Dubai is a destination that offers enough to see and do that you could spend weeks in the multifaceted city and not cross everything off your must-see list. But that doesn’t mean a short visit can’t be satisfying. Due to its location and size of the airport, many travellers find themselves in Dubai between flights on route to other destinations, making it an ideal spot to squeeze in some sightseeing on a tight timeline. If you only have one day to explore the city, follow these tips from locals in Dubai for the best way to make the most of your quick trip.
Kick off your whirlwind visit to Dubai with a morning stroll by the water. Walk along Umm Suqeim Beach (also known as Kite Beach), a long stretch of sand with a great view of Burj Al Arab, the sail-shaped luxury hotel that is also one of Dubai’s most recognisable landmarks. Enjoy the quiet bliss of the beach and views of the Arabian Gulf, and snap some pics of the stunning Burj Al Arab. Grab some breakfast at one several eateries overlooking the beach like Park House Café or Blue Beach Cafe.
Following your morning beach walk, catch a local bus or hop in a taxi near the beach for the 20-minute ride to the Jumeirah Mosque for 9:45am, ahead of the 10am tour hosted by the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. This is Dubai’s most beautiful mosque and one of only a handful in the UAE that are open to non-Muslims. Each 75-minute tour costs AED 20 (free for kids under 12) and includes water, dates, Arabic coffee, tea and traditional pastries as you learn about Emirati culture and religion. Tours conclude with a Q&A session where you are free to ask any question about Islamic religion and culture. There’s no need to book in advance, but remember that modest dress is preferred. If you don’t come dressed appropriately, traditional clothing can be borrowed for free before entering the mosque.
If you’re getting hungry after your morning of sightseeing, you have your pick of places to eat within about a five-minute walk from the mosque. Sample some traditional dishes at Turkish Village Restaurant and Café, or opt for Lebanese cuisine at Al Qasr restaurant at the Dubai Marine Beach Resort and Spa (grab a seat on the pretty outdoor terrace). Depending on what you’re craving, there are also several other international and local restaurants in the vicinity to satisfy your palate.
Once you’ve fueled up, make your way on the bus or by taxi (30 minutes or 12-15 minutes, respectively) to Dubai Creek, where you’ll find the historical Al Fahidi District. This unique neighbourhood has the largest concentration of traditional Emirati houses in Dubai and makes for a great way to experience the old way of life and rich Emirati culture in the city that you won’t see if you stick to the more modern attractions in Dubai, of which there are many. Looking out at the signature burjeel (wind towers that provide natural air conditioning), traditional areesh dwellings (palm frond houses), and desert tents really gives you a sense of what life was like in another time. In addition, you can visit the textile market and the Dubai Museum (which is housed in Al Fahidi Fort), and explore the winding alleyways of the gold and spice souks by crossing to the other side of the creek on an abra (small traditional wooden boat).
Make your way in a taxi for the 30-minute ride to Dubai Marina in time to catch the sunset. This is the world’s largest man-made marina, and the area is home to some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world. Here you’ll find Marina Walk, a pretty beachfront walkway with over 300 outlets and close to 70 restaurants. Try contemporary Asian cuisine at Buddha Bar at Grosvenor House, known for its beautiful décor and great cocktails. Stay put for some post-dinner drinks, or walk off your dinner and try other bars in the area such as day-to-night beach bar Zero Gravity, which hosts events regularly. If you’re visiting over a weekend, head out to Barasti Beach Bar for a lively way to end your night.
For travellers on a short visit, we’d recommend having a layover that will allow you to spend two to three hours in the city centre, and another hour for travelling to and from the airport, allotting at least another hour to go through customs.
The best way to get from the airport to the sites is by taking the metro. The ride is about 30 minutes and trains depart every 10 mins from Terminals 1 and 3. If you prefer to take a taxi, the ride should be 15 to 20 minutes.
If you want to see Dubai in two hours in the morning or afternoon, visit Old Dubai to gain a better understanding of the local culture and heritage of Dubai’s past. This historical area has a lot to keep you busy on a short stopover and allows you to get a feel for the history and culture of Dubai. Here you’ll find many traditional buildings, restaurants and cafes, the Dubai Museum, markets, shops and art galleries. You can walk the sites in two hours, but if you want to cross Dubai Creek to see even more of Old Dubai, allow around four hours. You’ll need extra time to cross the creek in an abra, which is a worthwhile experience in itself.
If you’re in Dubai for an evening or nighttime layover, head to Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Make your way to the top at level 124 to get 360-degree views over the city. Burj Khalifa is connected to The Dubai Mall (the world’s largest shopping mall) where you can then grab something to eat. Many restaurants have great views overlooking Dubai Fountain and its impressive nightly water show.