New York, New York. Next stop, Statue of Liberty. Or what about Paris, to see the Eiffel Tower. Perhaps you’d prefer London, for some shopping and the Big Ben. Yet not many people say *next stop, Dubai!* and that’s probably one of the reasons a lot of people were a little confused when I announced that Dubai was my next holiday of choice. However, after returning home and writing this blog post from the chilly confines of my flat, I can confidently say I am thrilled we chose that as our destination. There are many magical things to do in Dubai and I can’t wait to share with you some of them that I’d recommend!
A melting pot of activities
First of all, Dubai is a truly magical place and has activities for literally any type of traveler. It’s a shoppers heaven, yet at the same time it will quench the adrenaline junkies desires. Now, it goes without saying that these activities have a large price spectrum, so it accommodates everyone from the budget-traveller-two-minute-noodle-eater to ultra-luxe-bring-more-Champagne traveler. That’s what I really liked about Dubai! I got to experience so many fun things, but didn’t feel like I missed out due to being on a budget. Although, staying at the Burj Al Arab would have been the cherry on top (for those not in the know, it’s one of the most luxurious hotels in the world!)
Firstly, getting to Dubai
Flights can always be a large portion of your budget, so make sure to do some good research beforehand. Flying on a different day of the week can have a big impact on the flight prices! If you look properly, you’ll manage to find some really good deals, especially in the low season. Summer in Dubai (May-August) is actually their low season, so it’s a good time to travel if you’re someone who enjoys the warmer weather. So, if you’re looking for Cheap Flights to Dubai, now would be a good time to book! I’m so glad we got to save on our tickets because it freed up our budget to do some really fun activities.
My top ten things to do in Dubai
1. Visit the Burj Khalifa- the tallest building in the world!
The Burj Khalifa proudly holds the title of the “world’s tallest building.” Because of that, it makes it a must-do on any travellers list! Not only that, this 160 storey building holds various other records too, such as the highest outdoor observation deck. This one is not for people who are scared of heights though! However, if you’re okay with heights this is an incredible experience. The views are simply breathtaking! Standard admission gives you access to the 124th and 125th floor, and you can stay at the top as long as you like.
You can also travel higher to the 148th floor, the world’s highest observation deck, but it will cost you extra. I’d recommend that you book in advance because tickets are much more expensive on the day!
2. Experiencing the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo
Dubai is no stranger to titles such as “the worlds biggest” or the “the worlds greatest” and the Dubai Aquarium is no exception. It’s the largest indoor aquarium in the world, and home to more than 33000 aquatic animals!
I know as South African’s we have seen a lot of marine life, but this is a water tank that you walk through, giving you a unique experience. When you go to the underwater zoo, you’ll have an opportunity to see many species we don’t see in South Africa. Both me and Cam were thoroughly entertained walking through the underwater zoo, and I wouldn’t consider either of us exactly “animal people”. It definately exceeded our expectations. The Aquarium is situated in the Dubai Mall, so plan in some shopping and a stop to watch the Burj Khalifa light show (it’s free of charge).
When it comes to booking your Burj Khalifa trip, I’d recommend adding the Dubai Aquarium in as a package deal for a smaller charge extra. It works out much cheaper than buying the tickets separately.
3. Seeing the Fountain Show while on a local abra ride
Now, you can totally see the Fountain Show for free from the boardwalk. But it is really worth it to pay a little extra to be able to experience the majestic fountain show from a local Emirati boat, called an Abra. This trip isn’t too expensive, perhaps R300 for two people and just ah-mazzzing! The fountain show is unlike anything I’ve seen before and a perfect description of Dubai- completely man-made yet very inspiring. The fountains go in time to the music and literally go higher than 150 metres, which is quite something to see.
