You have already been to Dubai, you’ve been up to the top of the Burj Khalifa, done a desert safari, visited the Palm Jumeriah and skied at The Mall of the Emirates. But you are going back again and are starting to look for some of the lesser known Dubai attractions. Here is what to do in Dubai once you have visited those well known places.
What to do in Dubai on the First Visit
I know I said I am going to talk about the lesser known things to do in Dubai, but first here are the things that I am assuming you have already done. If you haven’t, include them on your list for your second visit
- Gone to the viewing deck on the 125th floor of the Burj Khalifa
- Visited Dubai Mall and watched the fountain show
- Been on a desert safari including some dune bashing and traditional dinner
- Skied at Ski Dubai in The Mall of the Emirates
- Enjoyed a day on the Palm Jumeirah
- Visited the Dubai Museum
- Admired the millions of flowers at Dubai Miracle Gardens
The Next Best Things to do in Dubai
Now that you have ticked off the most well known Dubai tourist attractions, here are some more interesting and fun activities in Dubai
Dubai Garden Glow
This is one of the best things to do in Dubai with kids, particularly young kids. Most visitors to Dubai hear about the amazing Dubai Miracle Gardens but I only came across Dubai Garden Glow by pure luck. Billed as an art installation during the day and a glow garden at night, there are four different areas to see – Glow Park, Dinosaur Park, Ice Park, and the new Magic Park. While the park opens at 4pm, unless you have young children with you, I recommend visiting at night though to see the gardens all lit up and sparkling.
The Frame is one of the newest things to see in Dubai. It is essentially a viewing platform with great views over the city. Look to one side and it’s old Dubai, and the other side is the shiny buildings on new Dubai lining Sheikh Zayed Road. Before ascending there is a small museum showcasing the history of Dubai, including some great audio-visual displays and holograms. Once at the top, admire the view to either side, as well as straight down. A section of glass floor runs the length of The Frame with views down to the ground 150m below. To complete the journey, after descending back to the ground there is a display on the future of Dubai too.
The Etihad Museum is one of the Dubai points of interest for the history buff. It’s all about the coming together of the seven emirates to form the whole of the United Arab Emirates. There is information about past and current leaders and their families, and the distinct way of life of each before the country united. The museum itself is stunning architecturally, and includes lots of technology to bring the displays to life. It is also built right next to the site of the initial signing of that agreement to bring the emirates together, which is now marked by a huge Emirati flag that can be seen over much of the city.
For more information and to book tickets, click through to the Etihad Museum website here.
Queen Elizabeth II Ship
In 2018 the Queen Elizabeth II cruise ship was permanently moored in Dubai to become a floating hotel. While right now it may not be one of the best places to stay in Dubai (there are some very fancy hotels!) it is definitely one of the most iconic. For nearly fifty years the luxury liner played host to the rich and famous as it sailed around the world.
Luckily you do not have to stay on the QE2, it is possible to simply walk on board and have a look. Before you do, visit the information/check-in building on the wharf next to it and have a look at some of the artefacts and information about the ship, including my favourite, all the books from the library. Once on board you can explore many of the public areas or eat in the restaurant. It is slowly being restored as it was when it was afloat, so expect to see some renovated areas and some still looking in need of a spruce up!
Day trip to Abu Dhabi
While Dubai city itself has plenty to do, there is always the option to travel an hour or two up the road to visit Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE. While there are a few big attractions here, the one that is really unique is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It is absolutely stunning and a must see! While you are in Abu Dhabi you may also like to visit the Louvre Museum (yes, the famous museum in Paris has a branch here in the UAE), Ferrari World or take a peek at the extravagant Emirates Palace Hotel.
There are many ways to get to Abu Dhabi.
- The cheapest is the public bus which takes about two hours to do the trip from downtown Dubai. (I have more details in this post)
- Hire a car and drive yourself. I always hire through RentalCars.com. Click here to get a quote
- Take a tour. There are many different options available, here are just a few. Click through and book now
Full-Day Tour of Abu Dhabi City From Dubai, Day Trip with Guide
Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed Mosque Half Day Tour From Dubai
Louvre Museum Abu Dhabi and Grand Mosque tour from Dubai
Ferrari World Theme Park and Grand Mosque Tour from Dubai
Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding
This is one of the places to see in Dubai that I visited on my second visit to the city. This is a fantastic place to spend some time learning about the Emirati culture while enjoying a meal. We had a fantastic guide who gave us so much information and also answered many questions from the group. We visited at breakfast time, but you can also choose a lunch or a dinner time visit.
