The best things to do in Dubai

written by Rough Guides Editors

updated 13.12.2022

It’s big, bold, and lays claim to so many world records it might even have the world record for the number of world records. But beyond the superlatives, skyscrapers and inexplicably squeaky-clean streets, there’s far more to Dubai then meets the eye. Here is our list of the best things to do in Dubai.

This article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Dubai — your essential guide to travelling to Dubai.

1. Fill up on falafel in Deira and the Diera souks

Along with its eclectic mix of nationalities, it’s only natural that Dubai also harbours an impressive range of world cuisine. The best doesn’t come in swanky hotel restaurants or from Michelin-starred chefs, though. Instead, you’ll find it in Deira.

At the heart of old Dubai, is the district of Deira. It is comprised of an atmospheric tangle of bazaars, ranging from the Gold Souk’s glittering shop windows to the aromatic alleyways of the Spice Souk. Deira is one of the older and more intriguing neighbourhoods in Dubai, with a mix of Middle Eastern, Indian, Pakistani, Somali and even Filipino residents making their mark on the area. Visiting here is one of the best things to do in Dubai.

Gold market in Dubai, Deira Gold Souq © Laborant/Shutterstock

Gold market in Dubai, Deira Gold Souq© Laborant/Shutterstock

    Where to stay in Deira

  • For somewhere with old-school charm: Comfort Inn. Well-furnished rooms that are somewhat dated but particularly comfortable.
  • For a classic stay: Crowne Plaza Dubai Deira. One of Diera's oldest accommodation landmarks. Bigger than average rooms and plenty of facilities.

2. Heritage House and Al Ahmadiya School for a taste of history

Founded in 1912 by pearl merchant Sheikh Mohammed bin Ahmed bin Dalmouk, the Al Ahmadiya School is one of the city’s finest surviving examples of traditional Emirati architecture. For architecture lovers, it's one of the best things to do in Dubai.

Planning a trip to Dubai? Many people may come for the sleek, modern skyscrapers — but Dubai has many great cultural and historical sights to see. Our History and Heritage in Dubai trip will take you through several historic districts in Dubai. Our trips are crafted by local travel experts and are completely customisable.

Al-Ahmadiya School in Deira in Dubai © Shutterstock

Al-Ahmadiya School in Deira in Dubai © Shutterstock

3. Madinat Jumeirah to witness true luxury

Astounding mock-Arabian city, home to a string of lavish hotels and leisure facilities – the quintessential Dubaian example of opulent kitsch on an epic scale.

  • Home to Jumeirah Mosque. Dubai’s most beautiful mosque – and also (uniquely) open to visitors during informative guided tours
  • Palm Jumeirah with its densely packed forest of glassy skyscrapers, while offshore lies Palm Jumeirah, the world’s largest man-made island, which ends in a flourish at the gigantic Atlantis resort.
  • For truly unforgettable views of the Jumeirah beaches, try ski diving over the shore with Skydive Dubai.

Dreaming of staying somewhere unique? Check out our guide to the world's weirdest hotels.

Dubai Palm Jumeirah Island, Dubai © Delpixel/Shutterstock

Dubai Palm Jumeirah Island, Dubai © Delpixel/Shutterstock

4. Dhow Wharfage for maritime traditions

A fascinating glimpse into the maritime traditions of old Dubai, Dhow Wharfage is home to dozens of beautiful wooden dhows that load and unload cargo. You’ll find here great tarpaulin-covered mounds of merchandise lying stacked up along the waterfront. Visiting the wharfage is one of the best things to do in Dubai.

dhow-wharfage-dubai-united-arab-emirates-shutterstock_1052619515

A visit to Dhow Wharfage is one of the best things to do in Dubai © Amazing Aerial/Shutterstock

5. Try the local food 

When trying food in Dubai, there are plenty of options.

Relax over a light lunch in the beautiful garden of the Arabian Tea House Café. Or Grab an outside table at the London-themed Rivington Grill, with sweeping views of the Dubai Fountain and Burj Khalifa.  

For dinner, head to Barjeel Al Arab for a camel burger. Or eat a memorable meal above the Madinat waterways at the gorgeously romantic Pai Thai.

Camel meat burgers © Shutterstock

What to do in Dubai? Try the camel meat burgers © Shutterstock

6. Grab a drink

The city has a lot of options when it comes to places to grab a cocktail. We recommend the picture-perfect Bahri Bar for a drink or two, perhaps rounded off with a visit to the city’s Pacha super-club. Or, if alcohol isn’t your thing, indulge in an opulent afternoon tea in the iconic, “seven-star” Burj al Arab’s Skyview Bar or Sahn Eddar lounge. In our guide to Dubai entertainment you can find more nightlife options.

