Dubai is a buzzing metropolis that is growing so quickly even the locals struggle to keep up with what’s new in the city. Of course, the best way to stay in touch with the exciting new things to do in Dubai is to ask someone who spends a lot of time there.
Naomi Williams from eatloveexplore.com lives in Abu Dhabi (about an hour away from Dubai by car or bus) and spends most of her weekends exploring Dubai. Her frequent visits to Dubai has allowed her to discover the city’s hidden secrets. So read on to find out the best places to visit in Dubai.
If you’re flying to Dubai, read these Emirates Airlines Business Class reviews.
- About Dubai
- 15 Incredible Things to do in Dubai From A Local
- 1- Experience the Magnificent Burj Khalifa
- 2- Have an Adventure on a Desert Safari
- 3- Step back in time at Bur Dubai
- 4- Take a Dhow ride across the creek and visit the Gold Souk
- 5- See Wildlife At Green Planet
- 6- Go skiing at the Mall of the Emirates
- 7- Discover Dubai Mall
- 8- Experience Dubai Frame
- 9- Get an adrenaline rush at Skydiving Dubai
- 10- Visit the Palm Jumeirah
- 11- Experience the 7-Star Burj al Arab
- 12- Explore Jumeirah Beach Residence
- 13- Relax in Dubai Miracle Garden
- 14- Shop at Global Village
- 15- Relax on Kite Beach
- Why go to Dubai?
- 10 More Things To Do In Dubai On An Instagram Trip
- 16- Go on a Balloon Adventure
- 17- Visit Dubai Creek at Sunset
- 18- Photograph The Arabian Traditional Outfit
- 19- Dine at 360 Degrees
- 20- Camp out in luxury at Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa
- 21- Visit Wild Flight Educational Falconry and Hospital
- 22- Visit Ras al-Khor Wildlife Sanctuary
- 23- Go Instajumping on the Sand Dunes
- Dubai Photography Tips
By Naomi Williams
Abu Dhabi is a great city but Dubai is much bigger and there are so many things to see and do.
As there are too many Dubai attractions to include in this post, I’ll be highlighting the best 15 things to do in Dubai from a local’s perspective.
Dubai is a relatively young city which has only been around for less than 50 years.
It’s known for the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, standing at over 830m tall.
Dubai is a business hub in the Middle East and has quickly become a global city with many expats living here.
It’s the perfect place for expats because it’s a tax-free country, the weather is good for most of the year and there’s always something happening in this busy city.
Dubai is the biggest and most populated emirate in the UAE and has a rich cultural history.
There’s sunshine all year round and, while it gets really hot during the summers, there’s more than enough things to do indoors in Dubai as well.
Weather in Dubai
While it may be easy to forget that this bustling metropolis is actually in a desert, the sun will quickly humble you and remind you that it truly is.
The summers in Dubai are unbearably hot and humid.
From June to August the average high temperature is around 41 °C (106 °F) and it makes it very difficult to be outside during the day.
You should avoid travelling to Dubai in August because that is the hottest month.
There isn’t much going on here during the daytime so this is a reason why shopping malls are major attractions that even have indoor theme parks!
The best time to visit Dubai is in winter because the average temperature is typically around 24 °C (75 °F).
That’s when the beaches are filled with people and the city comes alive.
At night it actually gets cold, with a low of about 14°C (57 °F) in the coldest month of January, so you should also pack a sweater or jacket.
15 Incredible Things to do in Dubai From A Local
Each year millions of people visit Dubai from all over the world and with so many things to do it can be difficult to choose what to see. So here are 15 amazing things to do in Dubai, from a local’s perspective.
1- Experience the Magnificent Burj Khalifa
The world-famous Burj Khalifa is a must-see attraction on your list of things to do during your visit to Dubai.
The main attraction is called “At the Top” where you can buy tickets that allow you to go up 456 meters to level 125.
You’ll experience the elevator ride which goes extremely fast at over 10 miles per second, experience amazing views of the city as well as learn more about the building and how it was built.
There are telescopes you can use to get a closer look at the city below and there’s even a cool one where you can see a “before and after” of the area you’re looking at through the lens.
You’ll see the desert turn into a city and truly understand how unbelievable it is that this city was just a barren desert a few short years ago.
I loved it and definitely recommend doing this.
Tickets start at USD$38 if you go before 2.30 pm and $58 after 3 pm.
If you can’t make it before 2:30 pm, then I suggest going at night when the Dubai Fountains have their nightly shows.
