What is a “short” trip, anyway? Well, it really depends on an individual’s perception of time. A few hours of layover time? 24 hours? A few days maybe?
I often get emails like,
“I’ll be in Dubai for a short layover what do you suggest I do? Where do I go? Must not miss places?”
“I don’t want to see malls and new glitzy buildings. I want something with culture and character – is there something like that there?”
So now, I’m going to list down things to do in Dubai so next time you find yourself having a few hours to spare in this metropolitan hub, you’ll be a little more informed and you wouldn’t waste precious time.
1. Go to the Dubai Mall
Even if visiting a retail shop on a short layover in the UAE is not your idea of fun, The Dubai Mall is still worth a visit. Not only it’s a haven for shoppers, there are several attractions within the area of Downtown Dubai so you can maximize your time to see attractions within the premises of the mall like, the world’s largest panel aquarium
the wonderful show of water, light and music of the Dubai fountains if you’re arriving at towards evening time
plus the shopping center is a doorstep in front of the tallest building in the world – the Burj Khalifa.
The Dubai Mall can be accessible by taxi or by public transport via the Dubai Metro Red Line. Stop at Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall station. The train station and the mall is conveniently connected by a covered and temperature controlled walkway.
2. Be on top of the world
While you’re at the Dubai Mall, you shouldn’t pass up the chance to see the world from the top. Access to the Burj Khalifa from the mall is at the lower ground floor.
TIP: Buying your At the Top ticket online will cost you much less than if you buy at the ticket office and you’ll also avoid long lines.
3. Take a peek at Dubai’s history at Bur Dubai
From Downtown Dubai (Dubai Mall) you can take either a cab or better and cheaper by Metro to the old part of Dubai – the Bastakiya District. The tiny Bastakiya quarter was established at the end of the 19th century by well-to-do textile and pearl traders from Bastak, Iran (thus the name Bastakiya). Its labyrinthine lanes are lined with restored merchant’s houses, art galleries, cafés, and boutique hotels. The Bastakiya is a picturesque step into Dubai’s past.
Textile souq is located just a few minutes stroll from Bastakiya and Dubai museum. You’ll see bright colored fabrics and local costumes however, you might be offered to buy a pashmina every step of the way.
Dubai Museum takes tourists and residents a peek at Dubai’s beginnings. After Dubai museum, you can take a walk to the direction of the textile souq or if you have time to the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Culture and Understanding at the Heritage and Diving Village. Take the creek side to walk. It’s really a refreshing experience especially during cooler months in Dubai (late November to March).
Now it’s time to go to the other side of the creek. Find the abra station. It’s right at the start of the textile souq, where a huge building of Bank of Baroda stands.
This area must be one of the remaining authentic parts of Dubai on the creek side where you can witness a different side of Dubai life.
The Bastakiya District, Dubai Museum and textile souq is accessible by taxi or public transport via the Dubai Metro. Get down at Al Fahidi Metro station on the Green Line and walk towards the direction of the creek.
4. Cross the creek
Dubai is divided into two areas by a natural water inlet called The Dubai Creek: Deira (old Dubai) and Bur Dubai side (new Dubai). From either side of the creek, you can get on a motorized wooden boat called “abra”, the traditional mode of transportation since before the bridges were built. Crossing the Dubai creek in the primitive way is not only fun, it’s cheap! It only costs AED1 per person one way!
Riding an abra while in Dubai is not to be missed – it’s a great break from all that huge commercial malls and other touristy stuff. Plus it’s a good chance to take beautiful photos of life on the creek, as it happens.
Abra station, Bur Dubai side:
5. Smell and see the old world cham of the spice souq and gold souq
The Spice Souk is known as the biggest spice market in Dubai with a wide range of spices, herbs, incense and traditional medicinal products. The spice stands are interesting – providing smells and sights you don’t often encounter.
A little warning though: some merchants can be really annoying. Yes, you will be asked to buy cashmere and fake watches but don’t let that bother you.
The neighboring gold souq is where you can find gold jewelry in every type, size and design.
My honest opinion as someone who has been here for almost 10 years and taking friends who visit Dubai: If you’ve never experienced a souk before, then you might find this area interesting. I sure was impressed the first time I saw all the glittering gold pieces way back in 2006. But if you’ve visited souks in other countries such as Istanbul, where the spice souk is so much more impressive, then I would suggest spending your time elsewhere.
