So you are heading to the land of exotic cars, palm shaped islands and scorching hot temperatures. You’ve read all about the gold vending machines, the pet tigers, and the numerous extravagant attractions that make Dubai one of the most sought after vacation spots in the world. And of course, in doing your research you have checked off the list of malls and shopping options that you “must-see” while visiting. While there is no doubt that Dubai has a ton to offer, visitors tend to get trapped in the typical allure of high-end shopping, and touristy attractions such as the indoor skiing in one of the several, several malls that are often featured on Dubai activity lists.
But did you know that there is actually a whole world of activities and experiences to explore outside the walls of the malls of Dubai? We aren’t knocking you if you want to spend your time in the air conditioned bliss of the malls - but be sure to take some time to venture outside the tourist traps to explore the natural beauty and unique charm of this gem in the middle of a desert.
25 Sleep in a Colorful Tent on the Beach
You don’t have to go far to enjoy a peaceful and memorable beach experience in Dubai. Located just 20 minutes from the main Dubai Marina area, Banan Beach in Jebel Ali offers accommodations in brightly colored tents, directly on the pristine beach. Who says Dubai is all about luxury? Visitors can choose from simpler accommodations in tents, or more modern options in chalets, but either way you can make use of their personal hammocks and water swings after practicing yoga poses on the beach and enjoying wood-fired pizza by the communal campfire.
24 Enjoy High Tea with a View
High tea in Dubai is an extravagant affair that must be experienced at least once. Our favorite is at the Al Fayrooz Lounge in the beautiful hotel complex of Madinat Jumeira. Guests can take an abra (river taxi) to the lounge and take in the sights of the resort, before arriving at the restaurant to be seated for the experience. We call it an experience as waiters will bring out each round of the tea, usually starting with scones and pastries, followed by sandwiches and savory treats, and ending with a massive selection of desserts. All items are unlimited so you can choose your favorites and continue to munch. Choose from a huge selection of teas, or opt for hot chocolate or fresh juices. For the best experience, be sure to ask for a seat outside on the patio for an unobstructed view of the famed Burj al Arab.
23 Take a Boat Ride to Old Dubai - For less than a Dollar!
Everyone knows about the glitz and glamour of Dubai - but for a more authentic experience, head to Dubai Creek and take an Abra ride across the river to explore the areas of Deira and Bur Dubai. Local residents still use these motorized water taxis to travel between the two areas that will take you to different souks (markets) depending on the station you chose: the spice souk or the old souk. An abra ride will set you back 1 AED each way, and if you really want the boat to yourself, you can always ask the driver who will be more than happy to oblige - for the right price.
22 Visit the World, In One Stop
If you will be visiting Dubai between the months of October to March (which we highly recommend given the cooler temperatures), be sure to visit Global Village, a showcasing of food, talent and products from across the world, all in one place. Visitors can stop by pavilions of almost every country and sample their specialty foods and products, and enjoy cultural shows at each station. The dining options are endless and the scenery alone is worth the visit. Tip: If you can, try to go at the end of the season (it is not open for summer), for discounts and massive sales!
21 Take your Pick of Amusement Parks
Just like the excessive amount of malls in Dubai, Dubai has an amusement park to suit any taste and age group. Seriously - there is an entire theme park dedicated to Bollywood lovers. Choose from Motiongate Dubai for the movie lovers, Legoland for the kids, or the largest indoor park at IMG Worlds of Adventure. There are often deals available for the purchase of multiple passes, but like most activities in Dubai, they are best enjoyed in the cooler months, so plan accordingly.
20 Discover a Maldives-Like Resort
While not technically in Dubai, take a short drive to the capital of the United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi) and explore a private island that is described as a taste of the Maldives within the Emirates. Zaya Nurai island is located off the coast of Abu Dhabi and is accessible by a short ferry ride. The island is small, and can be covered by foot within an hour. No cars are allowed on the island, creating a truly magical escape from the city life. The beach is stunning and can be enjoyed for the day, or if you want to splurge, for overnight stays at the resort.
19 Visit a Beautiful Mosque
While you are in Abu Dhabi (it is only a short 1.5 hour drive from Dubai and is easily accessible from the main highway), you might as well enjoy some of the sights the capital has to offer, and visit the extravagant Sheikh Zayed Mosque. It is the largest mosque in the country and is consistently named as one of the favorite landmarks in the UAE. It is truly a beautiful piece of architecture which features marble stone, gold, semi-precious stones and crystals throughout the mosque, and beautiful water fountains that are lit up at sunset creating a tranquil escape from the city.
