Dubai things to see and do if you are there for the first time
Dubai is a city of extremes and of “…est”-s: the tallest building in the world, the highest restaurant, the biggest fountains in the world, the world only 7 stars hotel . the world’s tallest hotel, the largest shopping mall and the list can continue. But if this does not convince you to pay a visit, hopefully my list of Dubai things to see and do should!
I have been planning to go to Dubai for quite a while, but for some reason it wasn’t the time. I always wanted to celebrate my birthday in the highest building on the planet and of course in the highest restaurant. I guess the idea stemmed from the fact that I really like rooftops and I wanted something really special for my birthday. I did not get to celebrate it there (yet) but, at least I managed to finally go to Dubai this year. And guess what? I didn’t even go into Burj Khalifa , although I spent one week in Dubai. How funny is that?
Dubai is one of those places people have quite strong opinions about, just like they do about India. I do not deny it is an artificial place! Everybody knows and agrees with that. But it does not mean that Dubai is not a beautiful or fun place. Obviously, if you like nature, hiking or camping, I am not going to try and convince you to go to Dubai. But if you are just like me and like to experience all kind of places, then I would recommend you to put Dubai on your list if it wasn’t there yet. Keep on reading and let me know if I was right at the end.
So here are the best Dubai things to see and do if you go there for the first time just like me:
1. Visit Sheik Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi
Although this is not exactly in Dubai, it close enough to always be included in the Dubai things to see and do list. This was my favourite “attractio n”in Dubai (Abu Dhabi). I have been obsessed with this place ever since I have seen those amazing and magical photos on instagram. And I knew this was a must to for me in Dubai.
Sheik Zayed Mosque is one of the world’s largest mosques and I am sure one of the most beautiful. I am saying this even if have not seen them all, because this was one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen!
Abu Dhabi is about 150Km from Dubai so it is not difficult to get there. I found 3 easy options to get from Dubai to Abu Dhabi:
- hire a car ( many people do that in Dubai)
- by taxi – it takes about 1.5 hours and it will cost about 50Eur one way. The taxi can wait for you there to bring you back to Dubai
- by public bus – there are hourly buses between the 2 cities. By bus it takes a bit longer than by car, as they are limited to 60Km/hour (about 2.5 hours), but it is also a lot cheaper (about 5Eur one way).
As you can expect, the dress code is very strict. Nothing to worry about though, as they will provide you the standard dresses/gowns to be worn in such a place. You can even choose out of 3 colours. And I find they look really nice in pictures. 😉
2. Go on a desert safari
This is another absolute must on your Dubai things to see and do list. The desert is in stark contrast with the vertical city and you feel you are stepping into a completely different world.
There are many tours to choose from and it really depends on your budget. I did not take an expensive tour this time and I really enjoyed it. Maybe there were more people and it did not feel as exclusive as some of the expensive tours would feel but I enjoyed it 100%. There are basically 2 main types of tours that you can choose: a sunrise tour and a sunset tour. For anything in between the sun will probably kill you!
Usually any given tour would include:
- Dune bashing in a 4×4
- Camel riding
- Sand boarding/quad bike riding (this can cost extra in some tours)
- Barbecue dinner
- Dinner show/entertainment
- Henna painting
- Shisha smoking
I took the sunset tour this time as I was dying to see the desert at sunset and that dinner in the desert sounded perfect! It did not disappoint!
But the most fun for me was the due bashing. Make sure you hold on tight on whatever you can grab and forget about taking any video by holding cameras in your hands. SO. MUCH. FUN! Do not skip this!
3. See the Dubai fountains show
I mentioned in the beginning of this article that in Dubai you can find the largest performing fountain in the world. Yes it is bigger than the one in Las Vegas! But it is not for the sheer size that I included this in my top things to see and do in Dubai. I included it here because it is beautiful! There must be a reason why it is so popular, right? I really do not feel comfortable in overcrowded places so it is a struggle for me sometimes to visit top tourist places like this. But I must admit that they are so popular for a reason. And simply dismissing them because I am “the off beaten path type” and I want to be “different” it is not what I do. For example, would you not visit Santorini or Angkor Wat because there are “too many people”?
The show takes place every day from 6PM to 11PM, every 30 min.
