Looking for thing things to do in Dubai? Beyond the skyscrapers and shopping malls, there are many Dubai attractions that will surprise you. Albeit, the malls, and skyscrapers are very impressive. From desert adventures to cultural encounters, beach escapes, and luxury experiences, Dubai has it all! Dubai is the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates and is one of the most exciting cities in the Middle East to visit.
Dubai is a city of the future, to say the least. Dubai has the world’s tallest building, the world’s tallest hotel, and the world’s tallest residential building. It houses the largest shopping mall in the world, the world’s largest aquarium, and the second-largest man-made marina on earth. Dubai is a city that people should see once in their lifetime but there are plenty of things to do in Dubai that will surprise you beyond the megacity malls and skyscrapers.
Top Things to do in Dubai
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Dubai has beaches, desert safaris, adventure, and activities. We think that Dubai is definitely a city built for the future of tourism. It is leading the way with seven-star and other luxury hotels attached to super malls where families can do everything they want on their vacations without leaving the complex.
But there is much more to Dubai than just the shopping and the manufactured experiences. We spent a week exploring and found that there were plenty of things to do in Dubai that were actually entertaining, exciting, and a lot of fun.
1. Go Up the Burj Khalifa
Whenever we have the chance to go somewhere high, we take it and you cannot miss going up the world’s tallest building for a view of the city. The Burj Khalifa is at the top of all Dubai attractions. It is located in the heart of the city with gorgeous views. Take the high-speed elevator up 160 stories to see awe-inspiring views of Dubai. Be warned though, it’s crowded and once you’ve had a look at the city, there’s not a lot more to do up there.
It is that famous building that Tom Cruise climbed during Mission Impossible and while standing outside the viewing platform, you gain a lot of respect for the man. That takes a lot of nerve. While the experience isn’t as good as other high-rise attractions we’ve taken around the world, you can’t visit Dubai without going up the elevator. Get your skip-the-line tickets to the 124th, 125th, and 148th floors of the Burj Khalifa. Zip past the security lines for optimal timing. This tour offers easy cancellation within 24 hours of departure. Purchase refundable tickets here.
The Burj Khalifa doesn’t have the wow factor of Toronto’s CN Tower or even the Calgary Tower glass floor but if there is one thing to do in Dubai it is ticking off the bucket list of going up the world’s tallest building.
2. Explore the Dubai Marina
Downtown Dubai isn’t much of a walking city, but when you make your way to the Dubai Marina, it’s your chance to stroll along the promenade. There are coffee shops and restaurants surrounding the second-largest man-made marina in the world where you can book boat tours and dinner cruises from here. It was definitely our favourite place to hang out in the evening in Dubai.
Like all things in Dubai, it too is surrounded by mammoth skyscrapers and shopping malls that take your breath away. For one of the more thrilling things to do in Dubai, make your way to the Amwaj Towers to take a zip line over the marina to the Dubai Marina Mall. Dubai does everything bigger and better and this zipline is one of the steepest and fastest in the world. Reaching speeds of 80 km an hour, you’ll soar through the air for one kilometer.
This breakfast yacht tour is a great way to experience the decadence of travel in Dubai at an affordable price where you’ll enjoy a morning cruise with breakfast. (also available for a sunset bbq cruise). You’ll sail from the marina to Blue Water Island, the Dubai Eye, and views of Jumeira Beach, The Palm Jumeirah, and the Burj Al Arab.
3. Go to the Beach
Dubai has fabulous sandy beaches. Like all beach destinations, there are a lot of watersports to choose from and many beach chairs or free patches of sand to set up shop for the day to catch some rays. The famous Burj Al Arab towers over a public beach. If you are rich enough to stay there, go for it! It’s Dubai’s most luxurious accommodation being a 7-star hotel. You can actually book a stay at this hotel on TripAdvisor. It is cheaper than you think!
Habtoor Grand Resort
We booked a hotel directly on the beach and quickly learned that Dubai is an amazing beach vacation. Located on the Persian Gulf the waters are warm and welcoming. The Habtoor Grand Resort Autograph Collections has a private beach and is within walking distance to the Dubai Marina and The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR). This hotel has a private beach, infinity pool, and plenty of amenities, but there is plenty of public access as well. See rates for this resort on TripAdvisor.
4. Explore the Dubai mall
I know we didn’t rave about the malls in our opening paragraph, but it is a spectacle to see them. In fact, the malls are definitely the top Dubai attractions to add to your list. The Dubai Mall is the largest shopping mall in the world with so much more than clothing stores and boutiques. The Dubai Mall houses the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo where you can even go diving with sharks, there’s a skating rink, waterfalls, and top-name brand clothing outlets where you can get lost for the day. You can even have a shark or maYou can even take a gondola ride around Dubai lake just like you are transported to Venice.
