a line of 4wd on a sand dune in the dubai desert at sunset

3-day Dubai itinerary; perfect for experiencing Dubai’s highlights

by Dubai Travel Planner

Here’ what to do in Dubai for 3 days – an action-packed Dubai itinerary

Dubai is an intriguing and eclectic coastal city in the Middle East; certainly, one of the world’s most fascinating and incredible modern cities, dominated by towering skyscrapers with a backdrop of rolling desert dunes.

With a history dating back to the early 19th century, it’s only really since the discovery of oil in the 1960s the city has flourished from a small trading port on Dubai Creek to a hub city of the Middle East for trade & tourism. Known for its year round sunshine and vast tourist offering, what can visitors hope to experience with just a short 3-day stopover in Dubai?

It would be impossible to see everything the largest city in the United Arab Emirates has to offer in just 3 days, but we’ve put together a packed schedule for you to see the highlights of Dubai. If any of the days or itinerary items don’t feel to your taste, we have a bumper list of add on ideas at the end you can mix and match to make this itinerary your own!

This is a super detailed guide so do bookmark this page for later in your browser or save it to Pinterest

Dubai 3 Day itinerary

Things to know before visiting Dubai

Before we dive into the juicy details of WHAT TO DO, make sure you’ve check out our essential planning information too. We cover in much greater detail:

  • Dubai dining guides – all our favourite places to eat, dining specialities, bars and special occasions.
  • Take out travel insurance! We are in an ever-changing world at present, whilst Dubai remains open for business, don’t get caught short; make sure your trip is comprehensively insured.

Transport in Dubai for 3 days

Over the course of using our 3-day itinerary, you will need to take a combination of taxis, the Metro and private tours.

We’ve given basic directions on how to get to each place by public transport if possible, or where you may need a taxi to get door-to-door with ease. You can find our complete guide to Dubai Transport options here.

Metro Cost: If you stay in Dubai for only 3 days, it is recommended to get a Red Nol and top it up only as you need it (The card costs just 2AED + add your fare) We explain all the fares and different types of Nol in more detail here.

A note on taxis: In the hottest part of the year (i.e. about May to October!), be wary of how far you can walk during the day. Places may look relatively close and within walking distance on a map, but under the heat of the sun, a short taxi or Uber may very much be worth it (noting a minimum fare applies of 12 AED for public taxis).

Hiring a car: Unless you are a super-confident driver or plan on taking several trips out of the city, you are best relying on taxis and tours during a short stay in Dubai.


What can I fit into 3 days in Dubai?

With only 3 days in Dubai, there are undoubtedly some highlights you’ll need to miss out on. We have set out a mixed itinerary here that will appeal to a broad audience; those with kids to consider may want to prioritise the theme parks more, or culturally curious may want to add on some extra day trips and skip the beach and modern parts of Dubai.

Given ongoing COVID restrictions, you are recommended once you’ve decided on your itinerary to book in advance the attractions and tours you want so that you can to guarantee your spot as numbers can be limited (and using a booking app such as Get Your Guide, you get a money-back guarantee if you’re trip needs to be cancelled).

When planning out your days, note that Dubai’s weekend is Friday & Saturday; these days are MUCH busier with residents also out and about, especially Friday afternoons after prayer time. Some attractions may open later on a Friday.

For a comprehensive list of everything there is to see and do in Dubai, pop over here – we have 150+ ideas!.

Day 1 – 3 Day Dubai Itinerary: Old Meets New

Journey from Dubai’s bustling trading port past to the futuristic modern city

For your first day of sightseeing in Dubai, it really helps to go back to the grassroots of what Dubai city is about; a busy trading port city based around Dubai Creek. Later you can decide whether to complete a full day in “old Dubai” or take in some of the modern aspects of the city for your evening.

Get your bearings at Dubai Frame

Let’s start your exploration of Dubai, taking in the views from the Dubai Frame. Pretty much what it says – it’s a giant picture frame! One of the first tourist highlights you will capture coming from the airport into the city.

The Dubai Frame with Palm Trees - Dubai Landmark attraction
The Dubai Frame is literally a giant picture frame for capturing spectacular city vistas

You ascend one side of the 150m high frame (48 floors) and then walk across the top. The see-through floored sky deck gives you fabulous views of Old Dubai, Dubai Creek to Sharjah and beyond in one direction, and the modern skyscrapers of Downtown Dubai to the other.

