Dubai: If you're hesitating to plan a short summer trip to Dubai - we hope to change your mind with this guide. On your first-ever Dubai trip, there are certain attractions you must not miss and with so many diverse choices it may seem daunting to plan an itinerary if you're here for under a week.
So, we compiled our best recommendations of attractions you shouldn't miss in Dubai, especially if it's your first time. With the perfect combination of touristy things to do and unique destinations, these spots offer great photo ops as well.
We assume that you will stay in Dubai for four nights and check out on the fifth day. We also assume that you have at least a half day on the day you arrive to start your amazing Dubai trip. Let's go!
First, transportation and stay
The Dubai Metro is the most convenient and budget-friendly option for you to get around the city. Ensure your hotel is near or within walking distance of a metro station. If those don't fall in your budget or other criteria, choose a hotel that offers free shuttle services to the nearest metro station - there are many that feature that option. Some hotels also offer shuttles to malls and attractions nearby.
Taking feeder buses requires planning in advance, so if you don't have time for that, you can take a cab to your final destination from the metro station. You can use either Uber or Careem to book cabs.
Many bus stops in Dubai are air-conditioned and have seating, so if you do decide to take a feeder bus to the metro, you're covered. Use the S'hail app to plan your public transport journey - it will show you total time, cost and bus/metro options for the trip. If you plan on using the metro extensively, we would recommend getting a card instead of paying for tickets for each trip.
Expect to pay at least Dh250-Dh300 a night for two (excluding taxes) if you choose a well-rated three- or even four-star hotel in a good location. If you want to revel in the luxury that the Dubai hospitality industry is known for, you can find stays ranging from Dh1,000 all the way to Dh5,000 or more, depending on the location and amenities.
An evening in Old Dubai
We assume that you arrived in Dubai at midday and headed to your hotel (on the metro!) for a quick rest and refresh. Park your bags, grab water bottles, hats and your wallet to head out.
The first place to cover is an iconic structure in Dubai – the Dubai Frame. If you’re staying in one of the hotels on Sheikh Zayed Road, it is easier to take a cab to the attraction. Dubai Frame is a must-see destination for anybody interested in learning more about the city's past, present, and future.
The landmark consists of two transparent towers that are 150 metres tall. They are connected by a 93-metre-long bridge. On one side, the towers and bridge frame the buildings on Sheikh Zayed Road, denoting ‘modern Dubai, while the other side includes views of Deira, Umm Hurair and Karama, symbolising ‘old Dubai’.
On to Old Dubai
From the Dubai Frame, we can head to Al Bastakiya the oldest standing residential area of Dubai, part of what is known as Old Dubai.
The nearest metro station to the Dubai Frame, Max station, is quite a bit of a walk from the attraction, so we would suggest taking another cab. Once you get to Max station, just 5 minutes away by car, you will have to take a train to Burjuman station (second stop from Max). At Burjuman you will have to get on the Green Line – headed toward Etisalat Metro Station. After getting on the train, get off at Al Ghubaiba station. Our next attraction is just a short walk away.
Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House
On this day dedicated to exploring Old Dubai, a great place to start is to visit the palace where many of the ruling family of Dubai grew up. Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the late Ruler of Dubai, took the first step of restoring the structure, originally built in 1896 by his grandfather Sheikh Maktoum bin Hasher.
The ruling family moved to Zabeel Palace in 1958. In the 80s the palace in Shindagha was restored, and in 1996 it was opened to the public after being converted into a museum that displays old documents, stamps and coins among other things. The palace is a conduit to Dubai’s past, and is located alongside the Creek.
At walking distance is the Heritage Village, an important part of the Al Shindagha historical neighbourhood in Dubai. Walking through the Heritage Village is a beautiful experience in itself, and very different to the glittering skyline that Dubai is best known for. A must-do if you’re exploring this historical area, once known as Al Bastakiya, stop for tea and some food to experience authentic Emirati cuisine.
Through a textile souk
After that pick-me-up, take a leisurely walk headed toward the Bur Dubai Abra Station. On your way you will go through the textile market. The lanes are full of small textile shops featuring fabrics of all ranges and prices and bargaining is encouraged. Beware of sellers trying to coax you into buying things. Be firm and walk on if you’re not buying. The 10-minute-walk will take you through narrow market lanes and very close to the Shiva temple in Bur Dubai.