Relaxing on the local wooden boat, looking up at the breath-taking Burj Khalifa and watching the fountain show is one of my most treasured memories from my trip. Dubai is a very modern country, and seeing the big buildings, beautiful lights and vibey music really was worth the cost of the ride. Dubai doesn’t do anything by half measure, so you can be assured the Fountain Show is one of a kind!
4. Hitting the Dubai Mall or Mall of the Emirates
Dubai is well known for being a shoppers paradise. My husband usually hates shopping, but he was more than happy to tag along for a few shopping trips due to the amazing aircon! Because it’s so hot there in the summer, the malls are like a watering pool, a haven for weary souls. We managed to visit both the Dubai Mall and the Mall of the Emirates, and I’m glad we did because they each had a different feel and some different shops as well.
The Dubai Mall has over 1,200 stores and it’s not just fashion. (Although they have Fashion Avenue which is literally what dreams are made of!). They have every type of store, from luxury homeware stores (as in Versace Home) to tech stores, giant bookstores to the worlds largest candy shop. We spent a good amount of time in the candy store marveling at all these incredibly intricate, edible goodies. For me, it was incredible to visit stores I’ve only dreamed about until now, like Sephora, Charlotte Tilbury, Make Up Forever, NARS, Bloomingdales -the list goes on!
SEGA Republic is also in the mall. It is a gigantic 76,000 square foot indoor theme park and arcade with 150 amusement rides and game. So gamers, fear not because there’s something for you too. If you’d like to experience one of the souks, they’ve recreated one of the Gold Souks in one portion of the mall for shoppers looking to pick up a new luxurious item or two.
5. Living on the edge with a Desert Safari
There are many things to do in Dubai but one of the most popular activities in Dubai is a Desert Safari. You’ve hit the malls, seen the Burj Khalifa and now you want to see the desert! This had to be my favorite activity of the holiday. You get collected from your hotel by the tour company, and the evening starts off with dune bashing in the desert. I haven’t done much 4×4 drives but I am a thrill seeker so I LOVED IT! If you’re any sort of adrenaline junkie you’ll be in your element. We had a quiet driver called Farouk, but he came completely alive when we started the dune bashing. He really made it a fun time!
After spending time dune bashing, you’ll be taken to a camp where you’ll enjoy various activities. These include things such as camel riding, getting henna tattoos, and watching tanoura dancing and belly dancing. You’ll also enjoy a buffet dinner and unlimited soft drinks. (Which you’ll consume by the liter due to it being quite hot!).
Travellers Tip:There are MANY desert safari tour operators, and it can be overwhelming to choose. The tour operators also vary substantially in price. Always ask the operator if they have their own camp or a shared one. If they have a shared one, when it comes to the dinner and activity part of the evening you’ll have very long queues. It can be worth it to spend a little extra as the queues can be really bad. We went through Arabian Nights Tours, who have their own camp and we were really happy with our tour.
6. Take a Dhow Dinner Cruise along the Creek or the Marina
When I was planning our trip to Dubai, many websites kept mentioning a dhow cruise. To be honest, I didn’t even now what that was but a cruise sounded fun so I added it to the itinerary.
Once again, we bought a package deal (I’m the ultimate bargain hunter and really wanted bang for my buck!) We got the dinner cruise on a promo with the Desert Safari, and paid R2400 for both of us for both the desert safari and the dinner cruise.
A dhow is just a big wooden boat usually decorated with lots of pretty fairy lights. In true Dubai style, they are *thankfully* all airconned which makes a big difference! The cruise goes up the creek for around 90 minutes and then comes back down, giving you a beautiful tour of Old Dubai. We also managed to get another peek at the Burj Khalifa. It includes a buffet dinner and soft drinks as well. I enjoyed this trip a lot because it a chance to see the pretty buildings at night, but also a chance to sit, relax and catch our breath. We really planned a jam-packed holiday and needed a relaxing dinner.