Learn more about visiting the Dubai Frame here

Getting there: Nearest Metro is Al Jafiliya for Zabeel Park but it’s a decent walk, you may prefer a taxi/Uber drop off

Wander Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood

This is the oldest part of Dubai city, a labyrinth of narrow laneways that date back to the 19th century. The historic Fahidi area is protected so that the city’s heritage does not become lost forever under the sprawling skyscrapers. Most of the traditional sandy-coloured low rise buildings are now galleries, museums and small cafes.

beautiful corner in Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood Dubai
A quiet corner in the wonderful Al Fahidi Histroical Neighbourhood

Within this area, you will find the Dubai Museum, housed within the Al Faihi Fort which dates back to 1787. At only 3 AED you should definitely pop your head in for more insight into the countries Bedouin past and the pre-oil era of Dubai. {CLOSED FOR RENOVATIONS EARLY 2021}

READ MORE
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There are many other Dubai museums to be discovered within the laneways, the Coffee Museum (entry fee 10 AED) is one of our favourites worth seeking out.

Getting there: Al Fahidi Bus Station or Al Fahidi Metro station

Lunch at Al Seef Waterfront

By now, you have most certainly worked up an appetite, so if you’ve not stopped for lunch in XVA Cafe or Arabian Tea House situated within Al Faihidi Historical Neighbourhood, now would be time to head to one of many restaurants in this waterfront development. Seamlessly blending old with new, it’s directly across the street, next to the Al Faihidi Marine Transport Station.

Al Seef is set up like a traditional souk so you’ll be able to do your shopping here too. Kids may enjoy popping into Museum of Illusions or have some fun with photos in the instagrammable laneways.

The modern streets of Al Seef blend in with the architectural design of Al Faihidi

Cross Dubai Creek on an Abra

An absolute must for an authentic old Dubai experience! Whilst there are far more modern methods these days of crossing Dubai Creek, a traditional abra at 1 AED per person is still a steal!

Dubai Creek old Abras in Dubai
Old Dubai – Dubai Creek abras

Explore the Traditional Deira Souks

Depending on the heat, you could spend several hours lost in the laneways of Deira, the most popular stops being the Gold Souk and the Spice Souk. It’s all open-air, so it can be heavy going and a bit of walking mid-afternoon in the hotter months.

On a short Dubai itinerary with just 3 days, we suggest you decide whether to spend your evening in Old Dubai or skip to modern Dubai to finish your day 1in the hotter summer months, we suggest the latter.

Evening in Old Dubai

Extend your trip to the Dubai Souks by joining in with an evening food tour. Being the multicultural city that Dubai is, you can be sure many dishes are vying for attention as “local” cuisine, in addition to traditional Emirati or Bedouin-style dishes.

One of the most highly recommended food tours in Dubai is Frying Pan Adventures, who offer various options for small groups to have authentic experiences in Dubai’s streets. Most group tours start and end in Deira.

Alternatively, hop on to one of the dinner cruises that operate along Dubai Creek for a taste of Old Dubai from the water.

An evening in modern Dubai

Now when we say modern Dubai, we could be talking about a lot of the city! We are referring specifically in this itinerary to exploring Dubai Mall and the Downtown area of Dubai, home to many of the city’s modern skyscrapers including Burj Khalifa.

If shopping’s not your thing not to fear, Dubai Mall is simply a stopping point to start exploring Downtown. There’s plenty of fun family attractions, sports and adrenaline activities to enjoy within the Mall, or step out and explore around Burj Lake, even take in a show at Dubai Opera.

Souk Al Bahar

Just across a pedestrian bridge from Dubai Mall, you’ll find Souk Al Bahar. This modern market is made in the design of a traditional souk offering handicrafts through to fine dining and spectacular views over Burj Lake. Don’t expect to pay the same prices as at the old souks but nonetheless a fun Dubai experience in the heart of the action.

You can find a good selection of places to grab a drink and bite around downtown Dubai here.

Dubai Fountains

This brings us nicely to one of Dubai’s most popular free things to do at night! Starting from 6:00 PM nightly, then every half hour watch the fabulously choreographed light and sound show on Burj Lake, sitting at the foot of Burj Khalifa. Later in the evening the Burj Khalifa also lights up for half-hourly shows.

For a close-up view of the fountain show, you can take an abra ride on the lake. Alternatively, our favourite is to pick out one of the restaurants with uninterrupted views in either Dubai Mall or Souk Al Bahar and dine whilst getting to see the show a few times over without the crowds.

