In Dubai —the most cosmopolitan city in the Middle East—cultures meet and mingle, with the lines between them often blurred. The result is a cultural experience that is unique, awe-inspiring, and delightfully whimsical. Filled with some of the coolest things to do in the UAE, Dubai is a cityscape where you can experience surreal skyscrapers, historic souks, blissful beaches, rugged mountains, dreamy deserts and a beautiful bird’s eye view all in a single day. Whether you enjoy traveling through the lens of art, culture, food, adventure, or a mix of all of the above, we’ve got you covered with the very best things to do in Dubai.
While we get that you’re probably hoping to get a camel selfie (or two) on your Dubai trip, surprise yourself by heading to Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary for a bit of flamingo spotting instead. A delight for bird watchers and nature photographers, in this protected sanctuary you’ll find salt flats, mudflats, mangroves, and lagoons that are home to bird species like grey herons, cormorants, Eurasian spoonbills, and osprey, among others. Within the reserve, there are three hides with lookout windows for birdwatching. The best part? Entry is free, a rarity in Dubai. Visit early in the morning or late afternoon for the best photos when the light is softer.
Begin your day with a delicious Emirati-style breakfast, seated in the romantic courtyard of the Arabian Tea House Cafe in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood. The neighborhood in Old Dubai is home to some of the most mature houses in the city, once lived in by wealthy merchants involved in the pearl trade.
Today, you’ll find cafés, guesthouses, and museums in the restored houses. With bright blue benches, rattan chairs, and lace curtains, the teahouse is the perfect spot for a local breakfast. Try the Emirati breakfast tray. It comes with balaleet: sweet vermicelli flavored with cardamom, cinnamon, and saffron, topped with an omelet, dates molasses, cheese, baked beans, watermelon jam, chickpeas, fava beans, and assorted local bread.
To cross the old Dubai creek like a local, head to Bur Dubai and ride on an abra, or a traditional Dubai wooden boat, across the water to the souks (covered markets) in Deira. The ride lasts between five and ten minutes and costs only a dirham. The motorized boats carry passengers across at a relaxed pace, making this a lovely opportunity to admire the views of the mud-colored heritage buildings and other boats along the water. Sunset is an especially great time to do the ride, with seagulls flying above and the sky taking on an orange-pink tint.
What better way to admire the shiny, record-breaking skyscrapers in Dubai than to ride the world’s longest urban zipline between them? At XLine Dubai Marina, you can zipline at speeds of up to 80km/h from one of these towering buildings all the way across the marina to finish at the Dubai Marina Mall. The views are nothing short of epic: think awe-inspiring skyscrapers such as the Princess Tower and Cayan Tower and beautiful yachts along the marina promenade. You can go solo or with a friend; there are two ziplines and tickets are slightly cheaper when bought for two.
Kite Beach is Dubai’s favorite beach and outside of the hottest months from April to August, there’s no better place to be on a Friday afternoon. One end of the beach is popular with kite-surfers (hence the name), but you can also go stand-up paddle-boarding or jet skiing here. Spend time working on your tan or join other beachgoers for a game of beach volleyball. There are plenty of cafés and food trucks here to grab a bite if you get hungry, from Indian street food to tacos. The beach also offers showers and changing facilities, as well as a running track.
For a bit of year-round skiing in Dubai, head to the indoor ski park at Ski Dubai in the Mall of the Emirates, a white winter wonderland where the temperature is always -4°C, even when it’s over 40°C outside! Whether you’re a pro or want to learn the ropes from an instructor, there are five tracks of varying distance and suitability for different levels to enjoy the slopes.
Otherwise, go sledding or tobogganing in the 4,500 square-meter Snow Park. While the kids build snowmen and make snow angels, adults can get up to 150m high at 40km/h on the Mountain Thriller or find themselves suspended 16ft above the ground on the Snow Bullet.
