Dubai is a massive city right and where on earth do you begin when planning which places to visit on your Dubai holiday… right here is where! We have lived in Dubai for nearly two decades and that means we have done it ALL. So in this post I narrow down the absolute best places to visit in our home city of Dubai.
I have read Dubai travel blogs where it is quite obvious that the author has not clearly not visited. Or Dubai bucket lists that include photos that have been photoshopped to the point of… it doesn’t actually exist! So you can rest assured that my posts share an accurate and no-nonsense guide to Dubai. Each of these activities listed below, from the souks to the malls, to the attractions such as a desert safari, Burj Khalifa, Dubai Ain and Creek tour are without a doubt, the very best things to do and see for your first time here. If it’s three days in Dubai, a week or more, this list covers it all and are a must do.
You can use this post as a complete Dubai guide as I break down, over several posts, the best way to get around, the best places to stay if you’re on a budget, the best luxury hotels and so much more. If it’s shopping you want, street food or beaches we tell you where to find it. So take a nosy and link through to our other posts for all our recommendations and more in depth guides to specific places to visit in Dubai.
Welcome, enjoy… and reach out to me directly if you have a question or two. Think of us as your friendly Dubai travel experts!
Table of Contents
Dubai Places to Visit
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Before we get into the iconic sights and sounds of Dubai and all the best places to visit including the Burj al Arab and Burj Khalifa pictured above, lets first get a quick understanding of the lay of the land. Dubai can be easily navigated via one main highway… Sheikh Zayed Road. This is the main 7+ lane highway running in each direction of the city.
Most of the sights listed here are within 10 minutes of Sheikh Zayed Road. You’ll come to know it well while you’re here. You may even decide to drive it, if you take the rental car route. But more on transport and getting round in another post. Right let’s jump in… you wanted to visit the best places in Dubai, so lets begin!
For more on navigating this busy city while on holiday, check out our post on Getting Around in Dubai (coming very soon).
The Old Town – Dubai Creek and Spice Souks
If it’s a bit of culture you are looking for, then the Dubai Creek must be at the top of your list of places to visit. This is the vibrant, eclectic hub and port of old town Dubai. This is where Dubai all began!
First up, and just to clarify the Creek is not really a creek. It is a river that separates the city into two sides, Bur Dubai on one side and Deira on the other. There is plenty to see and do here so plan a few hours of time to explore the streets and hidden surprises of the Creek if you can. But be warned, in summer (July and August) and the months leading in and out of summer it can be a brutal place to go.
However, it is always best to visit the Creek later in the day as everything begins to open at 5pm onwards. And this may or may not be bearable in the summer months for you, depending on the climates you are used to. In other words, if you are pretty good at handling the heat, then early evening in July or August will be manageable.
I have created a complete guide and walking tour with map for you right here, so that you can explore the Dubai Creek with confidence. Go Check it out and bookmark for later.
Dubai Desert Safari
The Dubai Desert Safari is an absolute favourite. This is the first activity that we encourage our guests take if it’s their first time to Dubai. Yeah sure it’s a little touristy, but it’s just one of those experiences that have to be done. Oh and it’s in the desert so you’ll travel further than 10 minutes from Sheikh Zayed Road for this one.
A desert safari experience basically means taking a 4×4 sand dune trip with an experienced driver just before sunset. This is also referred to as dune bashing and it feels like you are riding a roller coaster over golden sand dunes. This is Dubai adventure at its best.
And after you’ve been thrown about for a while in the red dunes, you’ve watched the sun go down for the day, there is still more adventure to come. Try your game at dune boarding, or experience what it feels like to ride a camel. Then comes dinner in a bedouin style camp, complete with a show of belly dancing and if you’d like to try shisha (like hookah) or henna then there are normally opportunities for this also.
There are MANY desert safari tour groups in the market, but the best is right here and they often have special offers up for grabs with Get Your Guide. This Dubai Desert Safari experience has a solid 4.9 star customer rating which speaks to the quality of the experience. What’s best is that the price includes dinner and refreshments AND pickup and drop-off to and from your accommodation.
BUT! I have a dedicated post on the Dubai Desert Safari experience that you must check out right here for all the details, if this sounds like something you want to do on your visit.
Swim at Dubai’s Beautiful Beaches
Dubai’s beaches are world class, and I’m sure that’s probably how Dubai ended up on your destination must-do list. The clearest electric blue waters of the Arabian Gulf, in contrast with the creamy white sand almost doesn’t seem real at times. Beach weather in Dubai is ON in March through till June, and revisits again in October through to December. Summer temps are just a bit too hectic and the sea water becomes more like a bath and provides zero respite from the 40+ degree days.
So if spending some time hitting the beach sounds like a bit of you and your dates coincide with beach season then you’re in luck. I have prepared just for you, a full list of all the free beaches to check out. You can think of it like an insider’s guide to Dubai best beaches, as I share a few that the tourists don’t know about it… and they are some tip-top spots!
Read my post on the best free beaches in Dubai here.