4. Visit the Dubai Creek and the old markets
This is also called the Old Dubai or the Dubai Souk. The souks are practically markets and for me, markets are a must see everywhere I go. Dubai Creek is home to 2 important ones: the Spice Market (Spice Souk) and the Gold Market (Gold Souk). This is a world away from all the glitz and glamour one expects from Dubai.
And a visit to the Dubai Creek is impossible without a short boat ride on an authentic abra, at the unbeatable price of 1AED (0.25EUR). These abras are small motorised boats used to cross from the Deira side to the Creek side. They are running every few minutes and each boat can hold about 20 people.
5. Step into the magical world of Madinat Jumeirah
This was my favourite part of Dubai. Madinat Jumeirah literally means “the City of Jumeirah” and it is exactly what it says: it is a city within the bigger city of Dubai. Madinat Jumeirah is a complex of hotels, shops, villas, restaurants and even a private beach, separated by a labyrinth of canals, 5km in length. You can also take an abra tour here but it is a lot more expensive than the one in the Dubai Creek (25Eur for 20 min). Take the tour in the evening when the place becomes completely magical. I really felt I was in 1001 Nights there. There are lots of restaurants and terraces where you can enjoy a beautiful evening by the water or even admire the famous Burj al Arab putting on a light show.
6. Burj al Arab
Talking about the famous Burj….I could not exclude this one from the list of course. I did not go in this time, but I am really curious how “the only 7 stars hotel in the world” looks like. However, what I can recommend from my own experience is to go at the public beach next to it, called the Sunset Beach (I wonder why….) and witness a special sunset with the Burj on its backdrop.
7. Dubai Marina
Whether you want to go to the beach, to a cafe or to any of the restaurants along the marina, a stroll here is a must. Many luxury hotels are located here and it is where the you can find the most compact block of skycrapers grouped together. Add to that all the luxurious yachts docked in the marina and you can easily realise that this is one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods of Dubai.
8. Step back in time at Al Fahidi Historical Area
On your way to the Dubai Creek you can pass by this old hitorical part of Dubai. While I would not advise you to go out of your way to visit this part, I still think it is worthwhile especially if you are in the neighbourhood. And as a cherry on top you can stop by at one of the most popular cafes/restaurants in Dubai: the Arabian Coffee House (see also below)
9. Visit or shop at the biggest mall in the world: the Dubai Mall
I would have never thought that I would advise anybody to go to a mall, ever! In fact I even said before I went to Dubai that I had no interest in visiting any of its so popular malls. Oh well….Things can change. And that is a good thing this time. I know it is “just” a mall but… it is the biggest mall in the world, it has its own aquarium which is one of the biggest attractions there, it has its own “fashion avenue” and, most important of all, I had to go through it to get to the fountains and to Burj Khalifa. Even if you don’t have to do the same, you can just step in for a bit if you are already there. Burj Khalifa is literally right next to it, as it is also the Dubai Opera. Actually, when you say Dubai Mall, it means the whole area, not just the mall itself. And that’s where the Dubai fountains are as well.
The pictures below are from the exterior of Dubai Mall so you get 3 in one: Burj Khalifa, Dubai fountains and Dubai Mall, all being the tallest and respectively largest in the world. Not bad for one stop huh?
10. Take a dinner cruise
There are plenty to choose from and for all budgets, We took one from Dubai Marina and it was a wonderful experience.
The food was from The Address hotel which is an institution in itself in Dubai.
11. Admire the city skyline from one of the many rooftops bars or restaurants
With so many skyscrapers, you can imagine that there is plenty to choose from when it comes to rooftops. I did not get to go to many this time, so I definitely want to go back. But I can certainly recommend the Mercury Lounge at the Four Seasons hotel in Jumeirah.
12. Take your pick from all the cuisines in the world
If you don’t care what you eat, it should be very easy with so many types of restaurants and cafes. But if you are a foodie like me and want to try as many as possible, it is not an easy task. There is sooooo much to choose from.
Here are a few places that I tried and I certainly recommend:
- Arabian tea house Cafe
- PF Chang’s – they definitely have the best dynamite shrimps ever! There are
- Din Tai Fung– my all time favourite restaurant chain in the world which serves my all time favorite dish: Xiao Long Bao. The only difference is that in Dubai they are made with chicken instead if standard pork filling, of course…
- Sha El Nom – Damascene cuisine; very popular with the locals
- Denny’s – for a very heart breakfast
Obviously there is much more to see and do in Dubai and I am certainly going back to check the rest. Until then…
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