.
The creek has been an influential element in the city's growth, first attracting settlers here to fish and pearl dive.
Small villages grew up alongside the creek as far back as 4,000 years ago, while the modern era began in the 1830s when the Bani Yas tribe settled in the area.
The creek is where you come to capture city views from the water, either by taking a trip on one of the many dhows that have been restored as tourist cruise boats or by hopping on an abra (small wooden ferry) between the ferry points on the creek's Bur Dubai and Deira banks.
On the Bur Dubai side of the creek, rubbing up against the Bastakia neighborhood, the waterfront has been regenerated as the Al Seef district, with a waterfront promenade backed by traditional coral-block and limestone buildings, a floating market, and shops selling crafts. It's a great place for a stroll with excellent water views.
Farther southeast down the creek, on the Deira bank just north of Al-Maktoum Bridge, is the Dhow Wharfage. It's still used by small traders from across the Gulf who sail their dhows onward to Kuwait, Iran, Oman, India, and down to Africa's horn.
This tiny remnant of Dubai's traditional economy is a fascinating place to wander around and watch cargo being loaded and unloaded on and off the dhows.
At the southeastern end of Dubai Creek, just before the creek joins with Dubai Canal, is the newly developed Dubai Creek Harbor with a waterfront marina walkway, which offers excellent vistas of the city skyline.
10. Skydive over Dubai
For the ultimate sightseeing adrenaline rush while you're in the city, tandem-skydive over Dubai from Skydive Dubai's Palm Drop Zone.
There are bird's-eye views of the city's skyscraper coastline, Dubai Marina, and the artificial islands of Palm Jumeirah, all the way down the 3,900-meter-high plunge.
The entire experience takes around 90 minutes and includes the flight; an instructor you'll be harnessed to during the skydive; and a skydiving camera operator, who'll take pictures during your dive.
If you prefer desert dune scenery, Skydive Dubai also operates a separate tandem-skydiving experience in the desert, about 35 kilometers out of the city.
Skydiving in Dubai is an activity you need to book as far in advance as possible due to limited numbers and the high popularity of the experience.