The views of the show from above are incredible and the city will be all lit up.
2- Have an Adventure on a Desert Safari
You can’t come to Dubai without experiencing a desert safari. It’s an amazing experience you won’t soon forget.
There are many companies that offer this excursion and you can even find special deals available on Groupon.
You can choose from a morning safari, sunset safari and some even offer an overnight stay in the desert.
Prices vary depending on your choice of safari and which company you choose but are roughly between USD$25 to $60 for a basic desert safari to over $100 if you want to stay overnight.
Most companies will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel and will include food and drinks as well as activities like dune bashing, camel rides, sandboarding and henna painting.
There is often live entertainment like belly dancing and some tours also include a tradition falcon show.
For an additional cost, you can go quad riding through the desert dunes.
Tours last about six hours and the best desert safaris are at sunset when you can admire amazing sunset views from the pristine desert.
It’s a really affordable experience (especially if you use a Groupon) and is sure to be a highlight of your trip to Dubai.
3- Step back in time at Bur Dubai
Bur Dubai is the old part of Dubai and still maintains the authenticity of an old desert town.
This is where you can experience what Dubai was like before the skyscrapers and world-class bars and restaurants moved in.
Spend some time getting lost in the narrow streets of the Al Bastakiya quarter, where coffee enthusiasts will want to check out the coffee museum.
When you feel a little hungry and need a break from the sun, make your way to the famous Arabian Tea House.
Outside, it looks like an old heritage building but once inside you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to another place.
After fueling up, walk to the Dubai Museum, which is a unique museum built in the 1787 Al Fahidi Fort.
The fort is the oldest existing building in Dubai.
Entrance fees cost less than $1 and it’s a really great way to learn more about Dubai’s history and culture.
Keep going and soon you’ll enter the Bur Dubai Souk, a traditional market where vendors will try their best to sell you whatever they can.
It’s a fun experience but do not get bullied into buying something you don’t want; respond with a firm “no” and you’ll be fine.
That said, this is the perfect place to buy souvenirs at a good price but make sure you haggle because the first price is usually far too high and the vendors will lower their prices for you.
4- Take a Dhow ride across the creek and visit the Gold Souk
For just 1 AED ($0.25USD), you can take a boat ride across the creek and explore the Gold and Spice Souks.
Once across the creek, you could easily forget that a mega modern city is just a few minutes away.
The colours and textures of the spice souk are really beautiful and you’ll want to take photos of everything.
The vendors are happy to let you smell all of the fragrances and will try to hook you in to purchase something based on their delectable smells.
If you choose to buy something, remember to haggle but be fair as this is their livelihood.
Walking through the gold souk, you’ll marvel at the giant chest plates and other remarkable works of art made completely out of gold.
The jewellery here is stunning and fit for royalty.
If you are looking to purchase some good quality jewellery, this is a great place to score amazing deals but even if you don’t buy anything, the Gold and Spice Souks are worth a visit for the experience.
5- See Wildlife At Green Planet
Nature lovers will love this interactive experience, where many tropical birds fly freely around you.
The Green Planet recreates the feeling of being in a tropical rainforest with over 3000 different species of plants and animals.
In the centre, there’s a beautiful tree which is enormous.
You’ll take an elevator up to the fourth floor while working your way down the walkway which spirals around the tree.
Once inside you’ll walk through an aquarium filled with different types of fish, including piranha.
On the top floor (the canopy) you get to see beautiful tropical birds like the blue macaw, toucans, monkeys and tarantulas.
If you’re feeling brave, walk through the bat cave where small fruit bats will whizz past your head.
There are interactive stations where knowledgeable staff allow you to touch some of the animals.
I got to touch a snake!
Get up close and personal with a sloth or sugar glider by booking one of the animal encounters to experience them one-on-one.
Also worth watching is the daily piranha feeding at 4 pm.
Visiting Green Planet is a fun thing to do in Dubai and one of the best nature experiences in Dubai. It’s also really great value with tickets starting from $27.
6- Go skiing at the Mall of the Emirates
Snow in the desert – an oxymoron, right? It’s an unexpected sight, however, some creative genius thought of a way to bring them together at Ski Dubai in the Mall of the Emirates.
That’s right, you can actually ski in the desert!
Ski Dubai is a massive indoor ski resort which maintains a temperature of -1 degree Celsius to 2 degrees Celsius throughout the year.
They provide you with snow gear because they knew you probably didn’t pack a winter jacket to travel to the desert.
