The ultimate guide to Dubai

Why this UAE city is the hottest place to be right now.

Dubai Marina at sunset. Image credit: RobertBreitpaul/iStock

“Dubai, what can you NOT do?” After visiting Dubai, this will likely be your impression. This unstoppable city is home to the world’s extremes: the tallest building, the biggest mall, the largest fountain, artificial islands, an indoor ski slope, a tropical garden in the heart of the desert, and so on. Sometimes real life exceeds the wildest dreams here. From surreal views to surprising hues, there is always something new in Dubai.

We have compiled a list of some of the most spectacular and interesting things to see and do in Dubai. Let’s dive in:

The city of adventures

For some time now, Dubai has been associated with adventure as it offers a wide range of adrenaline-pumping activities that are not typically available elsewhere. Regardless of how daring you are, these activities will definitely feed your inner daredevil!

Make your trip unforgettable at Skydive Dubai

A visit to Skydive Dubai is one of the most exciting things to do in the city if you’re an adrenaline junkie. An experience of a lifetime awaits at this popular adventure hub. You can fly over the vast Arabian desert or the iconic Palm Jumeirah where you can experience the emirate from a whole new perspective. Both of these locations provide world-class instructors to guide you safely back to earth.

But we know soaring through the open sky might be a little too extreme for some (including our editor), so our suggestion is an indoor skydiving experience at iFly at City Centre Mirdif. The facility has two 10-meter-long wind tunnels, and lets you experience indoor skydiving at its finest.

Sky dining instead of skydiving

If you’re not the type to enjoy the thrilling sensations of a free fall, but still want to feed your adventurous spirit, the Dinner in the Sky experience might be just the thing. Listed among the 10 most unusual restaurants in the world by Forbes, Dinner in the Sky offers one of the most memorable dining experiences. Located in SkyDive Dubai, the unique restaurant suspends a dining table 50 meters above the ground via crane. While you are enjoying a meal prepared by celebrity chefs, the platform rotates slowly and provides 360° views of Dubai Marina, Palm Jumeirah, and Ain Dubai on Bluewaters Island.

Experience the world’s longest urban zipline

Dubai Zipline had amazed the world with its thrilling ride across Downtown, and now the new XLine ride at Dubai Marina offers a double dose of fun and excitement. In addition to being the world’s longest urban zipline, it travels twice the distance and lasts twice as long. Additionally, it offers two lines, allowing you to ride side by side with a friend. It’s time to let go of your fears, you’ll be flying above water and landing at up to 80 km/h, 170 m above the ground.

Skiing while it is more than 40 degrees outside

Sounds impossible, right? But not in Dubai. With indoor skiing, snow parks, and penguin meetups, Ski Dubai offers a memorable family experience. Located in the Mall of Emirates, this is the only ski resort in the UAE where you can ski, snowboard, and zip line all year round.

Moreover, Ski Dubai is home to its very own colony of Gentoo and King Penguins. You have the experience of a lifetime to get up close and personal with these cute and adorable creatures. Kids are going to love that

Ready to make tracks in the sand? 

The Arabian Desert surrounds Dubai, making it a perfect location for a desert safari. In essence, Desert safaris in Dubai involve driving through huge mounds of sand (called “dune-bashing”). Your guide will fearlessly drive you through peaks and valleys on this thrilling adventure. After the ride, it’s time to watch the sunset, which feels so different in the desert. Some tours include sandboarding as part of their activities. A delicious meal, live entertainment, and even falconry are all part of this adventure.

The city of snow-white beaches

Dubai is home to endless fine-sand, snow-white beaches. A significant feature of Dubai beaches is that they are mostly man-made, therefore they’re flat with soft and sugary sand. Emiratis love their beaches, they clean and even groom them every day. There are many beaches here that have special days for women and children.

If you are weary of the dark and cold winters, grab your towel and sun lotion and head to the paradise of warm and sunny beaches.

Explore chic La Mer

La Mer Dubai is one of the most popular beachfront venues among tourists and locals that combines sun and sand with shopping and style. The area is characterized by wide open spaces lined with palm trees, graffiti art murals, and a laid-back atmosphere. ‘La Mer’ means ‘the sea’, and the architecture here is designed around the theme of the sea marine. Sustainability is also a key component of the design. 