5. Mall of the Emirates
If you go to the Mall of the Emirates, you can go snowboarding or skiing at Ski Dubai, catch a movie or do some shopping. There are malls galore in Dubai and many hotels offer free shuttles to visit them where you can freely spend your hard-earned money. One of the coolest things we saw before going to Dubai was Ski Dubai – an indoor ski resort. Coming from Canada, it is totally a novelty to be able to ski indoors.
Dubai takes everything to the next level and the malls of Dubai have everything you could possibly want in a holiday destination. From skiing to ice skating, water parks, and even scuba diving in a massive fish tank, you name it, Dubai has thought of it. You never have to leave the mall! Plus, you can relax in air conditioning to escape the Dubai heat as the desert temperatures soar outside.
6. Dubai Fountain Show
Just like the Bellagio in Vegas, Dubai has its own waterfall show at the Dubai Fountain. Only the fountain show in Dubai is bigger and better making it the top of all fountain shows in the world. Make sure to add going to the Dubai fountain to your list of must-see Dubai attractions.
Each night a display of water and light runs for 10 minutes every half an hour until midnight. The songs, light show, and choreography change again and again so you never have to see the same show twice. Pick a seat and have a drink at one of the restaurants on the lake where the show is located or get there 10 minutes early for a front-row premium spot right at the fence. I really enjoyed the show myself.
7. Take a Scenic Flight
A scenic flight also offers amazing views of the Dubai skyline and the Persian Gulf coast. We found that Dubai was so spread out it was difficult to really take in the views of the skyscrapers from different vantage points, but a flight fixed that problem. Being on a scenic flight allowed me to see all of the magnificent modern architecture in the city. Watch or Scenic flight of Dubai on YouTube
8. Palm Jumeirah
Dubai is a city that’s definitely meant to be seen by air. A bird’s eye of The Palm Jumeirah is astounding. This engineering feat is difficult to comprehend as Dubai has built an extra 650km of coastline for its residents to work and play. There’s also a map of The World with hundreds of man-made islands waiting to be developed 14 km off the shore of Dubai. The Palm Jumeirah is a wonder of the modern world. This archipelago of islands juts out into the Persian Gulf and is completely man-made.
9. Atlantis The Palm Dubai
The Palm is a tourist destination unto itself with the famous Atlantis – The Palm occupying its shores. There are jet boat rides, paddling, and plenty of water sports but one of the bucket list extreme adventures to be had in Dubai is to skydive over The Palm. You can stay at the Atlantis – The Palm. It has all the amenities you could want in a five-star resort for both families and couples. Skydive Dubai offers tandem skydiving over Dubai. Visit their website for more extreme adventures in Dubai.
10. Aquaventure Waterpark
Everyone wants to catch a glimpse of Atlantis Dubai, but you don’t have to break the bank to stay there. Visitors can buy a pass to play in Dubai’s top-rated attraction. It is the world’s largest waterpark with world-record-holding waterslides for thrill-seekers, and it houses Dubai’s largest aquarium. Just make sure you DON’T swim with the dolphins. That’s not cool. The Lost Chambers Aquarium houses 65,000 marine animals.
Dubai Water Parks
Dubai is the epicenter of water parks. Perhaps it’s the hot Dubai heat or just the sheer amount of money that goes through the city, but each water park keeps getting bigger and better. Here are a few of the top water parks in Dubai.
- Wild Wadi – This is the original Dubai water park located beside Jumeirah Beach Hotel and Burj Al Arab
- Laguna Waterpark – Located on the beach in La Mer it Laguna Water Park has four zones for fun, relaxation, slides, surf and splash.
If you aren’t staying at the Atlantis, you can book this Speedboat tour to take in the skyline as you cruise along the Persian Gulf to see Palm Jumeirah and Atlantis Hotel, and Bluewater Island.
11. Wander Through the Souks
Dubai is a new city and it’s difficult to believe that there is somewhere that feels old, but the souks located in the old town actually do feel a lot like other souks we’ve visited in the Middle East. The Souks are divided up and if you take a tour of Dubai, you will easily be able to visit many Dubai attractions in the old city including the gold souk, and the spice souks, and pick up some fantastic souvenirs.
The souks were fascinating to visit. They are busy and filled with shoppers. We were told that 20% of the world’s gold passes through the Gold Souk. I can only imagine how rich the people were walking these alleys. Get lost in the alleyways and streets that you can get lost in while shopping and exploring your way through a fast-disappearing Middle Eastern culture in Dubai.