Bur Dubai abra station
For just one dirham you can get on an abra to ride across the Creek to Deira where the spice and gold souks await. You can even rent out an entire abra for just your party. The abras are frequent, so without much waiting enjoy the scenic trip and get off at Deira Old Souq station.
The Gold Souk
While in the City of Gold… Dubai promises and delivers. A stroll through Dubai’s famous Gold Souk will leave you enthralled by the designs and sheer amount of the precious metal on display. Many gold shoppers head here for the best quality of gold at competitive rates. Gold rates for sellers are fixed by Dubai Gold & Jewellery Group on a daily basis depending on market conditions.
You will be able to find beautiful jewellery designs in 18K, 21K and 22K. Where you may be able to get a discount is on ‘making charges’ – this is usually a percentage charged on the set price of gold depending on how intricate the design is. If you’re looking for gold jewellery, there is no better place to go.
Colours and beautiful scents await you as you enter Dubai’s spice souk. Each store claims to be the best and the most authentic, so take your time going through the wares. This is a great place to get gifts for friends back home – from top-quality saffron, nuts and dates, teas, herbs and much more.
A little walk ahead will lead you to a treasure trove of perfumes, essential oils and traditional oud. For a nice souvenir to take back home, have one of the experienced perfumers create a fragrance for you. You can let them know your preferences and they will create something just for you.
Our top tip for visiting all these souks is to go through at least 4 or 5 stores before making a purchase. This will not only give you an idea of the wares available but also give you a basepoint of the prices. For the textiles, spices and perfumes, bargaining is definitely on the cards.
A cruise dinner
After all that walking, our next tip is to get on a dinner cruise on a traditional boat called a dhow. A dhow cruise dinner along the Dubai Creek is a great night activity and most include an international cuisine buffet with vegetarian and non-vegetarian food options. Some dhows also have entertainment inside. The duration is usually two hours, which gives you ample time to enjoy a nice meal, and take in the lights and colours of Old Dubai at night.
The duration is usually two hours, which gives you ample time to enjoy a nice meal, and take in the lights and colours of Old Dubai at night.
Booking in advance is required and make sure you check out various providers. While some may offer rates as low as Dh30 per person, they may not have the amenities you want. It can go up to Dh115 per person. Some cruise operators also provide hotel transfers.
Once you’re done, if you got off on the Bur Dubai side of the Dubai Creek, you can use the Al Ghubaiba metro station. If you’re on the Deira side, the Al Ras station is your starting point to head home. If you are not quite ready to go home yet, head to one of the many clubs and restaurants in Dubai.
Museum of the Future
You can head to this beautiful attraction during the day since you will be enjoy the sights inside. Dubai’s Museum of the Future (MOTF) received more than one million visitors from 163 countries in a year since its official opening in February 2022. Dubbed the most beautiful building in the world, the museum is 77 metres high and extends over an area of 30,000 square metres.
The structure was designed to be an engineering marvel that connects the past to the future, with an architectural style that differs entirely from the concept of traditional museums to appeal to innovative thinkers and future-curious visitors from around the world. You'll have to book tickets weeks in advance as tickets to the attraction are almost always sold out.
This is something every tourist does, or wants to do – a desert safari with a camel ride. With pick up and drop off, and a picnic breakfast, this is a great family activity. You can expect to pay anywhere between Dh75 and Dh250 per person depending on what’s on offer. If you’d like to switch things up, you could also try an evening safari, many of which include belly dancing, dinner and other entertainment.
The View and The Atlantis
Visitors can enjoy the beauty of the man-made island from up above at the newly opened observation deck, The View. Priced starts at Dh100 per adult, this is a must-do to truly appreciate the architecture of The Palm Dubai.
After enjoying this incredible view, head to The Palm and as you get there you will see the popular Atlantis frame. You can ask your cabby to drive around to see the luxurious hotels and residence in the area. You can also park and get out on the broad walk to enjoy beautiful views.
Bluewaters Island offers visitors several entertainment, shopping and F&B offers. It is also a great place for an evening stroll on the decked-out pedestrian bridge that leads to Jumeirah Beach Road. This is also home to the world's largest observation wheel, Ain Dubai.
