Glitzy Dubai is the holiday hotspot of the United Arab Emirates. This city of tall buildings and shopping malls has transformed from a desert outpost to a du-jour destination, where tourists flock for sales, sun, and family fun. Dubai is known for landmarks such as the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building) and shopping malls complete with mammoth aquariums and indoor ski slopes.
But this city has many cultural highlights and things to do, as well as all the glamorous modern add-ons. Take a stroll around the Bastakia district , and you’ll discover the Dubai of yesteryear, then cruise along Dubai Creek in a traditional dhow, and you’ll soon find that there’s more to this city than its flashy veneer.
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1 Burj Khalifa
The landmark building of Dubai is the Burj Khalifa, which at 829.8 meters is the tallest building in the world and the most famous landmarks of the city. For most visitors a trip to the observation platformon the 124th floor, this is a must-do while in town. The view of the city skyline from this bird’s eye view is simply stunning. The slick observation deck experience includes a multimedia presentation on both Dubai and the building of the Burj Khalifa (completed in 2010) before a high-speed elevator forces you to the observation deck for those 360-degree views over the skyscrapers to the desert on one side and the ocean to the other. Nighttime visits are especially popular with photographers for Dubai’s famous city lights panoramas. Pre-purchase your Burj Khalifa ‘At the Top’ entrance ticket to avoid long lines, especially if you plan to visit on a weekend.
Back on the ground, wrapping around the Burj Khalifa, the buildings are beautifully designed gardens , with winding walkways. There are numerous water features including the Dubai Fountain , the world’s tallest performing fountain, modeled after the famous Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas.
Location: Entry from Dubai Mall, Sheikh Zayed Road, Downtown
Official site: www.burjkhalifa.ae
2 Dubai mall
Dubai Mall is the city’s main shopping center and provides access to the Burj Khalifa as well as the Dubai Aquarium . There is also an ice skating rink, gambling zone and cinema complex if you are looking for more entertainment options. The shopping and dining is endless and there are almost always special events such as live music and fashion shows at the mall. The most famous of these are the annual Dubai Shopping Festival in January and February and the Dubai Summer Surprises Festival in July and August.
Location: Doha Road, just off Sheikh Zayed Road
Official Site: https://www.thedubaimall.com/
3 Dubai Museum
Dubai’s excellent museum is housed in the Al-Fahidi Fort , built in 1787 to defend Dubai Creek. The walls of the fortress are built of traditional coral blocks and held together with lime. The top floor is supported by wooden posts and the ceiling is made of palm leaves, mud and plaster. In its history, the fortress has served as a residence for the ruling family, a seat of government, garrison and prison. It was restored in 1971 (and expanded again in 1995) and is now the city’s main museum. The entrance has a fascinating exhibition of old maps of the Emirates and Dubai, showing the massive expansion that hit the region after the oil boom.
The courtyard is home to several traditional boats and a palm-leaf house with an Emirati wind tower. The right hall contains weapons and the left hall displays Emirati musical instruments. Below the ground floor are exhibition halls with exhibits and dioramas on various aspects of traditional Emirati life (including pearl fishing and Bedouin desert life), as well as artifacts from the 3,000- to 4,000-year-old tombs at Al Qusais archaeological site .
Address: Al-Fahidi Street, Al-Fahidi
4 Bastakia (Old Dubai)
The Bastakia Quarter (also known as Al-Fahidi Quarter) was built in the late 19th century as the home of wealthy Persian merchants who mainly traded in pearls and textiles, and were lured to Dubai for its duty-free trade and access to Dubai Creek . Bastakia occupies the eastern part of Bur Dubai along the creek and the coral and limestone buildings here, many of which are topped with windmill walls, are superbly preserved. Wind-towers provided the homes here with an early form of air conditioning – the wind trapped in the towers was funneled into the homes. Persian merchants probably transplanted this architectural element (common in Iranian coastal houses) from their homeland to the Gulf.
Lined with striking Arabic architecture, the narrow streets are reminiscent of a bygone and much slower age in Dubai’s history. In the district you will find the Majlis Gallery , with its collection of traditional Arabic ceramics and furniture (housed in a windmill) and the XVA Gallery , with a collection of contemporary art (located in one of the historic buildings).
Location: Al-Fahidi, Bur Dubai
5 Sheikh Saeed Al-Maktoum House
Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum was the ruler of Dubai from 1921 to 1958 and grandfather of the current ruler. His former residence has been rebuilt and restored as a museum which is a fine example of Arabic architecture. The original house was built in 1896 by Sheikh Saeed’s father so that he could observe the shipping activity from the balconies. It was demolished, but the current house was rebuilt next to its original location, staying true to the original model through carved teak doors, wooden window grilles and plaster ventilation screens with floral and geometric designs. Thirty rooms are built around a central courtyard with towering details on top.