While Emirati food isn’t all too common in Dubai, in recent years it has become increasingly popular and with good reason. With influences from South Asia and the Persian Gulf, Emirati food is hearty and delicious. With an interior that looks like Dubai in the 1960s, Al Fanar Restaurant & Café is the best place to try authentic Emirati dishes without breaking the bank. Surrounded by mud and coral walls, traditional lamps, wooden tables, vintage photos, and lifelike models, it feels like being in Dubai in the old days, while you try dishes such as spicy fish patties, succulent kebabs, and flavorsome rice with shrimp. The portions are generous and good to share.
If you’re visiting Dubai between November and May, it’s worth spending an afternoon at the Dubai Miracle Garden, a 72,000 sqm landscaped garden where you can see 150 million flowers in bloom. Right out of a children’s fairytale, at Dubai Miracle Garden, you’re surrounded by arches, sculptures, and creations of all manner sculpted out of flowers. New attractions are added every season, so no two visits are the same.
Installations include floral castles, a giant teddy bear, an Instagram-famous passage of hearts, a Disney Avenue, and an Emirates A380, among others. It’s easy to spend a couple of hours here — wear comfortable shoes.
A family-friendly (but fun for all ages) festival park, Global Village welcomes visitors from November to April. Interesting to both shoppers and foodies, there are pavilions set up by over 70 countries such as the US, India, Russia, Morocco, and Turkey where you’ll find stores selling merchandise, spices, and food items from these countries. From genuine pashmina shawls and Moroccan argan oil to Iranian nuts and Turkish carpets, this is an excellent place to buy gifts at reasonable prices (haggling is expected). Around the park, you’ll find live entertainment in the form of regional dances, street theater, aerialists, singers, and musicians.
Other than an amusement park with rides, there’s also plenty to taste your way around here. Take your pick from melt-in-your-mouth Bosnian kebabs, fiery dynamite shrimp, mini pancakes topped with Nutella and cheese, sticky sweet Emirati luqaimat (doughnuts), garlicky lobster roll, and more.
Other than exhibits of pottery, weapons, coins, documents, clothing, jewelry, and interactive installations, there are recreations of homes, schools, markets, and farms. Around you are lifelike models of the people who might have inhabited Dubai: blacksmiths, fishermen, pearl divers, and shipbuilders. It feels like having left behind the city of skyscrapers to step into a bygone era.
Kayaking in Dubai? Yes, it’s possible and totally worth taking a day trip to the exclave of Hatta, a 90-minute drive from the city. Surrounded by the rugged Hajar mountains, Hatta has developed a solid reputation as an adventure destination in Dubai. Here you can go hiking and mountain biking, or try sports such as archery and climbing at the Hatta Wadi Hub.
But the most popular activity in Hatta is to go kayaking in the calm, bright blue waters of a lake formed by Hatta Dam and jagged peaks rising up all around. Single and double kayaks, as well as water bikes, are available for hire from Hatta Kayak and it’s a great way to spend some time outdoors during the cooler months.
One of the best things about Dubai is its spirit of tolerance; this is a city where cultures, nationalities, and religions have co-existed without conflict for decades. To have a deeper experience of the city’s love for cultural exchange, visit the beautiful Jumeirah Mosque that is open to non-Muslims during guided tours with the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding.
You’ll learn about religious customs and traditions, be encouraged to ask questions, and visit the interior of the mosque. You’ll also enjoy light local snacks. There are two tours daily (except Friday) at 10.00am and 2.00pm. Dress modestly with your shoulders, arms, and knees covered.
In Dubai, you can go diving with sharks…at the mall. Wait, what? At the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo located in the Dubai Mall, you can dive into a 10-million liter tank to find yourself in the company of manta rays, groupers, clownfish, and sharks. The aquarium is home to thousands of marine animals from over 140 species.
The dives are supervised and suitable for all levels of divers, whether you’re certified or not. If you’re not into diving but still want to be able to see the sharks up close, sign up for the Shark Encounter where you’ll put on snorkeling gear and get inside a diving cage surrounded by sharks feeding on small fish. It’s certainly more than an average day at the mall!