Expo City Dubai
The best way to head to the Expo City is by using public transport with a dedicated metro station and free RTA buses. If you plan to spend the day here, you can have food on site.
Deep Dive Dubai
If you love diving, then the world’s deepest swimming pool for diving must be on your list. Opened this year, the venue offers scuba diving and freediving, along with a Discover Snorkeling experience.
Deep Dive Dubai’s pool features a sunken city that divers of all levels can engage with and explore, complete with an abandoned streetscape and featuring a fully furnished apartment, garage, and arcade, amongst other surprises. All courses and experiences are delivered by a hand-picked team of international diving professionals and supported by the latest equipment, technology, and facilities including what will be the region’s most advanced hyperbaric chamber. The experience will cost around Dh400 per person depending on what you book.
Try the world’s longest urban zip line in Dubai Marina. Priced at around Dh650 for adults, this is an exhilarating way to enjoy the city’s skyline, not mention a great photo remember your trip by. You’ll have to book in advance and don’t forget to check their terms and conditions.
Arrive ahead of time at the XLine booth in Dubai Marina Mall and get zipping! Their professional camera team will send you video footage and photos. You will not be allowed to take your phone or camera for the ride.
Sky Dive Dubai
Something celebs and tourists love to experience in Dubai is Sky Dive Dubai. A tandem skydive with videos and photos will cost you Dh1,799 per person over the desert, and Dh2,299 to jump over the iconic Palm. However, the adrenaline rush and the memory is totally worth it. You can also take sky diving courses here.
Ski Dubai, Mall of The Emirates
Playing in snow in the middle of a desert? Check. Enjoy some family fun in Ski Dubai, Mall of the Emirates. You can also meet the penguins and take part in fun activities like snow bullet ride, zorb ball, snow park rides and more. Ski Dubai allows visitors aged as young as 3, so this can be a great family activity.
Don’t forget to explore and shop at world-famous brand stores across the Mall of the Emirates. With a dedicated metro station, this is an attraction that you can easily get to.
Dubai Mall and At The Top, Burj Khalifa
Saving the most popular one for last it is better to dedicate a half day to Dubai Mall, the Dubai Fountain and the Burj Khalifa – because trust us you’ll need the time when exploring this mall. Don’t hesitate to ask for directions from the security guards or information centre staff because finding your way can be daunting for first-time visitors.
As soon as you get there, head to the entrance inside the mall for the At the Top observation deck (Level 124,125). It would be better to pre-book your tickets. For Dh149, head to Level 124 and 125 of the world’s tallest building. If you would like to splurge there is an afternoon tea offer as well. To head to Level 148, At the Top – Burj Khalifa Sky, you can expect to pay Dh379 per person during non-prime hours (7pm to 10pm) and Dh533 per person for prime hours (noon to 6pm).
Swim with the sharks, underwater zoo
Diving enthusiasts can experience the thrill of scuba diving in the spectacular Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. Following a quick theory lesson, the dive instructor will inform guests of the basic safety guidelines and skills in the confines of a cage before they venture out for their dive in the 10 million liter Aquarium.
For those who choose to opt for an unconventional experience, the shark diving experience allows guests to share the water with sand tiger sharks, reef sharks, leopard sharks, tawny nurse sharks, giant groupers and stingrays, and a whole host of other marine species as they embark on a diving journey in the 10 million litre tank!
Alternatively, the shark walking experience allows guests to witness the beauty and magnificence of sharks by getting up close and personal with the world’s ultimate predators all while wearing an oxygenated helmet.
Alternatively, the shark walking experience allows guests to witness the beauty and magnificence of sharks by getting up close and personal with the world’s ultimate predators all while wearing an oxygenated helmet. Costs are as follows: Shark Dive per person - Dh632, Shark Encounter per person - Dh504, Discover Scuba Diving per person - Dh968.
Dubai fountain and Burj Khalifa shot
Shows start at 6pm and are conducted every 30 minutes. It is completely free to visit.
Grab dinner at one of the many famous restaurants in the area, or in the mall. Don't forget to end your day with a stroll through Downtown Dubai.