18 Explore Dubai’s Take on Farmer Markets
The Ripe Night Market located in Al Barsha Pond Park offers Dubai’s version of the farmer market. Numerous stalls selling healthy fruits and vegetables are alongside food trucks offering food from around the world, and stalls selling arts, crafts, and fashion at reasonable prices. The setting is beautiful, with a canopy of fairy lights atop of the stalls, and a large park to walk off your dinner. The market often features live music from local artists and movies on big screens for the kids to enjoy.
17 Experience ‘Brunch’ Dubai Style – With Unlimited Drinks and Pool Access
5 star resorts are a dime a dozen in Dubai. And at every hotel and resort you will soon discover the gluttonous ritual of weekend brunches. Brunches in Dubai are a weekend staple- whether they are a Thursday night ‘brunch’, a Friday afternoon brunch, or a lazy Saturday brunch, you will find endless options of international and local cuisines, combined with unlimited drinks, and sometimes pool and beach access. At Nikki Beach and Resort for example, a stunning beach resort with world class facilities, their Sunday Brunch (catered to tourists as Sunday is actually a work day for residents) includes a complimentary sun bed and access to the beach and pool. Choose from unlimited option of drinks, and make an entire day out of brunching.
16 Indulge in Unique Spa Treatments
In true Dubai fashion, spas across the city offer the signature 24 carat gold facial. The process involves placing a layer of 24 carat gold leaf on your cleansed face to improve the elasticity and erase blemishes and scars. You can find a gold facial to suit your budget, ranging from $30 USD, to $8000 USD. If gold is too fancy for you, why not try a treatment at the Talise Ottoman Spa (voted world’s best resort spa) that involves a couples treatment that starts off with a body polish, and then a dip in the relaxing Jacuzzi infused with goats milk to leave your skin baby smooth and soft. The spa also includes private hamams for men and women, salt caves, and an actual snow room.
15 Make the Dunes your own Rollercoaster
A trip to Dubai is not complete without experiencing the thrill of deflating the tires in a 4x4 vehicle, and sliding down massive sand dunes at a frightening speed. It truly is a natural amusement park that will leave you breath taken by the natural scenery. A skilled instructor will guide you through the best dunes, and most are happy to pick up the speed at your request. If you like to be in control, you can always rent buggies or quad bikes to take yourself on an adventure - with the help of a guide of course.
14 Try Uber for Yachts
If you have made it all the way to Dubai, you might as well live like the locals and splurge on an experience or two. Instead of using uber for your ride, check out CharterClick, a website that allows you to charter a boat for relatively reasonable prices for one day adventures on the sea. Prices range from $100/hour to upwards to $1000/hour- depending on the number of people you choose to party with! Grab a group of friends (or strangers) to bring costs down and enjoy a day yachting it up, Dubai style.
13 Or Explore Dubai by Speed Boat
If a yacht seems too flashy for you, a speed boat tour is the perfect way to explore the landmarks of Dubai by water. Several tour operators offer speed boat tours through Dubai Marina, and the Palms area, giving you a unique view of Atlantis and the neighbouring resorts. Choose from private tours or semi-private, and select the length of the tour based on your preferences. Be sure to book a cruise in the late afternoon, so you can enjoy the Dubai skyline at sunset as well. The Yellow Boats offer great options and extensive tours across the entire city.
12 Take a Stroll in a Miracle Garden
If you love flowers, Dubai’s Miracle Garden is the world’s largest natural flower garden with over 109 million flowers planted. The Garden is beautiful and will impress even the most cynical person with their creative designs and imaginative use of flowers. The garden is only open between the months of October to April due to the cooler temperatures, and also includes the Dubai Butterfly Garden, the world’s largest (of course) indoor butterfly garden and sanctuary.
11 Enjoy an Outdoor Rooftop Movie Theater
So in order to get to the rooftop outdoor theatre, you will have to walk through a mall, but the outdoorsy element of this theatre makes it sufficiently anti-mall to make it on this list. The rooftop cinema above the Galleria Mall is open during the winter season, and includes food and beverages with each ticket purchase. Take your pick of seating - bean bag, couches or single seats - but all come with a blanket to warm up during the cooler nights. Other options (outside a mall) are available throughout the city during the winter months, however this theatre is the only one offering daily shows.
10 Road trip to the Mountains
Grab a car and head towards Al Ain, a city that is about an hour drive from Dubai. There you will find some of the most beautiful desert scenery in the entire emirate, as well as Jebel Hafeet, a mountain bordering Oman, and the second highest mountain in the UAE. You can easily spend a day in Al Ain, visiting the mountain and enjoying the hot springs at the base of the mountain. Pack a picnic and enjoy the views atop or at the foot of the mountains.
