Things to do in Dubai International Airport (DXB)

We’ve taken a look at all the things to do in Dubai International Airport, as well as what makes DXB one of the most varied and interesting travel hubs in the world.

If you've flown from one side of the world to the other, chances are you've touched down at Dubai International Airport at least once.
Dubai city center and Sheikh Zayed Road. Image credit: David Rodrigo/Unsplash.

It was a historic year for Dubai International Airport in 2018, which saw the institution celebrate its billionth passenger – an incredible milestone. That billionth passenger was nine-year-old Miami-native Arjun, and he and his family were given a royal welcome, greeted by Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority and CEO and Chairman of Emirates Group, and treated to a four-day, luxury-laden excursion into the city itself. The glitz and glamor of the occasion was not lost on young Arjun, and he now plays an indelible role in Dubai International Airport’s story of monumental transformation.

The airport has evolved from a single runway of compacted sand to become one of the most modern and dynamic travel hubs in the world. With an annual growth rate of (on average) more than 13 percent, Dubai International Airport (DXB) is expanding even quicker than its rivals in London, Paris and New York. The airport has become a symbol of Dubai’s explosion onto the world stage, a seemingly limitless growth that has seen a metropolis of shining glass and concrete emerge from the desert sands and baking heat of the Arabian Peninsula. Dubai has secured for itself a reputation as the world’s preeminent crossroads between East and West.

If you’ve flown from one side of the world to the other more than a few times, it seems infeasible that you wouldn’t have touched down in the city at least once. But what to do if you find yourself with some hours to kill between flights when there’s not enough time to visit the city, and too much time to just sit, twiddle your thumbs, and wait for your next plane? We’ve taken a look at all Dubai International Airport (DXB) has to offer, and what makes it one of the most varied and interesting travel hubs in the world.

Dubai airport restaurants – around the world in 80 dishes

Just like the city itself, Dubai International is home to a number of fantastic places to eat. Whether you’re looking for a quick snack on your way from one gate to another, or are absolutely famished after an eight-hour flight, you’re in for a treat.

Terminal 3 is home to Giraffe, a restaurant that takes its guests on a culinary adventure around the globe. With a  laid-back vibe and 24 hour opening times, Giraffe is ideal for the hungry traveler looking for something hearty and quick. A range of dishes from across the world means you can choose from smoky chipotle half chicken, Vietnamese dzao salmon, and a Thai-style duck stir fry.

Perfect for business travelers in a group who fancy a quick bite to eat, Giraffe has enough in its locker to satisfy the tastes of any crowd. Generous portions mean you’re well fed and comfortable for any connecting flight. As any seasoned traveler can tell you, traveling on a full stomach can make all the difference between a cramped and uncomfortable nightmare and a dreamy experience among the clouds.

Also located in Terminal 3 is Seafood Restaurant. Seafood Restaurant, perhaps unsurprisingly, specializes in a range of delicious seafood so fresh you’ll be worried it may begin scuttling from your plate. While the restaurant may lose points for imagination, its culinary offerings can’t be sniffed at. The fresh fish, cooked in a tandoori oven, is particularly recommended and is some of the finest food you’re going to find in the entire DXB airport.

Indulge in a range of seafood dishes at Dubai International Airport. Image credit: Viviana Rishe/Unsplash
Indulge in a range of seafood dishes at Dubai International Airport. Image credit: Viviana Rishe/Unsplash

Those who find themselves in Terminal 1 need not fear, there is a great selection of food to be found here, too. “The Kitchen” is one of the newest casual concepts in the Wolfgang Puck airport dining collection, and it promises a relaxing and welcoming atmosphere. The celebrity chef, who was born in Australia and then relocated to the United States, opened up this restaurant as part of an expansion into the city and isn’t the only celebrity chef to have muscled-in on the region. Though he is possibly the only one with the foresight to service hungry travelers, which is lucky for you.

The restaurant itself could be overlooked if you’re not paying attention. Nestled in the corner of Terminal 1’s food court, you’d be remiss not to pop in if you’ve got a few hours to kill – though its small size means it is perhaps not the best idea if you’re with a larger group of colleagues. You can choose from delectable, Neapolitan-style pizza or a melt-in-the-mouth Scottish salmon dish (among many others). If you’ve saved enough room, the chocolate layer cake is delicious and so rich that you’ll presume it’s in Dubai for the tax breaks.

Speaking of chocolate, Butler’s Chocolate Cafe is also located in Terminal 1, near the center of Concourse D. The opulent array of chocolates, cakes, biscuits, and fudges will leave your mouth watering, while the searing heat outside the building is all the excuse you need to eat them as soon as you’ve purchased them. You wouldn’t want them melting, now. The cafe is also ideal if you’ve suddenly remembered you’ve failed to get a gift for the person you’re meeting at your final destination.