Souk Al Bahar connecting to Dubai Mall, a great spot to watch the free evening fountain show on Burj Lake

Burj Khalifa

Finish your first day by scaling the heights of Burj Khalifa, the World’s tallest tower. There’s an observation deck on the 124th and 125th floors (extra packages even take you to the 148th floor!) or even dine at At.mosphere restaurant and lounge on Level 122. We have a detailed guide here that sets out all your Burj Khalifa visiting options.

If there’s one part of your Dubai itinerary you simply must book in advance, it’s the Burj Khalifa. Tickets at the door are extortionately more expensive and can sell out. Do allow a good 2 hours for queuing and having a good look around. Note sunset and sunrise slots (only weekends) cost more and book up faster.

On a tight itinerary for time or money, you may want to skip going up Burj Khalifa. Particularly if you already went up the Dubai Frame in the morning, you do get views way further into the distance but the ticket price and queuing time can eat into your budget and time.

Getting there: Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall Station on the Red Line Metro then there’s an airconditioned travellator connecting you to the entire surrounding area of Downtown

Alternate: New then Old Dubai

You can, of course, plan Day 1 in reverse. You might like to start your day at Dubai Mall and visiting the Burj Khalifa early on without long queues, get your bearings over the city and catch lunch around Dubai Mall or Souk Al Bahar before spending the afternoon and evening in Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood and crossing Dubai Creek in the evening to spend time in the markets or catch a dinner cruise.

Day 2 – 3 Day Dubai Itinerary: Hit the sand! Desert & Beach

A day set aside for sand and surf – dune surfing that is!

You can tackle this day in two ways – hitting the desert first thing or the last thing in the day – just avoid being out in the desert middle of the day no matter which way around your plan it, especially as you hit the summer months.

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Dubai Desert Safari

Forget the concrete; it’s time to go and experience the real Dubai out in the desert! Tour operators will pick you up from your city accommodation in 4×4 and drive into the dunes on the city outskirts, or a limited number of operators can work in the protected Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve for your morning desert safari.

There are broadly two different types of desert safari’s; those focused on desert habitat itself and those focused on dune bashing and sand sports for a higher adrenaline thrill. The evening camps tend to be more focused on the latter, ending in a BBQ dinner and shisha in a camp. Both morning and evening desert tours are likely to include a camel ride in their itinerary.

Our favourite provider is Platinum Heritage, a little more pricey than some but smaller groups and a more genuine desert experience, whether you choose early morning, evening, or even an overnight safari.

Getting there: No need to worry about your 4×4 skills, tour operators will pick you up from your hotel or a convenient city location and drop you back

Beaches in Dubai

It’s time to explore one of Dubai’s exciting modern beachfront districts and get out on the water, a trip to Dubai isn’t complete without at least touching the warm waters of the Persian Gulf (Arabian Gulf, depending on who you ask!).

JBR, Bluewaters & Dubai Marina

Many first-timers to Dubai find the area of JBR and Dubai Marina a great place to start. Familiarise yourself with The Walk & The Beach precincts, then if you’d like to stretch your legs further, take a walk over to the ultra-modern Bluewaters Island to dine and marvel at the Dubai skyline along Jumeirah Beach.

(Coming soon to Bluewaters is Ain Dubai, the largest observation wheel in the world for spectacular city views – bookmark this idea if you’re visiting in 2022 and beyond!)

JBR & Dubai Marina are a hub of tourist activity – as well as favourite spots with local residents!

You can easily spend a whole afternoon and evening in the JBR area between activities along the beach – think inflatable water parks, splash pads, jet ski and flyboarding, Flying Cup sky-high dining – and plentiful dining options read more on what to do around JBR here!

If time allows, you may also want to head out into the stunning Gulf waters with a cruise. Plentiful operators can be found in Dubai Marina from speed boat tours around Palm Jumeirah to jet ski adventures, or for a more sedate experience at a fraction of the cost try the RTA Ferry!

Getting there: JBR/Dubai Marina is the perfect place to stay for 3 days in Dubai due to the high number of spacious hotel apartments and resorts with direct beachfront access. If coming by Metro from Old Dubai or Downtown, you want to alight at DAMAC Properties or DMCC Metro Stations.

Lar Mer

Another ultra-modern beachfront area of the city to explore is La Mer. An eclectic mix of palm-tree-lined walkways, retail, dining & play opportunities. As well as a beautifully groomed beach with plentiful water sports on offer, there’s even a mini water park, Laguna!