You can ski, snowboard, go tubing and they even have a bobsled.
There are daily penguin feedings where you can see real penguins and there’s also a ticketed option where you can have a penguin encounter to get even closer to them.
If you don’t want to ski (or be cold), see this magical place from the outside while standing in the mall through floor-to-ceiling glass walls.
Ski Dubai has three ticket packages ranging from $55 to $136.
The most expensive is the Penguin encounter but you get the chance to spend time with these creatures up close and personal for over 30 minutes! Definitely a bucket list moment.
Enjoy the snow, ski and the penguins.
7- Discover Dubai Mall
Most of the malls in Dubai are ridiculously gigantic but the Dubai Mall takes the cake.
It’s almost an attraction instead of a mall.
In addition to hundreds of shops and restaurants, it is also home to the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo.
You can admire sharks, giant stingrays and schools of fish in the aquarium from the mall hallway or if you want to get closer, purchase tickets to walk through the underwater tunnel.
If you’re feeling adventurous, go shark diving in the aquarium.
There are beautiful art installations scattered throughout the mall.
One of the most famous is the Human Waterfalls where silver diving statues are juxtaposed on a waterfall within the mall. It’s really a stunning piece to see and is a great place to relax after the mall experience.
8- Experience Dubai Frame
The Dubai Frame is one of the newest attractions added to the list of things to do in Dubai.
It’s huge, standing at 150m tall and allows you to see both the new and old Dubai while standing in the middle of the frame.
You can get stunning photos with the modern Dubai skyline behind you from one side, then turn around and see the way Dubai used to look. It’s a really unique and special experience.
There’s a museum where you can learn about Dubai’s history and how it grew from a fishing village to one of the richest cities in the world.
Once you’re done exploring the museum, go to the top of the frame and see Dubai from above.
Seeing the contrast between the two cities is startling and to think that it’s all happened within the past 50 years is unbelievable.
It’s a great experience to do which will give you a much greater understanding of Dubai and leave you feeling enriched and inspired.
9- Get an adrenaline rush at Skydiving Dubai
Thrill seekers can go skydiving above the biggest man-made island in the world, The Palm Jumeirah.
If you’ve never done it before that’s totally okay because you’ll be attached to an experienced skydiver.
It’s fairly expensive and will cost you around $600 but this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience you’ll never forget.
10- Visit the Palm Jumeirah
If skydiving isn’t your thing but you still want to explore the Palm Jumeirah, head to the Palm Atlantis and check out the Lost Chambers Aquarium.
This is no ordinary aquarium, it’s absolutely stunning and has glass tunnels you can walk through which can make you feel like you’re diving as sharks, stingrays, seahorses and jellyfish swim around you in the shipwreck-themed aquarium.
There are more than 20 exhibits and interactive animal feeding sessions run by wildlife guides.
Alternatively, go for a walk along the coast and enjoy the sunset.
Afterwards, head to one of the many amazing restaurants like Nobu, the Jetty Lounge or Gordon Ramsey’s Hell’s Kitchen restaurant.
11- Experience the 7-Star Burj al Arab
The iconic sail-shaped Burj Al Arab is the only SEVEN-star hotel in the world and is the epitome of luxury.
Spoil yourself with an unparalleled dinner at the Al Mahara restaurant, which is famous for its Instagram photos of the floor-to-ceiling aquarium inside the restaurant.
Main courses start at around $120 but if you want to try a lot of things, go for the chef’s menu which includes more than five courses for $270 each person.
If that’s a little too expensive for your budget, you can still experience the Burj Al Arab by going for high tea at the Skyview Bar or Sahn Eddar.
The first seating is at 1 pm and the cost ranges from $150 to $180 per person.
The views, food and experience will be unlike anything you’ve ever done before and the level of hospitality is out of this world!
Dining at a seven-star luxury hotel will surely impress your friends.
Another amazing place to stay in Dubai for contrast is Jumeirah Zabeel Saray.
12- Explore Jumeirah Beach Residence
Jumeirah Beach Residence, or JBR (as the locals call it) is a chic waterfront area with lots of dining and shopping options all around.
There’s plenty to do in this lively area of Dubai.
Stroll along the boardwalk, workout at the several outdoor workout stations along the strip or just hang out on the beach.
There are lots of shops and no shortage of cafes and restaurants at Jumeirah Beach available if you get hungry.
There’s even a small carnival area where you can try your luck at winning a prize.
