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101 Things To Do & Places to Go in Dubai

A view of the desert & rocks during the desert safari Dubai in Dubai. Pink rock, Badayer.

Introduction

Dubai is one of those cities that there is a lot of buzz around.

Unfortunately for every signal there is 10 times the amount of ‘noise’.

This post is intended to be a very useful summary of all there is to do in and around the city of Dubai. 

It is meant to be useful for both residents & visitors of this fine city.

As someone who has been living here for over 20 years, and has been working in the Tourism industry for nearly a decade I feel like I have accumulated enough insight and information to create something that hopefully others would find useful.

This rather large list if split into sections in order for it to be useful.

The list covers both places and activities and even ‘cheats’ a little – by things that can be done FROM Dubai, not only IN Dubai.

History & Culture

#1: Dubai Museum

The Dubai Museum is based in ‘Al Fahidi Fort’, an old fort that was once upon a time one of the most central and important parts of the city. The museum is a conceptual one based on the idea of a wax figures that recreate day to day activities of life in the past. Its split into a variety of ‘scenes’ which depict different aspects of life in the past, e.g: a school, an old market etc.

This museum can probably provide the most historical insight into the city of Dubai and the UAE more broadly.

The cost of the entrance fee is only 2 AED and is part of our Dubai City Tour.

#2: Heritage Village

The Heritage Village is another significant historical part of the city located only about 1-2 kilometres from the Dubai Museum. The Village is meant to show the more mundane aspects of UAE traditions and if you are lucky you will find Emirati ladies cooking traditional local snacks and explore the huts and houses which were the main place of residence. The Heritage also has quite a few interesting museums such as the museum of ancient maps, coins and the museum of Islam.

#3: Bastakiya

The Bastakiya is just a bit further along the creek from the heritage and constitutes what is widely considered the beginning of Dubai as a City. It is now renovated and has a lot of charm. The area has a very Arabic feel and is perhaps the only area left in the city where you can get a feel of a healthy mix between history and culture. There is quite a few things to explore there, starting from little museums to lots of cool little shops that sell calligraphy, souvenirs and more authentic art.

#4: Textile Market

The textile market is located in between Bastakiya and Heritage Village, and behind it is the Dubai Museum. It’s a part of the city which is still actively authentic and hasn’t changed too much over the years. Most of the textiles are brought in from India or Korea and it has a very hustle bustle traders feel.

#5: Abra Crossing

Once you are done with explore the old parts of town on the Bur-Dubai side of the creek its time to cross over to the other side – ‘Deira’. This can be done on a traditional ‘water taxi’ aka an ‘abra’. Going across by taxi would take significantly longer and cost approximately 20-25 AED, whereas by abra it would only take 5-10 minutes and cost just a few dirhams.

#6: Spice Market

Immediately across the creek from the Historical Areas covered by point #1-#5 is another rather old part of town where the “Spice Market” is located. Traditionally it was exactly that, a market of spices and wholesale food items such as grains, wheats and spices. Today it has evolved slightly to have a larger variance of shops and has become a little bit more touristic than before but nonetheless is an interesting area to explore if you are looking for insight into the traditions the past.

#7: Gold Souq

The Gold Souq is another highly interesting market place which basically is adjacent to the Spice Market and basically one area progresses into the seamlessly. The gold souq is as the name suggest highly focused on all forms of gold trading, ranging from buying bullion slabs to buying small items of jewellery. It is truly an amazing place and few places worldwide accommodate for such large selection of Gold, Silver & Precious Stone based jewellers.

#7: Museum on Jumeirah Beach Road…

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#9: Flag in Jumeirah Beach Road

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The Union Flag is located on Jumeirah Beach Road, along the shore-line and is an enormous UAE flag…

#10: Sheik Zayed Museum (Al-Ain)

General Advice on all attractions above:

  • The entry ticket is free or very cheap to all venues above
  • It is possible to do a pedestrian tour that would cover point 1-7 in about 4-5 hours.
  • Having a knowledgable tour guide is recommended since you will get amazing insight into the History of the Country
  • Starting from $35/person you could cover most of the points above

Dining Experiences

One of the things that Dubai is really known for is the extremely rich dining experiences that it can offer to its guests and few cities can boast so many incredible restaurants in such a small geographical concentration.

All the restaurants & cafes in Dubai are naturally impossible to list, however we have put together the absolute highlights, which offer a dining experience versus just ‘food consumption’.