9 Or Road Trip through Surrounding Emirates
Dubai is a somewhat centrally located emirate, that can be used as a starting point to plan trips to other surrounding emirates. The Emirate of Sharjah is only 30 minutes away, and has a number of beachside resorts to explore. A little further away (2.5 hours) you will find Ras Al Khaimah, a beautiful emirate that is home to Jebel Jais (the highest mountain in the emirate) and stunning mountainous scenery along the entire ride. Ras Al Khaimah also has its beautiful share of beachside hotels and resorts that offer a beautiful landscape of beaches surrounded by mountain ranges. Take a day trip, or better yet, book a stay at one of the resorts to immerse yourself in the often skipped emirate.
8 Zipline Over Dubai Marina
With its long list of ‘world’s largest’ (fill in the blank), why not add one more to the list. Dubai is home to the world’s largest urban zipline measuring 1 km in length. The zipline takes you over the Dubai Marina and its towering skyscrapers, giving you a perfect view of Dubai’s landmarks (if you can dare to keep your eyes open). The X line changes its location frequently (it was previously located outside the famous Dubai Fountains), and is subject to change its timings based on temperatures, so be sure to check ahead of time and book your tickets online.
7 Go on a Safari
A desert safari in Dubai entails multiple elements - almost all tour guides will start your day off with dune bashing in a SUV, followed by camel rides, and dinner in the desert and a belly dancing show. There are lots of add on options for the more adventurous (sand surfing, quad bike rentals) and tours can be booked privately as well. Tours are generally held for half day, and visitors can choose afternoon or evening safaris, or can experience a night in the desert beneath the stars.
6 Camp out in the Desert
Plenty of tour operators offer overnight desert camp experiences that include overnight accommodations and bbq dinners. There is really nothing like sleeping in a dessert with nothing but a sky full of stars to look out to, in the middle of nowhere. If you want to do your own thing without a tour, there are plenty of options depending on your level of experience. You can go beach camping in the Emirate of Umm al Quwain, which is rife with fishing villages, or go for a longer drive towards Abu Dhabi and camp out in Liwa, one of the filming locations for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
5 Choose your Water Park to Cool Off
Sometimes too many options is not a good thing. Just like the amusement parks, Dubai is home to several beautiful and fun-filled water parks that make it extremely difficult to chose from. One of the most popular parks is Aquaventure Waterpark, attached to the famed Atlantis hotel. The park is massive and sits on the beach, offering the option to relax on the beach while taking a break from the slides. A new water park has recently opened in La Mer, a new beachside hangout, offering one of only three wave riders in the world for novice and expert surfers to test out their skills.
4 Have a BBQ on a Boat
Go for a ride on the Creek at the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club while enjoying the finest in bbq meats in a donut sized boat that accommodates a family of 6. The concept is simple- you rent a donut, and are given a box of meats and other snacks, along with charcoal and you are on your way. Enjoy a lazy afternoon on the Dubai Creek while you barbeque your meats to your liking on our own boat (donut). Cutlery is provided, and at the lightening pace of 3 knots an hour, you don’t need to worry about your food or utensils flying off in the wind. Just sit back, bbq and relax on Dubai’s waterways.
3 Get a Day Pass for a Rooftop Pool
So you may not be able to afford a 7 star stay in a luxury dubai resort- that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy their facilities. Almost every hotel and resort in Dubai will offer day passes to enjoy the beach and pools without having to actually stay there. So book a cheap motel, and splurge on a day at one of the several beautiful rooftop pools that provide stunning views. Some of our favorites include the Address at Dubai Marina and the Sofitel Dubai at Jumeriah Beach.
2 Spend a Day in a Palace
Is it possible to go to Dubai and not visit a palace? Emirates Palace is an 1.5 hour drive away from Duabi, located in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. It is operating as a hotel, so you can literally stay a night in a palace if you like, or more likely, can spend a day touring the massive facility and enjoying snacks or dinner at one of the beautiful beach side restaurants. A small café right outside of the massive water fountains at the entrance serves ice cream topped with 24 carat gold- so you can eat like royalty too.
1 Catch a Camel Race
You don’t have to go far outside of the city of Dubai to see camels at play and at race. Take in a traditional camel race at the Dubai Camel Racing Club, with a modern twist. Instead of jockeys atop the camels, they have been replaced with robots, in herds of about 50 camels who race alongside their owners in their SUV’s encouraging them to the finish line. It is an exhilarating experience and something you can only see in the UAE. Like most activities, be sure to call ahead to see if the racing is scheduled during summer months.