Top Dubai attractions


It’s a little known fact that Dubai was almost entirely constructed in a 3-minute montage sometime during the mid 80s. The soundtrack came, of course, from Starship.

View of the Burj al Arab

View of the Burj al Arab (1)

Now people flock to Dubai for the stunning attractions it has to offer.  The tallest building in the world, the world’s first 7-star hotel, and the astounding development The World Islands are all prominent features of Dubai.  The opulence demonstrated here is unrivalled throughout the world.  Love it or loathe it, the phenomenon of Dubai is truly incredible.

Personally, I haven’t ventured outside of Dubai’s airport, but our very own Stefan Harijono must hold some kind of record for his appearances in the United Arab Emirates.  He’s given me an excellent beginner’s introduction to Dubai, with a good list of attractions and activities you really shouldn’t miss.  Best that I just shut up now and let him take over.

Dubai has plenty of attractions that boggle the mind, so it’s hard to narrow it down, but my chosen few give a good taste of what Dubai can offer:

Big Bus Tour $$

This option is excellent for first time visitors and for people with only a short time to spend in Dubai, as it takes care of itinerary details such as transport connections and timing etc.
The Big Bus Tour of Dubai takes in a great many of the main attractions: Festival City, Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum (former ruler of Dubai)’s House, the Dubai Museum, Dubai Mall, Jumeirah Beach, the Burj al Arab, the Palm Jumeirah and of course much more.

Dubai Souvenier Shop

Dubai Souvenier Shop (2)

You can take advantage of the ‘hop-on, hop-off’ provision when you see something you really want to spend time over.  You can also take a Dhow Cruise as part of the tour; there are many options to tailor your tour to what you want from it.  Here’s a tip: hop on the tour bus in the early morning and do the whole circuit, looking at the sights, listening to the commentary etc; then on your next time round use the ‘hop-on, hop-off’ opportunity to spend time at the sights that really caught your interest.

The Big Bus Company also runs a night tour in which you can marvel at the city’s brightly lit skyline.
The price isn’t too expensive really, and includes entrance fees to a few sights as well as the free Dhow Cruise.

Sea Wings Dubai $$$$

The Palm Jumeirah from the air

The Palm Jumeirah from the air (3)

I’d say a Sea Wings experience is essential for all visitors to Dubai.  It’s a bit on the pricey side, but being in the air gives you an opportunity to witness Dubai from the best perspective. Taking off from Dubai Creek, we circled the city, taking in the Burj al Arab, the Palm Jumeirah, The World Islands and we had a chance to see the Burj Khalifa in all its glory.  Dubai is such a spectacle when viewed from up there.  Sitting in this tiny water plane is really a vivid experience, and this special offer below makes it much more affordable:

As a special treat for our readers and fans, we’ve liaised with Seawings to offer you 20% discount on a tour.  You need to express your interest through this form on our blog; a notification will then be sent to Seawings for them to contact you directly.

You will need to specify whether which tour you’d prefer, as the company offers several. The most popular is the Silver tour, which takes you on a spectacular forty minute sightseeing excursion over Dubai landmarks, offering an unparalleled view of the city’s modern skyline.  Details of this tour, in addition to all the others on offer, can be found here.

The offer is valid until the end of September 2012, so enjoy it while you can.

Please note that we’re not in any way affiliated with Seawings and neither will we receive any commission or any other kind of financial benefit through this offer; it is simply a way that we can add value to your experience as a customer.

The Dubai Mall $ – $$$$$

The Dubai Mall is the world’s largest shopping and entertainment destination. This mall holds 1,200 retail outlets as well as a massive amount of eating and drinking options.  Children can be occupied at KidZania; Sega Republic is an indoor theme park; the mall also holds an indoor skating rink and 22 screens worth of cinema entertainment.

Dubai Aquarium

Dubai Aquarium

For me, one of the most impressive things about the Dubai Mall is that this is the location of the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo.  The Aquarium Tank is the largest suspended aquarium in the world and offers glass-bottom boat trips, snorkelling dives and shark cage dives.  The Aquarium Tunnel is a 48m long tunnel with a 180-degree vantage point of the aquarium overhead.