#1: Bateaux Dubai

When looking at ‘Floating Restaurants’, ‘Bateaux Dubai’ is definitely the classiest affair. Its a glass boat done in a French Style and its home to a fine-dining restaurant which serves an excellent quality of food onboard and is essentially a 5* restaurant on a boat. Unlike other boats, they don’t do a catering style set up, instead they cook their meals onboard. Live entertainment onboard is usually a pianist or guitarist playing relaxing & romantic music.

Highlight:

  • Views of Dubai Creek
  • High Class Dinner Restaurant

Advice & Cost

You are looking at spending at around $100/person for a dinner and about 2 alcoholic drinks, so although it is a rather good service, its also quite expensive. The downside I found to Bateaux is that there isn’t really a great view of the City. There is no open air deck and thus you are ‘Indoors’, and although most of the restaurant walls are glass, its still not ideal.

#2: Dhow Cruise

A “Dhow” is a traditional Arabic vessel that has traditionally been used for trading and general transportation but since the tourist boom in Dubai, many of them have been renovated into ‘Floating Restaurants’ and have become its own concept that evolved into being a ‘staple diet’ of Inbound Tourists.

As an owner & operator of a Dhow I will provide some insight into what you can expect.

The first thing to note is that you can have a ‘Dhow Cruise’ in 2 parts of the City, ‘The Dubai Creek’ which is the waterbody that separates the city into two parts (old town) and in Dubai Marina, a new area of Dubai which is more modern and built around an artificial canal. 

Ofcourse its a matter of preference of what views you want to get, but I frankly think that the level of service generally is higher in Dubai Marina due to the much higher berthing fees and a much smaller number of boats (About 7 in Dubai Marina vs. About 50 in the Creek).

If you are looking for an extremely fine dining experience, you probably shouldn’t go on a Dhow Cruise since all Dhows are catered, i.e: the food isn’t cooked onboard and thus this takes away that ‘fine’ experience.

Some Dhows have very poor service and layout and you have to be extremely careful when you pick.

Most Dhows have onboard entertainment, usually in the form of some musicians, tanura dancer and/or a magic show. This however varies.

Highlights

  • Views of the Creek OR Dubai Marina
  • Live Entertainment

Advice & Cost

Naturally my advice would be to book our ‘Alexandra’ Dhow Cruise in Dubai Marina which is currently the highest rated Dhow Boat in Dubai according to TripAdvisor (may change at time of reading) however if you wish to book with others, below are the companies that are good.

Creek: Sultan, Rustar & Tour Dubai

Dubai Marina: Alexandra & Tour Dubai

I would STRONGLY advice advise against booking any other boat as unfortunately the vast majority of suppliers have dampened the market into poor service.

I would advise against paying more than approximately 200-220 AED/person including transfer service.

Another point I would advise is to try and get an Upper Deck Seat, either ask for it during the reservation or come early to ensure you get it etc.

#3: Classic Desert Safari

The Desert Safari is another one of those experiences in Dubai that have become ‘staple’. 

The activity runs approximately like this:

  • 3.00 PM Pick up from the Hotel
  • 4.00 – 5.00 PM ‘Dune Bashing’ in the Desert, i.e: desert driving with a Photo Stop.
  • 5.30 – 8.30 PM Dinner & Live Show in a Desert Camp

Definitely going to the Desert is a must, and the Classic Desert Safari is the cheapest & easiest way to do this but once again, many suppliers offer a poor service in an attempt to deliver low costs and you must be really careful when booking safaris.

Regardless, do not expect a 5* Dining Experience.

Advice & Cost

If you are looking to really get an adventure in the Desert, the Safari will leave you unsatisfied and we suggest a more custom experience, see Dune Buggying, and if you are looking for a more high end Desert Dining Experience (naturally at a higher cost) we recommend going for Bab Al Shams Restaurant Below.

The cost of a Safari on average is about 60-65$/adult.

We also offer a custom Safari Package called a ‘Royal Safari’ which takes the standard Safari experience but instead of the regular safari camps, guests will be brought to Bab Al Shams for dinner.

#4: Bab Al Shams

Bab Al Shams is a 5* Hotel Located in the Desert with a famous Desert Camp styled restaurant which was originally created as a ‘Majlis’ for the Royal Family and later adopted into a restaurant for the public.

Bab Al Shams offers a true feast for its guests with an enormous selection of food available. It is truly a 5* Buffet Dinner with everything imaginable.

Besides the food, Bab Al Shams offers one of the most elaborate Arabic Folk Shows in the region with Vocalists, Oud Players, Belly Dancers, Tanura Dancers and more for a night of entertainment.

Advice & Cost

The experience is rather expensive and costs approximately $200/adult including transfers, without drinks, but is worth the money.

