36+ Best Things to Do in Dubai on Your First Visit ( from a Local Resident )
Dubai never gets old. Even as a long time resident, I still have to pinch myself. It’s an Architect’s playground. As a result, there is no place quite like it.
I swear, it’s like fine wine. It just keeps getting better the more you visit.
Still there are some classic things that I believe one definitely needs to do on their first visit. Which is why I wrote this in-depth guide to the top things to do it Dubai.
You can see it as an ultimate Dubai Bucket list of some sort.
Burj Khalifa & “At The Top” viewing platform
This iconic building really doesn’t need any introduction.
The Burj Khalifa is famous for a reason. It is the tallest building in the world. There is also an observation deck that will give you the most comprehensive view over the Dubai Skyline.
Tip: I recommend making reservations for the “At The Top”, the world’s highest observation platform ahead of time to keep disappointment at bay. It tends to get quite booked up.
The Dubai Fountain (& its shows)
Right in front of the Burj Khalifa is one of the world’s most beautiful fountain.
The Dubai fountain is such a popular place. I go there regularly and there’ s always people hanging around and it is free to access.
There is a couple daily daytime shows at 1pm and 1:30 pm. You also have the evening shows, every 30 minutes, between 6pm to 11pm. They are entirely free and be prepared to be serenated to the likes of Andrea Bocelli and other classic songs and Arabian rhythms.
Please note that the day time show does not happen during Ramadan and do check for specific timing for the evening shows if you’re traveling during Ramadan.
Tip: You can also do a Dubai fountain lake ride during the shows. Tickets can be purchased online. The lake ride cost around 65 AED ( Apr. 17 USD/ 23 CAD/ 16 Euro)
Time Out Market Dubai
Honestly I really love this place. I have a whole review on it. The popular Time eatery has taken the whole world by storm and Dubai is one of their recent addition. After having such a great time at the Time Out Mexico City, I was really excited to check this one out.
Think of it as a fancy food halls with some of the best food and also craft cocktails.
I also mention Time Out Market Dubai because they have a terrace which gives you some of the best views over the Dubai fountains and the Burj Khalifa.
Tip: Make your way to Time Out Market Dubai a bit early around 5pm to snatch yourself an outdoor table and also catch the first fountain show.
Burj Al Arab
This is one of the Dubai originals. This structure is some of the early ones that helped put Dubai on the international map. An icon of Arabian Luxe and one of the most sought after and exclusive hotel in the world.
Museum of the Future
A latest addition to Dubai. This structure will automatically captivate you.
It’s quite impossible not to spot it while you’re driving on Dubai’s main highway. It looks so futuristic, something straight out of another dimension.
When I first saw it, I had no idea what it was. Then went to look it up and saw that it was “the museum of the future“. Yep, totally made sense.
The architects did such a great job. I love this structure so much that I wrote a full blog post on it.
Tip: This place is always booked so you absolutely need to purchase your tickets weeks in advance. In case you weren’t lucky and couldn’t snatch tickets on time for the exhibition and museum area, I still recommend going to visit the premises and the main lobby. There is so much to do inside the main lobby and it is totally free to wander around. Check out my blog post for more details.
Another structure that towers over the city. There is a glass panel on the top floor and it gives a nice view over Dubai.
You need to have tickets to access the park area and the frame’s top floor. It is still worth it to get close to the structure to check it out even if you don’t go inside.
Tip: As usual, book your tickets in advance to enter the premises.
Ain Dubai (Dubai Eye)
Just like London, Dubai also has its own eye.
Not going to lie, this has been a little problematic, often closing for numerous reasons. If you absolutely want to ride the structure, do check their website to see if it’s operating during your visit.
Even if you don’t go inside the Ain Dubai, it is a fantastic architectural piece and it’s pretty much always lit up, showcasing some beautiful colors and imagery.
Tip: There is also a view point on the main beach close to the Ritz-Carlton Dubai. But like I said, you get a good view from the entire beach stretch 🙂
The island on which Ain Dubai is located. This place is absolutely gorgeous. You will find dining options for days.
This is the waterfront beach area facing the Bluewaters Dubai. Yes you can swim there and it’s entirely free. They have plenty of showers and changing area. Honestly, this place is absolutely beautiful. I’m such a fan girl and feel so grateful to be living in the UAE. Which is another reason why I can’t wait for you to come and visit and have a great time also.
