We travelled to Dubai this summer for a brief holiday which lasted just 4 days. We generally prefer to take more short breaks of 4-5 days and one longer break as that allows us to visit more places in a year.
Like always, we did a lot of research to plan for our trip. The usual sources – Trip Advisor, Personal blogs, Dubai Timeout, Lonely Planet Travel Guide, Dubai tourism website and some tips from relatives and friends helped us to firm up our itinerary.
We had an awesome time in Dubai and although there are so many things to do but we planned our first trip here to cover the essentials.
So am writing this blog to share our experience and list the top 10 things to do in Dubai. We are no travel experts but who cares! This is our list.
Since we gain so much from those who write about their travel experiences, this is our small payback. So here we go.
Some say the best things in life are free. And this certainly proved true here in Dubai at The Dubai Fountains – the world’s largest choreographed fountain system on the Burj Khalifa lake. These fountains are animated with performances set to sound and music.
We did not have much expectations initially from the fountains, since it was free however once we experienced the first two performances, it was so addictive that we ended up spending almost 3 hours at this place. And didn’t want to leave.
The sheer beauty of the fountains working their magic in sync with the music being played and lavish scale of the water dance against the backdrop of the Burj Khalifa was just magical.
Tip : The Dubai Fountains run 6 pm onwards right up to 10 pm at an interval of every 30 mins. Each performance lasts for 5-7 minutes. Don’t miss post sunset performances the views are amazing. And try to view the performances from different places.
Dubai Desert Safari
You have not experienced Dubai completely until you go for the famed Desert Safari. It’s half a day of action packed experience and those who love thrills, this one’s really going to be memorable.
You can undertake this trip from one of the many tour companies. These guys pick you up from your hotel and drive straight to Oman border where all the vehicles (Prado for us) assemble for dune bashing. Here the tires are deflated and the dune bashing experience begins. It’s pure thrills for the next 30 minutes. To watch the driver control the vehicle is a great experience. Every driver trying a new trick to impress his customers and the presence of team mates driving alongside add to his confidence. Post this you are taken to a camp where there is BBQ, unlimited soft drinks and water. There is a camp for henna, tattoos, camel rides, quad biking. And later even some belly dancing and magical show. Post this is the dinner. And then they drop you back. All in all, a great 6 hours.
Tip : There are many desert safari tour companies ensure that you don’t take the cheapest. This is a professional sport and you need reliable drivers to do this. Check for reviews on Trip Advisor. We went with Arabian Night Dreams along with the Entertainer vouchers and it was a great experience. Not advised if you have any form of spine injuries. And yes, don’t try to take too many pictures rather just experience the ride.
Dubai Marina Walk
It’s extremely difficult to share why Dubai Marina Walk is so high on our list. It simply has to be experienced. It’s a 7 km long pedestrian walkway that extends from the start to end of the Marina Bay.
The sheer sight of fancy and super luxurious yachts stationed at the marina with stunning background of what is possibly the tallest cluster of skyscrapers sprinkled with cafes and restaurants with great ambience makes this entire place extremely special. Especially at night, the place is lit up and looks picture perfect and a scene straight out of some glamorous Hollywood movie. You can spend hours walking, sitting by one of the cafes or doing some shopping. You just feel life is real good here. A great was to spend the evening.
Tip: Late evenings is when this place is buzzing with locals and tourists. And the view is stunning.
Yellow Boat Tour
Well this was originally not on the list, as we came to know about Yellow Boat Tour when in Dubai. We called these guys that same morning and decided to take one of their 60 minutes tour.
Initially we were under the impression that this is a cruise and were apprehensive since we had already booked the dhow cruise the same night. However we were way off. This really is an adventurous outing which involves speed boating on the Marina River. And it’s a great way of experiencing the Dubai skyline and the Palm. Burj Al Arab from the river view
Each boat accommodates 6-8 people. You start off from Marina Bay at cruising speeds and once you settle down, the boat is on full throttle. The guide is extremely helpful and knowledgeable. Provides you some interesting information about Dubai and about The Palm, Atlantis and The Yachts. But it’s really about the high speed boating which is thrilling part. Sixty minutes are over in a flash. You really want more of this …
Tip : If you want maximum thrills sit right in front and you will enjoy more. The further back you sit, its more stable. And it’s absolutely safe even at the fastest speeds. Yes not advised if you have fear of speed…
Well this is the most talked about building in Dubai. After all it’s the highest building in the world. And you can visit At the Top of Burj Khalifa and see how Dubai looks from 124th floor and take pictures to share on your Facebook profile.
The entrance to Burj Khalifa is through the Dubai Mall. You take a swanky elevator ride which takes less than a minute to take you on the 124th floor. And at the top is an observatory deck from where you can see the whole of Dubai – 360 degrees. It’s a stunning view and lot of photo opportunities. Buildings look like lego blocks, beyond a point all you can see are the deserts and then you truly understand the magnitude of development which Dubai has managed in this place. However once you spend 30 minutes, there isn’t much to do. But still it’s still a definite one time go. Everything is pretty well organized here from your entry to exit
Tip: You book your tickets online (it’s cheaper that way and you miss the queue). Book early if you want to go there around sunset. The entry is through Dubai Mall. There is no shops for refreshments at the top, so carry water if required.
The whole concept of visiting a mall when travelling abroad would be considered waste of precious time. After all you are travelling on a holiday and how different possibly can a mall be. But Dubai Mall is different. For one it’s really huge. You have to see it to believe it. And you can’t see everything in one day.
