I have gathered for you all the best activities to do in Dubai and the must-see to ensure a fabulous trip!
Visit Dubai with Orient Tours agency
To begin, I would like to introduce you to the Orient Tours agency, recommended by Visit Dubai, which helped me get to know Dubai better. It’s a renowned agency founded in 1982, pioneering tourism in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman. It is one of the largest tourism agencies today, specializing in all kinds of tailor-made experiences. Through this agency, you can book:
- city tours
- desert and mountain safaris
- hot-air balloon rides, seaplane rides and cruises
Orient Tours works with companies and many travel agencies worldwide to book hotels, restaurants, car rentals, group tours, multi-lingual tour guides, etc.
Their main aim is to provide you with tailor-made experiences to discover the country’s traditional culture, religion and gastronomy with its various tours.
The advantage of this agency is that it creates and operates its own activities. The prices are attractive and competitive, and the team is reliable and professional. Just tell them what you love and let them lead the way!
Thanks to Orient Tours, I spent a full day visiting the most famous sites, as well as go off the beaten track with my French-speaking guide.
Then a second day was organized around Hatta National Park, including an excursion into the desert to do dune bashing and a pay visit to a beekeeping farm.
Just a note: I paid for my activies with Orient Tours with my HSBC World Elite Mastercard, and that was considered travel expenses: 6 points per dollar and no foreign currency conversion fees!
The birth of Dubai and its expansion
The first to set foot on the lands of Dubai and to settle there were nomadic shepherds in 2500 BC.
They began to live off the production of agriculture and camel breeding.
From the 12th century onwards, the pearl trade began as well as fishing, followed by gold mining, and spices and textiles trade.
That’s how the souks that you can visit in Dubai originated.
To learn more about Dubai’s heritage, nothing better than visiting the Dubai Museum located at Al Fahidi fort in the old historical district of Dubai.
The city now has a population of over 3 million and has gradually expanded to create multiple distinct neighbourhoods, consisting of skyscrapers, residences and single-family homes.
In this article, I won’t talk about restaurants, cafes, clubs or hotels in particular: the offer is really vast, there is something for all tastes and budgets! I assure you.
Here is a tour of the city’s main areas and their attractions, as well as activities categorized by profile that I suggest for an unforgettable experience.
The historic Al Fahidi district
A first visit should start in this district located along the Dubai Cove in order to understand the history of the city, discover its heritage, its traditions and the culture of its people. Stroll through the narrow streets of the traditional old town of Al Bastakiya and then cross the Creek on board an abra, a traditional Arab boat to reach the northern part of Dubai, Deira.
Discover the souk that trade spices and gold. Note the signs that indicate the price of gold. If you wish to buy jewellery, you will have to negotiate. Ignore the touts who sell fakes. For complete immersion, visit the Heritage House (free) to see how a yesteryear house was organized.
Al Seef is a traditional representation of the old city in a more modern way. The walk is well laid out and pleasant under the canvases stretched in places, sheltering people from the heat. Boats are waiting for you to cross or cruise the Dubai Creek.
There are beautiful shops and nice views!
Dubai Zabeel Area
The Dubai Frame was designed by architect Fernando Donis to link the old and new Dubai. Thus, when you look at one side of the frame, you can see the more historic area of Dubai while on the other side you can see impressive modern skyscrapers.
The visit is quick (30-45 minutes) but it’s an attraction that I really enjoyed, especially the movie presented at the end of the visit. It’s a litle over 4 minutes and explains the future of the city. Beautiful and impressive!
At night, I suggest you go with your family to the Dubai Garden Glow which includes the Dinosaur Park as well as the Ice Park and the Art Park. Everything is illuminated; an enchanting world for young and old. Finally, for a touch of illusion, there is Magic Park.
Let’s continue to the most famous district, where the famous Burj Khalifa is located. When you come from far away, you try to admire it from everywhere, so impressive is this skyscraper!
For a first experience, a visit At The Top is almost mandatory in order to have a panoramic view of the city from the 125th floor of the Burj Khalifa, or from the 148th floor. For a different experience, a lounge at levels 152,153 and 154 allows you to have brunch or tea in the clouds or an evening drink under the stars.