La Mer beach Dubai. Image credit: J Shim/Unsplash

You can enjoy a meal at one of the chic restaurants, take a stroll on the white sand beach, watch a movie at the cinema or splash in the Laguna Waterpark. Aside from the prestigious boutiques, there are several unique concept stores you don’t want to miss.

Welcome to the festival of kites

Dubai always offers the best to its guests. So if you’re looking for a special dose of vitamin sea then Kite Beach is for you. It is one of Dubai’s most popular beaches full of sun-seekers, sports-enthusiasts and foodies. Besides that, if you are serious about taking your water sports skills to the next level, Kite Beach is for you. There are different services that offer rental equipment and training for various water-based activities. If you prefer to stay dry, you can just join a beach volleyball game with the friendly crowd and vibe with new friends.

However, if like our editor you prefer lazing away the day with a book, then try the beach library. Here, you can leaf through a paperback with the sound of waves as a background.

Where the city meets the sea

Known for its sun-soaked cafes and shops, The Beach JBR is one of the trendiest hangout hubs in Dubai. As the name suggests this beach is located alongside the JBR neighborhood, a hip area with a contemporary Arabian flair.

A fun outdoor day at this beach can include wakeboarding, parasailing, watching the latest blockbuster, or even riding camels. Like other places in Dubai, you can work in some retail therapy and revamp your closet. And no matter how much of a foodie you are, with cafes and restaurants offering dishes from every corner of the world, the chances of you finding your favorite flavors are almost 100 percent.

Only you and serene waters

You cannot find this place on every other “Dubai Beaches” list. Al Sufouh Beach also called Secret Beach, or Black Palace Beach is one of those hidden gems popular only among locals and long-term residents. Situated behind a row of palm trees between Burj Al Arab and Palm Jumeirah, it’s easy to miss, but well worth the scouting.

Unlike other posh, vibrant, and colorful beaches in Dubai, Al Sufouh Beach is an escape, filled with silence and serenity, one of the best relaxing spots in the city. Imagine your small, favorite local beach, and then add the dazzling presence of Burj Al Arab in the background. Our peaceful secret paradise isn’t lined with restaurants and cafes, so bring your own gear!

The hottest lodging on Palm Jumeirah

Weekends in Dubai are made for fun, sun, sand, and sea! Far from any ordinary hotel beach, Beach by Five is a 150-meter private beach located at the entrance of the iconic Palm Jumeirah. Incredible contemporary architecture is combined with a customized service to create a memorable and incredible experience for guests. This party and culinary hotspot is one of those dare-to-be-different resorts that truly reflects the vibe of the city.

Finish the week on a high note

The Nikki Beach Resort and Spa is one of Dubai’s hottest destinations, with a world of luxury and entertainment. It is located on the Pearl Jumeirah waterfront, off the Jumeirah coastline and Sheikh Zayed Road. The destination is regarded as one of the most popular beach clubs in the city for its original concept of blending music, party, entertainment, dining, and fashion.

Live it up on the weekend

With its eclectic nightclubs, state-of-the-art party venues, and lavish pubs and bistros, Dubai is the ultimate party destination. One of the legendary nightlife spots of the city is Zero Gravity. Located in Dubai Marina just meters from Skydive Dubai’s famous drop zone, this buzzing hub never sleeps. This leisure and entertainment hotspot features an award-winning beach club, several restaurants, gardens, and a nightlife venue. Popular among Dubai’s youths, it is one of the most popular concert spots in the city.

The city of unique experiences

Contrary to what you might have heard, Dubai is not all shiny skyscrapers, mega malls, and seven-star hotels. This place is an oasis of contrasts; from the tranquility of the desert to suburban bustle and everything in between. Besides the ever-growing attractions, the city’s friendly atmosphere always stays in the memory of visitors. With all the various available options, a memorable time in this city is anyone’s game.

One frame, two pictures

Dubai is home to one of the most surreal architectural masterpieces in the world, which holds the record for being the largest frame on the planet. The Dubai Frame is an observatory deck, museum, and monument located in Zabeel Park that stands 150 meters high and is 93 meters wide. The rectangular shape of this landmark was inspired by the golden ratio of 1.618, which is considered an ideal balance by many architects and designers.

