The first time I went to Dubai, two years ago, I wasn’t impressed. To the extent that when my parents and I booked our trip to Abu Dhabi last December, I wasn’t particularly excited to go back. Now, I’m glad I did go again to experience some sightseeing in Dubai.
Unlike the first time, when I saw all the city’s landmarks in one day barely getting off the car, last December I took my time. My last, yet vivid, impression of dawdling about an amorphic cluster of buildings that badly suited each other, now became an enjoyable walk along an elegant scenery where, I was to find out, there is the space for both old and new.
If not in the whole world, in the Middle East Dubai has been the fastest developing country. Few decades ago it was more of a sand city with typical Middle Eastern houses, mainly mud houses. Until 1966, when the oil was discovered. Oil wells changed the country beyond recognition and led the old sandy Dubai into the vibrant, modern, business center that we know now, determining an increase in the population of some 300 times.
As a see-what-we-can-do welcome, the first sight I had the pleasure to lay my eyes (and my camera) on while sightseeing in Dubai was the world’s tallest building, 830-ish-mt, awe-inspiring Burj Khalifa, introduced to first-time visitors by Colombian artist Botero, or better, one of his sculptures, a chubby horse, typical of his style.
Past Botero’s horse, visitors can approach the queen of the show, this steel tower that somehow seems aware of being at the center of everybody’s attention, certainly one of the main reasons why Dubai is a thriving tourist destination and constantly photographed.
Burj Khalifa commands the view to a series of shopping malls, restaurants of any nationality you might feel like eating, hotels and a huge pool with dancing fountains in the middle. When I went, however, the fountains where only hinting at the basic ballet steps as divers were fixing and testing them. Given this was happening in the very center of a super modern and busy city, the view was still able to lend a peaceful atmosphere and the water gave us a sense of space wider than it actually was.
Old Dubai developed into the city of skyscrapers with some of the world’s most advanced infrastructure and public services. The modern Dubai is not only attracting businessmen and companies but also millions of tourists all throughout the year. When people hear the word Dubai, usually they think of it as an expensive destination for holidays because it is one of the most lavish and upscale cities in the Middle East. Although, in my experience Dubai isn’t necessarily an expensive destination to visit. There are beautiful areas in the old Dubai where you can have access to everything and still find pretty affordable eateries and hotels.
After capturing the new and glitzy side of the city which, like it or not, is stunning, we moved onto more traditional shores, or at least more traditional-looking, to find out that also Dubai sightseeing can be inspiring and appealing.
Places to visit in Dubai
Dubai Desert Safari and Dune Bashing
Dubai Desert Safari is one of the things to do while you are sightseeing in Dubai. Off-road driving on 4×4 and watching sunset are most amazing part of Dubai Desert Safari. After the dune bashing, camel riding and sand boarding you will be taken to desert camps. Some offer huge buffet dinner, coffee, dates, a kebab, hookah, drinks and finally a belly dancing show. Although, they have both morning and evening desert safaris, I recommend the Dubai evening desert safari as temperatures are not as harsh.
Dubai Desert Safari packages: normally a desert safari includes dune bashing, camel riding (a few meters only), sand boarding, dinner and belly dancing. The prices vary based on the company you choose to go with but it can be anywhere between 200 to 300 AED per person.
Note: Pick up and drop off at the hotel is usually included but check with them first.
Dubai Museum, like Abu Dhabi Heritage Village, aims at reproducing the city’s former lifestyle, before the flashes of both skyscrapers and paparazzi.
Located in Al Fahid Fort, the main museum in Dubai was opened to the public in 1971. Al Fahid Fort is the oldest existing building in Dubai. Dubai Museum gives a picture of traditional way of locals’ lives.
Devotedly created for foreign visitors and over-pampered local posterity, Al Khaimah is the primitive residence of the Gulf’s population and definitely one of the places to visit in Dubai. Built with branches of palm trees, it usually consists of one room designed to face desert unfriendly temperatures by allowing coveted breaths to blow through. In summer, the favorite residence was Al Arish, equipped with wind towers able to channel down the air and make the inside cooler, a sort of forerunner of modern A/C. I hope Dubai Tourism Office will forgive my cynicism in feeling that although the museum admirably represents the tribe’s ancient way of living, the sensation of being catapulted back in time is not straightforward, and the past vibes of frugality are too hard to grasp as surrounded as we were by some of the most luxurious trademarks of our times.