The Dubai Ain
Did you know that Ain in Arabic means eye… probably not right. Well then naturally the Dubai Ain, translates to Dubai Eye. You know like the London Eye, but in Dubai… oh and of course in true Dubai style it’s LOADS bigger.
This giant wheel cannot be missed from the Dubai Marina. Stand on JBR beach in the Marina and it sits perched out on Blue Waters like a beacon near the Caesar Palace Hotel.
It takes just under 40 minutes to do the full 360 degree rotation in a shared air-conditioned dome. And let me just say, the views towards the Palm and the Dubai Marina are well worth it.
If you prefer a sunset timing then the prices increase, but the golden hues at this time of the evening are a pretty stunning time of the day to experience the Dubai Ain.
If you are considering the Dubai Ain then check out these discount cards. The Dubai Ain is included along with other activities listed here in this post. Grabbing yourself one of these can be a great way to save yourself some holiday dollars!
Museum of the Future
Brand new to Dubai is the Museum of the Future. And a building doesn’t get much more impressive than this right. This is Dubai architecture at its finest.
The best way to arrive is by metro which conveniently arrives directly at the Museum. We have a trip booked here next week, so will update you with more very soon. But in the meantime, just look at this unique building!
Visit the Burj Khalifa
How often do you get to take a lookout from a viewing platform from the highest building in the world. Not very often right! Unless you have lived here like we have and you have been up and down like a yo-yo with your guests. The wrap around 360 degree views over the city skyline are worth every penny of this Dubai experience. Look down from the viewing platform over the Dubai Mall and the dancing fountains and it just doesn’t look real.
There are a couple of options here, so listen up! AND note it is a good idea to book your tickets well in advance as the Burj Khalifa viewing platform does and will book out, I can’t stress this enough. This is one of the most popular things to do in Dubai, and you can imagine how many visitors stream into this city on the daily! So take my advice and book ahead.
But what to book because there are a few options? Well your experience will depend on how high you want to get. The Burj Khalifa has two viewing platforms to tempt… you can take the cheaper option to the 124th and 125th floors. OR you can visit both of these floors, PLUS go up to the 148th floor.
OR if you are a lover of VIP, then book the Lounge experience. Zoom all the way up to the 154th floor for a tour of the viewing platform and enjoy the option of breakfast, afternoon tea or a sunset sparkling experience.
Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark & Lost Chambers
This is always a family favourite! And it just gets better and better as they continue to add more experiences to this epic Resort and Hotel.
Situated at the very end of the Palm Jumeirah you’ll be travelling the full-length of this infamous man-made island. And bang smack at the end, the Atlantis hotel sits proudly overlooking the Palm.
If you haven’t yet booked accommodation for Dubai, then I definitely recommend you stay at the Atlantis as that way you have free access to the waterpark. Rather than pay for tickets for the whole family to the waterpark, it makes financial sense to stay one or two nights at the hotel and make the most of complimentary park access. We have stayed several times with and without kids and have loved it every time.
The Atlantis is also home to the Lost Chambers aquarium and some incredible restaurants such as Nobu, Seafire Steakhouse, Gordon Ramsey’s Bread Street Kitchen and one of my personal favourites Wavehouse.
But! I get distracted… Aquaventure is a must do if you are looking for some adrenaline fuelled fun for your holiday. Take the Leap of Faith through the shark tank or for something a bit more chilled grab a tube and head for the Shark Attack. There is honestly so much to do here that there is no end to the adventure. Book your tickets below!
The View the Palm Jumeirah
This is one of the newer attractions in Dubai and provides a great view over the Palm Jumeirah from the 52nd floor of the observatory deck at The View. At just 100 dirhams per adult this is fantastic opportunity to get a better view of The Palm fronds and trunk. Add in a ride on the Palm Jumeirah Monorail and a stop off at The Pointe for dinner and watch the world’s largest sea water display, the Palm Fountain, and you’ll have yourself a nice afternoon and evening out.
Dubai Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour
Now this is a really good way to see Dubai if you only have a few days and you don’t have a rental car. This bus tour is very highly recommended and connects you to all the major attractions in this busy city.
Choose from three options, 24, 48 or 72 hours. This gives you the freedom to see the Dubai highlights at your own pace, from the roof top of their open air bus. Choose between the Red Route which connects you to the Old Town and souks at the Dubai Creek, or the newer Dubai of the Blue Route. We have given you links to both of the double decker bus tour providers in Dubai so that you can decide which one you like the look of best.
The Souk Madinat Jumeirah
This is the ideal place to see the infamous Burj al Arab, that stunning sail shaped hotel that represents Dubai. (FYI: the picture featured at the top of this post is taken from this mall.)
You could get closer to the Burj if you chose to stay at one of my favourite hotels in Dubai, Jumeirah al Naseem. But a visit to the Souk Madinat Jumeirah won’t cost you nearly as much!
As well as getting a first class photo and view of the Burj al Arab, you’ll be able to browse the beautiful interior and exterior of this small market-like mall. Designed to resemble a traditional souk (or market), this a great place to wander even if you aren’t on the look out to buy anything. But if you are, there are some great little trinket places to explore if you are looking for some local buys to take home. Jump into Trader Vics for a sneaky cocktail (I recommend the legendary Tiki Puka Puka) and enjoy the views of the lagoon, abras and date palms… lush!!