As pretty at night as it is by day, La Mer is a trendy new addition for families and singles alike to enjoy Dubai’s modern vibes.

La Mer Dubai at night
The modern beachfront of La Mer at night

If you don’t want to spend the whole afternoon at the beach – or it’s simply too hot to be out long – La Mer sees you close to both the Jumeirah Mosque – the largest mosque in Dubai open to the public for daily tours – and Etihad Museum, telling the story of the country’s unification in 1971. Another short hop away is the Shindagha historic area near Mina Port, a great way to learn more about Dubai’s past.

Getting there: No direct Metro stop (nearest is Financial Centre then a 10 minute taxi), or take bus 8, 9 or 88 along Jumeirah Beach Road

Dubai also has plenty of public beaches, some are completely free and others have a small Dubai municipality charge but great facilities. Local favourites include Al Mamzar Park and Kite Beach has slightly bigger waves than others or head to Sunset Beach for iconic views of the Burj Al Arab – naturally around sunset for the best views!

Alternatively, even if you’re not staying at one of Dubai’s fancy beachfront resorts, it’s easy to pick up a day pass to one of the incredible beach clubs to spoil yourself for an afternoon and enjoy sundowners on the beach.

If you are visiting in the peak of summer, you would likely need to modify or scratch this largely outdoor day of play and replace it with some further activities from our indoor guide to Dubai

Day 3 – 3 Day Dubai Itinerary: Theme Parks, Shopping & something special OR a day trip

Thrill-seekers, shopaholics and adrenaline junkies will never be left disappointed in Dubai.

Whether you’re a thrill-seeker or have little ones in tow, you’re bound to want to fit in a theme park day while you’re in Dubai, offering some of the best in the world!

(If this isn’t your thing, skip below to another shopping & sightseeing experience + only in Dubai special treats!)

Dubai Theme Parks

There’s a superb selection of world-class theme parks to choose from in Dubai. If you’re visiting in the beautiful shoulder seasons (approximately March to May and October to November), our top pick would be one of the mega water parks – choose from Atlantis Aquaventure or Wild Wadi at Jumeirah.

(NB if you stay at Atlantis the Palm or any of the Jumeirah hotels, your water park entry will be included!)

Atlantis Aquaventure is one of the top water parks in the Middle East

Over the coolest part of the year (December to February), Dubai Parks & Resorts is our top choice. Here you can choose between four connected theme parks (ideally, you can fit in two of these in a day – three at a squeeze):

  • Legoland Dubai
  • Legoland Dubai Water Park
  • Motiongate
  • Bollywood Parks

And if it’s the peak of summer, the top pick goes to IMG Worlds of Adventure – think Marvel characters to Cartoon Network themed rides and activities. IMG is entirely indoors to beat the heat.

Getting there: The Theme Parks in Dubai are all quite spread out and really do take the best part of a day: Atlantis Aquaventure is on the outer crescent of Palm Jumeirah, and Wild Wadi is close to Souk Madinat Jumeirah. Dubai Parks & Resorts is in Jebel Ali, beyond the Metro and IMG Worlds of Adventure sits south of the city.

Souk Madinat Jumeirah

The perfect place for a little retail therapy to finish up your trip to Dubai is Souk Madinat Jumeirah. A modern souk (market) built in traditional style, with indoor and outdoor (seasonal) stalls and shops offering tourist tat to genuine souvenirs and a superb range of eateries to choose from.

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You can get some brilliant Burj Al Arab views here and even take an abra out on the waterways around the extravagant Jumeirah hotels (a bit more pricey than the 1 AED on Dubai Creek but what an amazing backdrop!). Plentiful bars and restaurants can also be found here catering to all tastes.

View the iconic Burj al Arab from Souk Mainat Jumeirah Dubai
From Souk Madinat Jumeirah you can pick up souvenirs, take an abra and catch views of the Burj Al Arab

Getting there: Souk Madinat Jumeirah is not on the Metro but you can get to Mall of the Emirates and a short taxi from there, or stop at Internet City then hop on Bus 88.

