After living in the UAE for nearly a decade, we have discovered A LOT of things to do in Dubai. We’ve made countless road trips across the UAE, taken our visitors up and down towering skyscrapers, bumped across desert dunes, enjoyed delectable dining bites, thrilling theme park rides and been enthralled by traditional Emirati experiences – but how do you pick out a top 10 for Dubai?
Some of Dubai’s highlights are undeniably expensive but worth it. Others are cheesy but irresistible for the bragging rights tr the Insta moment. And many of Dubai’s most incredible attractions are completely free!
We have plenty of Dubai attraction ideas here – in fact over 150 ideas to keep you busy in Dubai!! But we know if you’re in a rush you need to narrow it down – so here are the top 10 experiences you must try in Dubai.
How long will I need in Dubai?
If you really want to “see the city” and experience the many different sides to Dubai, we think you need at least three days. However, if you only have a day or two on a stopover that’s OK too, there’s plenty you can squeeze in – we show you exactly how to fit in all of Dubai’s attractions to suit your interests and available time over on our itineraries page.
You may also want to check in on our best time to visit Dubai guide where we include month by month guides to help you narrow down your ‘must-see’ list for Dubai, or these specialised guides
- 80+ Fabulous things to do with kids in Dubai
- 50+ coolest indoor things to see and do in Dubai
- Best things to do in Dubai at night
Top 10 recommended experiences in Dubai
1. The Dubai Fountains & Dubai Mall
Let’s start with something free and easy. The Dubai Fountains are an evening choreographed show at the foot of the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall. Each fountain show only lasts for around 5 minutes, but there’s plenty to see and do in the immediate vicinity – not least of which is take a browse through the world’s largest shopping mall or dine at one of the dozens of restaurants overlooking the fountains.
Not just retail theory, you will find many spectacular sites inside Dubai Mall from the world’s largest suspended aquarium tank (which is free to view) at the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo to the waterfall wall, giant ice skating rink, Kidzania for the kiddos and VR Park (Virtual Reality Theme Park) for your tweens+.
Especially in the summer peak, you can easily spend a day or two stopover in Dubai just around Dubai Mall and Downtown Dubai.
2. A day at Atlantis the Palm
If you are looking for an all-in-one package that accentuates Dubai’s luxurious and extravagant side, then Atlantis the Palm pretty much sums it up. Sitting in prime position at the peak of Palm Jumeirah, Atlantis is a luxury 5-star hotel, attached to Aquaventure, one of the largest water parks in the world.
If a trip to the waterpark is not within budget, you can always enjoy a walk along the Palm Jumeirah Boardwalk, or take in the views from The Pointe, opposite Atlantis.
3. A trip up the world’s tallest tower
We honestly cringed a little at adding this one. Should we or shouldn’t we recommend this experience?
Even at its cheapest you’re looking at around $30USD to just make it to the lower observation deck levels (still at an awe-inspiring 456 meters above the ground mind you!). In an honest review – the queues can be long, the observation deck can be crowded and the Dubai haze and fog can wreak havoc with the views (or make them spectacular, depending on what you’ve come for!)
But there really is only one record-breaking tallest tower in the world. And on a good day, those views really are spectacular. Our top tip would be if you only have a day in Dubai, don’t spend it queuing up to get to At The Top. However, if time and budget permit – go for it!
This is one part of your Dubai trip you will really want to have planned out in advance as pre-booked tickets are much cheaper and guarantee your spot rather than trying your luck on the day. We have a detailed guide here on all your options for visiting the Burj Khalifa.
If you don’t fancy the price tag or the queues, here are our top alternative suggestions on how to take in spectacular views of Dubai.
4. A day trip to Abu Dhabi and the Grand Mosque
Undeniably one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, and symbolic of modern Islamic UAE. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque can be found in neighbouring capital city Abu Dhabi, about 150kms west of Dubai.
Don’t limit your Abu Dhabi trip to just the Grand Mosque, however. There really is a different vibe to Abu Dhabi and we’d strongly encourage that an overnight trip is needed in Abu Dhabi to fit it all in, including the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Qasr al Watan, the UAE’s presidential palace.
If you are on a tight timetable, it is possible to spend a half-day checking out just the Grand Mosque. The mosque itself is free to enter, you would only need to pay for transport from Dubai. You can learn more about how to day trip to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque here.
If time does not permit a visit to Abu Dhabi but you are still interested in experiencing a mosque and learning more about Islamic culture, then pop over to this guide to Dubai’s Mosques open to the public.
5. Explore Dubai Museum and the Al Faihidi Neighbourhood
You mustn’t leave Dubai complaining that it’s all shopping malls and concrete if you haven’t at least tried to dig beneath the surface. The Dubai Museum and Fahidi Fort are great places to start but do continue to explore the surrounding area further on foot.
The past decade has seen a huge transformation of this small area of the city (formerly known as Bastakiya). Recognising that the city’s historical roots mustn’t get lost beneath the skyscrapers this is a truly different side to Dubai. It is filled with museums, cafes and galleries in the small winding alleyways.
