The highlights of Dubai that every visitor should experience at least once
Did you know that Dubai is now the 4th most visited city in the world? With DXB airport 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 natural sea and desert – Dubai strikes the perfect balance for 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. Whilst we have previously shared with you our bumper list of everything families love to do in Dubai – to help out our first-time visitors we’ve narrowed this list down to the top 17 attractions that tourists love in Dubai.
This post is part of our series Discover the UAE. For more on Dubai and travelling to the Middle East, why not join our Facebook travel group?
1. Burj Khalifa
The world’s tallest building is at the top of most Dubai tourists’ must-see list. Standing 163 floors – almost 830 meters tall – Burj Khalifa is perfect for a family trip including the beautifully landscaped gardens beneath 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. 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 might be in more people’s budgets, or why not spoil your self for that once in a lifetime overnight stay?
1,200 shops, a gaming zone, Kidzania, ice-skating rink, cinema complex, hotel and food outlets together form the city’s premier shopping and entertainment centre. 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 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.
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4. 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 be missed experience.
5. 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 the 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. Dubai Museum
Housed in the 230 years old Al Fahidi Fort, Dubai Museum serves as a showcase of the history and culture of the city 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 house with wind-tower decorate the courtyard. Traditional weaponry, musical instruments, presentation of the local way of life along with artefacts from the several thousand years old Al Qusais archaeological site forms the core of the museum interior.
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7. The Bastakia Quarter
This is the old city of Dubai and was built by the wealthy pearl-traders in the 19th century. Old luxurious buildings made of coral and limestones were fitted with wind-towers – air-conditioning of the olden days. Bastakia is located on the eastern side of Bur Dubai and lies on the Dubai Creek. Along-side the old architectures, Majlis Gallery shows traditional Arab ceramics and furniture, while the XVA Gallery displays a more contemporary art collection.
8. 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 the museum; however, the architecture has been preserved. Dubai Museum of Historical Photographs and Documents now occupies the building.
Want more culturally immersive expereinces in Dubai and the Emirates? Check out our guide to finding culture in the UAE
9. Dubai Creek
Dubai Creek showcases a little of life from the traditional economies of fishing and pearl dive. 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. Deira and the Souks
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.
11. Sheikh Zayed Road
Running down the heart of the modern corporate area of Dubai city centre, it is surrounded by the 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 sky-scrappers. Many of the 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 the jewellery lovers.
12. The Beach & The Walk JBR
Whilst Jumeriah Beach Park is one of the most popular beaches in Dubai with it’s 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.
Doing a Dubai Stop Over? Check out our guide on short stays which includes how to get to and from the airport as well as best tours for when time in Dubai is tight
13. 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 the endless shopping opportunities, it’s one of our favourite indoor summer escape suggestions.
14. 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 incredibly popular thrill ride the Haunted Hotel. It’s not 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, it’s entirely indoors so suitable year-round.
16. Dubai Parks and Resorts
Motiongate, Legoland, Legoland Waterpark, Bollywood Parks 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, 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!
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 rides offer the great water thrills for family fun. Underwater safari, water-sports area for children 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 per your budget and requirements and enjoy your time with your loved ones in Dubai’s crystal clear waters. 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.
For more on family-friendly activities, check out our post 100+ Family Things to do in the UAE
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