I would still strongly suggest to take the boat ride across the creek though, that is an adventure in itself.
So there, I think these are the top 5 “staples” when visiting Dubai but if you have more time…
6. Dip your feet in the sand.
Dubai is blessed to have powder soft white sand and crystal clear waters in our beaches. There are plenty of public beaches too that are free to enter. My personal favorite Dubai beaches are Kite Beach, Black Palace Beach and Jumeirah Open Beach.
7. Be amazed at Souk Madinat Jumeirah
I didn’t include Madinat Jumeirah in the top five not because it’s not worth visiting but because when you’re in Dubai for a really short trip, it would not fit into the bill of places to visit when you’re in a rush. You need to spend time here. I love, love this place! A great place to unwind have lunch, shop and take many amazing pictures.
Apart from the maze-like souk, the outside area is like a little Venice. Madinat Jumeirah translates into the ‘City of Jumeirah’, so named because of the sheer variety of this magnificent resort, located in the heart of fashionable Jumeirah. The concept is one of ‘old Arabia’ in a totally luxurious context.
8. Take the monorail to Atlantis, The Palm
The Palm Monorail is a good vantage point to see the Palm Jumeirah. From the elevated platform you can have an excellent view of the biggest man-made island in the world, the Palm Jumeirah. Round trip ticket price of the monorail is not cheap at 25 dirhams but the view and visit to Atlantis Hotel is still worth it.
At this moment, the monorail station is not connected with Dubai metro or the Dubai tram. However, access has been easier if you take the tram and get down at Palm Jumeirah station – the monorail station is a short walk away.
9. Get on a Desert Safari adventure
If you happen to be in Dubai during winter time, consider the desert safari for sure, it is a nice experience. Mostly done int he afternoon, you will be collected from your hotel (or you go at a designated meeting place) and driven out to the desert. The driver lets a little air out of the tires and he drives all over the huge sand dunes. After spending a great time over the sand dunes you then are taken to an outdoor area filled with tables and huge cushions and surrounded by stalls where you are given a buffet dinner and treated to belly dancing and other shows.
Read my previous post: Dubai desert safari
TIPS: (1) Don’t try this if you get even mild travel / motion sickness! (2) Find the right vendor as there are many offering cheap desert tour with mediocre service.
10. Feel the metropolitan x beach vibe at The Walk, JBR
The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence is Dubai’s first outdoor shopping and fine dining promenade where you can explore stylish boutiques, restaurants, shopping spots. This attractive outdoor shopping and dining promenade was an immediate hit when it opened in 2008.
The Walk, Jumeirah Beach Residence can be accessed by public transport via the Dubai Metro Red Line. Get down at Dubai Marina station and change to the Dubai tram stopping at Jumeirah Beach Residence 1.
Don’t want your adventure to stop at Dubai? Make Dubai your starting point for an adventure!
Word just came through that Royal Caribbean’s newest addition, Ovation of the Seas will depart on a series of 3, 5 and 7 day cruises around Europe before heading to Dubai and from here, on a 52 day Global Odyssey tour to the East.
To help promote the routes and destinations Ovation of the Seas is taking in Europe before heading to Asia, they are mapping her journey on Royal Caribbean’s Instagram. In 27 posts, Royal Caribbean’s Instagram account will show Ovation of the Seas as she travels to different destinations, creating one final image which features a Bird’s Eye view of the ship with the European stops on each side.
I have not been on a cruise and I dream of being in one someday! I know there are so many myths about going on a cruise like you’ll get bored because of the long journey, for example but scratch that, this ship offers so much entertainment on board including (gasp) floating on air inside an iFly tube and surfing simulation!
An exciting feature of the Ovation of the Seas ship (and could easily become my favorite) is the North Star, a jewel-shaped capsule that gently ascends over 300 feet above sea level offering breath-taking 360° views of the sea and the ship’s destinations. Ah, I am sure the views would be unbeatable.
Before I swoon too much about this new ship, I am proud to announce that I am one of the contributors to the Royal Caribbean’s Instagram project and my photos (set of photos presented as a gif) will be used to represent one of their destinations (Dubai) in the full mosaic. Watch out for the project hashtag #ExtraordinaryOvation and hashtag for the ship is #OvationoftheSeas.