Inside are the exhibitions of the Dubai Museum of Historical Photographs and Documents , with many beautiful old photos of Dubai dating from between 1948 and 1953. The museum’s sea wing has photos of fishing, pearling and boat building. Throughout the building are many letters, cards, coins and stamps that show the development of the emirate. Nearby is the Sheikh Obaid bin Thani House , restored with displays of traditional interiors.
Address: Al Khaleej Road, Bur Dubai
6 Dubai Creek
Dubai Creek separates the city into two towns with Deira to the north and Bur Dubai to the south. The creek has been an influential element in the growth of the town, first attracting settlers here for fishing and pearl diving. Small villages grew up along the creek up to 4,000 years ago, while the modern era began in the 1830s when the Bani Yas tribe settled in the area. The Dhow Wharfageis located on the bank of Dubai Creek, north of Al-Maktoum Bridge. Still used by small traders from across the Gulf, some of the dhows anchored here are over 100 years old. You can visit here and watch cargo being loaded and unloaded on the dhows. Dhow workers often invite visitors to the ships for a guided tour, where you can gain an insight into the lives of these traditional sailors. Many of the dhows continue their journey to Kuwait, Iran, Oman, India and the Horn of Africa. This small remnant of Dubai’s traditional economy is still a bustling and fascinating place to wander.
To travel across the creek you can either take a trip on one of the many dhows restored as tourist cruise boats or take an abra (small wooden ferry) between the ferry points on the Bur Dubai and Deira banks of the creek.
7 Jumeirah Mosque
The Jumeirah Mosque is considered by many to be the most beautiful mosque in Dubai. An exact copy of the Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo that is eight times its size, the Jumeirah Mosque is a prime example of Islamic architecture. This stone structure was built in the medieval Fatimid tradition, with two minarets displaying the subtle details in the stonework. It is particularly attractive in the evening when it is illuminated with floodlights. The Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Center for Cultural Understanding (which also runs a program of tours, lectures, Arabic classes and cultural meals) conducts guided tours of the mosque designed to try to promote a better understanding of the Muslim faith. Tours begin daily at 10:00 AM except Fridays.
Adres: Jumeirah Road
Official site: www.cultures.ae
Deira is located on the north bank of Dubai Creek , and the winding streets here reveal the melting pot of different nationalities that have come to call Dubai. On the coast, old dhows load and unload with modern banks, hotels and office buildings as a backdrop. For travelers, Deira is most famous for its traditional souks (markets), bustling with shoppers at any time of the day. Deira Gold souk is world famous as the largest gold bazaar in the world. The Deira Spice Souk sells every spice imaginable, with stalls brimming with frankincense roots, cumin, paprika, saffron, sumac and thyme, as well as the fragrant oud wood, rose water and frankincense. The Fish Marketoffers a much less touristy experience.
In the district, culture vultures should not miss two of Deira’s restored architectural gems. Heritage House was built in 1890 as the home of a wealthy Iranian merchant and later became the home of Sheik Ahmed bin Dalmouk (a famous Dubai pearl merchant). Today is a great opportunity to see the interior of a traditional house. Built in 1912, Al -Ahmadiya School is the oldest school in Dubai and is now a public education museum.
Location: Dubai Creek
8 Sheikh Zayed Road
Sheikh Zayed Road is the main road running through Dubai’s modern business district. This wide, eight-lane highway is rimmed with towering glass, chrome, and steel high-rises along its entire length. It is one of the best ground viewpoints for Dubai’s famous skyscraper. Main attractions are along, or very close to, the strip between the roundabout and the first intersection, and most of Dubai’s famous shopping malls are located along the route of the road. The Dubai World Trade Tower has a top-floor observation deck that offers visitors panoramic views (a cheaper option than the Burj Khalifa), and the Gold and Diamond Park(Sheikh Zayed Road) is a one stop shop for jewelry lovers, with 118 manufacturers and 30 retailers all under one roof.
10 Heritage and Diving Village
Dubai’s architectural, cultural and maritime heritage is showcased at the Heritage and Diving Village, with displays related to pearl diving and dhow buildings – two of the historic economic pillars of old Dubai. There are also recreations of the traditional Bedouin and coastal village life, with Persian houses, a traditional coffee house and a small souk where potters and weavers carry out their handicrafts in the stalls. Local music and dance are performed from October to April, and visitors can get advice from practitioners of traditional medicine.