In the Dubai Mall, there are various activities such as a haunted house, an aquarium and an underwater zoo, virtual reality activities, go-karting, skating, or flight simulation on board an Emirates A380.
Finally, find an terrace overlooking the man-made lake in the evening to watch one of the 24 free Dubai Fountain Shows that take place every 30 minutes between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.
Its construction has been completed since October and it should open soon in 2021. The structure is a masterpiece of ingenuity and deserves a look. You won’t be able to miss it anyway. Once open, this museum will offer exhibitions, theatre and attractions to keep an eye on the future and human openness. A place of learning, experiences and challenges for adults and children alike.
Umm Suqueim and Madinah Jumeirah
I like this area because it offers beautiful views of the Burj Al Arab. It is close to the shops, the Marina and the Jumeirah Palm. And the beach is big and public. Cafés and restaurants also offer a simple, summery and relaxing atmosphere for the whole family.
There are several games in the area for children such as the Wild Wadi water park, outdoor games on the beach or a skate park. Others will enjoy kite surfing, kayaking or running.
A few minutes away, take a stroll to the Madinat Jumeirah, another neighborhood built in the style of traditional bazaars. We’re going back in time here!
I recommend watching the sunset at the end of the day on the beach, you will keep a memorable memory of it.
The Marina impressed me with its multiple skyscrapers built around an artificial canal.
I felt small, a little like when I first discovered New York. I liked the walk along the shoreline and suggest you do it at nightfall.
Why not have dinner on one of the pleasure boats that will take you on a tour of the Marina in the middle of these towers?
There are malls for those who would like to shop (The Beach and Marina Mall) but also a long sandy beach, restaurants and cafes.
The beach isn’t what won me over the most. Nothing special in itself. It is freckled by many tourists but allows you to enjoy a beautiful view of Bluewaters. Find a place away from buildings. You can partake in several water activities such as sailing or water skiing. Otherwise, it’s perfectly repectable to just relax on your towel. It’s a classic seaside atmosphere.
If you’re brave enough, I suggest you cross the Marina with the XLine, the longest and fastest urban zip line in the world (available to 12 year-olds and older).
Stroll through the new Bluewaters district and climb to the top of the world’s largest Ferris wheel, the Dubai Eye. You will have a breathtaking view of the Marina and JBR as well as the Jumeirah palm tree. The shops and the wheel opened in the year 2020.
There are a few cafés, restaurants, bars, clubs, shops, a grocery store, etc. It’s a place preserved from tourism, because it’s not well-known yet.
Over the years, Dubai has built 3 artificial archipelagos in the shape of palm trees:
- Palm Jebel Ali: a project one and a half times the size of Jumeirah – unfinished.
- Palm Jumeirah: the one that hosts the Atlantis and is the smallest archipelago – complete.
- Deira Islands: the biggest of the three – unfinished.
The most interesting of the archipelagos is Jumeirah Palm, since it is finished. You can get there by subway and take the monorail to Atlantis. Otherwise the simplest way is the taxi or Uber.
The Atlantis hotel offers multiple activities such as the Aquaventure amusement park and the Dolphin Bay aquarium. And why not book at the Ossiano, an underwater restaurant, for an exceptional evening, or spend an afternoon on the beach?
For those who would like to shop, there is the Nakheel mall. You can also enter hotels, even if you are not a customer. Nothing prevents you from having a drink there, or to enjoy the outdoor facilities, and there are several good restaurants to try as well.
The Pointe is the perfect place to stroll and watch the kids run or play in the sand, all with a beautiful view of the Atlantis. End the evening in a shisha bar to watch the world’s largest fountains.
For those who would like to discover Muslim culture, it is possible to take a guided tour of the Jumeirah Mosque (the only one to offer this to non-Muslims).
The seaside is nearby, also called La Mer. You will find a public beach but also many cafes and restaurants as well as a water park for young people. In the evening, the avenue is lively.
