Our guide to the best things to do in Dubai highlights the local and global sides to the so-called City of Gold. As the eponymous capital of one of the UAE’s 7 emirates, the city is known for its riches, its glitzy and innovative development and architecture, and its shopping scenes. But Dubai isn’t all about 5-star glam, though that’s likely to be a big part of any visit here.
From the tranquillity of the deserts to the hubbub of the souks, there is a huge range of things to see and do in Dubai. You can explore vast dunes, traditional villages and remarkable skyscrapers throughout your stay.
What are the best things to do in Dubai?
1 Grand Mosque
Admire the spiritual symbol of Dubai
The Grand Mosque in Bur Dubai features Dubai's tallest minaret that offers dizzying heights – it stands at an impressive 70 metres tall and boasts 45 small and 9 larger domes. Each dome sports beautiful stained-glass panels that glisten in the sun.
The Grand Mosque is one of the city's most recognisable landmarks, and the morning or early evening make for good times to walk around it to avoid the searing heat of the midday sun.
Location: Ali Bin Abi Taleb Street, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Open: Saturday–Thursday from 9 am to 10 pm, Friday from 4.30 pm to 10 pm
2 Burj Khalifa
Towering at an amazing 828 metres
No list of things to do in Dubai would be complete without a mention of the Burj Khalifa. Enjoy the exhilarating feeling of being on top of the world at the At The Top Burj Khalifa observation deck, located on the 124th floor of the world’s tallest tower and guaranteed to be a highlight of any visit to the Middle East.
Marvel at the dazzling lights of Dubai that lie below you at dusk. If you come by day, you can also bask in the sun on their funky outdoor terrace. The queue for the lift to the top can be quite long, but The Dubai Mall is at the base of the tower, so you can do some shopping while you wait for it to get shorter.
Location: 1 Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Open: Daily from 8.30 am to 11 pm
3 Arabian Desert safari
Cruise the sand with the wind in your hair
A trip into the Arabian Desert is a popular excursion for many visitors to Dubai. There are a whole host of tour companies that can take you out to either tear up the sand in a 4x4 – including exhilarating dune bashing – or explore it at a more leisurely pace atop an obliging camel.
There is also the possibility of spending a night in the desert at a private desert camp, where you’ll be treated to a barbecue feast, music, and belly dancing. But for perhaps the most magical start to a day in Dubai, head out on a desert safari in the morning. This also means you’ll have the rest of the day free for other exploring back in the city itself.
4 Dubai Museum
The cultural and historical primer every visitor needs
Dubai Museum is where you can trace the history of Dubai – and that of the country at large. See recreated reed houses and a pearling-era souk among other interesting artefacts, while learning about the city's amazing transition from a backwater into an affluent modern city.
The Dubai Museum is set in the historical Al Fahidi Fort, the oldest remaining building in Dubai, and was constructed at the start of the 1970s – as the city’s breathtaking reinvention began to materialise – as a way of preserving the traditional way of life that had existed beforehand.
Location: Al Fahidi Street, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Open: Saturday–Thursday from 8.30 am to 8.30 pm, Friday from 2.30 pm to 8.30 pm
5 Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood
A feel for Dubai before the modern day
The Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood lets you stray away from your first thoughts about Dubai as an affluent oil-fuelled economy and vibrant tourism destination. Dubai’s emergence in its current, modern form is a relatively recent development.
Taking a stroll through the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, alongside the Dubai Creek, lets you gain another perspective on the heritage of this jewel of a middle-eastern city. Amid traditional-style houses and other buildings from before Dubai’s rapid modernisation in the 1970s, you’ll find art exhibitions, creative studios, museums, and more.
6 The Dubai Mall
Shop 1,200 stores in one of the world's largest malls
The Dubai Mall offers a vast, modern experience in one of the world's largest malls with tons of family attractions, art and fashion, and even an entire aquarium. This mall boasts more than 1,200 retailers covering favourite brands like Topshop, famed international department store brands like Bloomingdales, and their Fashion Avenue section, where you'll find the latest haute couture. You can find all the upscale brands like Dior and Fendi.
For family fun, you can head for an indoor, Olympic-sized skating rink or head to the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo onsite to see exotic undersea life. Like every good mall, there's also a wealth of food court and sit down eatery options, all right in the city centre.
Location: Financial Center Street, Along Sheikh Zayed Road, Next to Burj Khalifa - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
Open: Sunday–Wednesday from 10 am to midnight, Thursday–Saturday from 10 am to 1 am
7 Dubai Marina
Visit an artificial canal city
Dubai Marina is a man-made canal city that was created in 2003 and offers stunning and impressive views along with plenty of walks and beaches. Lots of shops and restaurants are available along the marina, with some that are friendly for budget-conscious travellers.
Visiting this marina lets you explore a marvel of engineering that even the wildlife seems to appreciate. Despite the canal being artificial, whales are often seen in the water after entering from the open sea nearby. It's located south of the city centre along the coast.
8 Atlantis water parks
Get wet or go home!
Three thrilling water-themed parks are based in the Atlantis resort for you and your family to experience. Aquaventure Waterpark – complete with zip lines, and slides through shark-infested lagoons – is the top water park in all the Middle East and Europe, with 42 acres of stimulating water activities to enjoy.
The Lost Chambers Aquarium alone has an astonishing 65,000 marine animals to look at. Also, not to be missed is the sensational Dolphin Bay, where you can interact with these beautiful creatures 1-on-1.
Location: Atlantis The Palm, Crescent Road, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Open: Daily from 10 am to 6 pm
9 Palm Jumeirah
Take a yacht out around islands that embody ultra-luxe Dubai
Take a tour by yacht around the iconic Palm Jumeirah, an artificial archipelago on the stunning coastal area of Dubai created using reclaimed land. Jumeirah is in the shape of a palm tree and, astoundingly, it’s as large as 800 football pitches.
Relax on a chartered yacht in the sunshine, and watch people go about their daily business along its coastline. Once you step back onto dry land again, take time to explore the sights of the area’s luxurious hotels, or go diving around the exotic artificial reef – impressively, it was created by purposely sinking two F-100 Super Sabre fighter jets.
10 Dubai Opera
A slice of musical or theatrical culture
The downtown Dubai Opera is well worth a visit for culture enthusiasts spending time in the city. Even if opera isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Dubai (you’re not alone), Dubai Opera’s varied programme of performances can become a highlight of your visit.
Performances include not just pure opera but also ballet and classical music. There are also theatre productions, fashion shows, and comedy sketches, meaning there’s something to catch most nights, and many shows are family-friendly.
Location: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard, Dubai, United Arab Emirates