Must-see places in Dubai that every visitor should experience at least once
With DXB airport in Dubai once again taking over the title as the world’s busiest airport, it’s no surprise that more visitors are now jumping off the plane and seeing what’s on offer in the UAE’s largest city.
An astounding and spectacular display of modern urbanization arranged on a backdrop of desert and the calm waters of the Persian Gulf – Dubai strikes the perfect balance between adventure and aesthetics – and is incredibly family-friendly.
If you’ve only got a short time to spend in Dubai though, it can be hard to narrow down what to do.
We have previously shared with you our bumper list of everything families love to do in Dubai & the UAE – but to help out our first-time visitors to Dubai we’ve narrowed this list down to the top 17 attractions that tourists love in Dubai.
TL;DR: The Top 3 in Dubai
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Why trust us? We’ve lived in the UAE and been blogging about all the great experiences to enjoy in Dubai for over a decade. Let us help guide you in planning your first trip to Dubai, or check out this guide on how to see the best of the UAE in 7 days.
1. Scale the Burj Khalifa
The world’s tallest building is at the top of most Dubai tourists’ must-see list. OK, we’re not suggesting you scale it Tom Cruise Mission Impossible-style, but you can visit some of the World’s tallest observation decks.
Standing 163 floors – almost 830 meters tall – Burj Khalifa is perfect for a family trip including the beautifully landscaped gardens and lake beneath, home to the free nightly Dubai fountain show and the 124th/125th and 148th-floor observation decks.
From above, the birds-eye view of Dubai and most importantly the panoramic skyline is unmatched. The world’s largest choreographed fountain show – Dubai Fountain – lies beneath for those who prefer their action on the ground or perhaps do not have time to join the queues.
Note: tickets for Burj Khalifa “At the Top” should be bought in advance. Only a limited number of tickets are available on the day and cost up to 4x pre-purchased time slot tickets. Popular slots at sunrise and sunset can often be sold out weeks in advance.
2. Admire the Burj Al-Arab
The world’s tallest, one and only “seven-star” hotel is a sail-shaped building standing 321 meters high on its own artificial island off the coast at Jumeirah.
The luxury here is surreal, the view of the exterior of the hotel at night with the choreographed light show is simply astounding. The interior awaits with more like underwater restaurant Al Mahara and luxury living suites costing up to $15,000 for a single night!
Attending for afternoon tea at the Burj al Arab might be in more people’s budgets, or why not try one of the new “behind the scenes” tours Inside Burj Al Arab.
Even if you can’t get inside, taking in the views from outside is still one of the must-do attractions in Dubai.
3. Discover Dubai Mall
1,200 shops, a VR gaming zone, Kidzania, ice-skating rink, a cinema complex, hotels and food outlets together form the city’s premier shopping and entertainment centre in the area known as Downtown Dubai.
Cheap prices with never-ending special events like Dubai Shopping Festival (January and February) and Dubai Summer Surprises (July and August) really make this Mall about far more than just shopping.
One of Dubai Mall’s major family attractions is the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo hosting around 140 species of sea life. Walking along the tunnels with the sea creatures roaming by your side is special. You can also take on the glass bottom boat tours, snorkelling for family fun, or the bravest might like to try shark diving.
It’s also one of the best free things to do in Dubai, as much as the giant aquarium tank can be viewed from inside the mall.
A new instalment adrenaline junkies may enjoy is Ekart Zabeel, in the Zabeel\l extension to the mall.
Think Dubai is expensive? Look out for these free and really cheap ideas from Dubai resident TheBohoChica
4. Dune Bash on a Dubai Desert Safari
One of the major highlights of any Dubai tour is exploring the Dubai deserts. And going for a Dubai desert safari is the best way to experience a taster of the Dubai desert.
A typical desert safari includes dune bashing, camel riding, sand boarding, and many end in traditional Bedouin-style camps for dinner, henna, and musical entertainment, a not-to-missed experience. Here’s how to find the best-priced Dubai desert tour.
5. Get Educated at Jumeirah Mosque
Jumeirah Mosque, a replica of the Egyptian Al-Azhar Mosque but eight times larger in actual size, is considered among the most beautiful mosques in Dubai, a great show-off of traditional Islamic architecture.
Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Centre for Cultural Understanding organizes guided tours of this beautiful stone structure that follows the medieval Fatimid tradition of architecture.
6. Discover Dubai’s Past at Dubai Museum
Housed in the 230-year-old Al Fahidi Fort, Dubai Museum showcases the city’s history and culture and beyond. There is a great exhibit at the entrance, displaying old maps of the region lining up as dots to the gigantic boom in modern development and expansion.
Traditional boats and palm-leaf houses with wind towers decorate the courtyard. Traditional weaponry, musical instruments, and presentation of the local way of life, along with artefacts from the several thousand-year-old Al Qusais archaeological site, forms the core of the museum interior.
Please note the Dubai Museum has been closed for extensive renovations since 2020. It is not currently open in 2023 – please seek out more history and culture at Al Shindagha Museum and Historical District as a great new (but old!) alternative to learn more about Dubai at a first-timer
Seeking the city’s most instagrammable spots? Here’s where you will find them
7. Wander the laneways of Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood
This is the old city of Dubai and was built by wealthy pearl traders in the 19th century. Old luxurious buildings made of coral and limestones were fitted with wind towers – the air-conditioning of the olden days.
Formerly known as Bastakia, the Al Faihidi Historical Neighbourhood is located on the eastern side of Bur Dubai and lies on the banks of Dubai Creek. Alongside the old architecture, Majlis Gallery shows traditional Arab ceramics and furniture, while the XVA Gallery displays a more contemporary art collection.