If Dinner in the Sky is too pricey for your budget, there’s a similar experience at the Flying Cup where you’ll be raised 40m above the ground to enjoy the views below from your seat in the sky.
Flying Cup tickets cost $22 and include a soft drink. It’s a unique experience to add to your list of things to do in Dubai.
13- Relax in Dubai Miracle Garden
Dubai Miracle Garden is one of the most photogenic places I’ve seen.
It’s the world’s largest natural flower garden and you can easily lose track of time wandering through the perfectly manicured lawns and admiring the different flower sculptures that tower above and surround you.
There are food stands around the perimeter of the garden and even a small Starbucks at the top of the flower castle.
There are also hammocks sprinkled throughout where you can take a break and relax for a bit while enjoying the scenery and people watching.
The variety of creative flower statues include Disney characters, the insta-famous heart walkway and even to a full-sized aeroplane.
They change the flower designs every few months, so even if you’ve been here before you can come back later to enjoy it again.
It’s also really affordable to visit Dubai Miracle Garden as the tickets cost 50 AED/$13USD. It’s more than worth it to spend the day admiring this beautiful garden and the unique works of art inside.
14- Shop at Global Village
Global Village gives you a taste of the world without having to leave Dubai. It’s a unique, open-air space open during Winter from November until April (it’s much too hot during the summer months).
When you enter, you’ll go on a journey through the world with over 160 dining options from 78 different cultures.
At the global market, you can purchase unique items from all over the world.
Carnival games and attractions are also available and there are lots of things to entertain the whole family.
The food is amazing, so come hungry!
It’s a fantastic place to explore on foot and get a little taste of each culture.
Each part of the world has its own unique theme and you’ll feel transported to another place.
Bring your camera fully charged because you’ll have plenty of photo opportunities.
Global Village is open from 4 pm to 12:30 am daily. It’s a great value as well because tickets only cost 15 AED/$4 USD.
15- Relax on Kite Beach
A trip to Dubai would be incomplete without at least one day on the beach. While there are many beaches in Dubai, they’re not all free or available to the public.
Kite Beach is one of the best free public beaches in Dubai.
Stretched over 14 km of beach coastline, Kite Beach also has some of the best views of the Burj Al Arab.
It’s a popular spot that has a lot of water sports available like kitesurfing, wake-boarding or stand-up paddle boarding.
If you’re looking for an experience that is a little less intense, you can relax on the beautiful beach and stay until sunset for the most stunning views of the red sun on the horizon.
Pack a picnic for a fabulous day at the beach. There are also lots of shops and food trucks available to grab a bite to eat as well. Salt Restaurant is a popular place to eat at Kite beach and the food is delicious!
Why go to Dubai?
I love big cities and Dubai is definitely one of my favourites.
There are so many things to do in Dubai, it was difficult to narrow it down but these are my top 15 things to do from a local’s perspective for your trip to Dubai.
From historical areas, interactive nature experiences to skiing in the desert, Dubai has something for everyone.
Although I live nearby and visit often, I still discover new things to do all the time.
I hope this makes it easier for you when planning your trip to Dubai so pack your sunscreen and hat and enjoy this beautiful desert mega-city.
Naomi Williams from eatloveexplore.com is a budget traveller and personal finance expert. In one year, she and her husband saved over $30,000, quit their jobs and have been travelling ever since. She shares advice on how you can do it too with tips on saving money, how to travel cheap/free and also how you can start earning money online to keep travelling longer!
10 More Things To Do In Dubai On An Instagram Trip
By Jewels Lynch
The contradiction between the opulent new Dubai and the mysterious old Dubai is alluring.
As a photographer, I have to work with all kinds of difficulties based on the location or the weather.
Working in the desert means everything ends up covered in sand.
You just have to get on with getting the shots and deal with the sand issue later. I’d say we all had out the air blowers later that night.
One of the activities in our jam-packed itinerary was to visit the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding.
We were hosted by a charismatic guy whose name was Nasif. He shared a delicious traditional Arabic breakfast with us and discussed many of the myths and stories around his culture, beliefs and way of life.
Nasif was larger than life and full of personality and wit. He made me laugh and made me cry.
Here are things to do in Dubai if you’re keen on filling up your Instagram feed.
16- Go on a Balloon Adventure
Hot air ballooning over the Dubai desert is one of the most spectacular experiences I’ve ever experienced.
This was not a special event but something that you can do anytime you visit Dubai with a company called Balloon Adventures Emirates.
