Dubai is an opulent place that sometimes makes no sense at all. A giant fountain in the desert? Buildings that stretch taller than most mountains? Air conditioning on the beach?? It’s absolutely mind-boggling what can be done if you have the will, technology, engineering, and A LOT of money. As a tourist visiting Dubai, you may find yourself searching for cheap things to do, and coming up short. That’s not to say that there aren’t options for budget travelers, but this city runs on money. Using this travel guide for the best Dubai attractions, where you’ll find a wide range of experiences. Some are super expensive, most are what I would consider being “affordable,” and some are free!
My suggestion would be to splurge on at least one top experience while visiting Dubai – such as visiting the top of Burj Khalifa – so that you can better understand what this crazy city is all about.
Top Dubai Attractions
These Dubai attractions are listed in no particular order. Be sure to book ahead for ticketed attractions, as they might sell out. I was able to do ALL of these attractions and more in just four days. If you have less time, make sure to pick and choose your favorites.
Dubai Miracle Garden
Possibly my favorite of these top Dubai attractions is a lush, elaborately manicured botanical garden aptly named the Dubai Miracle Garden. But the craziest thing about this place is that it’s located in such a harsh environment – the desert! It doesn’t seem possible, but it is – with a lot of work, water, and funding.
Take a Boat Ride Across Dubai Creek
Dubai Creek was once the central area for trade in the city, and you can still see ships bringing in and shipping out loads of products. Today it’s air conditioning units and washing machines, but I can only imagine that not long ago it was mostly spices and textiles. The creek itself is more like a raging river. It only takes a few minutes to cross, but the authentic open-air boat ride is exhilarating and super cheap (50 cents per way at the time of this article).
Walk Through Old Dubai
Travel back in time and visit the old preserved neighborhood of Al Fahidi. Drift in and out of artsy shops, navigate narrow stone alleyways with the occasional historical display and be sure to stop for a wonderful brunch at the Arabian Tea House.
Check out the Palm Islands
Take a can over to the famous manmade islands, where you can stroll around the hotels, enjoy a cocktail, or splurge for a day pass to the Atlantis water park.
Shop the Souks
If you don’t mind bargaining, visit Dubai’s souk shopping for a boisterous, in-your-face experience that would make even the most outgoing individual feeling a little on edge. The souks are divided by type – gold, spice, textiles, kitchenware, etc. The shop owners are VERY intense. Expect them to call to you, follow you for several minutes, and finally demand that you come to their shop. One shop owner offered to shake my hand, which I mistakenly thought was just a polite greeting as I entered the markets, and then he wouldn’t let go until I forcefully pried my hand free. If you know what you’re getting yourself in to, this place is top-notch people watching, but you need to be direct, guarded, and unwilling to compromise on your final price. Be aware of pick-pockets here as well.
Dubai Attractions: Stroll a Giant Mall
Mall culture is alive and well in the city, which is why this is one of my favorite Dubai attractions. Dubai Mall and the Mall of the Emirates are two of the largest. These malls seem endless, with high-end stores, restaurants, teas shops, and experiences galore. Locals millionaires love to valet their expensive cars right outside of Dubai mall, so if you’re an automotive fan, you can park yourself on a bench and watch in awe. Otherwise, you can spend hours wandering the air-conditioned halls, window shopping or spending all your money (completely up to you).
Visit Dubai’s City Walk
Enjoy dinner at one of City Walk’s many restaurants, and then browse the shops for perfume or high-end clothing. Light shows are frequent in the open-air sidewalk areas. Locals stroll the strip at night, and it’s especially good people watching. Be sure to stop at the Secret Garden by L’ETO for wonderful dessert and tea options surrounded by their gorgeous floral decor.
Ski at the World’s Largest Indoor Ski Resort
That’s right… Dubai has an indoor ski resort inside of the Mall of the Emirates, complete with ski lift, tubing, and other fun winter sports activities. All ski rentals are included in your lift ticket, so don’t worry about packing your gear. If you don’t feel like splurging for the ticket, you can also watch the activities behind a floor-to-ceiling glass wall for free!
Another great free activity. The Dubai Fountain is located by the Dubai Mall and is shadowed by the giant Burj Khalifa. A choreographed water show (that rivals the Las Vegas Bellagio fountain show) starts at 6 pm and continues every 30 minutes until 11 pm.
The Dubai Aquarium
Located in the Dubai Mall, the Dubai Aquarium features an underwater tunnel where you can watch stingrays, sharks, and all sort of fish swim around you. After leaving the tunnel, the aquarium continues upstairs with dozens of impressive exhibits that are far less crowded and worth a look.
Dubai Garden Glow
Like every other experience in Dubai, the Garden Glow was downright over-the-top. The light displays were elaborate and creative. Our ticket also offered access to the adjacent Dinosaur Park (mostly meant for children, but still impressive), and for an extra cost, we could have also seen the Ice Cave, which I was told featured giant ice sculptures. We opted not to spend the extra money on this exhibit because we had already done so much, but I have no doubt it would have been worth the price.
Spend the Day at La Mar Beach
La Mar is perhaps the swankiest beach town ever created – and it was definitely created. The beach is a manicured and lined with umbrellas and chairs (for rent). There is a short boardwalk area featuring ice cream shops, boutique clothing, restaurants, and a huge bouncy park for kids. We stopped at a shisha cafe right on the beach, and they rolled up our own personal air conditioning unit to keep us cool. Like everything else, it was ridiculously luxurious, but that’s what you come here for… so I say – let it happen!
If you’re looking for some history of Dubai with a sweeping view of the city itself, make sure to visit Dubai Frame for an interactive representation of what Dubai used to be, as well as what it hopes to become in the future. I was VERY impressed with the exhibits, but I also didn’t have any expectations going in.
Last but certainly not least, a visit to the tallest building in the world is absolutely one of the top Dubai attractions. There are several options for your visit, with vastly differing prices. I wrote a detailed article on this experience, which you can read here.
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