The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding also offer a fantastic Dubai tour – a walking tour through Old Dubai. It includes cultural information as well as showing some of the history of the area around Dubai Creek
Try Emirati Food at Arabian Tea House
Another option to try local Emirati food is to visit the Arabian Tea House. This traditional tea house is cafe-style, with a lightly covered outdoor area to eat in. I just loved the beautiful tea pots and coffee cups that were used to serve us traditional drinks in this relaxed atmosphere. We tried a lovely mint tea called Sulaimani Tea and Arabic Coffee which tends to be loaded with cardamon and served with dates. The food was light and tasty, and I spent much of the time admiring the plates on the other tables and wishing I could come back for more. It’s definitely on the list for my next trip back to Dubai.
While there are now a few locations, we loved the one at Al Bastakiya
Catch an Abra across Dubai Creek
This one is a must do in Dubai and one of the top things to do in Dubai on a budget – cross Dubai creek on one of the traditional abras. It only costs one dirham to cross on one of the boats that continuously go back and forth. It is also possible to hire your own abra and explore further along the creek.
Visit the Gold and Spice Souks
Souks are traditional markets, and these are the perfect places to see in Dubai once you have crossed the Dubai Creek by abra. Get lost amongst the myriad of small laneways as you enjoy the sights and sounds of the souk and hunt for a bargain.
Visit the Mleiha Archeological Centre
The Middle East is one of the oldest areas on earth, with humans living in this area from as long as 120 000 years ago. To learn a bit about the history and to see some of the tombs and other archeological sites, take a trip about an hour out of Dubai to the Mleiha Archeological Centre. We spent a good couple of hours first inside the museum before heading out to explore some of the tombs and ruins spread around the area.
Meliha Archeological Centre is also included in some desert tours, such as this jeep adventure safari
Hit the Beach at La Mer
Visiting a Dubai beach is another one of those Dubai must see attractions. It’s almost always hot here so the beaches are a drawcard all year round. One of the funkiest places to hit the beach is at La Mer, a recent development which gives the beach a resort-like feel that goes on well into the evening. There are dozens of shops and restaurants lining the sand, all with modern, cute decor that any Instagrammer would love. Come to La Mer to not just enjoy the sand, but the enjoy the atmosphere and the fun too.
Generally when we think about Dubai of course the city comes to mind but in fact it is a whole emirate. One of the other towns to visit is Hatta, and it’s easy enough to do a day trip to see what it is all about. One of the main attractions is the Hatta Dam, a recreation area loved by locals. Hire a little boat and spend hours floating around the man-made lake, feeling small with the stark hills rising above you. Another place to visit is Hatta Wadi Hub to enjoy the many adventure activities on offer that both children and adults will love.
I suggest visiting Hatta in winter, as many more of the outdoor activities are available, but the water activities at Hatta Dam will be open year round.
Okay, admittedly the Jumeriah Mosque does not even come close to the impressive building that is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, but it is a great place to learn about the Muslim faith. This is the main mosque in Dubai. Come here to do a tour to learn about Islam, have the opportunity to ask questions and take part in a little discussion, as well as seeing the mosque and learning about the different parts and enjoying a traditional Emirati snack. The tours are run by the people from the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Culture Understanding as mentioned above, and are held twice a day every day except Friday.
Discover Global Village
Global Village in a huge shopping, culture and entertainment precinct that is themed on the many different cultures and nationalities around the world. This is the perfect place to spend an evening wandering through the shops, grabbing a meal at one of the eateries then attending a movie or a theatre show. Head over to their website here to take a look at what is on.