12. Jumeirah Mosque
Jumeirah Mosque is the only mosque open to non-Muslims in Dubai making it one of the top Dubai attractions. We visited this on an organized tour, but you can book one of the guided tours that happen daily at 10 and 2 pm. (It is closed on Fridays). Make sure you are properly dressed when visiting any mosque or place of worship keeping legs and shoulders covered. Read more: Etiquette in the Middle East- Travel for Men and Women
13. Dubai Creek
Make sure to take the water taxi along Dubai Creek, it’s a great affordable way to explore the old part of town. Dubai Creek is divided into two parts, Deira and Bur Dubai. We took a full-day tour of Dubai and it really allowed us to see a lot of the highlights of the city and the top Dubai attractions including this historic part of the city. Our favorite part of Dubai was going into the historic city.
From Mosques to the Dubai Heritage Village, to river cruises and Bazaars, it is a great place to spend an afternoon. This guided walking tour allowed us to discover Old Dubai, the Spice Souk, Bur Dubai Souk, and the Fahidi district. We also had the chance to take a boat ride an abra boat, the oldest transportation in Dubai.
14. Al Fahidi Historical District
For more of Old Dubai, you must visit the Al Fahidi Historical District. Dating back to 1900, this district was built by the Persians who settled in Dubai after doing trade. Thanks to efforts by locals and even Prince Charles, the area was saved from demolition. It’s a good thing because, with all the modern skyscrapers and buildings of Dubai, there is now a historical district to glimpse into Dubai’s past. This Old Dubai Tour took us through many of the top Dubai attractions including the Grand Souk, a cruise along the water a visit to the Spice Souk, and the Gold Souk while sampling traditional street food.
15. Visit the Dubai Museum
We thoroughly enjoyed the Dubai Museum located in the old part of the city. As the call to prayers rang over the loudspeakers from nearby mosques we strolled through a display of Dubai’s early days and humble beginnings. Follow the journey from its foundation as pearl divers. Pearl diving was prosperous for the people of Dubai and many in the United Arab Emirates can trace their fortunes back to their pearl diving routes. The UAE was also prosperous during the silk route trading times to the discovery of oil. Today, the city is an example of the extreme wealth and flash of the 21st century. It’s a fascinating display.
16. Visit the Desert
If you’ve never been to the desert, this will be an exciting excursion for you. Not all Dubai attractions are located in the megacity. Visiting the desert and getting out of town just might be the best thing to do in Dubai! The Dubai Desert is part of the world’s largest sand desert and there are countless desert safaris offering fun and fabulous experiences.
We took two desert excursions that were vastly different.
17. Dune Buggy Tour
We love a dune buggy adventure. There’s nothing better than suiting up and hightailing it over sand dunes. Our sunset excursion took us out on a dune buggy where we enjoyed panoramic views of the desert before having a traditional Bedouin meal while watching belly dancers and the mesmerizing Tanoura dancer twirl and twirl before our eyes. You can book your Dune Desert Safari tour here where you’ll have a thrill in the desert that includes a 4WD adventure, sandboarding, and camel riding.
18. Desert Conservation Reserve
If you want to see some wildlife, you are almost guaranteed to see Arabian oxen (oryx) gathering at the watering hole on a Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve Tour. There are plenty of camels walking through the desert (all are domesticated) but they are still amazing to see, and you may catch sight of birds of prey. The tour we took offered a birds of prey show in the desert. We didn’t love this part of it as we aren’t fans of birds in captivity, but we did love seeing the animals in their natural habitat.
19. Falcon Show
We did not enjoy the birds of prey show learning how they raise falcons. Using falcons is an extinct way of hunting in Dubai and is simply cruel to keep birds locked in a cage with a bag over their head simply for the pleasure of watching them catch pieces of meat that they throw in the air. It’s not my idea of fun and I wouldn’t recommend it. But the conservation area alone was fantastic. Watch our video of our time in the desert of Dubai
20. Bedouin Dinner Show – Al Jabal Village
The best part of our desert Experience was the Al Jabal Village where we enjoyed dinner and a show filled with local cultural experiences. Seeing belly dancers, and the spectacular Tanoura Dancing was definitely a highlight.
21. Take a Camel Ride
We’re not huge fans of cheesy camel rides, but if you have never ridden a camel, getting on one to go for a short walk in the desert just might be the thing for you. This highly-rated tour takes you on a camel ride across the desert dunes to an oasis where you’ll enjoy the Al Marmoom Reserve and ancient Bedouin Village. Enjoy Arabic coffee, watch traditional dance and enjoy a traditional meal.
