how to be a tourist in dubai

Here are 14 things we got to do/see in the 5 days we spent in Dubai:

1. Visit the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world at 2,722 feet (830 m)

(Starts at $43 USD) Even if you don’t want to go up, you should at least marvel at it from the outside, especially at night, when it’s lit up and changes colors. We pre-purchased tickets ahead of time online, which you should definitely do. Even with the tickets, there was still a line and it took us about 20 minutes to get through the lines/security to the top. There are different tickets and packages you could buy but we went with the sunset ticket for 4:30 PM, which is peak time. I underestimated just how many people would be up there. It was so crowded that it took away from the experience. Knowing this now, I would recommend buying a ticket for right when the tower opens, even though it was cool to see the sun set over the city

2. Watch the water, lights, and music show at the Dubai Fountain

(FREE) Located right outside the Burj Khalifa, it’s the perfect stop to go before or after, depending on the timing. Shows start at the top of the hour and last for about three minutes. If you’ve ever seen the Fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, it’s not as impressive as that, but it’s still pretty spectacular, and fun to watch

3. Explore Old Dubai (Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood)

(FREE) Here, you’ll find that a lot of the buildings from the mid-19th century are still as they were, since this is a heritage site. It’s a stark contract from the Burj Khalifa and Downtown Dubai with all of it’s tall buildings/glitz and glam, but it’s no less amazing. This is exactly what I pictured UAE to look like back then. It really does feel like you’ve been transported back in time

4. Shop for Souvenirs at the Souks

(FREE) A souk is a marketplace. This is where it’s at. There are so many different souks – spices, perfumes, gold, textiles – you’ll find lots of great gifts to bring back home. There are the Bur Dubai Souks, which is right in Al Fahidi, but you should also take the ferry (50 cents USD) across the river because there are a ton more shops on the other side. As with a lot of similar markets throughout Asia, make sure you shop around first and don’t buy from the first shop you see. Many of the shops sell the same items, so it’s not like you won’t be able to get something anywhere else. The trick is haggling. Tell them the price you’d like to pay, but you also have to be willing to walk away if they say no

The ferry only costs 50 cents (USD) to ride over
5. Learn about coffee from all over the world and drink some Arabic coffee at the Coffee Museum

($2.50 USD) This is also located in Old Dubai. You’ll get to see some pretty cool relics, like different types of coffee makers from around the globe

6. Get a 360 view of Palm Jumeirah at View at the Palm

($27 USD) These are manmade islands that were created using land reclamation, into the shape of a palm tree. You’d recognize it when you see it. It’s used in a lot of Dubai tourism ads where you see someone skydiving above these little strips of land. The entrance is located inside of Nakheel Mall. We bought our tickets online for the 10:30 AM slot, and it was the best decision to go earlier in the day. There weren’t that many people so you had plenty of space for photo ops. The space is open air but it’s partially covered. It does get pretty sunny and hot up there though. We spent probably about half an hour up there and decided to leave once it started getting crowded, which was around 11. It’s really cool because in addition to seeing the Palm from above, you also get a 360 view of the city at the same time. I liked this way better than the Burj Khalifa. This had better views, fewer people, and the ticket was much cheaper. The Palm is also home to the world’s largest fountain

View from the top! This is the Downtown Dubai side
7. Hang out at the shopping mall

(FREE) I know this one sounds crazy because it sounds like such a teenaged thing to do, but hear me out. Mall culture in the UAE is different from the United States. The malls in UAE are humongous and luxurious. Think of the first clothing brand that comes to mind. They have it. People love their high-end brands here, so that’s why i say “hang out” at the mall, and not “shop at”, though they do have regular brands for us simpletons. Even the food courts look like fine dining. Everything is so clean and looks very modern. Plus, all the malls are air-conditioned so it’s a nice break from the heat. A lot of malls even have a full blown supermarket in them, so it’s really convenient. The most impressive mall we visited while here, has to be the Dubai Mall, which is the largest mall in the world, at 12 million square feet (or 50 soccer fields). They have an aquarium, indoor skiing, ice-skating rink, and even a real dinosaur skeleton – the Dubai Dino, just to name a few ridiculous offerings. You could easily spend the entire day here and not even cover the whole mall

