Forget a stopover, you’ll need at least a week to explore all the things to do in Dubai.
The emirate is a popular stopover on the way to UK and Europe, especially if you’re making the long-haul journey with family in tow. The halfway point between Australia and Europe makes Dubai a great option for some R'n'R in a destination with year-round warm temps and plenty of things to do.
With its extravagance and rich Emirati culture, Dubai is well-known as a mecca for all types of travellers, thanks to its abundance of attractions and activities. Dubai has the world’s largest shopping mall (The Dubai Mall), more than 5,000 restaurants, the world’s tallest freestanding building (Burj Khalifa) and so many amazing man-made structures it’ll make your head spin from the dizzying heights.
Dubai’s many attractions and highlights are well documented, so we’ve done a deep dive and asked our travel experts for the things you might not know you can do in the city-state.
See the sunrise or sunset over the dunes
For all its man-made marvels, Dubai is a city in the desert and there’s no better place to get acquainted with the real Dubai. Book a desert experience with Arabian Adventures to experience an authentic Bedouin desert camp. The Sundowner Desert Experience includes sandboarding, 4WD dune bashing, henna hand painting and belly dancing at dusk to witness a glorious desert sunset, followed by a sumptuous Arabian barbecue buffet.
Deep-dive into Emirati history
One of the more surprising attractions we love is the new Etihad Museum that traces the remarkable modern history of the UAE, especially of note is the development between 1968 and 1974. The innovative and interactive museum has a striking exterior – the curved white roof references the shape of the UAE constitution with the seven pillars standing in for the pens used to sign the historic agreement.
Dubai has heaps of theme parks
With five differently themed entertainment parks in Dubai, not to mention the water parks within resorts, there’s something for all kids – big and small. For thrills, check out IMG Worlds of Adventure, which is the size of 28 football fields – it’s the world’s largest indoor theme park. Motiongate Dubai is a Hollywood-inspired adventure land with 27 rides – all inspired by fave animation and action films, including a Smurfs Village for the littlies.
Legoland Dubai is great for big Middle East cities in miniature, plus more than 40 rides. You can also cool down at Legoland Water Park where you can build your own Lego raft to float down the lazy river. There’s also the world’s first theme park dedicated to India’s Bollywood movie industry. Bollywood Park has heaps of shows, ride and dining zones to channel your inner Bollywood guru.
Dubai has a new beachfront district
Teasing the possibilities of a desert oasis, the La Mer entertainment area stretches from Jumeirah 1 into the Arabian Gulf. The Instagrammable hotspot features an urban beach with beachside cabanas, boutiques, street art murals and plenty of delectable eateries that includes Treej Cafe for Emirati specialty dining. For kids, there’s an inflatable playground and the Laguna Waterpark with a surf machine, lazy river ride and five waterslides.
Experience luxury on another level
Dubai is known for its OTT extravagance (gold leaf cocktail at Burj Al Arab, anyone?), but it’s also a destination where you can enjoy a specific kind of holiday on a budget and is especially family-friendly.
If you do want to treat yo’self though, this is the place. We recommend a pampering session at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, located on the Palm Jumeirah. Talise Ottoman Spa takes inspiration from Turkish traditions and hammams for sumptuous treatments within the 8,200sqm space.
Visit a souk
Shopping is a national pastime here, but visiting a traditional souk in Old Dubai is a different sensory experience. If you’re short on time, make sure you go to the Gold Souk for a dazzling array of fine jewellery and more from the precious metal with prices per kilo. Smell the scents at the Perfume Souk, which includes the rare Arabian oud, or touch the silks and embroidered fabrics in rainbow hues at the Textile Souk in Bur Dubai.
Don’t miss Dubai’s first resident show
And what a performance it is – La Perle is a live theatre extravaganza inspired by Dubai that showcases artistic performances, creative sets and cutting-edge tech on an ‘aqua stage’. The custom-built theatre features waterfalls, fast-paced acrobatics and a thrilling dose of fantastical imagery. It’s a good idea to book ahead – ask your travel expert before you go.
Friday brunch is a thing
You haven’t done brunch ‘til you’ve indulged in a Friday feed in Dubai. For a city where eating and shopping are national pastimes, Friday brunch is definitely an institution. Whether it’s a buffet spread, or an indulgent multi-course affair, come 12:30pm on a Friday, you’re spoilt for choices whether you’re on a budget or living large. Many major hotels offer all-inclusive drinks and food smorgasbords with a party atmosphere complete with music capping off the food festivities.
Timeout Dubai, which has its own dedicated brunch section on the website menu, breaks down brunching options from budget to splashing out. For a blow-out brunch menu, try Al Qasr where the spread spans three restaurants; or the award-winning Traiteur, which has an entire room dedicated to seafood.