The inspiring landmark resembles a giant picture frame with two great motifs. You will be able to see the new Dubai with all its lustrous sights in the southwest or the old Dubai, the Dubai Creek and Deira area in the northeast. There is a panoramic lift inside the Frame that leads to a viewing platform with a glass floor. This platform is one of the most talked-about features of Dubai Frame and connects the two columns of the frame. It allows you to walk along the glass and see everything below it. The glass walkway features pressure-sensitive liquid crystal technology, which allows the glass to turn from opaque to transparent when someone steps on it. This makes the walk across the glass floor even more dramatic.

The eighth wonder of the world

The Palm Jumeirah is the world’s largest man-made island, which is visible from space and is considered the eighth wonder of the world. The archipelago resembles a palm tree, a beloved plant in this region.

There is something for everyone at Palm Jumeirah from shops to hotels to restaurants and beach clubs. It is one of the best places to relax and unwind in Dubai. This island is also home to Atlantis The Palm, FIVE Palm Jumeirah, Nakheel Mall and the Pointe. Palm Jumeirah Boardwalk, which stretches over 11 km, is a distinctive walkway along the coastline. The best place to escape the city for a full day of “me time”.

Fancy a journey across the globe?

Dubai strongly believes in the idea of cultural unity. Achieving the goal of learning from one another and growing together is the Emirate’s top priority, and there is an event for that! Global Village is a cultural event that attracts millions of visitors every year from October to April. This open-air fair consists of several pavilions created in the theme of different countries. Each pavilion takes the visitors to their respective countries through colorful decorations, music, tastes, and smells. You can purchase souvenirs and taste the most delicious national dishes while exploring traditional art and crafts. From Yemeni honey to Persian carpets to Emirati costumes and Spanish engraved necklaces you’ll find it all here.

Aside from being a cultural event, The Global Village is an entertainment hub, with lots of concerts, theatrical performances, and shows. One day is simply not enough to explore Global Village fully; you’d be better off returning again and again.

A relaxing retreat into a beautiful garden

One of the best outdoor places to visit in Dubai, especially with kids, is Dubai Miracle Garden, which has more than 150 million blooming flowers in exquisite colors and displays. Each season, as the temperatures begin to cool with the arrival of winter, this earthly paradise reopens its gates. Have fun exploring the heart-shaped pathway, fairy castles, full-size floral houses, and the famous butterfly garden. Don’t miss the world’s largest floral installation – a life-size version of the Emirates’ beloved A380 jumbo jet, fully covered with more than 500,000 fresh flowers and plants.

There is also an entire avenue dedicated to Mickey Mouse and his fellow Disney characters. Smurfs fans of all ages can also enjoy the new Smurfs Village, where they can meet the lovely blue characters in various landscape arrangements. We miss our escape during summer when they close in order to renovate and install new exhibits.

The magic fountains

Here’s another captivating experience you shouldn’t miss. The Pointe on Palm Jumeirah is Dubai’s most recent waterfront destination. As well as being a premier attraction, it’s also an ideal spot for capturing impressive shots of the azure waters and Atlantis backdrop. Restaurants, cafes, and shopping outlets can be found in abundance here. It is also a magical part of the city. The Palm Fountain at The Pointe will take your breath away; it holds the Guinness World Record for being the world’s largest dancing fountain. It sways to the most beloved hits as it rises 105 meters high. A mesmerizing spectacle with over 3,000 LED lights creates the illusion of viewing a galaxy from the earth.

A day with superheroes

For a day trip to the world’s largest temperature-controlled indoor theme park, make sure you have comfortable shoes handy.

The IMG Worlds of Adventure is Dubai’s first mega entertainment destination, offering visitors the thrill of six epic adventure zones under one roof. Along with separate sections for Marvel and Cartoon Network, there are also four other zones exclusively created by IMG Group. These include IMG Boulevard, Lost Valley Dinosaur Adventure, Haunted Hotel, and IMG Kids. We are not going to spoil it, just know that Marvel Super Heroes, Cartoon Network characters, and furious dinosaurs are waiting for you.

