Dubai is an insane city. Honestly there’s really nothing like it. It’s a city of superlatives – biggest mall, tallest building, largest water show, biggest floral structure, you name it and Dubai probably holds the record for it.
Up until this trip, we had only thought of Dubai as a layover stop, and didn’t really have it on our radar or bucket list. However, we ended up really enjoying our time there and think you will too!
Here’s what you’re gonna get with this blog:
- Top things to DO in Dubai and Abu Dhabi
- Where to EAT in Dubai
- How long to stay in Dubai
- Transportation in Dubai
- What to wear in Dubai
- Best time to visit Dubai
- & Travel Tips for your trip to Dubai!
Top things to do in Dubai
Burj Khalifa is the tallest structure & building in the world, standing at a massive 160 stories tall! You can’t miss this crazy futuristic (gigantic!) building in Dubai’s skyline and when you’re at the observation deck the other skyscrapers look like ants. The elevator goes a crazy 2 floors per second and going up is definitely a must do in Dubai.
Tips for visiting Burj Khalifa:
- Buy tickets online a day or two in advance to make sure you can get a ticket
- Expect lines & make sure you bring your patience with you. Even with buying tickets in advance you should expect to spend 3 hours here, accounting for almost 2 of those to be waiting in line to go up/down the elevator.
- You enter to go up on the LG floor of the Dubai Mall
- We went to the 124th/125th floor and don’t think it’d be worth the extra money to go any higher
- There are prime and non-prime hours. It cost us $40 USD per person during non-prime hours (8:30 am – 2:30 pm, 7pm to close). It costs almost double to go during prime hours (3 – 6:30 pm).
We never thought we’d put a mall on one of our “Top Things To Do” lists, but here we are! Dubai Mall is world’s largest mall and it’s truly a site to see.
Pretty much any brand you can think of is represented, and inside they have crazy attractions like a full aquarium and huge ice rink! There’s even a full grocery store inside it. You could get lost in this mall for hours, so it’s a great option for some of those super hot days in Dubai!
The Dubai Fountains are the world’s largest choreographed fountains and they even put the Bellagio ones in Vegas to shame. Seriously we had no idea a short water show could blow us away.
The fountains are located right outside the Dubai Mall next to Burj Khalifa. The shows are every half hour from 6 pm – 11 pm, as well as Saturday – Thursday 1 pm & 1:30, Fridays at 1:30 & 2.
Tip: They are extremely timely and you definitely want a front row seat, so try to get there at least 10 – 15 minutes before a showtime to secure your viewing spot. We’d recommend one shortly after sunset because with the city lights and Burj Khalifa lit up, it’s truly magical.
Dubai Miracle Garden
This whimsical garden is like nothing we’d ever seen before. It’s an explosion of color with over 150 MILLION flowers arranged in a myriad of arches & shapes, our favorites being the giant Disney characters and the heart shaped arches.
Dubai Miracle Garden is also home to World’s Largest Floral Structure, which is an entire Emirates Airbus A380 plane made out of flowers.
You can visit this gorgeous wonderland from mid-November to mid-May each year, and it costs about $14 USD for admission #worthit.
Jumeirah Mosque was probably our favorite experience in Dubai. It is one out of only 2 mosques in Dubai (that is home to 1500+) that allow non-Muslims to visit, and we were so grateful for the experience!
Every day (except Friday) you can take a 75 min tour of the Mosque at 10 am or 2 pm. The guide shows you around the mosque and then gives you a very nice overview of the Islam religion. There is even a part where they teach you exactly what they’re doing when they pray, and what all the movements mean. They also include local sweets and tea for refreshments.
After the presentation ends they hold a completely open Q&A where you are free and empowered to ask any question you have about the Islam religion. It sparked such a healthy curiosity and dialogue, and was such a mind-opening experience!
This whole experience cost less than $7 USD per person, and was absolutely worth it! It’s one that will stick with us for a long time.
Note: you should dress modestly (covering knees and shoulders), but they will provide both men & women official attire before entering the mosque. Men get the long white dress and women get an abaya gown and headscarf.
The grand nature and opulence of everything in Downtown Dubai in contrast to the souks of Old Dubai is really something else. It’s definitely something you need to see to understand the evolution of Dubai over recent years.
When you’re in Old Dubai make sure you walk through the Spice Souq & the Gold Souq. Don’t be surprised if the vendors have funny names for you – they called us “Shakira” and “Body Builder.”
After seeing the souqs, take an Abra (wodden boat) across Dubai creek. It costs about a quarter in USD and is really fun! It is also the best way to get between the 2 sides of Old Dubai. On the other side you’ll find the Dubai Musuem & Al Fahidi Fort, too.