7. Cool off at Wild Wadi Waterpark
Another thing Dubai does really, really well is water parks. They’ve gone all out in creating places suitable for all ages- from little kids to thrill-seeking adults. Wild Wadi is not the only waterpark in Dubai, in fact Aquaventure and Laguna are two other popular choices. But we decided to choose Wild Wadi because it is much talked about and has the perfect view of the Burj Al Arab. The park is very well run, efficient and has loads of food and beverage options too. Food and drink can be quite expensive, so I’d recommend at least bringing your own water bottles with to keep hydrated. And seriously, don’t forget sunscreen!
The waterpark is an all day adventure. There are over 30 rides with various levels of thrill. Personally, I loved the Burj Surj – you get into a dinghy with a partner and go down a thrilling tube with many twists and turns. There’s also wave pools (for the surfers out there), many slides and relaxing pools with loungers for the sun-dwellers.
For all the wildcats out there, make sure to try the Jumeirah Sceirah. It is the tallest and fastest free-fall water slide outside of North and South America and rises up to 33 metres. Riders reach up to speeds of 80 km/h!
The nice thing is that if you have a Dubai Entertainer, you can get a 2 for 1 entrance to the waterpark. This saves a lot of money.
8. Break paradigms by visiting SkiDubai
You’ve come to the desert, you’ve gone dune bashing and spent lazy days in the soaring heat. What next? None other than skiing in Dubai! No, I’m not talking about waterskiing, I’m talking about snow skiing! It’s the Middle East’s only indoor skiing centre, and people flock from all over to enjoy the slopes.
The cold makes a welcome break from the heat, and also gives you a chance to try skiiing without mortgaging your home for a trip to Austria. If you’re like me, you love sun and outdoor activities. But this one is not to be missed. Basically, it’s like they have created a giant freezer inside the Dubai Mall. While this is definately lots of fun, I think avid skiiers could lose interest as the slopes are limited. I’d recommend buying a two hour session pass instead of a full day pass for this reason. They also have a ski school and fun activities for kiddies as well.
9. A walk and dinner along the Dubai Marina
One of the most spectacular things about Dubai is the skyscrapers at night. Sure, it’s a concrete jungle but it can still take your breath away. The Dubai Marina was a great way to spend the evening. We really acted like such tourists, taking photos of all the tall buildings and marveling at all the lights. You can easily take the metro to the marina and have a walk along the promenade before settling on a place for dinner. Be strong though – you’ll be bombarded by every Tom, Dick and Harry asking you to come eat at their restaurant. Since they are all competing for your business, they can all be a bit (Read, too) enthusiastic!
10. Hit the beach or go for a walk at JBR Beach
For anyone who likes to shop, eat and go to the beach at the same time, consider a trip to The Beach opposite JBR. It offers everything in one and you can literally spend the whole day here. There’s also a hot of sport activities you can do from the beach, including jet-skiing, kayaking and more at a fee. Oh, and did I mention there’s free Wi-Fi on the beach? I must be a real South African as this was a real marvel for me, and I wasted no minutes getting onto Instagram and catching up.
This is also the place to spot lots of sports cars taking an evening drive for the speed lovers.
A myriad of things to do in Dubai..
Really, we just scratched the surface and didn’t even get to do every activity we had planned. This was also due to going in summer – some activities just aren’t realistic in that type of heat. I’m talking about jet-skiing, flyboarding, kayaking and the like. If we returned in the cooler months, I’d definitely give those a try! One of the most popular things to do in Dubai is take a trip to the Gold and Spice souks, but unfortunately we left that for the last day of our trip. By the time the last day came, we were really exhausted and very tight on time. But, if you do head that way I’d recommend adding that into your itinerary because I’ve heard it’s just incredible.
To sum up the experience in a few words would be HOT BUT INCREDIBLE! So many people were a little befuzzled with our holiday choice when we announced it. But, I hope this post has shown you it’s an absolutely blast of a holiday destination with a lil something-something for everyone.
*This post was created in collaboration with Travelstart.