We have a complete guide to Dubai’s many museums and historic sites of interest here if you would like to expand your search of the cultural side to Dubai. We also strongly recommend visiting the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU). They can help you with cultural tours, mosque visits, traditional meal experiences and much more – found at House 26 Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, Al Musallah Street.
6. Wander the old souks
In complete contrast to modern Dubai and the shopping malls and skyscrapers of Downtown Dubai, you will find the Old Souks on the Deira side of Dubai.
For a true taste of Dubai, jump on a boat from Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood or connecting precinct Al Seef over the Dubai Creek to Deira. There are many different transport options, including cruises if you’d like to see more of the hustle and bustle along the creek banks, or take a traditional abra for just 1 AED.
On the Deira side of Dubai, you will find the traditional Gold and Spice Souks, as well as the Perfume Souk. Crossing back to Bur Dubai you can explore the Textile Souk. All are still authentic trading markets.
Those wanting a more modern Arabian souk experience, head to Souk Madinat, further west in the Jumeirah area of the city. Not quite the same bargain hunting but nonetheless spectacular views and a wonderful shopping vibe, quite different to the malls.
7. Enjoy the Beach
A large reason many tourists come to Dubai is to enjoy the year-round warm weather and sunshine. There are plenty of beachfront areas to explore around Dubai, but if you’re on a tight schedule you may want to start with JBR – the Beach. The area has been designed with the tourist in mind, perfectly manicured beach frontage offering water sports to camel rides and everything in between.
Other beaches you may want to try are Jumeirah Beach for ‘that’ iconic photo of the Burj Al Arab, or try the much newer La Mer beachfront area if you enjoy fun and funky vibes and instagrammable beach huts along with plentiful dining options by the water.
You can see our complete guide to Dubai’s best beaches here or if you are looking for a fun addition to your Dubai holiday, check out these top private beach clubs for partying & relaxation.
8. Hit the desert dunes
A fabulous reminder of where you actually are, it doesn’t take long to head beyond the immediate vicinity of the city to one of the many Dubai desert safari camps.
There are many variations on the desert safari available these days which include morning camel treks to falconry displays, along with traditional desert camps if you want a full overnight experience.
Most desert safaris typically offer a hotel pick up service mid-afternoon, followed by spectacular dune bashing into a camp where a traditional Bedouin dinner is served. Expect your experience to be accompanied by desert sports such as quad bikes, sandboarding and dune buggy rides.
You’ll no doubt come away with henna hand painting and some incredible desert memories from shisha smoking to traditional Emirati dance “Al Ayala”, even belly dancing shows!
A morning desert safari is a great idea when the days are heating up or if you’re on a tight schedule.
If you’re looking for some camel experiences closer to the city, you don’t necessarily need to go on a full desert trek. We explain your camel riding (even camel cuddling!) options here.
9. Enjoy traditional Emirati Cuisine
Dubai is renowned for having a huge variety of international cuisine, but don’t leave without trying a traditional Emirati meal. Be it through the SMCCU cultural program, or seeking out hidden gems across the city that offer Middle Eastern specialities through to those offering more traditional Bedouin-style dishes.
10. A day trip to the Musandam Peninsula
If time in your Dubai itinerary will permit for an extra day trip this is a MUST!
You would be doing yourself an injustice to get as far as Dubai and not visit the most tranquil and beautiful corner of the Arabian Peninsular. And it’s literally a corner! Jutting into the Strait of Hormuz, it’s actually an Omani enclave.
We could also compromise and say a visit to Hajar Mountains in Ras Al Khaimah, or Hatta will also give you a great taster for the country’s rugged beauty. But honestly, Musandam is in a league of its own when it comes to peaceful, raw beauty.
You will need a full extra day on your Dubai itinerary as there is a border crossing involved and plenty of winding roads, but the reward as you float on a traditional dhow boat, watching dolphins play amongst the dramatic khors, is simply unmissable.
Remember, this is only an introduction to what there is to see and do in Dubai. Your full itinerary will depend on whether you are a first time or repeat visitor along with your tastes and interests.
What more is there to do in Dubai?
There is plenty more to explore in Dubai whether you are family travellers, culturally curious or simply want to enjoy some time in the sun (I know we are all of these!). Make sure you check out our guide to the best time to visit so there are no surprises with the heat and religious events and pop over to check out these individual attraction reviews.
Before you go… More important things you should know when planning a trip to Dubai
- Pop into our essential planning information page, it includes everything you need to know about getting around Dubai, a handy guide on what to pack and top tips for first-timers on the do’s and don’ts, laws and customs to be aware of.
- Check out this incredible list of 150+ places you should visit when you’re in Dubai.
- Pick up a Dubai Pass to save up to 50% on top Dubai attractions
- Don’t forget to pack your travel insurance!!!
- Discover the best areas to stay in Dubai, or bag a bargain on your accommodation here:
Please note we are not a travel agency. This site is a travel blog to help newcomers to the UAE 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 hotel or tour recommendation links.Dubai Travel Planner