Locatie: Shindagha, Bur Dubai
11 Dubai Aquarium
One of the city’s top tourist attractions, the Dubai Aquarium houses 140 species of marine life in the huge suspended tank on the ground floor of the Dubai mall . As well as free viewing from the mall, if you visit the Underwater Zoo , you can walk through the aquarium tunnels.
Several activities help you get a closer look at the marine life. Glass bottom tours (on top of the tank) are particularly popular. Cages for snorkeling and shark diving are also offered.
Locatie: Dubai Mall, Sheikh Zayed Road
Official site: https://www.thedubaiaquarium.com
12 Burj al-Arab
The Burj Al-Arab is the world’s tallest hotel, standing 321 meters high on its own man-made island on the Dubai coastline. Designed to resemble a billowing dhow sail, the exterior of the building is illuminated at night by a choreographed colored light show. Decadent in every way, the Burj Al-Arab is one of the most expensive hotels in the world, with the most luxurious suites costing more than $15,000 for one night.
For those without unlimited credit, the way to experience the over-the-top opulence is to dine at the underwater Al-Mahara restaurant , where floor-to-ceiling glass panels in the walls of the dining room let you watch marine life as you eat , or you can enjoy lunch at fusion restaurant in California – style landscape . For the ultimate panoramic view of the city, book afternoon tea at the Skyview Bar (minimum spend required) on the 27th floor.
Adres: Jumeirah Road
13 Jumeirah Beach
This stretch of sandy white bliss is the number one beach destination for Dubai visitors. Hotels are strung along its length, with this being one of the most popular places to stay for tourists. The beach has excellent facilities, with plenty of sun loungers, restaurants and water sports enthusiasts offering jet skiing.
While you’re in the area, brush off the sand for an hour and visit the Majlis Ghorfat Um Al-Sheef , just a short jump from the beach. Built in 1955, this was the summer residence of the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum. Made of plaster and coral blocks, the residence has been restored and retains much of its original beautiful decor, giving you a better understanding of the lavish lifestyle of Dubai’s rulers. The Majlis Gardens have a reproduction of an impressive Arabian irrigation system and many shady date palms.
Location: Jumeirah Beach Road
14 Mall of the Emirates
Mall of the Emirates is one of the city’s most famous malls with the spectacular (and surreal) Ski Dubai facility inside. The indoor ski slope is complete with chair lifts and a penguin enclosure, all at a constant temperature of -4 degrees Celsius. There is also a cinema complex and a family entertainment center with a whole range of attractions for young and old. The shopping possibilities are limitless, as are the dining options, offering every conceivable world cuisine.
Locatie: Sheikh Zayed Road
Official Site: https://www.malloftheemirates.com
15 IMG Worlds of Adventure
This theme park, near Global Village, is immersive entertainment at its best and has thrills and spills for kids and big kids alike. With one zone entirely dedicated to Marvel’s iconic characters; other dinosaur themed tours; and a zone where the Cartoon Network takes over, with gentler rides and activities for younger kids, there’s something here for every age. Whether you want to help the Avengers defeat Ultron, make a fool of yourself in a haunted house or join Spider-Man as he swings through town, this is heaven for families looking for a fun day out .
Adres: Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road
Official site: www.imgworlds.com
16 Dubai Opera
For nighttime attractions, look no further. The stylish new Dubai Opera House opened in mid-2016 and is the centerpiece of the waterfront Opera District in central Dubai. It will become the main cultural center and main entertainment venue of the city. The Dubai Opera hosts a year-round program of renowned musical theater productions, concerts by world-class musicians, opera, ballet and classical music, as well as smaller productions, comedy nights and concerts. The 2,000-seat theater building itself is an astonishing piece of architectural mastery and one of Dubai’s new landmarks, with its contemporary glass and steel walls overlooking the waterfront, built to resemble the curves of a traditional dhow.
Adres: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Road
Official site: www.dubaioopera.com
17 Kite Beach
This long stretch of white-sand beach, south of Jumeirah Beach , isn’t just a top destination for sunbathers looking for a lazy day of swimming and soaking up the rays on the sand. Known as Dubai’s premier destination for kitesurfers, Kite Beach is home to a large number of water sports companies. Here you get on the water to kitesurf or get ready to paddleboard, with equipment hire and lessons all easily arranged on the beach.