Walk around Marina Beach, Jumeirah Beach Residences & Dubai Marina
Walking along the boardwalk of Marina Beach is a really nice way to spend the morning. This beach is home to many of the major hotel chains, and has so many activities – outdoor fitness clubs, huge playgrounds, food and coffee vendors, and more! We got dropped off at the Sheraton and started our walk from there.
Once the beach cuts off, you can stroll one street up by the Jumeirah Beach Residences. These are some of the most expensive apartments in Dubai which is really saying something! On this street you’ll find restaurants, cafes and cute shops.
If you’re up to it, from there you can walk to the Dubai Marina. It’s not necessarily a scenic walk (it’s along a highway amidst a bunch of construction) but it’s flat and seemed easier than catching a cab or bus.
In Dubai Marina you can find tons of impressive yachts to fawn over, and insane waterfront skyscrapers. If you were in any other city, the Dubai Marina skyline would be considered the downtown! It’s a nice area to walk around, and is also right by a tram station.
Take the Monorail to see Atlantis & the Palm Islands
There is a nice monorail that goes straight through the “stem” of the Palm Islands, a series of manmade islands shaped like a Palm Tree. The monorail is a fun way to see the islands because you get a good vantage to see the leaf cut outs! It costs $8 USD for a round trip ticket on the monorail.
The last stop on the monorail is the “Atlantis, The Palm” resort which is home to Aquaventure waterpark & The Lost Chambers aquarium, both very popular attractions.
Note: don’t go here when you’re hungry unless you’re ready to fork over some major cash! We’d heard there were food trucks on the boardwalk outside the Atlantis but those have since been shut down.
Watch a sunset from Jumeirah Beach (Sunset Beach)
This was one of our favorite spots in Dubai. It’s also a killer photo spot since the beach overlooks the Burj Al Arab, the sailboat hotel, which is the world’s only (self proclaimed) 7 star hotel.
For having such great views it really didn’t feel tourist-ridden, and was a very peaceful way to enjoy a great sunset!
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Abu Dhabi is home to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is the largest mosque in the country and a definite must see! This stunning white marble mosque has so much attention to detail and is even home to the largest rug in the world AND largest chandelier in the world!
This beautiful place of worship took 11 years to build, cost a hefty $550M USD and has the capacity to fit 40,000 worshippers at a time.
Tips for visiting Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque:
- The mosque opens at 9 am and fills up super quickly. We had no lines at 9 am but by 10 the lines were nuts!
- The mosque is completely FREE!
- You can see everything in about 45 minutes + picture time & however long your time in line is
- The entrance looks like a dome across the parking lot from the mosque, and you walk underground to the mosque after security
- There is a strict dress code for both men & women. Men must wear covered shoulders and pants to the ankle. Women must wear loose fitting clothing that is long sleeves and long pants, with hair covered. Note: they provide abayas (the full coverage dresses) for women at the entrance free of charge & they come in 3 colors. You can wear open toed or closed toed shoes.
- Men & women are not permitted to take pictures together
- They don’t let visitors walk around the center of the mosque, so for you fellow #doitforthegram folks, it’s actually possible to get good shots even when it’s crowded. Note: you can’t back-track, so make sure you take photos as you go!
Take a day trip to Abu Dhabi
Overall, visiting Abu Dhabi is an absolute must! This capital city definitely feels different from Dubai and it’s definitely more calm and traditional. We actually spent a night in Abu Dhabi, but we could’ve easily done everything in a day trip.
Cornish Beach is definitely a must see in Abu Dhabi. It’s a beautiful beach with a fun boardwalk that offers food trucks, parks and beachside skyline views.
Emirates Palace is an opulent hotel in Abu Dhabi and definitely worth checking out. Personally we found the outside to be more impressive than the inside, but that’s just our opinion.
Do note, there is a strict dress code at Emirates Palace! They will not allow you in if you’re wearing shorts, tanks or flip flops.
Our ideal Abu Dhabi day trip itinerary would look like:
- Take an early bus from Dubai (details below)
- 9 am: arrive at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
- Lunch: head to Cornish Beach and enjoy the beach, boardwalk & food trucks
- Afternoon/evening: take a nice walk from Cornish Beach to Emirates Palace – try to catch this place around sunset as it is super magical watching it light up!
- Later evening: after grabbing a quick bite, head back to the bus station and take the bus back to Dubai!
Best Restaurants in Dubai
Arabian Tea House
This place is in Old Dubai in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood, which is on the side opposite the Spice Souq. It’s super cute with lace curtains, colorful benches and wicker chairs. It’s charm really takes you back to what Dubai was before the skyscrapers.
And the food here is even more incredible than the atmosphere! This tea house was definitely our favorite restaurant during our time there.