Don’t miss several of Dubai’s fascinating smaller museums in the area, too, including the Coin Museum and our favourite, the Dubai Coffee Museum.
We consider this area a must-see attraction for first-time visitors to Dubai to truly take in how much the city has changed over the past century.
8. Seek out Sheikh Sayeed Al-Maktoum House
This is another great museum housed in an old royal home. Sheikh Sayeed Al-Maktoum ruled Dubai from 1921 to 1958 and lived in this house, originally built in 1896 by his father. The house was rebuilt and was turned into a museum; however, the original architecture has been preserved.
Dubai Museum of Historical Photographs and Documents now occupies the building.
You won’t always see this on every Dubai attractions list, but again, we think Dubai first-time visitors will walk away with a greater understanding of the city if they take in these attractions.
Want more culturally immersive experiences in Dubai and the Emirates? Check out our guide to finding culture in the UAE
9. Sail across Dubai Creek
An absolute must Dubai Attraction! Dubai Creek showcases a little of life from the traditional fishing and pearl diving economies. Dhows at the Dhow Wharfage would come and go to different parts of the Middle East, India and even Africa.
Dubai Creek flows between Deira in the north and Bur Dubai in the south. There are dhows and traditional wooden boats ready to be hired for cruising along the Creek.
10. Fill your senses in the Souks of Deira
Lying on the north shore of Dubai Creek, Deira presents a colourful mixture of Old Dubai, intermingled with the modern world of banks, hotels and office blocks.
Tourists are attracted here in high numbers for the traditional souks, including the world’s largest gold souk, spice souk and fish market.
The Gold Souk has recently been expanded, so if getting some great value jewellery is on your Dubai souvenirs list, you’ve come to the right place!
Seeking ideas on how to fit it all in? Why not try our 4-day Dubai itinerary which takes you from old to new, beach to desert, skyscrapers and shopping malls to grassy parks to experience the best of day
11. See the scenes of Sheikh Zayed Road
Hard to miss, really, for anywhere you want to go in Dubai!
Running down the heart of the modern corporate area of Dubai city centre, it is surrounded by steel, glass and chrome towers on both sides – the world’s most dense aggregate of modern high-rises. This site offers the best on-the-ground or street view of the great Dubai skyscrapers.
Many of Dubai’s hotels and fancy shopping malls line this famous road, including the Gold and Diamond Park packed with 30 retailers and 118 manufacturers in one place for jewellery lovers.
12. Bathe at The Beach & Stroll The Walk JBR
Whilst Jumeriah Beach Park is one of the most popular beaches in Dubai with its stunning white sand and views of Burj Al Arab, our favourite for families is The Beach in the JBR area of Dubai.
Here there is a public beach, as well as sun loungers to rent and always plenty of action. Nearby The Walk has plentiful dining options and a small splash park is great for your little ones. Shower and toilet amenities are on hand and access to beach and water sports aplenty.
You will also catch views from here of Ain Dubai – the largest observation wheel in the world (though note it closed again not long after opening! We’re awaiting reopening in 2023… waiting, waiting).
13. Make the most of Indoor attractions at Mall of the Emirates
Mall of the Emirates is not only famous for being one of the best shopping facilities in Dubai but also for housing the epic Ski Dubai inside.
The indoor winter garden is cold and full of snow throughout the year, in spite of the hot weather outside. Not just skiing, there is also a penguin colony inside.
Mall of the Emirates also has a movie theatre and entertainment centre aimed at all ages and endless shopping opportunities, it’s one of our favourite indoor summer escape venues.
14. Adrenaline junkies head to IMG Worlds of Adventure
This famous theme park is among the best indoor family attractions in Dubai. The main park is sectioned into three zones, occupied by Marvel, Cartoon Network and the Lost World – dinosaur-themed rides. The central IMG Boulevard is home to the incredibly popular thrill ride, the Haunted Hotel.
IMG Worlds of Adventure isn’t the best park for toddlers (due to height restrictions), but those with teens and tweens will find there is plenty going on here and the best part is it’s entirely indoors, so suitable year-round.
16. A day out at Dubai Parks and Resorts
Motiongate Dubai, Legoland Dubai, Legoland Waterpark, and Bollywood Dubai are four different theme parks in this purpose-built adventure playground on the outskirts of Dubai – the largest of its kind in the Middle East.
Plenty of theme rides, Hollywood and Bollywood movie blockbuster themes, and water rides alongside lots of dining and evening entertainment options in Riverland Dubai that connects the theme parks.
Try just one or try and fit them all in a day with a multi-park pass!
NB – Bollywood shut its doors in April 2023 – we await news of what will take its place in the Dubai Parks and Resorts line up
Not sure which theme park is right for your family group? Check out our detailed guide to Dubai Theme Parks to know what to expect
Aquaventure Waterpark is an internationally famous waterpark based at Atlantis The Palm. The world’s longest water slide Aquaconda, Leap of Faith – a nine-story-tall water slide and coaster ride that offers water thrills for family fun. Underwater safari, a water-sports area for children “Splasher Island”, and a 700 meters long white sand beach complement the adventure.
17. Luxury Yachting Experience
With Dubai’s extensive waterways, it is one of the best places in the world to enjoy luxury yachting. You can pick a yacht rental in Dubai and enjoy your time on the crystal-clear waters of the Persian Gulf.
Visit beautiful water attractions such as The World or the Palm Jumeirah, go fishing and eat fresh fish cooked by onboard chefs. Relax on the yacht deck and unwind after your whirlwind tour of Dubai.
Want more? We have a new website dedicated to Dubai over at www.dubaitravelplaner.com – come and check out our complete guide to the 150+ Best places to visit and things to do in Dubai
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