Address: Off Jumeirah Road
18 Alserkal Art District
Part of the old Al Quoz Industrial Area centered on Alserkal Avenue is going through a regeneration to become Dubai’s premier arts hub and is already home to some of the city’s premier contemporary art galleries. Established gallery names such as the Green Art Gallery , The Third Line , and the Ayyam Galleryhave made their home here, while a number of smaller gallery startups have also taken up residence. The district’s program of rotating collections focuses on the work of great artists as well as highlighting new talent from the Middle East. This up-and-coming neighborhood is also the place to be for fashion and accessory boutiques from local designers, pop-up restaurants and cafe life, and it showcases the energetic and youthful buzz of a city, usually more known for its corporate face.
Address: Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz Industrial Area
Official site: www.alserkalavenue.ae
19 Dubai park a resorts
At Dubai Parks and Resorts, your entertainment needs are all brought together in one location. The only problem here is choosing what to do. This mammoth project contains a host of world-class theme parks that offer something for everyone, regardless of your age. Motiongate takes the theme of Hollywood productions with rides based on movie blockbusters, Bollywood Parks brings the world of India’s famed film industry to life on its rides, and Legoland Dubai offers younger visitors a fun day out on its interactive rides. Legoland Waterpark is planned for the future. The district is annexed Riverland Dubaidining hub means you don’t have to leave after exhausting yourself with theme parks, as there’s plenty of evening entertainment here too.
Addresses: Sheikh Zayed Road, Jebel Ali
Official site: www.dubaiparksandresorts.com
20 Aquaventure Waterpark
Located in Atlantis, The Palm on the Palm Jumeirah – Dubai’s famous man-made island development – this water park is a great place to cool off after a few days of hectic shopping and sightseeing. The water slide action here is excellent and world class, with the Aquaconda, the world’s longest water slide; a nine-story slide aptly named the Leap of Faith; and water coaster rides. There are also underwater safaris with seatrek helmets; a special water playground for smaller children with slides; and when all your energy is used up, a 700-meter stretch of white sand beach to relax on.
Adres: Crescent Road, Palm Jumeirah
Official site: www.atlantisthepalm.com
Where to Stay in Dubai for Sightseeing
If you want easy access to Dubai’s top tourist attractions, Downtown Dubai is the best place to stay. Top attractions nearby include the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world; Dubai mall; and the Dubai Fountain. You’ll also find plenty of shops, restaurants, and art galleries in this vibrant district. If you’re looking for sun, sand and sea, Jumeirah Beach is about a 15-minute drive from Burj Khalifa and is also a popular base for tourists. Below are some highly rated hotels in convenient and central locations for exploring the city:
- Luxury Hotels: The Palace Downtown Dubai combines luxury with a convenient location within walking distance of the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Mall, the Dubai Fountain, and the Souk Al Bahar. Also in Downtown Dubai, the Armani Hotel resides within the Burj Khalifa itself, providing guests with sophisticated elegance. For those seeking luxury on the water, the stunning sail-shaped Burj Al Arab Jumeirah is a Dubai icon and one of the most luxurious hotels in the world.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Ramada Downtown Dubai is a 10-minute walk from the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall. It is a popular mid-range option, as is Manzil Downtown Dubai boutique with a modern Arabesque design. The Sofitel Dubai on Jumeirah Beach is located approximately 12 minutes’ drive from the Burj Khalifa and on Dubai’s most famous promenade, ‘The Walk’. It is located across from ‘The Beach’, a waterfront recreational area filled with shops and restaurants.
- Budget Hotels: If you’re watching your wallet, Ibis Mall of the Emirates is a popular option for a budget hotel, located next to the eponymous shopping center that houses Ski Dubai. It is also close to a metro station and about 13 minutes by car to Burj Khalifa. Ibis Al Rigga is also near a metro station and closer to the international airport. If you are looking for a more historic atmosphere, the XVA Art Hotel offers excellent value for money in the heart of Bastakia (Old Dubai).
Tips and Tours: How to get the most out of your visit to Dubai
- See the View : One of the easiest and most convenient ways to see the city is on a Dubai City Half Day Sightseeing Tour. This tour takes you by bus to the main attractions including Jumeirah Mosque, Bastakiya (the Old Quarter), Spice Souk, Deira Gold Souk and more. For a more in-depth tour that combines the city and desert, try the two-day Super Saver: City Sightseeing Tour and Desert Safari. Spend the first afternoon seeing the sights of Dubai and the second afternoon and evening on a desert safari, which includes a camel ride, sandboarding lessons, a sunset barbecue and a belly dance show.
- Take a flight : For a fantastic view of the city and its surroundings, take a 15-minute or 25-minute helicopter flight over Dubai. There is no better way to see the famous Palm Jumeirah or the man-made archipelago created in the form of a world map known as the globe than from the air.