The harbor-side heritage

This is another destination that might not be found on every other list. True to their tagline, Al Seef area is where “the old meets the new”, like a fusion of traditions and modernity. Built on the shores of Dubai’s historic creek, it depicts the city’s rich past and its bright future. Dubai Creek was once the hub for pearl diving and still, there are weavers, pearl divers, fishermen, and tradesmen crisscrossing the waters in their daily routines.

There are two sections to this outdoor venue: a traditional Emirati village and a modern promenade. The traditional Emirati architecture is recreated beautifully with all the wind towers, sand-colored buildings, and Arabic decorations. A faded and rusted style has been deliberately incorporated into everything including the Starbucks coffee shop. The waterfront promenade is lined with boutique stores, art galleries, gift stalls, dining options, and an open market. Shopping or dining, you’ll have the best of the East and West. Come at sunset to enjoy those postcard-worthy views.

Where the earth meets the sky

We saved the best for (almost) last! Everyone knows there is no trip to Dubai that would be complete without spending some time at Burj Khalifa, the city’s heart and soul, 828 meters of beauty. Whether it is a national holiday or an international event, Burj Khalifa is the center of attraction.

To have an idea of Bur Khalifa’s height, it’s enough to say that it is three times the height of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. There are two observatory decks to take in the unmatched views of the city; the two-story “At the Top” on the 124th and 125th floors, and “At the Top Sky” on the 148th floor which is 555 meters high. The towering structure is based on an abstraction of desert lily, a regional flower that grows in the UAE desert.

This breathtaking landmark is located in Dubai Downtown, also known as the Center of Now, and is surrounded by the trendiest hubs of the city like The Dubai Mall, The Dubai Fountain, The Burj Park, and numerous shops and restaurants. It is a mixed-use development, with residential units, offices, retail space, and an Armani Hotel. In addition, it is the site of the famous New Years’ Eve fireworks, which is viewed by thousands in the city along with millions from all around the world. One thing is for sure; no matter where you see the Burj from, it never fails to please.

A shopper’s paradise

With almost no exception shopping is on the list of every Dubai visitor. Known as one of the most world-renowned shopping destinations, Dubai offers a variety of shopping options, from local souks to international malls. We bet you’ll go home with more luggage than when you arrived.

Shop ‘till you drop

After having your breath taken away by the Burj Khalifa, hop over next door to The Dubai Mall, one of the biggest shopping and entertainment centers in the world. Covering an area the size of 50 football fields, The Dubai Mall creates unforgettable experiences for the whole family. You have more than 1,300 shops to choose from and over 200 restaurants and cafes to dine.

But, The Dubai Mall is more than just shopping and dining. It is home to an Underwater Zoo, a giant walk-through aquarium with over 300 species of marine life. Our lavish mall also features an Olympic-size ice rink that hosts international events as well as regular skating training.

Right outside the mall is The Dubai Fountain, one of the largest choreographed fountains in the world. It creates a dazzling festival of light, water, and music. The fountain shows begin every day at 6 p.m. and run every half hour until 11 p.m. It is also worth checking out the indoor fountain at The Dubai Mall, which is one of the most photographed spots.

The ultimate family destination

Another shopaholic’s paradise in Dubai is the Mall of Emirates, which is also home to the famous Ski Dubai. Aside from an array of various shopping and dining options, the mall is a structural pride of the city. The interior is a myriad of arcades, marked with an impressive domed skylight 12 storeys in height, and a wrought-iron ceiling reminiscent of European railways. As the world’s first shopping resort and flagship luxury destination the mall’s extensive family leisure offerings also include a Magic Planet, Vox Cinemas, and the Dubai Community of Theatre and Arts Centre.

Where time travel is possible

Ibn Battuta Mall is named to honor the famed Arab scholar and explorer. As the biggest themed mall in the UAE with more than 500 shops, it is truly made for exploration. Inspired by Ibn Battuta’s travels, the mall is divided into six courts – Persia, China, India, Andalusia, Egypt, and Tunisia. Each court is designed in a way to reflect the unique architecture of that region. Imagine having your morning coffee at a Starbucks in Persia and ending your day under the skies of Egypt. Visitors of the mall can also enjoy a trampoline park, a bowling alley, and other amusement centers.

Ready for treasure hunting?