8. Get a bird’s eye view of the city at the Dubai Frame

($13 USD) It’s the world’s largest picture frame and you can go up to the top, which is at 492 feet (150 m). The coolest part of the structure is that if you go on one side of the frame you’ll see Old Dubai. On the opposite side, you’ll find modern-day Dubai with all its tallest buildings. There’s also a glass floor in the middle that gives you a view of Zabeel Park down below

When you step on the glass panels, it reveals Zabeel Park downstairs
9. Cruise along the Dubai Creek on a dhow river cruise

($70 USD depending on the package/company) A dhow is an Arab sailing vessel that was used back in the day for pearl diving. The one we went on was for a dinner cruise. It was a two hour cruise with food and live music that started at Dubai Festival City, took us down by Downtown and back up to where we started. There’s just something about seeing the city at night from a boat

10. Feast your eyes on over 50 million flowers and 250 million plants at the Dubai Miracle Garden

($13 USD) It’s the world’s largest natural flower garden. We got here at around 9:30 AM, and spent about 1.5 hours here. The trick is to go early because it’s cooler, and there are fewer people. This also means shorter lines to get your picture taken with the Airbus A380, which is an actual airplane covered in flowers. The garden is open from October to April

11. Visit 192 countries at Dubai Expo 2020

($14 USD or FREE with Emirates boarding pass). Postponed due to Covid, and now running until March 31, 2022, the three general themes of Dubai Expo are opportunity, mobility and sustainability. Each country has its own pavilion, where you can see some of its architecture, history, and what they’re doing to reach the goals of each theme. Since we were short on time, and I also underestimated just how huge this place was, I only slotted about three hours here but you need much more than that depending on what you would like to see. It’s pretty much like an amusement park. You need the full day, if not multiple days. We only got to see maybe 10-15 pavilions. Of course, the most popular was the UAE pavilion, which was a 20 minute wait to get in, and another 20 minutes to walk through the exhibit. I definitely regret not researching the Expo more because there were a lot of countries we skipped out on – so don’t make the same mistake I did!

12. Learn about Islam at the Jumeirah Mosque

($10 USD). The two most interesting facts I took away are that there are five prayer times per day, and that each Muslim must make a pilgrimage to Mecca once in their lifetime. I will admit that I knew very little about Islam before this, so it was a very interesting and informative tour. Tours are an hour long and run at 10 AM and 2 PM (except Fridays), but you’ll want to get there early for some ‘Emrati refreshments’ that are included in your ticket, which are Arabic coffee, luqaimat – a sweet Arabic dumpling, and cheban with labneh – thin pancakes with yogurt cheese. As with any mosque, both men and women should cover their shoulders and knees, but women also need to cover their hair with a headscarf. If you don’t have one, they’ll provide one but best to bring your own, especially during Covid times

Jumeirah Mosque
13. Ride some indoor rollercoasters at IMG Worlds of Adventure

($91 USD). This is an indoor theme park and it is divided into four different ‘adventure zones’ – Marvel, Cartoon Network, Lost Valley and IMG Boulevard. We came on a Thursday when it opened at noon and stayed for about 4.5 hours. It’s pretty small so we did everything we wanted and rode some of the rides we liked an extra time. There weren’t much crowds with the exception of some school trips, which was super annoying. I noticed it was only classes of boys, so they were extra rowdy and would try to skip people on lines, with no one controlling them. Might be better on the weekends but then you’ll also have to deal with all kids and not just school kids. Aside from that, while the rides were fun, and it was a cool experience to see such a huge indoor theme park, I’m not sure if it was worth the ticket price

14. Go on a desert safari adventure

We went with one via Click here for the full experience of our tour

Sunset in Sharjah Desert

There’s also the Museum of the Future, which we were really looking forward to visiting but the opening date kept getting pushed, likely due to Covid, so it still wasn’t open while we were there. However, it has since opened – on 2/22/22. The other museum we wanted to visit was the Dubai Museum at Al Fahidi Fort. It’s the oldest existing building in Dubai. It was closed for renovations while we were there and still closed at the time of this writing. So if you ever get the chance to visit these, let me know how they are!

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