It’s one of the largest malls in the world with over 1200 shops, total floor size equivalent to 2 football grounds. It has more visitors in a year than total tourist population to New York City. It’s like a mini city which even has its trees, alleys, skating ground large enough to be an Olympic venue.
Dubai mall also provides access to Burj Khalifa, Dubai Fountains and world’s largest Aquarium so it’s the perfect base to spend a couple of days. Plenty of restaurants to choose from. All in all, a perfect day to spend.
Tip : Visit the Dubai Mall on day 1 of your trip and visit the Fountains and Burj Khalifa. Use the entertainer at the various restaurants
Palm Jumeriah – Atlantis and Jumeriah Beach
Dubai has this passion to build simply the biggest, largest or the most extravagant manmade structures. And the Palm Jumeriah is on top of that list. It’s a manmade island on water resembling the shape of a Palm. So big, that it is visible from space. It houses some of the finest hotels and private gated residencies, villas. Simply it’s for ultra rich and famous.
The Palm looks fantastic from a helicopter or from google maps however when travelling on ground level you really cannot make out you are on the Palm. It’s a nice experience nonetheless and you can always say you visited the Palm! Most of the island is private; you can drive through the main road and look at the nice buildings on both sides. At the end of the Palm is the signature Altlantis Hotel which looks very unique.
There is an Aqua venture park within the Atlantis and is a good picnic spot. You can use the entertainer here
Tip : You can take a mono rail ride which takes to you to the start of the palm and back so this is a much better way of seeing this place than a car. Try to take one before sunset so the views are better.
Ibin Battuta Mall
This is yet another mall we liked and features in Top 10 but not for shopping. It’s the design and architecture which makes it worth a visit.
The Ibin Batuta mall is the world’s largest theme based shopping mall. It consists of six courts whose designs are inspired by the country/culture that the moroccan-berber explorer Ibn Battuta visited (Egypt, China, India, Persia, Tunisia and Andalusia).When you enter every section there is a huge exhibit which represents that country and the entire decor is simply marvelous.
The entire mall is spread over one level which means no getting lost and can shop at your own pace. Great food courts too.
Tip : If its too much of a walk from one end to the other hire one of the golf carts there to take you around. The starbucks at Ibin Battuta has amazing feel to it.
Old Dubai and Abra Ride
We highly recommend spending half a day in Old Dubai area which includes Bur Dubai. Bastika Area. it provides a glimpse of architecture and culture prevalent during early years. And it offers a nice contrast to all the glitz and glamour of Downtown Dubai. The areas around Bastika, Dubai Museum, and the souks all make for a nice experience.
But it’s the ride on the abra – a wooden boat which connects Dubai creek to Bur Dubai which is the highlight. After experiencing Burj Khalifa this is a humbling experience. You feel you are in some small town and people there have still not moved with times. Even the prices are unbelievable for the ride – around AED 1 for a one way ride.
Gold and Spike Souk
Possibly the largest collection of gold and diamonds under one roof could be at the Gold Souk in Dubai. It’s a must visit just for the experience. Even if you are not planning to shop here!
Walking through the souk with shops lined up both sides it a great experience. The Gold here is genuine from shops since they are tightly monitored by government and prices are the cheapest in the world. At least that’s what I have been told!
A cruise along the Dubai Creek with dinner onboard is a nice way to spend the first evening in Dubai. (Though we spent our last evening here). There are many companies which offer the Dhow Cruise and these are fancy ships which have seating at multiple levels.
Frankly at the end of the experience there was nothing spectacular as the Dhow cruise really doesn’t go anywhere just moves here and there and the food at best is okay.
So nothing great but still you should do this once at least in Dubai just for the experience.
Other Notable Mentions:
Dubai Aquarium, Mall of Emirates, Karama Market (Avoid, it’s a rip off place)
Some Useful Tips:
Taxis are cheap but Take the Metro for commuting
We hired cabs on most days especially when there was point to point travel. Taxis are pretty reasonable. But the Metro is very efficient. Metro stations are conveniently located and since they consist of only two lines it’s pretty simple to understand.
In Case you want to Hire a Car
We thought being Dubai, where petrol is cheap, you should get ‘rent a car’ pretty cheap. But it was not so. It cost us AED 500 for 12 hours. The rates are set by the government so you cant do much about it. Still it offers you flexibility to go wherever you want.
Buy the Entertainer on the first day
So if you plan to visit the touristy places and eat out and are in Dubai at least for 3-4 days, the Entertainer is a great way to save some money. The Entertainer is a book of discount vouchers on thousands of restaurant, hotels, and sightseeing places. You can easily save a lot of money if you use it right. It cost AED 395 but we covered up the cost and saved more after using the entertainer for 4 days
Below is a list where we used the entertainer and how much we saved. We had many options beyond this but we just could not use due to lack of time.
Yellow Boat Tour – Saved 220 AED
Dhow Cruise – Saved 170 AED
Desert Safari – Saved AED 350
Restaurants – Many.. Saved almost 200 AED
Stay in Downtown Dubai
Well regardless of where you stay you can travel to all locations in Dubai easily; We did stay in both Downtown and Old Dubai area but we still felt that Downtown Dubai is more closer to all the happening places and just felt nicer. Our Hotel in Downtown Dubai was Auris Plaza.
So hope this is useful for all.
This trip was originally published on STEVANNORONHA.