To avoid any confusion, JBR beach and Marina beach are more or less the same stretch of sand, just different names but same area.
Anyways moving on 🙂
Tip1: Please note: JBR, JBR/Marina Beach and Bluewaters are all in the same spot where you can just park your car and have a continuous stroll. Bluewaters is an island connected to the JBR stretch via a pedestrian bridge. 🙂
Tip2: Being your own towels but plenty of sand for you to get comfortable. There isn’t really any daybeds for hire unless you are staying in one of the hotel resorts.
Tip3 : Also if you really love this beach area but prefer a beach club, I recommend the following private beach clubs:
- Zero Gravity ( very famous beach brunch)
- Bla Bla Dubai ( no direct access to the beach but a lovely pool area)
- Andreea’s ( Pool area but you can walk back and forth to the beach)
The Walk JBR
This is the walkway right in front of the Marina beach.
This is such a beautiful development. I always enjoy going there. I also go when I have a poutine craving.
Anyone from Quebec would understand.
While I do believe their quality has gone down in recent year, the poutine is still really good and as close to a Montreal poutine as it can get.
There is also the award-winning Aprons & Hammers for those lobster cravings. I vouch for it 100%. Only thing is there is there is no alcohol license so you won’t be able to accompany it with a glass of white.
Having to settle for their virgin mojito, I must say, it was a refreshing surprise though.
Tip: There is a huge underground paid parking so you don’t have to stress about that.
Absolutely stunning place for a stroll during the cooler season. There are tons of world class restaurants, beach bars and coffee shop.
Tip: In case you really need to get some work done while visiting, The JBR has one of the best Starbucks I’ve seen with a nice terrace overlooking the beach. Just wow.
This development is a similar concept to JBR. There is the public beach and a nice walkway where you can enjoy your time. You will find tons of restaurants and dining options.
Another thing that differentiate La Mer Dubai from the JBR walk is that there is a heaven emphasis on murals. So any street arts lovers, you will have a great time wandering about and admiring the beautiful art everywhere.
There is also a private beach club in La Mer called Train SF Beach club. It’s one of my favorite beach clubs in Dubai. The premises are absolutely stunning. There is a big gym on site and two awesome pool. Then you have the club’s own private beach. To top it off, you can still spot the Burj Khalifa in the distance.
Dubai Shopping Festival
Shopping lovers, rejoice!
Every year Dubai hosts the Shopping Festival Lasting about seven weeks and is usually from mid December all the way until the end of January. There’s also tons of cultural activities happening and a big Opening ceremony at the Burj Park in Downtown Dubai.
Tip: Traffic is insane and you can spend a crazy amount of time locating a parking at the Dubai mall during the shopping festival. If this is a top priority for you during your stay, would recommend staying at a walking distance to the mall and forgoing renting a car.
Tip2: Yes Taxis are fairly priced but this is the one time where I would recommend using the Dubai Tram to get around.
Dubai Tram/ Dubai Metro
Ok I’m not going to lie but Dubai residents can be a bit spoiled 🙂
So most people prefer to sit in their own car even if that means more time in traffic.
On the other hand, The Dubai Metro is not only aesthetically pleasing but very clean. It doesn’t go everywhere yet but does a good job getting you around some of the best hot spots of Dubai. And all this while avoiding the crazy traffic on the highway.
Tip: It’s a good idea to make use of the Tram during the Dubai Shopping Festival
Dubai Drone Light Show
Every year, during the Dubai Shopping Festival, they also host a Drone light show. This is scheduled daily at 7pm and 10pm on the Bluewaters island. You get a very great view from pretty much anywhere close to the Marina Beach. It’s totally free and runs throughout January.
Check the specific date for your visit.
Tip: Grab a table on the top terrace of Bla Bla Dubai to enjoy the show with some amazing cocktails.
This is a world class marina. You can catch the water taxi to get from one point to another. I love this place, it really feels electric. Parking isn’t really a problem but the traffic can be at times.
Tip: Spend some time walking around and admiring the beautiful views. Also avoid rush hours to minimize idle time sitting in traffic whilst entering and exiting the Marina.