We went up at sunrise. It was raining and the sky looked like poo.
We all thought sunrise would be a washout but all that changed.
We were gifted with one of the most magical sunrises I have ever seen.
I was lucky to capture the other balloons that had also taken off on the same sunrise chase. I felt like I was in an olden-day movie floating above the desert.
It’s dreamy and surreal being in a hot air balloon.
It’s also a great reason to visit Dubai.
I was madly snapping pictures from the hot air balloon as we floated over the desert; I was in such a fluster. Every moment, every sand dune, was just like a dream.
I wanted to capture every inch of it all on my camera.
17- Visit Dubai Creek at Sunset
We caught a boat over to visit the spice, textile and gold souks (souks are the markets of Old Dubai).
I loved this area a lot and it didn’t even need to be a festival to experience the vibrant atmosphere along the creek.
18- Photograph The Arabian Traditional Outfit
I’ve always loved black and white portraiture.
I nearly always edit my portrait work and street photography this way.
I happened to catch my awesome instabuddy Mark Seabury (who had dressed in a traditional outfit) looking around the souk in wonder as the sun was going down.
I thought it would make a nice photo, so I sneakily snapped this one shot.
I think portraits work so well in black and white because you are not distracted by the colour of their clothes or their surroundings.
Your focus is drawn to their emotions and their soul.
19- Dine at 360 Degrees
I took this photo at sunrise, from the balcony of a restaurant close to the Burj Al Arab called 360 Degrees.
The restaurant has views of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in downtown Dubai.
Garry Norris and I had snuck off to try and get a unique perspective of the sunrise.
Our aim was to photograph a different perspective to the rest of the group.
We were crazy with excitement when the sky went pink.
I was really mesmerized by the shape of this beautiful mosque across the water.
We could also hear the mysterious call to prayer echoing across the ocean.
20- Camp out in luxury at Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa
We spent a day at the exclusive Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa, in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve.
This was one of my favourite parts of the trip.
Al Maha is beautiful.
We were taken on a 4WD trip around the reserve to capture images of Oryx roaming in their natural habitat.
21- Visit Wild Flight Educational Falconry and Hospital
The beautiful falcon is treated like a princess.
The falcon wears a headdress so as not to stress her out when there are strangers around.
Falconry is an important part of Arab heritage and culture.
Millions of dirhams are spent every year to protect and conserve wild falcons.
I had the honour of releasing a young rehabilitated shikra hawk back into the wild at the Wild Flight Educational Falconry and Hospital.
The hawk had been found injured in the city and the hospital staff nursed it back to health.
They cared for it and taught it to hunt in the wild so that it could fend for itself when released.
I couldn’t believe I was chosen to release the hawk.
It’s one of my favourite reasons to visit Dubai and it made me cry.
I’ll never forget that experience.
If I had to choose just one photo, I would have to say my favourite is this shot of graffiti artist and fashion designer, Steen Jones with the falcon.
I can’t really explain why but I just love that shot so much. I think because Steen loved it so much, it made me feel like it was a special shot.
22- Visit Ras al-Khor Wildlife Sanctuary
Who knew there were flamingos in Dubai? I certainly didn’t.
Right in the heart of the city, you can see these gorgeous birds at the Ras al-Khor Wildlife Sanctuary.
I was so excited I actually got in trouble with our host as I was trying to get close to them on the wrong side of the fence.
I know, looking back I feel very naughty, but at that time, I was completely beside myself as I had never seen a flamingo before.
23- Go Instajumping on the Sand Dunes
One of the ‘grammers’ on the trip, Maxime Coquard, is quite the graceful gazelle.
When it comes to instajumping he does it better than anyone I know.
I hadn’t planned on shooting him because everyone else was but when I saw him prancing and frolicking with his red sheer scarf, I just couldn’t resist.
These are the kind of shots I love most because more often than not, the best part of an adventure is the people you share it with.
Dubai Photography Tips
I always take all my camera gear with me wherever I go as I can never bear to leave anything behind.
So for this trip, like most others, my gear comprised of the:
- Canon Eos 6D
- 16-35mm F2.8 lens
- 24-70mm F2.8 lens
- 70-200mm F2.8
I love the desert and would go back in a heartbeat. The only thing I’d do differently next time is I’d rob a bank and take suitcases of money to go shopping!
Looking for more things to see and experience in Dubai? Here is a great local guide with plenty of things to see and do in Dubai.
The video in this post was produced by InVideo.