Dubai, in general, is not regarded as a haven for those who enjoy a tipple. Dubai Airport, however, is home to an array of watering holes, ideal for whiling away a few hours with colleagues or even calming some shaky nerves (perfect if you’re not the most enthusiastic flier in the world). If you’re on your way to the other side of the world for business, a quick drink or two during your stop off in Dubai might be your last chance to truly relax, so you’ll want to grasp the opportunity as best you can. Check out the Heineken Lounge, McGettigan’s and Jack’s Bar and Grill for all your needs.

Dubai International Airport has a range of treats to indulge in. Image credit: Jennifer Pallian/Unsplash.
Dubai International Airport has a range of treats to indulge in. Image credit: Jennifer Pallian/Unsplash.

DXB airport lounges – find your airport oasis

The best lounge area in Dubai Airport is the subject of much-frenzied debate, and it really does depend on your tastes. Some lounges are for passengers on certain airlines and others are open to any First or Business Class passenger.

 One thing beyond question, however, is how important it can be to relax during those hours between flights. If you’ve just touched down after a near 20-hour journey from the States or you’re on your way to the East for business, you’ll want a quiet environment where you can catch up on the previous hours.

With all lounges in Dubai International Airport, you have access to the free Wi-Fi, are guaranteed a seat and can afford to relax somewhat and take advantage of the alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks available at the bar. You’ll be kept up to date with the status of your upcoming flight thanks to multiple flight information monitors, while there are free newspapers and magazines for those who are looking to kill a bit of time with some light reading.

Lounge access also has you covered in the event of a nightmare scenario, like a long and unscheduled delay on your next flight. There are private rooms to more easily catch some sleep while access to showers will keep you fresh and energized, especially if you’re jumping straight into action after your outbound flight. Being able to sleep and freshen up in the airport is a nice alternative if you’re not taking a reliable Blacklane airport transfer for Dubai International Airport (DXB) to your accommodation or staying in Dubai International Airport Hotel.

Business-class travelers are in for a treat. Emirates’ Business Class Lounges serve Moët and Chandon champagne alongside a selection of canapés prepared by Michelin star chefs. You’ll be hoping your flight is delayed a couple of hours in order to sample the goat cheese and Emmental gougères or blackberry and pomegranate macaroons.

The seating and decor are, as you’d perhaps expect, the absolute height of class and luxury, giving the impression of being in some exclusive gold club rather than the middle of one of the busiest airport terminals in the world. There’s also a Health Hub in each lounge, which means you can grab a Mediterranean vegetable wrap or a gluten-free muffin, to give yourself a tasty treat without the inevitable guilt.

First Class lounges come with every luxury and amenity you would expect, and quite a few you wouldn’t even have imagined. Emirates’ First Class lounge features a cigar bar and a dedicated Le Clos wine cellar (with sommeliers) if you have nothing on your agenda for the next couple of hours, in addition to a quiet area with sofas and chaise lounges.

If you do have a little business to attend to, then the Business Center has everything you’d need to get some work done, including secure and private charging stations for video calls. After all that, you’d do well to make use of the shower spa, so you’re refreshed and ready for whatever is waiting for you at your final destination.

Dubai airport duty-free – upgrade your everything

Dubai has very quickly established itself as perhaps the shopping and commerce center of the world, and its airport is no exception. The duty-free section at most airports will mainly consist of a few bottles of whisky, some perfume, and souvenir T-shirts. Dubai airport shopping, however, takes on an entirely different flavor. From local delicacies to luxury brands, from clothing to the latest tech and gadgets, Dubai International Airport’s duty-free section is something more akin to a capital city shopping mall and is a veritable shopping haven.

All stores are open 24 hours a day and are located in each of the three terminals. Whether you’re choosing between Cuban and Honduran cigars or browsing rack after rack of aged Scottish whisky, you’ll be cursing the duty-free limit. In Dubai, as with the rest of the world, duty-free limits apply and are relatively strictly enforced. Perhaps you can contemplate emptying half your hand luggage into the bin to make room for more products. How much do you really need those car keys and passport anyway?

It may seem like satire, but you can buy literal gold bars in Dubai’s duty-free area. While you may not be looking to stockpile gold reserves in the event of an economic crash, you can also purchase jewelry and watches from designers such as Pandora, Bvlgari, and Swarovski that will dazzle and shine.

Anyone who passed through Dubai Airport in the past decade or two will have noticed a shining luxury car parked directly in the middle of the concourse. The Dubai duty-free raffle gives you, for a fee, the opportunity to emerge the proud owner of a brand-new Porsche, BMW, Jaguar or Audi. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, then you can also enter the Millennium Millionaire draw, giving you a one-in-five thousand chance of walking out of the airport with a million dollars.

With so much to offer, whether you’re passing through Dubai or in the city for a visit, it’s best to view your time in the airport less as a monotonous necessity and more as an intriguing opportunity for a canny traveler. There aren’t many other places in the world where there is such a concentration of outstanding cuisine, incredible shopping, and luxurious lounge spaces. Above all, Dubai International Airport offers you boundless opportunities to do something with the time that you may otherwise have spent sitting, waiting, and staring into space. And for those who spend a great deal of their lives in airports, maybe that’s the greatest gift of all.