We recommend doing the ‘Royal Safari’ option.

#5: Sahara Restaurant

The Sahara Restaurant conceptually & thematically is very similar to Bab Al Shams, and offers a similar but slightly less powerful experience for a little bit cheaper. The buffet is not as elaborate, and the show has less numbers, but the ambience of the restaurant is equal or even more.

Advice & Cost

It is possible to do the Royal Safari + Sahara Restaurant combination as well.

Cost of Dinner + Transfer (without Safari) is about $150/adult.

#6: Meat Company

Although this restaurant does not have any live entertainment or anything that is overly exceptional with the decor, ambience or concept – they deliver on something very important: phenomenal meat.

The South African restaurant specialises in all kinds of meat dishes such as steaks, lamb chops or ribs.

Highlights:

  • One of the best steaks you can have
  • Nice location in Madinat Jumeirah

Advice & Cost

This dining experience we recommend to not involve any middlemen in, simply call 04985335, reserve a table and take a Taxi to ‘Madinat Jumeirah”. Once there, as for Meat Co.

Cost will be about $100/person for a few drinks and a meal.

#7 Tepaniyaki Experience

If you are not familiar, ‘Tepaniyaki’ is the Japanese Tradition of Live Cooking Food on a very large flat grill. It is one of the most incredible tasting experiences I personally have ever had.

The process of the food preparation infant of you really changes the dynamic and the chefs really put on a show. In addition, Tepaniyaki themed cuisine has a distinct taste and is absolutely amazingly delicious.

The best place in Dubai for this experience is ‘Tokyo Towers’, an absolutely amazing restaurant in ‘Emirates Towers’ Hotel.

Highlights:

  • Authentic & Mega Delicious Japanese Food
  • Live Cooking

Advice & Costs

This is another dining experience that we recommend you partake in on your own, simply call 04 9893583 and take a taxi to ‘Emirates Towers. Once in the Lobby ask to be directed to ‘Tokyo Towers’.

Cost will approximately 150-200$/person including drinks, but its totally worth it!

#8: Friday Brunch @ Al Qasr

A Friday Brunch has become a famous tradition of expats living in the UAE, primarily started by the Brit expats who have spread that tradition to virtually everyone in the country.

Its a very simply concept, you pay a fixed fee and eat/drinks as much as you can between 12 and 5 PM. 

Towards the end of the Brunch things get quite messy and everyone is rather intoxicated and full.

The Brunch in Al Qasr is legendary! It has every imaginable food and drink that one could wish for and the best problem that one has there is how to best allocate the limited stomach real estate.

Highlight

  • Trying a wide range of foods
  • Drinking a lot

Advice & Costs

This is another experience that we suggest you have on your own by calling 04……., we recommend to book early. Once you have made the reservation, take a taxi to ‘Al Qasr’ Hotel.

P.s: do not plan to drive.

#9: Atmosphere

The ‘Atmosphere’ is a very classy restaurant located close to the top of Burj Khalifa and offers fantastic views of the city. Infant its a great alternative to the traditional ‘At The Top’ Burj Khalifa experience. 

Besides good views, you will get excellent service and food, naturally at a rather premium price.

Highlights:

  • Views of the City from Burj Khalifa
  • Classy Food & Drinks

Advice & Costs

The minimum spend at the restaurant is 500 AED and its one of those experience we think you should do on your own by calling 04…….

One important thing to note is that you CANNOT access the restaurant from Dubai Mall, the only way to get to the entrance to Armani Hotel is to take a Taxi from Dubai Mall.

#10: Burj Al Arab High Tea

The Burj Al Arab is a legendary hotel known for out of this world opulence reserved for the ultra rich, however there is a way to get a sneak preview of the hotel without paying 3000$/night, and that experience is the ‘High Tea’ experience.

Basically its a 5 course light lunch, tea & champagne experience at one of the Hotels finest restaurants.

Highlights:

  • Feel ultra rich
  • Get a taste of 7* Hospitality

Advice & Costs

Book this experience as part of ‘Dubai City Tour’ here.

#11: Cinematic Dining Experience

Despite many travels around the World, I have personally never been to a truly VIP Cinema Hall like the ones available in Dubai.

Its an entirely different concept where there is much fewer seats, split into couples with a small table in between them. You are able to order food from a menu that a waiter will deliver and recline back to a nearly 180 degree angle to get the ultimate cinematic experience.

Highlights:

  • Dinner + Cinema Viewing
  • Super High Class Cinema

Advice & Costs

We recommend to this yourself in Beach Mall Dubai, which can be reach on:

The cost of the ticket is around 130 AED/person which is 4 times more than the standard ticket (30 AED) but its totally worth the difference.