Dubai Museum address: Al Fahid Street, Bur Dubai. Nearest metro station: Ghubaiba and Fahidi metro stations. Dubai Museum opening hours: Saturday to Thursday from 8:30 to 20:30. On Fridays from 14:30 to 20:30.
Ticket price: 3 AED for adults and 1 AED for under 6 years of age. Arabic and English spoken guide is provided for free
Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo
Also known as Dubai Mall aquarium, it’s one of the places to include in your days of sightseeing in Dubai. It’s a 10-million-liter tank and houses thousands of aquatic animals including hundreds of sharks. You can see the fish from the mall and you don’t have to buy the ticket unless you want to go to the Dubai Aquarium Tunnel and Underwater Zoo. I suggest you not to buy the ticket, go to the mall first and if you are not satisfied with what you can see from the mall, then you can decide to buy the Dubai Aquarium tickets. We didn’t buy ticket to visit the Underwater Zoo and Aquarium Tunnel because the free view from the mall was enough.
Dubai Aquarium tickets vary on which parts of the Aquarium you want to visit among Aquarium Tunnel, Underwater Zoo, Behind the Scenes tour and Underwater Observatory.
Adult and Children: 100 AED each
Children below 3 years of age are free of charge
The price for Dubai Aquarium tickets can go below and above 100 AED according to what you choose to do and where to visit.
Dubai Aquarium info
– Address: It is located on Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai Mall Ground floor.
– Opening hours: Sunday to Wednesday from 10:00 AM to 23:00 PM. Thursday to Saturday from 10:00 AM to 24:00 AM.
– Nearest metro station to Dubai Aquarium is Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall Station.
– For more information you can also check the Dubai Aquarium website.
It’s the largest mosque in Dubai and also one of the tourist attractions for both Muslims and non Muslims. Jumeirah mosque is located in Jumeirah area and should be part of your sightseeing in Dubai. It was built in the 1980s with white stones.
Women will be provided with abaya to wear in the mosque, free of charge. Tourists will be provided with guide inside the Jumeirah mosque. The tours provided inside the mosque are very informative for those who have questions about Islam or want to find out more about Muslim way of life.
Note: Jumeirah Mosque has Islamic dress code both for women AND men. Women with jeans and shirt will be given an Abaya and can get in but with shorts and skirts will not be allowed. Men with short and sleeveless shirts are not allowed either, T shirt and jeans are okay.
Admission fee: 30 AED.
Jumeirah Mosque visiting days and hours: Saturday to Thursday. Only between 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM tourists will be allowed to get in Jumeirah mosque. On Fridays it is closed for tourists.
Dubai Water Parks
Wild Wadi Water Park located on Jumeirah Road is one of the must-see places during your sightseeing in Dubai. It is equipped with aquatic roller coaster and surfing wave machine in outdoor water park and pools, slides and tunnels. There are restaurants inside although a bit pricey. I consider it as one of the things to do in Dubai for kids and adults, so if you have kids, they will really enjoy it.
Walid Wadi Water Park opening hours: daily from 10 am to 6 pm.
Aquaventure Waterpark is located in Atlantic, The Palm Jumeirah. It is a park with largest water slides in the world that goes through shark filled lagoons, Lazy River and has a splash area for kids. Great place to spend a day or so if you are looking for things to do in Dubai for kids. Since the water park is big there is zip lines to carry you from one water slide to another. It is a really good place to take the kids as they can do the rides, enjoy the Aquarium and play with dolphins. There are restaurants inside.
Aquaventure Waterpark opening hours: daily from 10 am to 6 pm.
Note: The weekend is Friday and the water parks can is pretty crowded, I recommend you visit the water parks during the week. Check their website to make sure it is not under renovation.
Burj Khalifa known as the Burj Dubai is a 830 meters tall skyscraper with 163 floors, located on Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Boulevard, it is a famous Sightseeing in Dubai. I don’t have to tell you to go see it as you will see it from pretty much everywhere in Dubai.
You have two admission options, immediate and general.
Burj Khalifa Immediate Entry Admission for adults is 300 AED, General Admission 125 AED from 8 am to 3.30 pm and 200 AED from 3.30 pm to 6 pm.