A little further on Jumeirah Street stands the Etihad Museum. You will learn more about the creation of the United Arab Emirates, about an agreement signed by the 7 Emirates in 1971.
When you’re in Dubai, you’re usually looking for new experiences. Dubai understands this and caters to all types of customers. The crazy ones, the romantics, the families, the sportsmen, etc. Here are my suggestions!
Activities for couples in Dubai
The first activity that comes to mind when you arrive as a couple is booking a desert safari. You could also add a dinner in a Bedouin tent, like the old-fashioned way. Nothing could be more romantic, you’ll see!
Other ideas in the desert: surf the dunes, drive a quad bike, or even treat yourself to an early morning hot air balloon ride – it’s magical! Orient Tours can help you plan all this.
Treat yourself to a helicopter or plane ride to fly over the city, the Jumeirah palm tree or The World, a project made of 300 artificial islands representing the world.
Otherwise, you could also plan a meal with your feet up in the air at Zero Gravity or a dinner cruise on a boat in the Marina.
The sunsets are fabulous in Dubai, and very romantic. So here are a few suggestions:
- Meet at the end of the day at Dubai Creek Harbour to watch one of the most beautiful sunsets over the city of Dubai. A very pleasant walk along the marina dock. Work has also begun on the world’s next tallest skyscraper, the Dubai Creek Tower. In the future, it will be possible to stroll around Dubai Square, inspired by the most beautiful districts in the world.
- Before going to the Dubai Opera, I suggest you watch the sunset over the Burj Khalifa as you exit the Dubai Mall.
- Book at the Shimmers restaurant, a few steps away from the Burj Al Arab and take the opportunity to walk on the sand by moonlight before leaving. Magic.
Activities for the family
The activities are numerous, it all depends on your desires. Up to you to decide if you prefer to have a cultural, traditional or relaxing trip!
A ride in the desert on a camel? 30 minutes from Dubai, go to the camel farm in Al Lisaili; you can also feed the camels and other animals with the children (they must be over 10 years old for the ride).
Why not try the Outdoor Cinema. Several places organize screenings, some free, of cult films.
You like acrobats? The show La Perle is just what you need for an evening that will blow your mind.
Want to be challenged? Do an escape game alone, as a couple or with your family!
In the Al Wasl neighbourhood, you can enjoy The Green Planet. It is a tropical forest in a greenhouse that brings together different animal species such as reptiles, birds and many others. The place offers magnificent views of the Burj Khalifa. Once the visit is over, cross the road and walk in the city walk. There are cafes, restaurants and some shops. The place is nice in the evening.
Canadians, that’s also where the Canadian University of Dubai is located!
In the same area, Adventure zone is a huge indoor playground that lets you to get active with your family. Between climbing, tree climbing, zip lining, trampoline, skateboarding, etc., there’s plenty of fun to have and it’s a nice change of scenery to take your mind off things. Another sports complex, the BOUNCE Dubai offers trampolines to let off steam with the family.
At Mushrif Park, you can stroll, bike, have a BBQ, let your kids have fun in the playgrounds or go to the Aventura Parks tree climbing park. Not far away, children who love contact with animals should love the Dubai Safari Park or the Dubai Crocodile Park.
The Miracle Garden is a flowery park where walking is pleasant. Magnificent decorations for children and adults alike; for example, there’s an Emirates A380 plane covered with flowers.
The Global Village is a theme park for the whole family with entertainment, shops, restaurants and rides that takes you on a journey around the world.
Activities for children
If you want to have fun with the kids, you won’t have any trouble in Dubai! Here are a few ideas for outings that they might enjoy and make a nice change from conventional visits:
- Kidzania is a leisure centre for children where they can discover a multitude of jobs through role-playing games. For a day or a few hours, they can be a surgeon, a fireman, a cashier, a cameraman, etc.
- The OliOli centre is an experimental museum for children that aims to awaken them to science and inventions. I love this kind of museum!
- Children’s City is a theme park located in Creekside Park, one of the largest parks in the city. Activities include a planetarium, a nature centre and workshops to discover the human body.