Dubai Fountain

Dubai Fountain (4)

One more thing about the Dubai Mall – outside the mall is the Dubai Fountain, which provides an incredible display of water jets, lights and music.  The fountain can reach up to 150m in the air. You can witness the display every half hour from 18:00 to 23:00 throughout the week.  It’s then a short walk from here to….

Burj Khalifa Observatory Deck $$$

Again, not the cheapest experience, but remember where you are.  Especially if you don’t want to shell out for the plane ride, as the tallest building in the world Burj Khalifa gives an unrivalled view over the city.

View from Burj Khalifa

View from Burj Khalifa (5)

Two top tips I’ve learned:
1. buy your tickets online in order to skip the queues and select your visiting times.
2. when selecting visiting times, try to come just before sunset.  Here’s why: you can stay as long as you want; you can enjoy a daylight view of the city, then have a drink as the sun sets quickly, and then you can return to your vantage point to see the city by night.  This vantage includes a bird’s eye view of the fountains of the Dubai Mall below.

Dubai Fountain from Burj Khalifa

Dubai Fountain from Burj Khalifa (6)

Atlantis the Palm $$$

Atlantis The Palm

Atlantis The Palm

This fairly exclusive hotel has a water park called Aquaventure and a Dolphinarium that are especially attractive for families.  Aquaventure is the largest water park in the Middle East and features a wealth of slides, rapids and relaxation areas – including a private beach.  At Dolphin Bay visitors can interact with the dolphins through a variety of activities; the centre even runs an educational programme.

Aquaventure and Lost Chamber

Aquaventure and Lost Chambers (7 & 8)

Atlantis the Palm also has an indoor aquarium called The Lost Chambers ($$), and offers many services on-site, including restaurants, spa facilities, a helicopter service and a 5-star PADI dive centre.

Dune Bashing $ – $$$

Dune Bashing

Dune Bashing - exhilerating

I guess there are several ways to bash a dune, and each has its own price tag.  You could opt for a simple drive for one day, which will be a fairly modest price.  Alternatively, you could choose a 3-day safari, which would run on a larger scale.  You also have a choice of vehicles – dune buggy, 4×4 cruiser or quad bike.  Wheels not your thing?  How about a spot of sandboarding.


Sandboarding (9)

Dhow Cruise $$

Dhow Dinner Cruise

Dhow Dinner Cruise (10)

A Dhow Dinner Cruise is an excellent way to combine relaxation with Arabian food and culture amidst the fantastic scenery of Dubai.  Cruises generally run in the evening and allow you to see the bright lights of the city whilst enjoying a range of features to give you a taste of Arabian experience.  You can drink coffee and eat fresh dates, watch a belly dancing show, enjoy an international buffet dinner, and party the night away with a live DJ.

As a special treat for our readers and fans, we’ve liaised with North Tours to offer you 45% discount on a Dhow Dinner Cruise.  You need to express your interest through this form on our blog; a notification will then be sent to North Tours for them to contact you directly.

You will need to specify whether you’d prefer a Creek Cruise or a Marina Cruise, details of which – including times available – can be found by following the URLs.

The offer is valid until the end of November 2012, so enjoy it while you can.

Please bear in mind that we’re not in any way affiliated with North Tours and neither will we receive any commission or any other kind of financial benefit through this offer; it is simply a way that we can add value to your experience as a customer.

Day Trip to Abu Dhabi $$ – $$$

You can do this in several different ways – the most popular ways are either to rent a car and make your own way down there or to go as part of a tour.  Obviously, a private tour is going to cost more than if you join in as part of a group.  Abu Dhabi offers an excellent opportunity to view some more historical attractions that would be harder to find in Dubai.  There’s more to come from Abu Dhabi at a later stage, but here’s an idea of what to see in the Emirates’ capital:

  • Emirates Palace, the world’s second 7-star hotel, stretching 1.1 km from wing to wing
  • Heritage Village
  • Yas Island, with the Formula 1 circuit and of course Ferrari World, which boasts the world’s fastest roller coaster
  • Al Maya Island – for a day  of water- and jet skiing, swimming and dining on a private island