Burj Khalifa Immediate Entry Admission children 4-12 years of age is 300 AED, General Admission is 95 AED from 8 am to 3.30 pm and 160 AED from 3.30 pm to 6 pm.
Kids below 4 years enter free of charge.
The Dubai Fountain known as Dubai Water Show
It is considered one of Dubai’s most compelling tourist attractions.
Dubai Fountain shoots flames of fire and water reaching up to 150 meters high, accompanied by a range of classical lights, Arabic and world music which makes it even more exciting. Dubai Fountain is the largest choreographed fountain system of the world. Dubai water fountain is located on man-made Burj Khalifa Lake between the Dubai Mall, Souk Al Bahar, and Burj Khalifa, the Fountain attracts thousands of visitors everyday.
You can also have a ride with boat in the Dubai Fountain lake. The boats start operating from 5.45 pm until 11.30 pm everyday.
Dubai Fountain tickets: free to watch Dubai Water show, but if you take a lake ride it will cost you 65 AED.
Dubai Mall Fountain timings:
– Afternoon shows, daily (except Fridays)
1 pm and 1.30 pm
– Afternoon shows (Fridays only)
1.30 pm and 2 pm
– Evening shows, daily
6 pm – 11 pm, every 30 minutes
It is one of the things to do in Dubai for kids. The first sea and land bus in the Middle East, however I wouldn’t recommend if it wasn’t for the kids. Wonder bus ticket price: children 120 AED, adults 170 AED. They operate all year. Check their website for packages and prices.
Tips for a trip to Dubai
Best time to visit Dubai
In order to have a pleasant time sightseeing in Dubai, you need to check when is the best time to go.
Dubai is located on the edge of the desert and Persian Gulf and has a tropical desert climate which makes it very hot and humid and that is why the best time to visit Dubai is during its cooler months where you can engage in outdoor activities during the days. So, a perfect time to engage in Dubai activities is from mid-November to late March. Keep in mind during these months many people go to Dubai and if you are going too, it’s better to book your hotel in advance.
If you are going for the sun and sea, I recommend spring and fall. November to March the weather is warm with an average high of 30 degrees Celsius and overnight it goes down to 14 degree Celsius which is why many believe it is the best time to visit Dubai.
Dubai weather throughout the year
Dubai weather in January/February: Max 25/27 °C high day time, Lowest 10/15 °C during night time
Dubai weather in March: Max 35 °C high during daytime, lowest 22 °C during night time
Dubai weather in April: Max 40 °C high during daytime, lowest 30 °C during night time
Dubai weather in May-September: Max 45/50 °C high during daytime, lowest 35/40 °C during night time
Dubai weather in October/November: Max 38/40 °C high during daytime, lowest 25/30 °C during night time
Dubai weather in December: Max 30 °C high during daytime, lowest 15 °C during night time
This is just to give you a picture of how hot it gets daytime in Dubai. Keep in mind the weather is both hot AND humid, which is why it’s better to choose the cooler months if you want to enjoy days and nights of Dubai. The rain during winter is very pleasant as the weather is not cold. February is the wettest month of the year.
Where to stay in Dubai
There are many areas you can choose to stay in but if you are on shoestring budget, I recommend Baniyas Square. The hotel prices are good and the metro station is right on the Baniyas Square/Park.
I stayed at Tara Hotel, it is two minutes walk from Baniyas Metro station, offers breakfast buffet, rooms are modern and comfortable, cleaned every day, and prices were affordable.
Dress code, what to wear in Dubai?
It is part of a Muslim country (United Arab Emirates) however they don’t have a strict dress code for female or male tourists. Feel free to wear whatever pleases you, modesty is appreciated. There are places such as Jumeirah Mosque that you have to cover if you want to enter but other than that you are free to wear what you prefer.
Sightseeing in Dubai, public transport (metro, bus, tram and taxi)
Dubai Metro has mixed cabins, women and children cabins and Gold class cabins.
Dubai Bus use three different buses, Double Decker, Standard and Articulated.
For more information about Dubai public transport check out RTA website, you will also find the right Dubai transport app to download for your device.
Taxis charges 20 AED per kilometer, although it can vary based on the time of the day. I recommend you to use the public transport, especially metro because it is fast, cold and cheap. You will find Dubai taxi everywhere.
While sightseeing in Dubai, you cannot take picture of police stations, mosques, military building, ports and airports.