You would think that people only go to Dubai to shop, but there are many things to do in Dubai that will surprise you.
From adventures to cultural encounters, beach escapes, and luxury experiences. Dubai has it all!
Best Things to do in Dubai
Dubai is a city of the future to say the least. It's growing at such a rapid rate that 20% of the world's cranes are located here.
Dubai has the world's tallest building, the world's tallest hotel, and the world's tallest residential building.
It houses the largest mall in the world, the world's largest aquarium and the second largest man made marina on earth.
Within five years, Dubai will have at least 600 more hotels, and the skyline should be close to being complete for the 2020 World Expo.
Dubai a city that people should see once.
We've been telling everyone that travel to Dubai is (scarily) a sign of the future of tourism.
Dubai 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. We love seeing cities from the highest point and in Dubai you'll see the city from the highest building on earth.
The Burj Khalifa 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. Warning though, it's crowded and once you've had a look at the city, there's not a lot more to do up there.
2. Explore the Dubai Marina
Downtown Dubai isn't much of a walking city, but when you make your way to the 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 and you can book boat tours and dinner cruises from here. I
t 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 that take your breath away.
3. Go to the Beach
Dubai has fabulous sandy beaches.
We booked a hotel directly on the beach, but there is plenty of public access as well.
Like all beach destinations there are lot of watersports to choose from and many beach chairs or free patches up 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.
3. Visit the Malls of Dubai
I know we didn't rave about the malls in our opening paragraph, but it is a spectacle to see them.
The Dubai Mall has an aquarium, skating rink, waterfalls and top name brand clothing outlets where you can get lost for the day.
You can even take a gondola ride around the Dubai lake. If you go to the Emirates Mall, you can go snowboarding or skiing, 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.
4. Things to do in Dubai Malls
Dubai takes everything to the next level and the malls of Dubai have everytyhing you could possibly want in a holiday destination.
You never have to leave the mall! Plus, you can relax in air conditioning as the desert temperatures soar outside.
From Ski Dubai where you can snowboard and ski indoors, to ice skating, water parks and even scuba diving in a massive fish tank, you name it, Dubai has thought of it.
5. Dubai Fountain Show
Just like the Bellagio in Vegas, Dubai has its own waterfall show at the Dubai Fountain.
Only this one is bigger and better making it the top of all fountain shows in the world.
Each night a display of water and light runs for 10 minutes every half an hour until midnight.
The songs, lights 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.
- Dubai definitely reminds me of Vegas, enjoy our photo comparison Vegas around the world
6. Aquaventure Waterpark
Everyone wants to catch a glimpse of the Atlantas 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 has 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
7. Take a Scenic Flight
Dubai is a city that's definitely meant to be seen by air. A bird's eye of The Palm is astounding.
This engineering feat is difficult to comprehend as Dubai has built and 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.
Watch or Scenic flight of Dubai on YouTube
8. Bur Dubai
We took a day tour of Dubai with Get Your Guide and it really allowed us to see a lot of the highlights of the city.
Our favourite 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 and afternoon.
9. 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 the gold souk, the spice souks and pick kup some fantastic souvenirs.
Get lost in the alleyways and streets that you can get lost in while shopping and exploring your way through a fast disappearing Dubai culture.
Make sure to take the water taxi along the Dubai Creek.
It's a great affordable way to explore the old part of town.
Learn more about the Middle East at 11 Remarkable Things to do in Marrakech
10. 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.
11. 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 loud speakers from nearby mosques we strolled through a display of Dubai's early days and humble beginnings as pearl divers during the silk route trading times to the discovery of oil and the flash of the 21st century.
It's a fascinating display.
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If you've never been to the desert, this will be an exciting excursion for you.
Visting the desert and getting out of the megacity 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.
12. 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 panorama 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.
Love Desert Safaris? See our other Dune Buggy Adventure in Marrakech
13. Conservation Area
If you want to see some wildlife, you are almost guaranteed to see Arabian oxen (oryx) gathering at the watering hole.
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.
14. Bedouin Dinner Show – Al Jabal Village
The best part of our Dubai Desert Experience was the Al Jabal Village where we enjoyed dinner and a show filled with local cultural experiences.
Seeing bellie dancers, the spectacular Tanoura Dancing was definitely a highlight.
- Watch our video of our time in the desert of Dubai
15. 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.
16. Camel Rides
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.
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 financial district is great for shopping and skyscrapers
The marina is perfect for beach lovers
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.
JW Marriott: Financial District
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. Book your hotel on TripAdvisor.
There are shuttles to the Dubai Malls and Beaches.
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 out more Dubai City Tours on Get your Guide
17. Dubai Frame
The newest attraction in Dubai is the Dubai Frame. It wasn't built when we visited, but Dubai is constantly changing.
It's the most Instagrammable spot in Dubai, so be sure to check it out when you visit the city.
Dubai is a massive city and a week let us barely scratch the surface.
Our trip to Dubai was sponsored by Expedia.com as part of their Viewfinders program. We were upgraded by Air Canada to enjoy premium economy and business class on our to and from flights on their new Dreamliner service direct from Toronto.