Visit one of the Many Theme Parks
For the young, or the young at heart, theme parks are so much fun. Yes it is possible to visit them all over the world, but why not spend a day enjoying one when you visit Dubai! Most of the theme parks are located at the Dubai Parks and Resorts location on the way to Abu Dhabi. Here you will find Legoland, Motiongate and Bollywood Parks. IMG Worlds of Adventure is located on Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Rd and is the largest indoor theme park with many movie themed attractions.
Cool down at a Water Park
Just like a theme park with water, a Dubai water park is the best place to visit in when the mercury soars – so pretty much any time of the year. The biggest two parks are Wild Wadi located in the Jumeriah area right near the Burj al Arab and Aquaventure located on the Palm next to the Atlantis hotel. I have only visited Aquaventure, but it was a fantastic day out riding the huge waterslides, floating around the lazy river (that had a few surprises!) and braving the wave pool.
Where to Stay in Dubai
Dubai is a difficult city to choose a location to stay – because it doesn’t really have a city centre. It has many hubs that serve different purposes, and it really depends on what you are in the city for as to where you stay. Traffic is generally not great, so you always want to stay somewhere close to where you want to go. The alternative is to stay close to the Metro line, as that will help you get around easier too.
While I mostly stay with family, when I haven’t I have always stayed in the Al Barsha area near The Mall of the Emirates. This gives me access to the mall and everything it has to offer, as well as the Metro to get around the city. It is about half way from each end of the city too, so if you need to access places in both directions it’s a good option.
All the hotels I stayed at were perfectly acceptable. These are not resorts, just standard hotels. Click through the links to have a look
- Hilton Garden Inn Dubai Mall of the Emirates
- Ibis Mall of the Emirates
- Doubletree by Hilton Hotel and Residences Dubai – Al Barsha
I use and recommend Booking.com when booking my hotels.
Click through to search for all the options in Dubai
There is also a lot of great AirBnB accommodation in Dubai.
Click through to check out what is available on AirBnB
Where to Eat in Dubai
There is no shortage of places to eat in Dubai, you will find great restaurants all through the city, from world class fine dining to food trucks and street food. If you are looking for a new area to try out, check out Blue Waters located near the soon-to-be open (early-mid 2020 is suggested) Ain Wheel, the largest observation wheel in the world.
A Dubai tradition to be experienced is brunch. This boozey affair usually takes place on Friday, starting at about 11am and going until 4pm – or until you can’t drink or eat another thing. Almost every big hotel will offer brunch, the one I attended was at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, overlooking the Burj al Arab.
Talking about the Burj al Arab, if you really want to splurge, look at doing high tea in this iconic hotel. I have not yet had the pleasure, but it is definitely on my list of things to do in future trips to Dubai.
Other Things to Know About Dubai
Dubai is a surprisingly western city and is actually very safe. While it’s important to learn a little about the Sharia Law so that you can respect the Muslim way of life here, it’s also important to realise in reality it’s not as restrictive as it may seem for visitors.
- Sure it’s not a good idea to walk around in a mini skirt and crop top in old Dubai, but a t-shirt and long shorts would likely be okay. In general I try to cover shoulders and knees, but I find that’s normal for me anyway.
- Alcohol is sometimes another worry. You won’t find it in many local restaurants or food courts in the malls, but go to a big hotel and it will be freely available.
- Yes it’s true that it’s illegal for unmarried couples to share a hotel room, and that same sex couples are also breaking the law, but it seems that if you are discrete and stay in western hotels you will likely be fine. Consider if you are happy to take the risk.
- No matter what your relationship status, public displays of affection are frowned upon, so it’s probably best to refrain.
The best time to visit Dubai is during their winter, so from November to March. At this time of year the temperatures are bearable and it will be okay to get outside during some of the activities. During summer, the temperatures are also always well over 40 degrees Celsius which restricts activities to inside. Having said that, if you only want to be inside, there is no better place than Dubai in July. It’s the low season, so cheaper and no crowds, and Dubai caters for the heat with lots of covered walkways, underground parking, even air-conditioned bus stops and metro stations.
Just like many things close down in Europe and North America in winter, here they close down in summer because it is just too hot to get outside. It’s always a good idea to check if attractions and tours in Dubai are open and running at the time of your visit.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.