- IMG Worlds of Adventure is an indoor theme park with lots of rides. There are dinosaurs, Marvel characters, Cartoon characters.
Activities for sports and nature lovers
For those who like running, cycling or just walking, the walk along the Dubai Water Canal (between Business Bay and Jumeirah Beach) is perfect and offers beautiful views of Dubai’s skyscrapers. Then, go to Safa Park, a large green park that offers beautiful views of the downtown district skyscrapers.
For the speed freaks, go to the autodrome, a racetrack to drive a racing car, a go-kart or even a vintage car!
Once a year, the Desert Warrior Challenge is held, an event for those who love obstacles and racing, all in an exceptional setting.
If you want to let off steam, you can go to the Dubai Sports World for a game of tennis, badminton, squash, etc, in the World Trade Center district.
For those who would like to jump… into the void with a parachute, book with Skydive Dubai and live an intense and unforgettable moment.
Running out of snow, dear Canadians? The Emirates Mall has ski slopes! Skiing lessons are available, as well as tobogganing runs or penguin encounters.
For golf lovers, there is no lack of choice: there are courses everywhere! And if you’re looking to improve your swing, why not take a one-to-one lesson with a professional?
Finally, on a different note, you could go horseback riding in one of the many equestrian centres or watch a horse or camel race!
If you have time and like to have fun, I recommend you go to the Hatta National Park, the new trendy “hub” in a superb natural setting.
In addition to its Heritage Village, a reconstruction of a traditional mountain village, the town is the new address for adventurers who want to be in nature. You could go mountain hiking, go biking (rental with equipment), go kayaking, go paddling or try canyoning descents, try archery, go skydiving, visit a water park, do some airbag jumping, try descents in a wagon or zorbing (air-filled ball), go climbing or even camping, and enjoy the barbecue facilities… oof. Picnic areas are also available.
Not far away, a non-sporty visit but an experience it would be a shame to miss: a visit to a beekeeper’s farm in the area.
For the shopping lovers
How can you not talk about shopping when you’re discussing Dubai? It has so many malls and shopping areas!
For a traditional walk, visit its souks. From spices, gold, fabrics, and souvenirs, you will find everything. You can do business in Bur Dubai or Deira. You can also explore the Medinah Jumeirah under beautiful modern wooden arcades (less puller-inner). Finally you also have the luxurious souk Al Bahar near the Dubai Mall, far from the traditional ones.
As for malls, I recommend you visit the classics, of course (the Dubai Mall), but also the Emirates Mall, even if it is only for window-shopping, and finally the IBN Battuba Mall. The latter has been decorated on the theme of travel: a must-see!
I know that for some people, it’s a bit crazy to want to visit a mall, but sometimes the architecture is impressive and is worth a look, especially for the latter!
Finally the Dubai Festival City mall also brings together a multitude of activities.
The city of Dubai is not free of art lovers. I am thinking about several places in particular that offer art galleries, exhibitions or events:
- the Jamel Art Center.
- the Foundry in Downtown Dubai
- Aserkal Avenue at Al Quoz
- the Dubai Design District
Each of these places offer free exhibitions, shops, cafés or library. You may even come across some beautiful vintage cars on Aserkal Avenue.
Finally, I would like to end with Expo 2020, the universal exhibition hosted in Dubai. I was fortunate to be able to visit the Expo 2020 site exclusively, which is still inaccessible to the general public! Thanks to Kerstie for this amazing and fabulous visit!
Don’t miss it if you’re going to Dubai during the Expo!
The goal is to bring humanity together to remember what unites us, celebrate the human spirit and highlight great examples of collaboration and innovation from around the world. The theme of Expo 2020 in Dubai is “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”.
For 6 months, starting October 1st 2021, the exhibition will welcome the humans of tomorrow (artists, pioneers, leaders, chefs, etc) with a rich cultural program mixing technology, culinary specialties and world music.
A journey representing more than 190 countries around the world to share ideas on innovation and progress through the following sub-themes:
- the Opportunity square: building the future by unleashing the potential of individuals and communities.