A great Dubai experience to do on the Marina. Boat parties are actually a staple in UAE culture. My friends in Abu Dhabi love to have a good times on a boat.
Recently, I went on this small yacth and it was such a great experience. The staff was OUTSTANDING. And the tickets included food bites and bottomless drinks. Of course the experience also depends on the crowd you find yourself with.
I did this during Ramadan and it was still loads of fun. Only thing is they started playing the music only once we were a little bit away from the marina and then again turned it off as we were coming back and reentering the dock.
I actually don’t think that has anything to do with Ramadan but probably more to do with some local noise regulations which is totally fair to the Marina residents.
Tip: 10/10 recommend this for an intimate boat party experience. Check out my blog post for the full rundown
A great activity for thrill seekers. A very unique experience as you can skydive over the iconic Palm Dubai. Where else could you experience something like this?
Habibi just #cometoDubai already ! 😎
Tip: Yes, you see it coming by now 🙂 Don’t forget to pre-book if you want to do this one on your Dubai trip.
Dinner in the Sky
Right next to the Sky Dubai, you can locate a tall crane with a hanging platform.
Yep, that’s your dinner in the sky. Over there you can have a meal while overlooking Dubai and suspended up in the air. You can choose to go during the day or night.
Tip: I always recommend that sweet spot between day and night, so you can see it during daylight but also catch a bit of colors as sunset slowly starts to set in. All this to say that my favorite time slot is around 6 pm
Fine Dining in Dubai
Dubai is a foodie paradise. There are tons of amazing world renowned restaurants for you to enjoy here. I do consider myself a food critic and love to review my dining experiences.
You can find my personal recommendations like the Portuguese restaurant Tasca by Jose Avillez, latin inspired “Amazonico Dubai” and the exquisite Asian “Tong Thai”.
Desert Safari, Sand Dunes & Camels
I’m surprised, it’s taken me this long to mention this one.
This is the quintessential Dubai experience. I absolutely recommend doing this. Yes the shiny buildings of Dubai can be very alluring but there is something very magical about the actual desert.
There are tons of different tours you can have. I recommend choosing one where you can do various activities such as the desert jeep safari, interact with the local residents, the camels and also even have a nice lunch and a belly dance show.
Now that’s a full desert experience!
Check out my posts to know what to expect as I spend time in the desert quite often
Open from October to April, the global village is like a mini city in itself. There’s tons to do there, so many eateries and shopping opportunities. It is also designed in a way where each area is modeled after a certain country, hence the name “global village”.
Dubai Deira Creek & Dhow Cruise
Most of Dubai is modern nowadays but there are still some traditional things to see. It’s a historic commercial center and this was one of the city’s first port.
Today The creek is a popular place especially as it allows you to ride these old boats called dhows or take an “abra” water taxi. Those wooden Taxi ” Abras” are a part of Dubai cultural heritage.
I would absolutely recommend this activity for a different side of Dubai
Tip: Head to the Deira creek harbor for an Abra creek crossing. They start as early as 6am and only take about 5 minutes. So you could do this on your way to the old gold souk if that’s of interest to you.
Al Seef & Bastakia Quarters
People love to complain about how Dubai can feel soulless. But I don’t agree. There are so much culture to be found. And if you appreciate old world charm like I do, then you want to visit these two areas.
Al Seef is a very nice mix of old and new and I absolutely love it there.
Tip: Enjoy a nice stroll along the waterfront walkway
Dubai Miracle Garden
You’ve probably seen this all over Instagram at some point.
It is located in Dubailand district. You will find a wide variety of flowers ( 150 millions flowers). It is the world’s largest natural garden. The colors are vibrant and some of the most elaborate shapes.
Tip: Do note that the garden tends to be closed during the hot summer months of July, August and September. So visits mostly happen between October to early June.
Indoor Ski resort in the middle of the desert?
Now I use to think this idea was absurd but honestly after living in the UAE for so many years, I am actually grateful to have this here.
It allows me to keep honing my skills so that I can go on and take bigger ski trips in the alps or at other exotic locations.
Tip: If you don’t care to go inside the ski resort but still want a glance, you can get a good view over the slops by dropping by or eating at one of the many restaurants on the top floor.