#12: Have a Shawarma & ‘Juice’ Cocktail

This is one of those secret ‘local’ things to do.

The multiculturalism in Dubai has spawned a distinct type of cafeteria that is only found in this Country. Loosely based on a mix of Indian, Emirati, Western & More Broadly Arabic Food it produces a fusion that is very particular and most tourists never get this.

For example, you may find a shawarma, and a burger being prepared in the same place (go for the shawarma, and ask for extra ‘Tahina’ Sauce).

Another highlight is the juices & juice cocktails and milkshakes that they often prepare, with sometimes very funny names.

Highlights:

  • Local Street Food
  • Very cheap, often shockingly good

Advice & Costs

It is definitely by far the cheapest dining experience suggested here and you could get a full meal for approximately 5$.

Our recommendations: ‘Chicken Shawarma with extra tahina sauce & a banana milkshake’. These cafes can easily be identified in all parts of the city by a shawarma skewer usually on the outside.

Note: be cautious, and try to avoid such cafes is they look lovely dirty or unhygienic. 

#13: Cheese Bread in Lebanese Bakery

This is another local ‘secret’.

The Lebanese bakery has gotten quite a reputation for baking some phenomenal ‘manouche’ or ‘cheese bread’. Its absolutely fresh, cooked on order and is mouthwateringly delicious. It is also open quite late and is very cheap.

It is by no means a ‘restaurant’ but its something that expats and Emiratis equally cannot ignore once they have tried it.

Highlights:

  • Authentic Lebanese Cheese Bread
  • Local ‘Street Food’
  • Cheap

Advice & Costs

Its one of those experiences you could have without a middle men, simply tell the Taxi Driver – ‘Lebanese Bakery’ on Al Wasl Road, Near Union Coop.

Once inside don’t expect anything fancy, and just order yourself a manakish with meat or with ‘zaatar’.

General Sightseeing

#1 Burj Khalifa at the Top

Burj Khalifa is one of those buildings that by now anyone has the internet knows about. Its the tallest man made structure in the world and without any exaggeration, the view from the Top is rather breath taking. The building itself is a feat of human technology & innovation and solves many problems architecturally that have never been attempted before.

‘At The Top’ is the name of the attraction which basically takes people upto the viewing platform of Burj Khalifa, showing them some history of the building on the way.

There is another, VIP option to get the same view which costs about 3 times the price, but takes you to a higher floor, offers you a dedicated tour guide, some lights snacks and a dedicated elevator that doesn’t require queuing.

There is also significantly less people, but if you are on a tight budget and all you are after is the view from the top, its probably not worth it.

Highlights:

  • View from the Tallest Building in the World
  • Internal brief tour of the building

Advice & Costs

Tickets to Burj Khalifa are rather complicated to purchase and are often sold out for the time slot you are interested in. Also, Burj Khalifa isn’t really worth going in off itself, its more logical to combine with a city tour.

You can book this experience as part of the ‘Modern Dubai City Tour’ or any Private Tour of your choice.

The cost of the experience itself is $60 for the regular experience and $150 for the VIP experience.

#2: Dubai Mall Aquarium

This is another attraction that is usually part of the ‘Modern Dubai City Tour’ or other variations of it offered by various suppliers.

The aquarium has a very wide range of marine animals ranging from sharks to sting rays and a wide range of fish.

The entrance ticket is around 15$ and definitely worth it if you are already at the mall. The aquarium is structured like a ‘tunnel’ by which around and on top of you are some quite intense visuals.

Advice & Cost

The cost is approximately $15 per person, and is definitely quite affordable.

Tickets are practically always available on the spot on and reservation in advance is required.

If you are on a really tight budget, usually seeing the outside wall of the aquarium conveys a good sense of whats inside without paying.

#3: The Fountains Show

Just outside the Dubai Mall is a large artificial lake which has inbuilt a complex system of extremely powerful fountains that shoot up water 10’s of metres into the sky in a synchronous and programmed manner, creating a mesmerizing ‘dance’ of water that is in sync with the music that is played outside.

The shows start at approximately 6 PM and run every 30 minutes.

Advice & Costs

There is no extra cost or charge for viewing this show.

If you want a VIP experience, we recommend booking yourself a table at one of the restaurant in ‘Souk Al Bahar’ which is a shopping mall that is immediately adjacent to Dubai Mall.

One restaurant that has a particularly good view is ‘Sammach’ an excellent sea food restaurant. If you book a table in advance in their outside patio, over the course of the dinner you will be able to view 2,3 or even 4 instances of the show, which constantly changes.