    Emirates Palace, Heritage Village, Formula Rossa and Al Maya Island

    Emirates Palace, Heritage Village, Formula Rossa and Al Maya Island (11, 12, 13)

Lunch/Dinner at the Burj al Arab $$$$ – $$$$$

High tea at the Burj

High tea at the Burj (14)

The world’s first seven star hotel, the Burj al Arab has something of a reputation to uphold.  As you can imagine, a meal here isn’t the cheapest in Dubai, but it will certainly make for an unforgettable experience. I ate at Junsui, which serves elegant far-eastern dishes that are prepared in front of guests at live stations in an ‘open kitchen’ concept.  Besides this, Burj al Arab has much more to offer:

Al Mahara gives you the chance to dine on fine seafood whilst gazing at the beautiful aquarium of exotic fish.
Al Muntaha sits 200m above sea level, offering spectacular views of Jumeirah beach, and The Palm and World Islands.
Majlis Al Bahar presents al fresco dining on the beach.

Do you remember?  The helicopter pad of Burj al Arab was famously used as tennis court for professional tennis players in a far-fetched publicity stunt:

The other malls… $ – $$$$

Mall of the Emirates

Mall of the Emirates (15)

…Principally, Mall of the Emirates, Dubai Festival City, and the Wafi Mall.

This first calls itself the ultimate leisure, entertainment and shopping resort.  Besides all the shops, Mall of the Emirates contains a family leisure complex called Magic Planet that includes a 14-screen multiplex cinema, a 500-seat theatre and arts centre, two luxurious hotels and the famous Ski DubaiSki Dubai is the largest indoor ski slope in the Middle East, with 5 runs that reach up to 400m long, and a Snow Park with a Snow Cavern.  How cool would it be to say that you had your first ski experience right in the middle of a city where temperatures reach over 40 degrees Celsius?

Wafi Mall

Wafi Mall (16)

Dubai Festival Cityis actually what I’d recommend if you have a 24-hour layover at the airport. Located within close proximity of Dubai Airport, Festival City is an attractive area next to Dubai Creek, with loads to offer.  The creekside boulevard is an attractive place to enjoy an evening promenade and is lined with attractive waterfront restaurants and bars.  There are over 550 retail outlets in Festival City, alongside fitness and sporting facilities, cinema and concert areas, and the nearby Al Badia Golf Club; this place can keep you occupied for at least a day or two.

Adjacent to the pyramid-themed Raffles Hotel, Wafi Mall is heavily influenced by ancient Egyptian design. This space hosts artworks alongside the entertaining Encounter Zone and the lifestyle areas such as Cleopatra’s Spa and the Raffles Botanical Garden.  There is, of course, loads of opportunity to eat, drink, browse and shop.

Wild Wadi Waterpark $$

Wild Wadi

Wild Wadi (17)

Situated in front of the Burj al Arab, Wild Wadi has 30 rides and attractions within its wet wet walls.  These include static surf conditions for body-boarding, massive downhill waterslides, a series of rapids called White Water Wadi, and a slide and bowl called ‘Burj Surj’. There are cabanas located along the lazy river where you can stay and enjoy VIP facilities.

Cloud City

Cloud City (18)

So there you have it.  Next time you find yourself in Dubai and you think you have nothing to do – think again.  This list just about scratches the surface of this incredible city…what do you think we’ve missed?  If you’ve experienced any of the things we’ve listed, feel free to let us know what you think of it.  Thanks to you for holding out this long, to Stefan for his photos and insightful…insights, and ultimately to Oboya Zayed.


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About Michael

Arrogance, hostility, parsimony, rapacity, impatience; the five humours of the Englishman abroad are my most positive features and also my guide and solace through tribulations. I delight in coffee, cheese, and the music of Ray Charles, and you can catch me trying to form a queue anywhere from Centraal Station to Hoofddorpplein.

4 Responses to Top Dubai attractions

  1. is very nice blog i like to visit dhow cruise dubai

  2. Angela says:

    Dhow Cruise is a great cruise. I just love having dinner there, I truly am a fan of dubai attractions. Great Blog, Thanks for sharing, please keep on sharing.

  3. one of the best blog i read very nice informative blog…

  4. Nice respond in return of this question with real arguments
    and explaining everything about that.