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The city of Dubai was once little more than a tiny fishing village, but you sure wouldn’t know that today! In recent years, Dubai has aspired to become the biggest and best in the tourism industry, and those aspirations definitely shine through the gigantic towers, manmade islands, and glitzy luxury hotels. There are so many things to do here that it’s often difficult for first-time tourists to wrap their heads around the attractions and local culture. So to help you focus and get your bearings, here are some of the top things to see and do in Dubai.
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If tall buildings entice you, Dubai is one of the absolute best places to visit. Dubai is home to the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, which soars above the city and is impossible to miss. For the best views of the city and to begin to understand the “lay of the land,” head to the observation deck on the 134th floor. The view is nothing short of spectacular at either day or night. For convenience and savings, book your visit online in advance if possible.
Dubai is known as an amazing place to shop, so no visit to the city would be complete without an authentic shopping experience. One of the must-see malls is the Mall of the Emirates, which isn’t just another place to buy clothes. This mall actually has an indoor ski slope with real snow inside!
Another great place to shop is the Souk Madinat Jumeirah, which is inside the Madinat Jumeirah Hotel. This mall has a waterway that transfers guests from shops to bars, restaurants, and hotels. If you’re looking for cheap gold and willing to haggle, head to Gold Souk, which has dazzling high-quality jewelry at a fraction of the expected cost.
To enjoy a break from the chaotic streets and overwhelming heights, take a peaceful boat ride along Dubai Creek. This is one of the most beautiful areas of the city, and you can ride an abra for a very reasonable fee. For a more personal experience, you can even charter a private one. Plan to take a ride at sunset if you can.
The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence is a beachside promenade in front of the Dubai Marina. This is a great place to take a leisurely stroll and stop at shops, restaurants, and cafes along the way. It’s also an excellent place to people-watch and scope out high-end sports cars cruising by.
We’ve all heard of 4-star and 5-star hotels, but how about a 7-star hotel? Dubai’s Burj Al Arab is one of the world’s only 7-star hotels and is considered by many to be the most luxurious hotel in the world. This famous hotel has aquariums, an underwater seafood restaurant, the Skyview Bar, and the Wild Wadi waterpark nearby.
If you’re interested to learn a bit about the culture of the region, make sure to visit the Al Fahidi Fort. It is housed in a renovated fort from the 18th century and educates visitors about the people who lived here during that time period. The architecture of the fort is in stark contrast to the towering high rises and new construction popping up in all directions around Dubai. Take some time to view the dhow and abra boats and other artifacts before touring the Dubai Museum, which has musical instruments, weaponry, fashion, and photo displays.
Some first-time visitors to Dubai quickly forget that the city is in a Muslim country. There are many mosques around the city, especially near Jumeirah Beach, but Jumeirah Mosque is one of the largest and most beautiful. Unlike some mosques in the area, this one allows non-Muslims to go inside and take a tour. Even if you can’t arrange a tour in advance, you can snap a few photos of the outside of the mosque when you’re near the Palm Strip Mall and the Dubai Marine Resort. Public tours are offered.
Dubai has become a popular destination for high-end restaurants and foodies, but there are lots of amazing local options that are budget-conscious as well. For a range of affordable options, head to Al Dhiyafa Road, which is known as Dubai’s “cheap eats” street. Here you can find lots of authentic options from Iran, Indian, and Lebanon cuisine. Some of the more famous restaurants located are inside the Grosvenor House Hotel and the Hilton Dubai Creek.
If you’re traveling with kids or are just a kid-at-heart, Aquaventure Waterpark is a must. One of the most popular attractions here is a massive water slide called the “Leap of Faith.” Aquaventure is located at the 5-star Atlantis Dubai. There’ a man-made beach onsite and even a dolphin area where you can view and interact with the marine animals. There’s also an amusement waterpark on the island of Palm in Dubai.
Many visitors to Dubai want to explore the surrounding area, as well as the city. To see the vast regional deserts, take a desert safari trip and ride over sand dunes to marvel at the landscape. Sandboarding is another fun way to experience the dunes, and guides can provide you a sandboard and some basic instruction to give the sport a try.
Another great day trip from Dubai, if you’re looking to venture outside the city limits, is Wadi Wurayah. This is the location of the country’s only natural waterfall and a truly beautiful natural area to explore. One of the best ways to experience it up close and personal is by renting a 4×4 and driving yourself around the area. There’s a highly-recommended guidebook, the UAE Off-Road Explorer, which you should pick up and read before setting out unguided in the wide, open desert. Adventurous types are advised to travel in groups and learn a few desert survival skills to be prepared.