#4: Burj Al Arab

The Burj Al Arab is one of those iconic buildings of Dubai, which however isn’t particularly easy to view.

There are 3 ways to get a perfect shot of the Burj Al Arab from the outside and only 1 way to view it from the inside.

Advice & Costs

The only way to enter the hotel and infant even the Island on which it sits is to book a table in one of the restaurants in the Hotel or for example the Burj Al Arab high tea experience listed above.

Naturally, that would be a rather pricey experience.

To get a picture of it from the outside, we don’t recommend going to the ‘entrance’ – where most tourist groups go to take pictures.

For one its very crowded, very hectic and really isn’t a good place to get a good shot of it.

We recommend the following 3 spots for a perfect picture, of this beautiful building – and really, it is a beautifully built piece of architecture.

  1. From the public beach to the side of the hotel. You will get a nice view of the hotel from the beach, with much less crowd and a good unobstructed view. Cost = free.
  2. From Madinat Jumeirah. There are quite a few restaurants and just platforms for getting a clear shot of the hotel. Cost = free, OR the cost of the dinner, which isn’t really the cost. 
  3. From a boat. This is the most ‘pricey’ view but is totally worth it because you get to see the whole coastline. For example booking the ‘Palm Island Sea Cruise’ will show you this.

#5: Palm Island

The Palm Island is a very iconic piece of development that has really pushed the envelope of what humans have built.

It really is a cool piece of ‘property’ that people should visit at some point, however by simply driving on it – you can’t really get the experience of understanding it, or actually visualising that you are on an Island.

Advice & Costs

Now, truly the most epic and effective way to view the Palm Island is from a Helicopter Flight or a Sea Plane, however this is obviously also the most expensive way and would cost around $250/person for a 25 minute flight.

The second most effective way is to view it from a boat, e.g by taking a 2 hour cruise around the Palm by boat.

Driving on the actual Palm Island will not show you the scale or the structure of the Palm Island.

#6: Jumeirah Beach Road

Jumeirah Beach Road is the road that parallels the coast line and has a lot of cool restaurants, galleries and just iconic ‘villas’.

It is considered one of the early/original areas in Dubai, and also one of the wealthier areas of Dubai.

Advice & Costs

The road is rather long, and its impossible to walk it all, so there are a few options.

You can take a Dubai City Tour. This will take you a drive down this road.

You could also just take a taxi and take a drive, stopping where you wish.

Finally, you can start exploring the early part of the route and hop and off the government bus which goes up and down this road with lots of stops and frequent buses.

#7: Dubai Marina

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#8: Dubai Metro

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Active Activities

#1: Dune Buggies & Quad Biking

#2: Sky Dive Dubai

#3: Scuba Diving

#4: Ski Dubai

#5: Surfing

#6: Wakeboarding

#7: Skate Parks

#8: Fishing

#9: Yacht Cruises

#10: Hoverboarding

Family & Parks

#1: Kidzania

#2: Miracle Garden & Butterfly Park

#3: Creekside Park

#4: Mushrif Park

#5: Wild Wadi Waterpark

#6: Aquaventure Waterpark

#7: Sega World

#8: Dubai Butterfly Garden

#9 Ferrari World

#10 Yas Waterworld

#11 Global Village

#12: Dubai Dolphinarium

#13: Horse Riding & Stable Visit

Malls & Shopping 

#1: Mall of The Emirates

#2: Dubai Mall

#3: Bur Juman

#4: Ibn Battuta Mall

#5: City Centre

Pedestrian & Walking

#1: Marina Promenade

#2: JBR 

#3: Dubai Creek Deira Side

#4: Dubai Creek Bur Dubai Side

#5: Mina Bazaar

Beaching

#1: Kite Beach

#2: JBR Beach

#3: “Russian Beach”

#4: Mamzar Beach

Other Emirates, From Dubai

#1: Heritage Village Abu Dhabi

#2: Musandam

#3: Crab Hunting

#4: Al Ain Museum

#5: Al Ain Zoo

#6: Hot Springs

#7: Sheikh Zayed Mosque

#8: Friday Market

#9: Ancient Mosque

#10: King Faisal Mosque

#11: Arabian Wildlife Centre

#12: Emirates Park Zoo Abu Dhabi

#13: Emirates Palace Hotel Photostop or Lunch

#14: Koran Roundabout

#15: Old Souq, Sharjah

#16: First School in UAE

Flight Based Activities

#1: Helicopter Flight

#2: Sea Plane Flight

#3: Hot Air Baloon

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