Only in Dubai experiences

If you’ve decided to skip the theme parks and shopping, then there’s still plenty of exhilarating experiences to try in their place, including these sensational “only in Dubai” experiences:

Day trips from Dubai

A 3-day itinerary leaves you very tight for taking a day trip but it can still be done! Here are some of our suggested favourites to try if extreme activities and theme parks aren’t your thing:

  • Take a coach tour to the UAE capital city Abu Dhabi to see the incredible Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the Louvre and Presidential Palace
  • Head over the mountains to the east coast and spend some time in Fujairah including snorkelling and scuba diving opportunities
  • Scale to the UAE’s tallest peak in Ras Al Khaimah and experience a modern pearl diving farm
  • Cross the border into the remote Omani enclave of Musandam for a day of sailing, dolphin spotting and snorkelling
  • Check out the amazing outdoor adventures, hikes and water sports on offer at Wadi Hub, Hatta

See our complete guide to Dubai day trips

Qasr Al Watan - the UAE Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi
Visiting Qasr Al Watan, the UAE Presidential Palace can be a spectacular add on to your Dubai itinerary

And finally, if you’ve not had the opportunity yet, find one of Dubai’s dramatic rooftop bars (seasonal) to finish off your incredible 3 days in Dubai with dramatic views over the city skyline or the Arabian Gulf.


Alternative activities for your Dubai itinerary

There was only so much we could fit in an initial 3-day itinerary! We’ve included some suggestions below, particularly if you’re not a theme park fan you may want to try one of these instead.

Additional family activities in Dubai

See our complete guide to Dubai activities for kids here

Additional cultural activities in Dubai

Additional adventure activities in Dubai


Frequently asked questions about Dubai itineraries

Is 3 days in Dubai enough?

It really depends if you’re coming to get a taster for future trips, a stopover on a long journey, or simply to relax in the sun. If you want to “see it all” and explore more of the UAE and the Arabain Peninsula, no, it’s not enough. We’d recommend two weeks to thoroughly cover the United Arab Emirates and at least one week to cover Dubai’s highlights.

In 3 days, you’d still have a lot of experiences to come back and enjoy on a subsequent trip but certainly don’t expect to ‘do it all’ or get a complete picture of what the UAE is about.

Can I see Abu Dhabi on a 3 day trip to Dubai?

Yes, in theory, you could squeeze in an exciting and action-packed trip to both cities in 3 days, but you will be exhausted and only scratch the surface. You can fit in just the Grand Mosque for half a day or a few of the top Abu Dhabi attractions on a full-day trip, but there will be things you need to miss in both cities to squeeze this in.

Ideally, if you’d like to get a good overview of both cities we’d suggest 2 to 3 days in Abu Dhabi and 7 or 8 in Dubai – 14 days if you really want to see the whole of the United Arab Emirates with a few break days built-in.

How much money do I need for 3 days in Dubai

It depends on what sort of budget you are operating at. We talk more about money matters here.

If you consider a cheapish hotel room for two, close to the Metro can be obtained for around 200 AED, a day pass on the Metro 20AED, meals, if you go cheap and cheerful, could boil down to 50-100AED a day.

So before your airfares and any fancy extras like waterpark days or desert tours, let’s say 300AED per day or c900 AED for 3 days in Dubai ($245USD). It’s not the cheapest city but there are ways you can save money and attractions you can enjoy for free as we discuss in our budget guide to Dubai.


Before you go… More important things you should know when planning a trip to Dubai

Take me back to the Dubai Travel Blog

Please note we are not a travel agency. This site is a travel blog to help newcomers to the UAE and transit passengers self plan their trip, we cannot book your flights, hotels, visas or connections for you. We may make a small commission if you click on any of our recommendation links.

Dubai Travel Planner

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2 comments

Maureen Ann Eschbacher May 31, 2021 - 7:48 pm

I have a small group coming to Dubai. Was hoping to bring them to Abu Dhabi in November. It seems like it is very difficult.
We will have completed a cruise, everyone will have been vaccinated in the USA, carrying documentation. But will need testing prior to entering Abu Dhabi. Question, where in Dubai will they be able to get testing? Price of testing? Thank you, Maureen Eschbacher

Reply
Dubai Travel Planner June 2, 2021 - 6:03 pm

Hi Maureen, the situation could well change still by November, but at present, the USA is on the Abu Dhabi green list which should mean you can cross the border on a day trip if you provide a valid negative covid test result. There are many hospitals and clinics across Dubai that offer this service for around 65-150 AED (try these, for example, https://www.mediclinic.ae/en/corporate/covid-19/covid-19-testing.html or https://www.medcare.ae/en/covid-19-test-at-medcare-clinics-and-hospitals.html), also the government-run SEHA clinics https://www.seha.ae/screening-locations/. Good luck, we hope the situation improves with more open borders by November, it’s the perfect time to be here.

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