“Dubai, with all of its glitz and glamour rose in the heart of the desert.”
- Soroosh Shahrivar
So many things come to mind when I think of Dubai, but the city is often misrepresented in the minds of most people. They think of oil wealth, towering buildings and extravagance, but there is so much more to this city. There are sprawling spice markets, mouth-watering street food stalls, and ancient historical sites. I'm going to be taking you through a list of my favorite things to do in the city of Dubai, UAE.
FOR A LIST OF MY FAVORITE STREET FOOD SPOTS AND RESTAURANTS, CLICK HERE
1. Spice Souk
I've never believed in saving the best for last so I'll start with what's probably my favorite area in Dubai, the Spice Market.
Located just across the Dubai Creek river, the spice souk is home to dozens of street stalls selling a variety of spices and fragrances (who could have guessed right?). Winding alleys and snaking corridors hide these local shops from tourists who aren't brave enough to venture down them. Just pick a path and get lost for an hour or two in this completely authentic spice market.
Hours: Daily, 10:00 AM - 10:00 PM (except Fridays, 4:00 PM - 10:00 PM)
Address: 26 34 St - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
Photo by Contented Traveler
2. Bastakiya Quarter
Built in the late 18th century by Persian merchants, Al Bastakiya was formerly a small fishing village that was home to no more than 200 people. Narrow, winding streets separated dozens of homes, built in the style of traditional Persian architecture.
The site was to be cleared in the 1980s to make room for a new office complex. However in 1989, Prince Charles (of Wales) visited Dubai and after walking through Al Bastakiya, convinced Dubai's royal family to preserve it and the demolition was canceled. Now it's home to hundreds of restaurants, art galleries, and souks, making it a great place to spend an afternoon.
Address: Al Hamriya, Bur Dubai, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Photo by Forty Travels
3. Al Dhiyafah Road (Cheap Eats)
Just a 10 minute drive from the Burj Khalifa, is a street famous for it's many ethnic and international restaurants. With places like Ravi Restaurant, one of the city's best, if least presentable, curry houses, Pars Iranian Kitchen, cranking out out traditional lamb and fresh seafood dishes, and Sidra, with zesty salads and a gut-busting mixed grill that gives you a taste of the Levant.
The perfect introduction to middle eastern food. For a full list of my favorite restaurants and street food spots click here.
Address: Al Diyafah Street, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
4. Ski Dubai
No list about Dubai could leave out this one of a kind attraction. Dubai is surrounded by desert, with summer temperatures reaching upwards of 110 F (45 C) and yet Dubai is where I learned how to hit a box on a snowboard.
That's because the Dubai mall has an indoor ski run, complete with a terrain park and chair lift! No where else in the world can you go from sweltering 100 degree weather, to below freezing by just walking through a set of double doors. The snow if manmade obviously, and the run isn't all that impressive (definitely not terrible), but its more about being able to say you've skied in the desert which is pretty crazy on its own!
Price: Dh180 adults (~$50 USD)
Dh150 children (~$40 USD)
- Ticket price includes all the equipment needed and access to the slopes for 2 hours
Hours: 10:00 AM - 11:00 PM
Address: Shiekh Zayed Road, Interchange 4, Mall of the Emirates, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
5. Dubai Fountains
The Dubai Fountains are the largest in the the world, able to spray up to 22,000 gallons (83,000 liters) of water in the air at any moment, and cost the city of Dubai about $218 million USD! The show is set in the manmade Burj Khalifa lake that spans some 30 acres. The fountain runs every 30min starting at 6pm and goes until 11pm, so its not difficult to catch a show.
You can see a full list of the songs that accompany each performance here.
Hours: 6:00 PM - 10:00 PM weekdays, 6:00 PM - 11:00 PM weekends
Address: Dubai Mall, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard, Dubai, UAE
6. Burj Khalifa
Currently the tallest structure in the world, the Burj Khalifa stands at a little over 2,700 ft (829.8 m). It was commissioned by the city of Dubai in 2009 and its sole purpose was to "diversify from an oil-based economy, and for Dubai to gain international recognition". The project cost a whopping $1.5 billion USD in total.
Interesting fact, at the higher floors of the Burj, people can still see the sun for a couple of minutes after it has set on the ground. Because of this, Dubai's clerics ruled that if you lived above the 80th floor, you should wait 2 additional minutes to break your Ramadan fast, and those living above the 150th floor, 3 minutes. Pretty crazy, right?
Price: Costs $37 USD between 8:30 AM and 3:30 PM, 7:30 PM and 11 PM
During the so-called Golden Hour, the price is raised to $58 USD per person and I highly recommend booking online
Hours: 8:30 AM - 11:00 PM
Address: Burj Khalifa, 1 Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Blvd, Dubai, UAE (entrance is located in the Dubai Mall)
7. Palm Jumeirah
Remember that time when Dubai commissioned a massive man-made island in the shape of a palm tree? Yeah, me neither but apparently that happened. Palm Jumeriah is currently the largest man-made island in the world. Over 1,300 acres of land were created, supporting 4,500 houses and villas, 28 hotels, and a 3.4 mile long monorail.
You can only tell it's palm tree from the sky so that isn't really useful to travelers but there are numerous public beaches and walkways that are perfect for a sunset stroll
Address: Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, UAE
8. Gold Souk
Located just next to the Spice Souk, the Gold Souk consists of over 300 shops, of which most sell gold and silver jewelry. However, while the Spice Souk is about as local an experience as you can get, the Gold Souk is the complete opposite of that. Packed with tourists and scammers, there's nothing authentic about this place.
I'd stop by only on the way to the spice souk just because of its close location. Other than that I would avoid this place at all costs.
Price: Free (the ferry across costs 1 AED)
Hours: Daily, 9:30AM – 9:30PM
Address: Deira, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
9. The Dubai Mall
The largest mall in the world, it brings in over 50 million visitors a year and is made up of over 1,200 shops. Some of the main attractions include Ski Dubai, the Dubai Aquarium, the Rainforest Cafe, and an indoor theme park.
The sheer size of this place blew me away the first time I walked through. As someone who despises malls and pretty much everything they represent it was a mixed experience for me. On the one hand, parts of it were really interesting (like the aquarium and the indoor slopes), but everything else was kind of...meh. If you like shopping I'm sure it would be a different experience but personally it was towards the bottom of the list compared to some of the other things I did while in Dubai.
Hours: 10:00AM - 1:00AM
Address: Financial Centre Road، Downtown Dubai - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
10. Desert Safari
Now this is more my speed. Camel rides, BBQ's, and riding 4x4's, the desert safari was one of the best things I did while in Dubai. There are a variety of tours you can choose from (click here to see the one I took), but all of them are pretty decent and it's hard to go wrong.
During the tourist season it can get a bit crowded and detract from the experience so if you're going during this time (winter months) definitely try and go on an off day like Monday or Tuesday.
Price: Varies (~$60 USD, but depends on the tour)
WHERE TO STAY?
There are many places to stay while in Dubai but I highly recommend staying in the Bastakia Quarter, which will give you the best local experience and as long as you're situated near a metro line the rest of the city is never far away. If you're okay with crowds you can also choose to stay downtown right next to the Burj Khalifa, but the price will rise dramatically (although you will be closer to most of the attractions).
Where you stay really just depends on the type of traveler you are!