Souk madinat in Dubai

A 4-day Dubai Itinerary to Capture All The Highlights

by Dubai Travel Planner

How do you make the most of Dubai in 4 days?

Dubai is certainly one of the world’s most fascinating and incredible modern cities. With a history dating back to the early 19th century, it’s only really since the discovery of oil in the 1960s that the city has flourished from a small trading port to a hub city of the Middle East for trade & tourism.

Dubai is equal parts welcoming and intriguing, full of incredible feats of architecture and bathed in year-round sunshine. What can visitors expect on a 4-day stopover in the largest city of the United Arab Emirates?

It would be impossible to see all Dubai has to offer in just 4 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 you can exchange from theme parks to day trips and further cultural experiences.

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


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 4 days

Over the course of using our 4-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 4 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 ride may very much be worth it (noting a minimum fare applies of 12 AED).

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 for your out-of-town trips during a short stay in Dubai.


What can I fit into 4 days in Dubai?

With only 4 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 your itinerary to book in advance the attractions and tours that you want to guarantee your spot as numbers can be limited (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 – 4 Day Dubai Itinerary: Old Meets New

Step 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.

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.

View through the Dubai Frame to modern Dubai
Views from the Dubai Frame to Downtown Dubai and the Burj Khalifa

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. This small and historic 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.

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}

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.

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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!

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 4 days, we suggest you decide whether to spend your evening in Old Dubai or skip to modern Dubai to finish your day 1 – in 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.

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.

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.

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.

Dubai mall and Burj Kahlifa lit up at night
The promenade outside Dubai Mall, looking up to the twoering heights of Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa

Finish your 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 (weekends) cost more and book up faster.

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

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, 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 – 4 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 – with the desert first 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.

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 safaris; 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.

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

Beaches in Dubai

It’s time to explore one of Dubai’s exciting modern beachfront districts and get out on the waters of the Persian Gulf.

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, 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.

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(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 in the JBR area between activities along the beach – think inflatable water parks, splash pads, jet ski and flyboarding, Flying Cup sky-high dining – read more on what to do around JBR here!

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 with 4 days in Dubai due to the high number of spacious hotel apartments, or by Metro take Red Line to DAMAC Properties or DMCC Metro Station.

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 district 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 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 – 4 Day Dubai Itinerary: Abu Dhabi Day Trip

No trip to the UAE is complete without seeing the Capital, Abu Dhabi.

IMPORTANT: At present Abu Dhabi has a 10-day self-quarantine requirement and a hard border crossing with Dubai. It would not be possible for a short-stay tourist at present to visit Abu Dhabi on a 4-day itinerary – see alternates we set out below for other Emirates.

Learn more here on border crossing requirements Dubai to Abu Dhabi

The most iconic of buildings to visit in Abu Dhabi is the simply stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi a good day trip from Dubai
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is simply unmissable

Whilst it is possible to squeeze in a trip to the Grand Mosque only on a half-day trip to Abu Dhabi – its less than 90 minutes on a tour coach Dubai to Abu Dhabi – you’d be doing yourself an injustice not to see more of the city once you’ve made an effort to get that far!

Getting there: If you want to move at your own pace then definitely hire a car or private group driver for your Abu Dhabi day trip, but catching a tour coach is the easiest & cheapest option

We have more details here on the spectacular places in Abu Dhabi you can squeeze in on a one-day trip from Dubai – including the Louvre Museum and Qasr al Watan, the Presidential Palace. A longer itinerary would see at least 2 to 3 days spent in Abu Dhabi to capture the capital’s highlights properly.

If you are a theme park junkie, you may want to stay overnight and enjoy Day 4 at the Yas Island theme parks (Yas Waterworld, Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi & Ferrari World) before finishing out your last night in Dubai. They’re just as good – if not better! – than their Dubai counterparts.

Abu Dhabi is but one of the other 7 Emirates of the United Arab Emirates (albeit by far the largest in size and the richest in oil!). Dubai is quite central in the country, so it is a great base for exploring the rest of the Emirates. With only 4 days to spend in total, you’ll likely only squeeze in time for one day trip from Dubai.

We have more ideas listed below for alternative or additional day trips from Dubai.

Those staying longer in Abu Dhabi, pop on over to our Abu Dhabi Travel Planner website.

Day 4 – 4 Day Dubai Itinerary: Theme Parks, Shopping & something special!

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

Now if you have littles travelling with you (or big kids at heart!) you may well need to move theme park day further up the itinerary or dedicate at least a day and a half. If theme parks aren’t your thing, read on below!

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!)

Wild Wadi Waterpark in Dubai
Wild Wadi is one of the best 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
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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.

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.

Abras in Souk Mainat Jumeirah Dubai
An abra in the waterways of 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 are still plenty of exhilarating experiences to try in their place, including these sensational “only in Dubai” experiences:

If you skipped Burj Khalifa and Downtown Dubai on Day 1, this is also an opportunity to catch up on some of these modern attractions.

And finally, if you’ve not had the opportunity yet, find one of Dubai’s dramatic rooftop bars (seasonal) to finish off your incredible 4 days in Dubai with dramatic views over the city skyline or the Arabian Gulf.

Enjoy sundowners at Beach by Five
Beach by Five, a popular sundowner venue on Palm Jumeirah overlooking JBR

Additional activities for your Dubai itinerary

There was only so much we could fit in an initial 4-day itinerary! If some of the above activities did not appeal or were out of your budget, here’s what you could look to add or substitute:

Additional family activities in Dubai

See our complete guide to Dubai activities for kids here

Additional cultural activities in Dubai

Additional Dubai itinerary day trips

  • 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

Additional adventure activities in Dubai

lake in hatta Dubai
Hatta in the Hajar Mountains is a great one day escape from Dubai

Frequently asked questions about Dubai itineraries

Is 4 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.

With 4 days, you’d still have a lot of experiences to come back and enjoy on a subsequent trip.

Can I properly see Dubai & Abu Dhabi in 4 days?

Yes, in theory, you could squeeze in an exciting and action-packed trip to both cities in 4 days, but you will be exhausted and only scratch the surface. You can fit the very biggest highlights of Abu Dhabi into one day but realistically, give yourself 2 to 3 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 4 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 c1200 AED for 4 days in Dubai ($330USD). It’s not the cheapest city but there are ways you can save money 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.

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