- the Mobility triangle: developing intelligent movement of people.
- the Sustainability circle: respecting the world around us for a sustainable future.
These three sub-themes are found in the design of the site’s master plan, a flower and its three petals. Each theme district will include innovative galleries, parks, outdoor gardens, and food and beverage areas. The Al Wasl square of the Arabic word for “connection” will be the focal point of the entire Expo 2020, a steel piece that should surprise many; I’ll say no more!
A magical tree, two intrepid Emirati brother and sister and three guardian robots will be the mascots of Expo 2020 to launch this adventure through time and space.
4 main entrances will be available. The site will be accessible in 15 minutes by subway from the city centre.
Namely, the site cultivates all its flowers and plants all its trees.
Countries were thus able to choose the area where they wished to build their Pavilion. New Zealand, for example, is in the sustainability district and installed solar panels on its structure.
I was fortunate enough to get a glimpse of the Canada Pavilion (you can see the details here) which celebrates the multi-dimensional Canadian identity by integrating a graphic element of Arabic architecture with the geometric lattice Mashrabiya, made of wood. Canada has chosen to locate in the sustainability district as well, close to a park.
Canada will develop the themes of diversity, artificial intelligence and aerospace.
It will have the widest 360-degree projection screen in the world; we can look at it from inside and underneath.
The American and Japanese pavilions will also be impressive, but so will many others as well!
Something to know
- When you make your hotel booking, expect to add 20AED per room per night on your final bill.
- Download the applications Emirates, Visit Dubai or DHA (for Coronavirus tests), Uber or EatApp to book a table at the restaurant.
- Be aware of the dress code everywhere you go, especially in places of worship.
- Do not possess or consume alcohol in an outdoor public place.
- Do not take a picture of anyone without their permission.
- Learn a few Arabic words: you will be even more respected and appreciated!
- Most of the parking lots are free.
- Don’t leave without tasting the dates or the Arab pastries!
Another tip: call and book your activities in advance. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, many have had to change their opening hours and their number of seats in order to comply with the distancing instructions, or are perhaps still closed, unfortunately.
I wish you a nice trip to the country of the United Arab Emirates. No doubt that once you visit, you’ll want to go back!
If you liked our suggestions, feel free to share this article!
Find the details of my trip to Dubai in our stories on Instagram.
When to visit Dubai?
Many people are wondering when to go to Dubai, and that’s a pertinent question. It would be a shame not to be able to enjoy it because of the heat. Ideally I recommend you go there between November and April where the temperatures will stay between 20 and 30 degrees in general.
When will Expo 2020 Dubai take place?
Expo 2020 will open its doors for 6 months from October 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022. Don’t miss this event on the theme “Connecting Spirits, Creating the Future”.
How do I get around Dubai?
Walking is easy in the same neighbourhood. But as soon as you want to get out, you will have to choose a means of transport. Dubai offers different ones to suit your budget.
The most economical will be the subway. A trip costs between 4 and 8 AED and day passes are available. It’s up to you to assess whether the cost will be worth it. Be aware that once you get out of the subway, you will sometimes have a long walk before reaching your destination. On average, expect to pay less than 30 AED for a 10-minute taxi ride.
Taxis are the most common means of transport in Dubai, as are Uber and Careem (the local Uber). Download the applications for the latter two. Run a query on Uber for example to get an idea of how much your trip would cost and then see if the taxi would be cheaper. Cost may vary depending on traffic. In a taxi, make sure the driver starts his meter.
Finally, renting a car is possible and may be the solution if you have a lot of trips planned, are travelling with a few adults or with children. Parking is free and there is plenty, and petrol is cheap. You just have to be careful, because locals sometimes drive fast and can cut in front of you. Have your international driving licence with you.
How to dress in Dubai?
When you visit the UAE, it is important to observe certain rules regarding dress code. In public places, it is recommended to wear respectful clothing, especially covering shoulders and knees for women. You should carry a scarf in your bag, it will help you quite often.
If you visit a mosque, your outfit should be respectful, not tight or transparent. Women will have to cover their hair and body from head to toe.