Dubai: Four days is not a whole lot of time to explore Dubai and its world-record-breaking attractions. But if you are tight on time, here’s how you can fit the best of Dubai into 96 hours.
We assume that you will stay in Dubai for four nights and bechecking out on the 5th day. We also assume that you have at least a half day on the day you arrive to start of your amazing Dubai trip. Let's go!
First things first: Stay
Deciding where to stay once you get here is key in planning activities after you land. The decision of where to stay will depend on your budget, and also on whether you plan to drive or use public transport. It will also be based on what’s on your checklist of places to visit.
If you’re looking for a cheap but comfortable stay in Dubai, you will be spoilt for choice in Dubai. Expect to pay around Dh250-Dh300 a night for two (excluding taxes) if you choose a well-rated three-star hotel. 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.
Transport: Public transport or car
The second thing to plan well ahead is whether you would be depending on public transport, or if you are looking at renting a car for the duration of the trip. If you’re not comfortable with the left-hand drive, public transport is your best bet. You can use the Dubai Metro, buses and cabs to get around easily.
For ease of planning your trip, we assume that you’ve landed in Dubai a couple of hours before checking in to your hotel which in Dubai is around 2pm for most hotels. Don’t forget to ask how early you can check-in at the time of your booking. For this travel guide, we also assume that you are put up in one of the many swanky hotels right alongside the glittering crown of Dubai’s infrastructure, the Sheikh Zayed Road, and with close access to the Dubai Metro.
We looked at some well-rated four and five star hotels that fit the mid-range budget, on Sheikh Zayed Road, and walking distance from a metro station. You can expect to pay between Dh500 and Dh650 a night on average for one of these, including daily breakfast.
To save on time, and to conserve your energy for later, we suggest a quick lunch at the hotel. You could even order in using one of the many online platforms available in Dubai while you get refreshed or take some rest after your flight. If ordering through such platforms, you may need to go pick your food up from the lobby or other designated area.
Change into comfortable shoes and clothes before heading out. Don’t forget your cameras and phones as there are going to many ‘Instagrammable’ moments. Also carry a small bottle of water. For the first day, since we will be visiting Dubai’s famous markets, try and carry some change with you for shopping.
Day 1: Focus on Old Dubai
After a quick rest and fuel up, the first place to head to is one of the newer iconic structures 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’.
Dubai Frame is a must-see tourist destination for anybody interested in learning more about the city's past, present, and future. The main highlight is the Sky Deck which gives uninterrupted views of the entire city, both old and new.
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 away so we would suggest taking a 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 neighborhood 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.
Tea and snacks at the Arabian Tea House
A must-do if you’re exploring this historical area, once known as Al Bastakiya, stop for tea and some food at the Arabian Tea House to experience authentic Emirati cuisine. Keeping in theme with the area’s focus on the UAE’s past and the country’s culture, the quaint café opened in 1997, and remains an oasis of peace and calm that allows visitors to journey back to the city’s past and explore its cultural heritage.
It has Emirati dishes and other Middle-Eastern fare on the menu along with a wide variety of teas and coffees to try.
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 world-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.
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.
In to the night
If you are not quite ready to go home yet, head to one of the many rooftops and terraces in Dubai. If you’re looking for something in Deira, Cielo or QDs at the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club are great options for an outdoor experience.
Closer to your hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road, is Level 43 Sky Lounge which has just reopened for the season, or the ultra-luxurious Cavalli Club at Fairmont Dubai that features enormous chandeliers decked with hunderds of thousands of Swarovski crystals. Or you could head to the iconic Burj Al Arab for a night out in the Sky View Bar. If you can’t wait to head to the world’s tallest building, check out the Atmosphere restaurant inside Burj Khalifa.
Other options include White Dubai and Soho Garden next to the Meydan Racecourse Grand Stand, Armani/Prive in Burj Khalifa – the list is endless. In short, you have many options to try across Dubai if you’re looking to enjoy the night life here, and you can surely find something that suits your budget. Make sure you call the venue to confirm prices, reservations and timings.
Day 2: Expo 2020 Dubai
We have an entire day kept aside for you to properly explore Dubai’s best and biggest offering yet – Expo 2020 Dubai. The ‘World’s Greatest Show’ opens on October 1, and this will be your best chance to explore 191 countries in one place. Get your tickets online on the Expo website or through authorised sellers across the UAE. You may also be eligible for free entry, so make sure you check that out before buying tickets.