Atlantis & its Lost Chambers
Atlantis is an oldie but still a goodie in the Dubai landscape. One of the earliest luxury hotel. I personally wouldn’t stay there as I find it a bit old but I totally recommend going for a visit.
That said, I can totally see the appeal. I can appreciate Atlantis’s architecture. And also this place is not just a hotel but a massive resort with tons of restaurant, water park and activities to do.
They also have their own mini mall “Atlantis Mall” with some shops.
Ok maybe I will give it a try one day and go for a staycation and follow up on this.
Tip: You should totally drive around the palm. There is lovely sidewalk that gives you an outstanding view of Dubai and the Burj Al Arab landmark.
I’m not talking about the Deira gold souk but the one located inside Madinat Jumeirah.
I really like this place. It feels like traveling back in time. It has that really old Arabic architecture and décor. Plus there are a few restaurants and a very good Thai restaurant.
You can also ride one of those charming Abra wooden boats whilst overlooking the Burj Al Arab in the canals
Another otherworldly landmark that helped propelled Dubai on the international scene.
It is an archipelago of man made islands that were shape in order to form the Palm.
Yes you can skydive above it, like I mentioned earlier. There are also quite a few places in Dubai that give you a magical view over the entire area.
Aura Sky Pool
A favorite of mine. You will be totally blown away by the Aura Sky pool.
You won’t find anything else like that anywhere else.
I am talking the tallest 360 degree infinity pool in the world. Did I mention it was located on the 50th floor? And also overlooking the entirety of the Palm Jumeirah. As if this wasn’t enough, you also get to enjoy all the major landmarks too, such as the Burj Al Arab.
Just check my dedicated Aura Sky Pool article to see more for yourself.
I was so impressed that I wrote an in depth 4000 words blog post review. Yes, I take this very seriously as you can see 🙂
This place does such a good job at capturing the essence of Dubai.
Iconic Shopping Malls
Shopping and Dubai go hand and in. So if this is your thing, here are some honorary mentions.
You get it by now.
Dubai likes to go big or go home.
So no surprise that Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world with close to 1200 outlets.
I will be honest with you but I absolutely dread going there. As I am mostly an online shopping type of person and always end up getting lost there. 🙂
That said, this is the same mall that is next to the Burj Khalifa and the famous Dubai fountains.
The Dubai Mall also attracts many spectators who come to admire the massive indoor aquarium and underwater zoo.
Additionally, you can find a “Galeries Lafayette” and a “Bloomingdale’s” luxury department stores
Mall of the Emirates
Now we’re entering more normal mall sizes. This place is much smaller than Dubai Mall and it is also where the Ski Dubai is located.
As a history lover, this one is one of my favorites Dubai mall. I love that the mall feels small and cozy. Moreover each section is modeled after a region of the world. As you wander around the mall, you feel that you’re being teleported and traveling around the world.
I absolutely love this place and I think it is such a gem. I accidently stumbled upon it a few years ago. This is where you go if you are looking for a mall with a chic and intimate vibe whilst also making you feel that you are in Italy.
Tip: Do bare in mind that this mall is small and they don’t have all your typical stores. But this is an absolute favorite of mine.
Take a Day trip to Abu Dhabi
Ok now, I know this a guide to the best things to do in Dubai but trust me, you should absolutely take a day trip to Abu Dhabi. Besides, it’s only an hour away from Dubai.
The capital might not be as glitzy but it has its own charm. Even if you don’t stay long, you should totally visit the breathtaking Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
After living here for so many years, I am still in awe every single time I drive by it, especially during sunrise and sunset time.
Join my carefully Curated Dubai Retreat
It’s a wrap and I hope you enjoy my elaborate Dubai guide of the best things to do.
I know it can feel a bit overwhelming but there is no need to go at it alone.
Are you a lady who’s looking for something different?
I also started doing super intimate dance wellness retreats in Dubai. We’re talking super small group. You wake up in the morning, we dance and then we hit some of the best spots in Dubai while also exploring self love and embracing our inner goddesses.
You will be in amazing hands. I’ve been a resident living in the UAE for a few years and as a travel and food blogger, I am always hunting down the best experiences. All this to say that you will have the best time of your life. Especially if you are looking to have the ultimate Dubai luxury experience with a knowledgeable local like myself.
Can’t wait to catch up with you in Dubai very soon. 🙂