If you’d like to know more about the shopping in Dubai and some unique places to spend your dirhams then jump to this post on Where to Shop in Dubai (post coming soon).
The Dubai Frame
Another newer experience is the Dubai Frame. This location opened pre-covid and stands just as it’s name suggests… a giant picture frame. This is in fact the largest frame in the world and the design of the golden exterior is inspired with the look and feel of the Expo 2020 logo.
The Frame is 50 stories high and the elevator whips you up to the top in 75 seconds. And from the top you have panoramic views over old and new Dubai. In fact this is the entire concept behind the frame as they bring together old Dubai, present Dubai and future Dubai told through story telling and exhibitions.
Popular Malls to Visit in Dubai
Dubai is definitely a shopping lovers paradise. But there are many more incredible shopping districts beyond the main malls that we can help you find. For the purpose of listing key places to visit in Dubai, we share the main malls here that you must visit. However, see this post on shopping locations in Dubai to help you find the right spot for you. (Post coming soon.)
The Dubai Mall
You probably guessed it… The Dubai Mall is the biggest mall in the world. Let’s face it, Dubai does BIG and they do it very well. The Dubai Mall is great for shopping but also full of must see places to visit when seeing Dubai.
The Dubai Fountain
This is fabulous and free! It’s also one of my personal favourite places to visit in Dubai. It doesn’t matter how frequently you return, it just never fails to impress.
With what seems to be a never ending evolving repertoire of songs added to the selection, you’ll seldom hear the same song twice. The best place to see the fountain is at Souk al Bahar, which is the more traditionally designed mall beside the Dubai Mall. From Souk al Bahar you have a 180 degree view of the Dancing Fountains with the Burj Khalifa in behind. Super impressive!
Insider Tip: Combine dinner with the fountains! Grab a bite to eat from the very cool selection of restaurants in the Time Out Market at the third floor of Souk al Bahar. Get a seat on the balcony and watch the spectacular scene unfold!
The best way to get to Souk al Bahar is to walk across the foot bridge at the base of the Address Downtown. (Note: there are several Address hotels in the area so make sure you head for the right one.) Then follow the lagoon around to the right until you arrive to the grand front doors of Souk al Bahar.
The Ice Rink
A very real ice skating rink exists in the middle of the mall! So if you feel like taking a twirl on the ice in the middle of the desert then you may want to add this spot to your list. If you just want to check it out, then get a birds eye view from the second floor in Dubai Mall and watch others do the twirling.
The Diving Men
There is a fantastic water feature in the Dubai Mall aside from the fountains. It is quite a beautiful sight as it continues over two walls. And a great location to admire the water feature from is Bateel. This is one of my favourite local cafes in Dubai. They have great coffees, dates and treats. The perfect place to rest your feet after walking them to the brink around the world’s largest mall!
Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo
You can visit the aquarium on the ground floor and see the impressive sight for free. Or you can choose to walk through the tunnel and then continue the experience on the second floor through the underwater zoo. I have visited the Dubai Aquarium and zoo many times with young kids and it is always one of their favourite places in the city to visit.
Insider tip: If you are wanting to visit both the aquarium and the Burj Khalifa to the 124th and 125th floor then book this combo ticket below and save yourself 60+ dirhams per person. Be sure to read the details on how to exchange the booking voucher for the ticket. But it is definitely worth purchasing here as they are cheaper with Get Your Guide rather than directly with The Dubai Aquarium ticket sales.
Mall of the Emirates
The Mall of the Emirates really is good for shopping and given that it is smaller than the Dubai Mall it is much easier on the feet and less overwhelming.
This is of course is a huge attraction at Mall of the Emirates and is a very impressive sight through the viewing windows. That is, if you don’t want to spend your time skiing, playing with penguins or playing at the ski park.
We recommend a visit to Après for dinner or lunch. The restaurant overlooks Ski Dubai and anyone can sit and eat there, including families with children. This is our favourite place to watch the action on the slopes while enjoying a tasty pizza or cold beer.
Want to Know the Best Places to Stay in Dubai?
We have created two extensive guides on the best hotels and resorts and everything you need to know about where to stay in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates. Select from the two posts below that best suit what you are looking for from your holiday.
Final Thoughts on Places to Visit in Dubai
There’s loads more than this list of course and searches in Google will show 75+ things to do in Dubai. But take my word for it, this list is a good place to start for the main sights and attractions without overwhelming you. However, I definitely recommend that you link through to my other posts for other hidden places to see here if you have more time in Dubai or you want to dig a bit deeper.
For example, if you have the time take yourself through to Abu Dhabi to see the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. OR if you want off the beaten track then think about driving inland 1 hour and 45 minutes to the UAE’s only UNESCO World Heritage site to Al Ain. Read our dedicated post on Must See Places to Visit in Al Ain.
Be sure to pin this post for later and if you have any questions about your visit, send a message or drop them in the comments below. And don’t forget to join our mailing list for more cool travel content!