Sometimes it seems like Dubai is all malls and air-conditioning, but this sprawling desert city has a new and exciting influx of cultural institutions, galleries, and shopping complexes all focused at luring in a new generation of visitors. Whether your idea of an adrenaline rush is jumping out of a plane or watching the city’s dramatic fountains gush 500 feet in the air, almost anything is possible in this city, and we have the list to prove it. Here are our picks for some of the best things to do in this Middle Eastern hot spot.
Designed to represent a metaphorical connection between the old and new city. Dubai Frame is said to be the largest picture frame in the world. The giant, glistening gold frame stands nearly 500 feet (152m) tall and boasts panoramic glass lifts that shuttle guests to the top. Guests can walk on a clear glass walkway along the entire 313-foot (95m) width. Tickets can be purchased online or at the venue and cost between $5 and $14 (children under 3 and visitors with special needs or disabilities can enter for free).
XLINE DUBAI MARINA
Fly belly-down across highways, skyscrapers, and swimming pools through the city of Dubai with XLine Dubai. It is one of the longest, steepest, and fastest urban zip lines in the world. From a height of 560 feet (171m) with speeds up to 50 miles per hour (80kmh), riders soar from the Jumeirah Beach Residence to Dubai Marina, passing once-in-a-lifetime views along the way. There’s even an option to ride tandem with friends.
In the middle of a mall in the desert, the third (3rd) largest indoor ski slope in the world is a sight to behold. … Families with kids can enjoy the various rides and penguin visits instead of skiing.
AL MARMOOM CAMEL RACE TRACK
A popular heritage destination, Al Marmoom draws camel racing enthusiasts of all stripes, local and otherwise. An experience representative of Middle Eastern culture that dates back to the 7th century. Races start between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m.—and that commentary and announcements are made in Arabic.
Like a Miami beach with its wide stretch of sand, aquamarine water, beach chaises, and various activities: volleyball, give kite-surfing a try ….
AL FAHIDI HISTORICAL NEIGHBORHOOD
This quaint neighborhood offers a glimpse into what Dubai was like before the Emirates were formed in 1971. Traditional buildings crafted from stone, palm wood, gypsum, and teak line the twisted alleys and pathways—history and architecture buffs will love getting lost here. The neighborhood is a quiet retreat from the traffic and skyscrapers of the city, and the labyrinth of lanes make this place feel like you’re in a secluded village.
AT THE TOP, BURJ KHALIFA
The world’s tallest building is, unsurprisingly, visible from almost everywhere in Dubai. Visit the top of the 160-story.
Now considered the world’s largest waterpark thanks to its recent extension. Trident Tower, its newest arm, features the largest kids-only waterparks in the Middle East—Splashers Lagoon and Splashers Cove. Aquaventure contains more than 30 slides and attractions, including the emirates’ longest lazy river, some thrilling rides (including the Leap of Faith and Poseidon’s Retreat), and a private beach. There are also record-breaking waterslides to get the adrenaline pumping; Splashers Park and the Lazy River for families; and opportunities that encourage up-close-and-personal interactions with stingrays, dolphins, and sea lions.
The only mosque in Dubai that’s open to non-Muslim visitors, it is of the most beautiful in the Emirate, crafted entirely from white stone in the medieval Fatimid style.
..60 interactive rides and 15,000 Lego models are disposed at the entrance. It is a Children’s paradise (between 2 and 12 years), the theme park was created from 60 million Legos and encompasses 6 lands, indoor and out.
This ultra-modern museum offers a comprehensive look at the formation of the seven Emirates that make up the UAE. It draws a diverse crowd of UAE nationals and history-buff tourists.
THE DUBAI FOUNTAIN
The world’s tallest fountain puts the ones in Vegas to shame. Multiple fountain shows are scheduled every day, shooting 22,000 gallons of water up 500 feet (152m) in the air within the 30-acre Burj Lake.
… The 1.1-mile precinct that hugs the Dubai Creek is split into two areas: one dedicated to the past and another to the future. Meander through the charming laneways, stop and have a coffee or a meal at one of the many restaurants and cafes, or simply sit and watch the activity on the creek from one of the tranquil public spaces.
