Even so, the city’s heart is rooted in the enchanting traditions and heritage of Arabic culture and faith. Cultural and cutting-edge Dubai is as endlessly enchanting as it has been for millennia; and is a must on any world-traveler’s bucket list. We’ve compiled the 10 best things to do in Dubai so you won’t miss out on the city’s top experiences, as well as its hidden cultural rites of passage that must be enjoyed!
By the way, if you need some tips about accommodation in Dubai, feel free to read this article:
BEST THINGS TO DO IN DUBAI #1 – BURJ KHALIFA
No trip to Dubai is complete without a visit to the Burj Khalifa. As the world’s tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa (or Burj as it is sometimes affectionally called), claims the singular feat of rising half a mile into the endless blue of the Dubai sky. As the center of the city’s skyline, and the country as a whole on the world stage, the Burj Khalifa is regularly ranked the best thing to do in Dubai.
The 124th floor observation deck offers sweeping vistas of the city and its surrounding sand and sea landscape, a sight that is sure to inspire the senses as it appears to grow before your very eyes. When the sun goes down, the tower takes on a party atmosphere. Its glass and steel curtain is primed to go from day to night, when dressed-up in a flood of lights that easily crowns her the queen of the city.
The tower also offers a staggering view of the Dubai fountain at the base of the tower.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN DUBAI #2 – DUDAI OLD TOWN OR BASTAKIA QUARTER
Before you soar sky-high in Dubai’s famed skyscraper, get a taste of what life was like in old Dubai, by paying a visit to Dubai’s Old Town and/or the Bastakia Quarter. Here you can find a traditional picturesque heritage village. As it stands today, the quarter was originally built by Persian merchants, gently blown across the Persian Gulf from the town of Bastak in southern Iran, where the town’s name originates from.
Recently, the entire quarter has been pedestrianized. The distinct wind towers that originally served as air-conditioning give the quarter a distinct charm and stately elegance. Even today, these centuries-old buildings still serve as private homes, others have been converted to public spaces that are worth a visit. Among them is the Shaiq Mohammed Centre for Culture and the Dubai Museum, housed in the city’s oldest building, the Al Fahidi Fort, dating from 1780s.
Sheikh Saeed Bin Maktoum Al Maktoum served as the ruler of Dubai from 1912-1958. His former home is considered a historic treasure replete with unique architectural elements which now house Dubai’s Centre for Cultural Understanding. This singular museum is focused on bringing harmony and historical reference to the heart of a city that is made up of 90% immigrants. Here you can experience Bedouin hospitality, and Emirate foods served in a traditional setting.
ACTIVITY #3 – JUMEIRAH MOSQUE
Peer through the veil of Islam at the Jumeirah Mosque, considered a must-see while in Dubai. The iconic structure has adopted an official ‘open doors, open minds’ policy that focuses on welcoming visitors and tourists from all corners of the world, and perhaps most importantly, all faiths. As an architectural icon, the Jumeirah Mosque is large enough to house 1,200 devotees and tourists alike.
The building was built entirely in white stone, and designed in a traditional medieval Fatimid style. This means lots of sumptuous decorations of plants and geometric patterns to feast your eyes upon. Guided tours are available six days a week starting at 10am. Tours usually run every 75 minutes on average, and are organized by the Shaikh Mohammed Centre of Cultural Understanding. The Jumeirah Mosque is the perfect place to get immersed in Emirate life and traditions as well as to cultivate a deeper understanding of Islamic holidays, traditions, customs and rituals that often mystify and perplex un-initiated onlookers.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN DUBAI #4 – VISIT THE SPICE MARKET OR SPICE SOUK
Thousands of years of Arabic culture and tradition are conjured up by paying a visit to Dubai’s old Spice Market or Souk in Arabic. More than just a centuries-old shopping experience, the Spice Market is the perfect way to get a dose of the daily life that has taken place here for thousands of years. Follow the scent of frankincense and myrrh, and the colorful rows of fragrant spices and delights.
Unique purchases include fresh figs and dates, real cinnamon, turmeric and cumin, as well as small fragrant roses for rose tea which bloom when placed in hot water, to name just a few. The market receives daily shipments from India, Pakistan and Iran, making it a meeting place of cultures and foods, far and wide, a tradition which has continued through the centuries. The market is open seven days a week, from 10am to 10pm, and 4pm to 10 pm on Fridays.
WHAT TO DO IN DUBAI #5 – DUBAI MALL
With all the history and tradition, a good old-fashioned dose of modern retail therapy might be just the ticket. Dubai’s Souk of the 21st century is not only a great place to flash some plastic, but it’s also the world’s largest mall and a destination in its own right. Choose from a selection of the world’s most iconic luxury brands, from the staggering 1,200 stores and retail options available under the same roof!
If traveling with children, the world’s largest mall is also home to Kidzania, the ultimate mini-city built solely for kids in mind. The youngest in the family will enjoy playing in the pint-size fire station, hospital, radio station, bank and pizzeria, all run by kids! Meanwhile, the grown-ups can get down to business and do some serious shopping.
With endless retail options and attractions, it would be hard to choose the top sight in Dubai Mall if it weren’t for Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, considered one of the best things to do in Dubai Mall, and Dubai in general. This underground and underwater world is filled with over 30,000 creatures from the deep blue, as well as picturesque underwater plant species. For special deals on Dubai Mall’s top entertainment options and attractions.