The best way to head to the Expo is by using public transport with a dedicated metro station and free RTA buses. We know, deciding where to go and what to do at Expo 2020 Dubai is difficult, so we have an entire section that you can check out to plan your trip. Ticket offers, pavilion details, lists of shows, stars at Expo 2020 Dubai and more – you will find everything ‘Expo’ in this category.
From UAE’s falcon-inspired pavilion with gigantic wings, and futuristic VR experiences, to daily live shows, your day at Expo 2020 Dubai will be mind-blowing.
In terms of delicious sustenance, you could break your fast with authentic Emirati food at Arabian Tea House Restaurant and Café, the first Emirati eatery established in 1997. Yup, a branch of the one you may have tried on Day 1.
For lunch, try a futuristic three-course meal with glow-in-the-dark dishes, specifically how a meal may look like 2321. As for dinner, you could dine at and celebrity spot at the same time at the Rising Flavours Food Hall. The ground floor of the three-storey dining hall is home to a regularly rotating line-up of culinary pods, featuring chefs and restaurants that demonstrate the gastronomic variety of each GCC country, including concepts from the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
If you’re not looking at splurging on culinary odysseys like these, why not try Dominos – the Official Pizza Provider at Expo 2020. You can also try one of the many restaurants and cafes at the Expo 2020 Dubai. Too tired to walk to your preferred restaurant? Talabat is the Official Food Delivery Provider of Expo 2020 Dubai. In addition to dine-in, talabat riders will deliver to fixed locations throughout Expo’s site using safe, sustainably responsible e-scooters.
Since you’re there for just one day, here are 20 shows you simply cannot miss at Expo 2020 Dubai. If you’re travelling with young kids, you could try out these family-friendly events at the Expo.
After spending the day at Expo 2020, if you have any energy left for a night out, you could head to one of the clubs and dining outlets we mentioned for the first night.
Day 3: Start off with Desert Safari
Let’s start off the third day in Dubai with something every tourist does – 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
After a quick rest after the safari, head to an attraction featured on every Dubai poster – The Palm Dubai.
Visitors in 2021 are in luck because they can see the beauty of the man-made island from up above at the newly opened observation deck, The View. Priced 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.
Once done, head into the Atlantis. For a budget-friendly way to enjoy the hotel’s facilities, try the afternoon tea there which comes up to Dh150 per person. You could also visit the aquarium there called The Lost Chamber, tickets cost Dh110 per person. Also catch a ride on the mono-rail while there.
Palm Fountain, The Pointe
By the time you’re done with touring the attractions in and around the Atlantis, it will be the perfect time to head to the world’s largest water fountain show – again on the Palm. Inaugurated in 2020, the Palm Fountain broke the record for the world’s largest fountain with 7,327 square meters, moving the Dubai Mall Fountain to second place.
The first show starts at 7pm and lasts for 3 minutes. A show is conducted every 30 minutes until 11.30pm. Entry is free and there are several restaurants and shops to check out while you’re there.
Now is the time to head to a nice part of town, perfect for an evening stroll and in less than a month will be home to the world’s largest observation wheel, Ain Dubai. Bluewaters Island is a new location which 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.
Ain Dubai is set to open on October 21 and will also feature sundowners, dining in the sky, and exclusive celebration packages.
Day 4: Adrenaline start
You could start off the day with one or more adrenaline-packed events.
Option 1: 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.
Option 2: XLine
Try the world’s longest urban zip line in Dubai Marina. Priced at 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.
Option 3: 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.
Again, book in advance. Head to Al Seyahi St. in Dubai Marina for this experience.
Once you have chosen and completed your choice of adrenaline-packed activity, head to Mall of the Emirates. If you would not like any of the above options, you can head to Mall of the Emirates first instead.
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, Burj Khalifa
Saving last for the best we have dedicated an entire half day to Dubai Mall, the Dubai Fountain and the Burj Khalifa – because trust us you’ll need the time when exploring the world’s largest mall. Don’t hesitate to ask for directions with the security guards or information centre staff because it 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. 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
Before The Palm Fountain opened, Dubai Fountain was the world’s largest fountain. Even at second place, it is a sight to behold with the shimmering Burj Khalifa in the background. Shows start at 6pm and are conducted every 30 minutes. It is completely free to visit.
Dinner and a walk
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.
And that's it! Four days in Dubai complete - for the last day before you head off, or if you have more days to spend, you could visit some of the other attractions we haven't mentioned here, such as Dubai Safari, Dubai Parks and Resorts, Souk Madinat, IMG Worlds of Adventure and so many more.