Did you know that Dubai is also called the City of Gold? Therefore, a must-do in the city is a visit to the Dubai Gold Souk, which is situated in Deira, one of the city’s oldest districts.

With exquisite jewelry and gemstones inspired by cultures around the world, you’re sure to find something you love. There are also diamond-encrusted ornaments, pearl strings, platinum, and silver jewelry in creative designs. Even if you don’t intend to buy anything, you can’t help but be impressed by the dazzling sights. Dubai Gold Souk is known for haggling, so you’re guaranteed to get a great deal.

Beauty in the details

For those who are not fond of haggling, the colorful traditional market at Souk Madinat Jumeirah should be a rewarding experience. Located next to the renowned Burj Al Arab, Souk Madinat Jumeirah is a tranquil outdoor mall that offers a perfect blend of old and new.

Madinat Jumeirah. Image credit: Zosia Korcz/Unsplash

It has a selection of exotic products that perfectly captures the bustling energy of a typical Emirati souk. You’ll find a mix of traditional stores selling Aladdin lamps and contemporary restaurants serving international cuisine.

There are plenty of things to do in Souk Madinat Jumeirah, including an Abra tour. Abra is a common traditional Emirati wooden boat. Hop on to one and sail across the meandering waterways. There will be tons of Instagrammable pictures from that journey.

The city with rich history

Dubai’s history is just as fascinating as its skyscrapers. There are a number of museums and exhibitions depicting the past, present, and future of the city. Before oil discovery, the pearl trade was Dubai’s major source of wealth. Aside from that the city relied on fishing, boat building, and providing accommodation and sustenance for the region traders passing through to sell jewelry, textiles, and spices.

Whether you’re interested in historical and archeological wonders or futuristic and mind-altering experiences, Dubai has a museum for you. 

Where everything started

Dubai Museum is the city’s oldest building and is one of the most popular attractions for history buffs. The museum offers a glimpse into Dubai’s bygone era and the different phases of its transformation following the oil boom in the 1960s. There are several exhibits and life-size displays in the museum that depict earlier lifestyles. Original antiquities such as pottery, weapons, and tombs can be found in the museum. There are also different wings designed to recreate and reflect the atmosphere of traditional markets and houses. Dubai Museum is an excellent place to learn about old Dubai, plus the ticket is quite affordable.

Where the future lives

Dubai’s most unique museum welcomes you to the future! The Museum of the Future is a place where you can experience what could be. Launched on Feb. 22, 202, the museum explores how next-generation solutions such as artificial intelligence and augmented reality can enhance our lives.

There are seven floors in this museum, each designed like an interactive and expansive movie set. Each floor is dedicated to a different topic, such as space travel and living, climate change and ecology, technological advancements, health, wellness, and spirituality. This landmark will be a gateway to a better future for humanity and the global economy.

A place of admiration

It’s impossible to drive far in Dubai without seeing a mosque or two. In addition to being places of worship for Muslims, these mosques are often spectacular pieces of oriental architecture. Jumeirah Mosque, in particular, is one of the most famous mosques in the city (and the most photographed one), which offers a glimpse into the religious culture of the UAE. It is constructed with pure-white stones and can accommodate 1,300 people at a time. Moreover, this mosque is one of the few in Dubai that offers guided tours for non-Muslims, giving them more insight into the country’s official religion.

A place of thousand tales

Downtown Dubai is the home of Dubai Opera, a vibrant center for art and culture. Contrary to popular belief, musicals and dramas are not the only things you can enjoy at the Dubai Opera. Stand-up comedies, jazz performances, musical concerts, and other notable events are held in this adorable dhow-shaped masterpiece. Innovative and flexible, the design can convert from its conventional theater mode to a flat floor plan or even a concert hall. There are guided tours available at the facility, which provide insight into its architecture and history and a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes world of high-end productions.

The city of love, life, and smiles

All roads lead to unforgettable experiences in Dubai. The city is passionate about making its guests feel at home. You get to visit the most picturesque locations, take in breathtaking views, and interact with one of the most generous nations in the world.

There are a number of transportation options to get around the city, but the most convenient and reliable by far is to book a Blacklane limousine service in Dubai to anywhere you would like to go. When you download the Blacklane app, you can have local, professional chauffeurs ready for you within minutes.