If you are looking for a memorable excursion in Dubai, book a hot air balloon ride over the desert. Imagine taking a hot air balloon ride over the Arabian Desert. What makes a hot air balloon ride unique in Dubai is you will see the desert and the Dubai skyline since the city is right beside the desert. You may also see wildlife like gazelles, camels, and birds of prey.
22. Dubai Frame
Want to see the most Instagrammable spot in Dubai? Be sure to check one of the newest Dubai attractions when you visit the city. The massive picture frame stands 500 feet tall and is the highest picture frame in the world. Guests can take an elevator up to the top for panoramic views of the city as they walk along the clear glass bridge that spans 313 feet. Book your tickets here to the Dubai Frame for incredible views of the skyline.
The tour includes stops at The Pointe, Palm Jumeirah, and Atlantis plus the Blue Mosque. You’ll also explore the gold and spice souks allowing you to experience views of both the old side and new side of the city from the Dubai Frame.
23. Dubai Theme Parks
Dubai has many attractions to keep families busy. Here are a few Amusement parks that are fun for the whole family.
- IMG World of Adventure is the world’s biggest indoor amusement park
- Dubai Parks and Resorts is the largest integrated amusement park in the Middle East with four themes. Motionland combines DreamWorks Animation, Columbia Pictures and Lionsgate for a movie-themed park, Bollywood Parks highlights the best from Bollywood Theater, there are Lego Water Parks and Legoland.
- Families may want to book a day at Legoland Dubai. This pass offers entrance to Legoland where you’ll enjoy 40 LEGO-themed rides, LEGO models, and 6 themed lands.
- Global Village is an entertainment complex and amusement park featuring cultures from around the world. At Global Village there’s no need to travel the world, you can visit 90 countries all in one place.
24. Dubai Miracle Garden
Botanical Garden lovers will love the Dubai Miracle Garden which displays millions of flowers and plants. 150 million flowers to be exact. Like everything in Dubai, this garden is over the top spanning 72,000 square meters of displays from the floating lady to the floral clock. Umbrella Tunnel will get your Instagram mojo running or you may want to visit the sunflower field. The Dubai Miracle Garden is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest flower garden in the world. What doesn’t Dubai have that’s the biggest and best?
25. Day Trip to Abu Dhabi
It’s easy to visit Abu Dhabi from Dubai. You can book a day tour to see the capital of the United Arab Emirates. This tour takes you along the Persian Gulf Coast to explore Abu Dhabi’s top landmarks including:
- The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – One of the world’s largest mosques
- The Observation Deck of Etihad Towers
- And Arabian heritage Qasr Al Watan Palace
For something truly unique, book this highly rated tour to Abu Dhabi including Sheikh Zayed Mosque, The Emirates Palace, and other attractions in the morning before spending the afternoon at Ferrari World. Ferrari World is a Ferrari-branded theme park housing the fastest roller coaster in the world, the world’s highest non-inverted loop roller coaster, and the world’s largest indoor amusement park.
The countries of the United Arab Emirates certainly love to be number one in things, don’t they? (both Ferrari World and IMG World of Adventure claim to be the world’s largest indoor theme parks. Who am I to argue? They are both big)
Watch our Video of all our favorite things to do in Dubai
Dubai is a dream destination and we could go back again and again (if our bank accounts allowed) Watch our video of the best things to do in Dubai here.
Where to Stay in Dubai
When visiting Dubai, choose your hotel wisely. There are hundreds to choose from and the city is very spread out. The three main areas to stay in Dubai are:
- The financial district is located in downtown Dubai in the heart of the shopping malls and skyscrapers
- The marina is perfect for beach lovers and is close to the Marina
- Old Dubai gives you that more authentic feel. They are all very far apart but reachable by Skytrain or taxis.
Taxis are surprisingly very reasonable in Dubai and we used them often to get around.
JW Marriott in the Financial District: The JW Marriott in the Financial District is the tallest hotel in the world and this is one luxurious hotel. We loved staying at this resort. We had an amazing view and a modern upscale suite. There are shuttles to the Dubai Malls and Beaches. Book this hotel on TripAdvisor.
Habtoor Grand Resort – The Marina The Habtoor Grand is located right on the beach and just a short walk from the Marina. It’s an excellent location for a beach vacation and there are shuttles to the Dubai Malls and metro. Check it out on TripAdvisor
Dubai is massive we have barely scratched the surface of this exciting city in the United Arab Emirates. This city continues to change and grow at breakneck speeds offering new Dubai attractions with each visit. If you are looking for an escape from the ordinary, consider a trip to Dubai for your next Middle East adventure.