ACTIVITY #6 – CAMEL ROBOT RACING
So, what exactly is Camel Robot Racing? While it may appear to be a robotic-camel racing in one of Dubai’s futuristic indoor settings, this isn’t the case. Camel Robot Racing is a centuries-old Emirate tradition that has taken on a unique spin in the 21st century. Today, a small remotely controlled robot jockey sits atop the camel in order to relieve the stress and pressure from a real jockey, which also allows the comedic hump-back creatures to run faster.
The race is usually comprised of around 60 camels all vying for top spot, with legs flying in every direction. The robot jockeys are controlled by the real jockeys from the comfort of air-conditioned SUVs, which race on their own track alongside the camels. Races take place at Al Marmoon Heritage Village and Al Lisaili Race Track between 7am and 9am in order to beat the sweltering midday heat. For a chance to ride on one of these dessert-dwelling gentle animals, or for a chance to get a picture with the previous day’s top competitor, make sure to get there early!
BEST THINGS TO DO IN DUBAI #7 – WELCOME TO DUBAILAND
Dubailand is undoubtedly the world’s most ambitious leisure and entertainment theme center ever undertaken, costing a whopping 65 billion dollars. After facing financial setbacks brought about by the 2008 financial crisis, work resumed on this ambitious construction project in mid 2013s, and is in the process of opening more key attractions this year. Comprised of multiple zones, each with its own theme, attractions, rides and restaurants. Currently, the grand vision is nowhere near complete, yet it is still the second largest theme park in the world second only to Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
The park itself is constructed of six zones or themed worlds. This includes: Attraction and Experience World, Retail and Entertainment World, Themed Leisure and Vacation World, Eco-Tourism World, Sports and Outdoor World, as well as its very own Downtown District.
Dubailand is in fact a city within a city, which comprises individual theme parks including some of the world’s most famous themed attractions! Legoland Dubailand, is full of interactive Lego building experiences perfect for the family, Marvel Superhero Park, is the only place where you can get up close and personal with your favorite Marvel superheroes, and Universal Studios Dubailand, to name just a few subsections of this massive and unmissable theme park! Oh, did we forget to mention the unmissable Six Flags Dubailand set to open this year? Whether its rollercoasters, superheroes, retail therapy, and just about everything in between, Dubailand is a must visit for the entire family!
WHAT TO DO IN DUBAI #8 – SKI DUBAI POLAR PASS DUBAI
While in the heat of the desert, despite the allure of Dubai’s many luxurious mirages, now and then, the option to experience a ski slope filled with fresh powder is all one could ever want and need.
Don’t fret, get your snow boots ready for bobsleds, skiing, snowboarding, and even penguins imported from the South Pole, as the designers and builders of Ski Dubai have literally thought of everything. This unique piece of refrigeration architecture brings a little piece of the mountainous winter to the indoor setting of Ski Dubai’s main slope.
Ski Dubai is one of the best things to do in Dubai as a family destination. Located in the middle of the Dubai desert, this Dubai attraction is even worth a visit simply for the novelty if nothing else.
Make sure to book in advance as Ski Dubai can get crowded at times. For an extended experience, make sure to book the Polar Express Pass, in order to access one of Ski Dubai’s most unique attractions including: a 40-Minute Penguin Encounter, Snow Buller Ride, as well as a Snowboarding Session with Instructor/or a Skiing Session with Instructor. The Polar Pass grants you access to most of Ski Dubai’s attractions.
ACTIVITY #9 – THE ‘CITY OF GOLD’ MARKET
Dubai is quickly establishing itself as one of the world’s top destinations for fine jewelry, precious metals and rare gems, alongside the likes of Antwerp’s Square Mile, and New York City’s Diamond District. Aside from glittering skyscrapers, Dubai is also a city known for its unashamed love of gold. This passion for this ever-auspicious metal, takes center stage at the “City of Gold” Market.
The ‘City of Gold’ also claims the status as the world’s largest gold market and retail center. What Antwerp is to diamonds, Dubai is fast becoming for gold. With hundreds of stalls filled with yellow options, one can purchase the perfect souvenir gift at a great price. Located in Deira, the ‘City of Gold’ is famous for unique one-of-a-kind statement pieces of cascading gold links which are cast in intricate designs. There’s simply so much gold here, you’ll be seeing yellow long after your visit.
WHAT TO DO IN DUBAI #10 – MADINAT JUMERIAH FIVE-STAR RESORT
Enjoy a few Arabian nights at Madinat Jumeirah, a five-star resort styled as a traditional Arabian town with a Venetian twist. This resort is comprised of three hotels, with 29 Arabian-themed summer houses and seven breathtaking villas that float just above the water. The villas and summer houses effortlessly create the aesthetic of a truly authentic yet modern Arabian villa.
In addition to its exotic and luxurious setting, Madinat Jumeirah is also an entertainment mecca. Guests and visitors have access to over fifty world-class restaurants and bars located within the resort grounds alone. Not to mention, 2 kilometers of beautiful private beach, five tennis courts, complimentary waterpark access to Wild Wadi Water Park, a movie theatre, a world-class fitness center with its own altitude suite and climbing wall, Talise Spa featuring over two dozen private treatment rooms and rejuvenating elixirs/treatments, and finally, Sinbad’s Club (a space dedicated entirely just for children)!
From the pinnacle structure of man’s ambition as the world’s tallest structure, to unique Bedouin attractions that exemplify desert culture, Dubai is a modern jewel steeped in a rich history. While at first glance, its history may seem to be overlooked by today’s modern attractions, heritage and tradition permeate Dubai’s underpinnings, from architecture to daily life. As a result, a journey to Dubai’s pleasure and entertainment palaces will reward you with the best of the modern world, wrapped in an exotic package that will in vigor the senses and leave lasting memories.