Ever wonder what Dubai’s futuristic cityscape of skyscrapers, expressways, bridges, marinas, and canals looks like from above? Then hop on a seaplane for an exhilarating 45-minute Seawings signature flight over the city for some of the most epic views you’ll ever experience.
You’ll see all the famous landmarks such as the impressive Burj Khalifa, the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab, the manmade Palm Jumeirah and The World archipelagos, and the skyscrapers and yachts at Dubai Marina. No other experience lets you fully appreciate Dubai’s landscape of beaches, desert, and an urban city center as much as this one.
When it gets too hot to handle Dubai’s scorching temperatures, head to cool off at the Wild Wadi Waterpark, an Arabian folklore-themed aquapark that’s insanely fun for all ages. After a leisurely ride down the Flood River, make your way to Tantrum Alley, where you’ll slide downhill in a tube only to get caught in a series of tornados where you’ll circle around repeatedly in the eye of the storm. If that sounds like child’s play, then try the Jumeirah Sceirah where you’ll climb a 32m tower to stand in a capsule that’s suddenly released down a 120m slide at a rush-inducing speed of 80km/h!
Salt started off as a homegrown food truck that was permanently parked on Kite Beach, but the wildly popular burger place now has various locations around the UAE, with its original location now transformed into a beach house restaurant that also hosts live music performances and community events.
There are 30-minute long queues on the weekends, but the wait is worth it; the Wagyu beef sliders with spicy hook salt sauce and deep-fried chicken sliders with crunchy Cheetos are absolutely delicious. Wash it all down with a gooey Lotus shake.
Come March you’ll find the city’s art lovers celebrating and appreciating the works of talented local, regional, and international artists at Art Dubai. The annual art fair sees art exhibitions and installations at various venues around the city including art galleries, exhibition spaces, Madinat Jumeirah, and the heritage district of Al Fahidi.
There are workshops, talks, interactive sessions, and film screenings, as well as performance art shows and it’s worth checking the official program to plan your visit. One of the coolest events is the 10-day Sikka Art Festival that sees the heritage buildings, romantic courtyards, and rooftops of Al Fahidi transform into art spaces, complete with live music by local bands, food pop-ups, and exhibitions.
The boat-shaped Dubai Opera is a fantastic example of modern architecture in Dubai that nods to the city’s maritime heritage. On an Architecture Tour of the venue, you can learn more about the design, sculptures, and functional features that allow this structure to be transformed seamlessly from a concert hall to a theater venue to a banquet or events space.
While a guided tour of the interior is fascinating, what could be more exciting than watching a concert, ballet, theater, or opera in the world-class venue? The space also hosts fashion shows and art exhibitions. It’s worth having a look at the events on offer during your visit. You’re likely to find something that piques your interest.
What’s better than views of Dubai from the Burj Khalifa? Views where you can actually see the world’s tallest skyscraper, a glorious architectural marvel, and rise up above the cityscape. In the cooler months between November and April, head to Skybar at Cé La Vi, located on the 54th floor of the Address Sky View Hotel, for up-close views that are hard to beat.
It’s best to visit around sunset, when the city’s skyscrapers are bathed in golden light. Over a cocktail or two, watch as the sun goes down and the city begins to glitter with twinkling lights and the dancing Dubai Fountain.
The humble shawarma, a sandwich of thinly sliced chicken roasted on a rotating spit, wrapped with vegetables and garlic paste in Arabic bread, is Dubai’s favorite street snack to be enjoyed any time of the day or night. Ask a local about the best shawarma joint and chances are you’ll get a different recommendation each time, depending on which part of the city they’re from.
Luckily, shawarma is always deeply satisfying and you’re not likely to get tired of sampling shawarmas from around the city. The most highly recommended places are Picnic Restaurant, Operation Falafel (that also does perfectly crispy falafel), Filful, and Al Mallah.