If free-falling over Dubai at 120 miles per hour sounds like your idea of a good time, Skydive Dubai has you covered. Beginners can jump in tandem with experienced guides. Licensed divers can take the plunge solo. A tandem flight from Skydive Dubai’s location on The Palm costs nearly $600—but it’s worth it if you’re a thrill-seeker who’s not afraid of heights.
DUBAI OPERA HOUSE
Dubai’s state-of-the-art opera house receives rave reviews for its futuristic design and breathtaking location in front of the Burj Khalifa and the city’s famous fountains. The multipurpose theater hosts a variety of programming aside from opera.
AL SHINDAGHA MUSEUM: PERFUME HOUSE
Positioned on the Dubai Creek within the recently renovated Al Shindagha neighborhood (once the traditional center of the emirate), the Perfume House offers the opportunity to discover the ages-old methods of Arabic perfume-making. You’ll learn about the region’s perfume-trading route, and explore the traditional oils and ingredients used to make local scents (including oud, saffron, and specific roses).
ABRA RIDE ACROSS DUBAI CREEK
Riding an abra, or traditional wooden boat, is one of the most low-key ways to get a feel for life in Dubai. The boats gather on either side of Dubai Creek—in Deira or Bur Dubai—and can carry about 20 people. Given that it’s quick and cheap, an abra ride is a must if you plan on spending any time at all in Old Dubai or visiting the QE2.
FLYING WITH FALCONS BY BALLOON ADVENTURES DUBAI
In this private adventure experience, the only other person in your balloon is the pilot, who is an expert balloonist and falcon handler. Guests are picked up from their hotels and driven out into the desert. The aerial views of the desert are some of the most spectacular you’ll see. Not only is the rolling landscape incredible but it is possible to see Oryx and camels strolling the desert below. … Bookings are required.
EXPO 2020 DUBAI
Built to host the World Expo, this 483-hectare site is situated between the emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi and is twice the size of Monaco. Open for visitors to explore before the six-month event from October, the site will host 190 country-specific pavilions and offer plenty of innovative experiences. Take in everything from world-class architecture, outdoor performances, the world of flavor exhibition, arts and culture displays and spend some time in the Sustainability Pavilion where you can wander through forest roots or dive into the depths of the ocean.
Pictures from top to bottom, Left to Right: The Frame I Frame Interior I XLine I Camel Race I Kite Beach I Al Fahidi I Legoland I Aqua Park Legoland I Expo 2020 I Al Seef (x2) I Skydive I Al Shindagha Museum I Hot AIr Balloon
Dubai’s massive Global Village is essentially a theme park for all ages with rides and attractions. Open November through early May, it features concerts, rides, dining, and attractions from around the world.
DUBAI SPICE SOUK
Dubai’s sprawling spice market is arguably the most entertaining of all the city’s souks. It’s bustling, with intoxicating sights and smells.
THE DUBAI MALL
As the largest mall in the world, the Dubai Mall draws in almost 100 million visitors a year. It’s easy to get lost—there are more than 1,200 shops, after all—but a great place to beat the Dubai heat and ogle at the luxury stores.
QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 (QE2)
Queen Elizabeth 2, a legendary ocean liner that has been restored to its former glory, is now operating as a hotel in its permanent home, Port Rashid adjacent to Old Dubai. The iconic QE2 allows guests and visitors to immerse themselves in the ship’s rich history through regular guided tours ($170 per person, $100 of which is credit toward food and drinks) and exhibitions. The ship has 8 restaurants and bars, as well as a theater and upscale spa.
THE STARLIGHT CAMP
This pop-up desert camp is magical, reminiscent of something out of Arabian Nights. Unlike an ordinary camp site, Starlight boasts a domed-shaped tents that allow guests to fall asleep with views of the starlit open skies. There’s something about waking up in the middle of the desert with rolling sand dunes all around. The dome-shaped bubble tent is a glamper’s delilght with a queen-sized bed, a wooden camp-style shower and toilet, as well as kid-friendly camp mattresses and a telescope for late-night desert sky-gazing session. It’s a refreshing escape from the constant bustle and lights of Dubai itself, and only 45-minutes away.
Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE) I Camp Dubai