Circle Cafe UAE
Circle Cafe is located in the medical center district of Dubai. This cute cafe has a menu full of vegetarian-friendly healthy options, but also serves meat. And on Fridays & Saturdays they have all-you-can-eat brunch for $15 USD – definitely a steal in this city!
Dubai Mall Food Court
You think we’re joking recommending a food court, but as we said – this mall will surprise you! There are dozens, if not hundreds, of food options to choose from at the food courts in Dubai Mall. They’re all decently affordable and everything we tried was very tasty!
Yep, THE Magnolia Bakery from New York City is also in the Dubai Mall. It’s on the LG level inside Bloomingdales Home Store and serves the famous banana pudding we know and love!
Careem Now/ Uber Eats/ Deliveroo
Honestly, after a long day of adventures we always want to try local foods but are sometimes too exhausted to go find a restaurant (especially if there’s not a lot in walking distance).
Luckily in Dubai they have tons of the delivery services we all know and love (Uber Eats/Deliveroo/Zomato/Careem Now/etc.), so this allowed us to have amazing local restaurants in the comfort of our hotel room.
Pro tip: Careem Now gives you 50% off your first order which makes this pretty dirt cheap. If you’re traveling with a partner or group, take turns downloading the app and ordering and you’ll have 50% off the whole time!
How many days in Dubai?
4 days is plenty to see both Dubai & Abu Dhabi. We were originally supposed to have only 2 days in Dubai and 2 days in Abu Dhabi, but ended up with 6 total days. There was ample to do to fill our time but we think 4 days would be the perfect amount of time to adequately see both of these cities.
Transportation in Dubai
Uber and Careem (another app similar to Uber but a bit cheaper) were the best options for transportation in Dubai.
Honestly, transportation is Dubai is a little tough, especially on a budget, since everything is so spread out. It isn’t a very walking-friendly, either, which is usually our go-to method of transport.
There is a bus system and a metro, though the metro only has 2 lines. Since it’s so spread out, if your hotel or destination is not on the metro line directions for public transit will often be 5x as long as driving and say “bus to metro to other metro to bus,” which isn’t really something we’re up for.
The best budget option (without going stir-crazy) would probably be to Uber or Careem to the metro line and then take the metro if your destination is close to a stop!
Over by Dubai Marina and Marina Beach there is a tram you can take that was pretty simple and to get to the Palm Islands there is a nice Monorail!
Dubai to Abu Dhabi
The public bus from Dubai is the best way to get to Abu Dhabi. It takes 2 hours, runs every 20 minutes and costs $7 – $8 USD per person. You can buy tickets at the ticket counter at the bus stop.
The busses run from 4:30 AM to 12:05 AM, so you can definitely use the bus for a day trip to Abu Dhabi.
We just took a Careem to the bus stop and the whole thing was super seamless! Also, they’re coach buses so they have a place for your luggage underneath, very comfortable seats & A/C.
Note: the busses don’t have bathrooms – so use the one at the station before you get on!
Best time to visit Dubai
November to April is the best time to visit Dubai. It is super hot there – even in February, the dead of their winter – so we can’t even imagine what it would be like in the Summer!
What to wear in Dubai
Dress conservatively. Generally women should wear shirts that cover your shoulders and skirts/pants that cover your knees. If you plan to visit a mosque, women must wear loose fitting clothing and cover their legs, arms & head, so be sure to plan ahead. Men must cover their knees and shoulders at the mosques.
UAE is an Islamic country, and though Dubai is very modern and is sometimes compared to Vegas, it’s important to be respectful in the way you dress.
Tips for Dubai & Abu Dhabi
- The currency is dirhams (AED)
- Dubai is not a very budget-friendly place, though you can definitely make it work!
- Men and women are not supposed to show affection in public towards one another. No hugging or kissing, and even holding hands is only permitted for married couples. Make sure to be respectful when you’re trying to take couple’s pics or even just walking around town. Even if you see other’s doing it, it doesn’t mean it’s not culturally insensitive.
- UAE is an Islamic country, so you’ll here the call to prayer everywhere 5x a day. There are also interesting cultural things to note like having separate mens and women’s ticket lines at the bus station & if a grocer sells pork it’s in its own section since it is forbidden for Muslims.
- Friday is their holy day, so many things are closed or have different hours. Friday and Saturday are their weekends, and Sun – Thurs is the work week.
- You don’t need a tourist visa
- UAE doesn’t require any special pills or vaccinations to visit
- For pictures, most of our shots we didn’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn to get a good one at sunrise like we often do in tourist-ridden places. (Hallelujah!)
- Know what terminal your flight is leaving out of! Dubai airport is unlike an other airport and if you go to the wrong terminal, the only way to get to the other terminal is a 20 minute, $22 Taxi!
Kylie & Scott
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