If you’re a jazz lover visiting Dubai in February, don’t miss the Dubai Jazz Garden on the weekends (Thursdays and Fridays) at the Habtoor Grand Resort. The open-air venue comes alive with live jazz, blues, soul, and funk performances by acclaimed international artists such as Denise King, Ronald Baker, and Chanda Rule.
Entrance is free if you register online in advance and limited seating is available, but we bet you won’t be sitting for too long. There are food pop-ups and a bar to keep you going through the night, and you can even bring your own folding picnic chairs to the family-friendly event.
An indoor tropical rainforest in the heart of the city? Of course Dubai’s got one of those. At the Green Planet Dubai, you can explore a vertical rainforest that’s spread over three levels and is home to over 3,000 plants and animals.
From Amazonian parrots and South American boas to squirrel monkeys and bat caves, you’ll see and learn about all manner of tropical species in this space. There are events here such as guided walks, animal encounters, and biologist talks, some at an additional charge, so it’s worth checking the schedule before you go.
Dubai is often called the ‘City of Gold’ and the Gold Souk Dubai, one of the oldest and biggest traditional markets in the Middle East, is an excellent place to understand why. Strolling through the market, you’ll see store windows decked with exquisite gold, diamond, and silver jewelry, from delicate bracelets to opulent multi-layered wedding necklaces.
For decades, the market, known for selling pure, unadulterated gold and authentic diamonds, has been popular with Middle Eastern and South Asian tourists looking to buy gold jewelry. In case you’re looking to buy, you should know that bargaining is the norm (on making charges only given that the rate of gold is fixed but fluctuates daily).
The Ripe Market is a farmers’ market in Dubai that sets up shop in an open-air venue every weekend during the cooler months from October to April. Other than fresh, organic produce locally sourced from farms around the UAE, you’ll also find food trucks and plenty of live entertainment from local artists and bands.
The venue also hosts stalls and boutiques selling unique, often handmade creations such as jewelry, Dubai-inspired clothing, vintage posters, handicrafts, and more, so this is a great place to shop for quirky and cool souvenirs. Often, you’ll also find free fitness sessions, workshops, talks, and other events in the market.
For a truly authentic market experience in Dubai, head to the Souk Al Bahar 4 Fish fish market at the Jumeirah Fishing Harbour. Consisting of fishermen’s living quarters and plenty of seafood restaurants, the harbor along the Jumeirah coast makes for a pleasant walk, with bobbing fishing boats on one end and yachts on the other.
To see the fresh catch of the day from the waters of the Arabian Gulf, as well as imported fish such as Atlantic Salmon, go to the fish market early in the morning. The vendors here are friendly and talkative and will be eager to show off their best fish: hammour, tiger prawns, kingfish, lobster, and more to entice you to buy. Ask for permission before taking photos.
Something of an institution in Dubai, Al Ustad Special Kebab is a no-frills Iranian kebab joint in the Al Fahidi area that has been dishing out delicious, succulent kebabs to hungry diners for decades.
Don’t be fooled by the low prices though; the kebabs are truly among the best you’ll find in the city and the service among the friendliest. It’s the kind of place where if you don’t know what you want, the waiters (and owners) will ask you to sit back, relax, and trust their recommendation — which you absolutely should.
The restaurant is pretty famous. For proof, just look around at the walls covered with photos of famous celebrities who’ve visited, from the royals of Dubai and Bollywood stars to football legends and politicians.
For a unique dining experience in Dubai, head to Sky Dive Dubai to dine high above the city with Dinner in the Sky. Safely strapped in, you’ll eat at a table suspended 50m high with incredible views of the Dubai coastline.
The meal (lunch, afternoon tea, or dinner) lasts for an hour. On the menu are dishes such as pan-seared sea bass with lentils and tortellini stuffed with butternut squash and desserts include chocolate fudge cake with sticky date and toffee pudding. Reservations are essential.