Don't miss the essential sights when travelling to Dubai. Our tailor-made trip service offers you the trip of your dreams without the stress of booking or planning. Completely customisable and crafted by local travel experts, our tailor-made trips ensure that you see Dubai in its entirety. Our UEA essentials trip will take you through modern high rises as well as traditional souks.

Drink bar © Arina P Habich/Shutterstock

Dubai has a lot of options when it comes to places to grab a cocktail © Shutterstock

7. Abra ride on the Dubai Creek

Hop aboard one of the city’s old abras for a breezy ride across one of Dubai's premier attractions. Dubai Creek, with marvellous views of the city-centre waterfront en route – the most fun you can have in Dubai for just one dirham.

Traditional arabic Dhow at Dubai Creek © Philip Lange/Shutterstock

Traditional arabic Dhow at Dubai Creek © Philip Lange/Shutterstock

8. See the traditional houses of Bastaklya

Get lost in the beautiful old quarter of Bastakiya, a tight warren of alleyways lined by a picturesque muddle of traditional houses topped with wind towers. Also known as the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood, visiting this area is one of the best things to do in Dubai. The houses were originally built in the 1900s by merchants and are stunningly beautiful.

Planning a family trip to Dubai? Don't miss our guide to the 6 things every family must do in Dubai.

Dubai Al Bastakiya Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood Restaurant © AdobeStock

Dubai Al Bastakiya Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood © AdobeStock

9. Bur Dubai — one of the best things to do in Dubai

Bur Dubai is the oldest part of the city and offers a fascinating insight into Dubai’s traditional roots. This is where you’ll find many of the city’s most interesting Arabian heritage houses. Explore the emirate’s history at the Dubai museum housed in the city's oldest building: the sandcastle-like Al Fahidi Fort.

    Where to stay in Bur Dubai

  • For something near the Dubai Museum: Arabian Courtyard. This hotel is in a brilliantly central location and is distinctly cut above the other midrange places in Bur Dubai.
  • For a classy but affordable stay: Four Points Sheraton. One of the classiest hotels in Bur Dubai, this understated four-star hotel is very comfortable.
al-fahidi-fort-museum-dubai-uae-shutterstock_380409301

Al Fahidi Fort museum, Dubai © Shutterstock

10. Sheikh Saeed al Maktoum House for a museum visit

Standing on the beautiful Shindagha waterfront, the Sheikh Saeed al Maktoum House is one of Dubai’s most exciting museums. A fascinating collection of historical photographs showcases the rapidly changing face of Dubai.

Sheikh Saeed al Maktoum House © Parkerspics/Shutterstock

Sheikh Saeed al Maktoum House © Parkerspics/Shutterstock

11. For creative people: Alserkal Avenue

In the rather unassuming industrial neighbourhood of Al Quoz lie some of the city’s most creative people. Alserkal Avenue is Dubai's art and design (and hipster) hub. What used to be an enormous marble factory is now a network of warehouses containing world-renowned galleries. This part of Dubai showcases new and rising stars of the Middle East’s art world, colourful design shops, and impressive performance spaces.

Ready to take a trip to the Arabian Peninsula? Check out our guide to the best things to do in Muscat, Oman.

Alserkal Venue in Dubai © siska maria eviline/Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0 license

Alserkal Venue in Dubai © siska maria eviline/Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0 license

12. Dubai Desert for a break from the city

When city living gets a bit too much, there’s only one place to go: the desert. Just an hour’s drive south of the city the skyscrapers disappear into the distance. All that remains are sand dunes and blue skies. The Dubai Desert marks the edge of the Empty Quarter – the largest contiguous sand desert in the world. It’s the perfect place to go dune-bashing or try your hand at sand-skiing or quad-biking.

Our UAE Desert Adventure trip will take you through the most beautiful desert sights in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Our trips are crafted by local travel experts and are completely customisable.

desert-safari-jeep-dubai-uae-shutterstock_130074209

Dubai safari city break © Shutterstock

13. The Dubai Mall — the largest in the world

The Dubai Mall is truly super-sized and one of the best places to visit. It has over 1200 shops spread across four floors and covering over a million square metres. It is easily the largest mall in the world measured by total area. It contains the Dubai Fountain — the world's largest.

For a truly surreal experience, go skiing in the middle of the desert. Ski Dubai, attached to the Dubai Mall, is the world's largest indoor snow park. It offers 3000 square metres of faux-Alpine mountainside, complete with a chairlift. In addition to skiing, the complex offers up-and-close penguin encounters.

Waterfall in Dubai Mall © AdobeStock

World's largest fountain — Dubai Fountain, Dubai Mall © AdobeStock

14. Sheikh Zayed Road for modern Dubai wonder

If you want to see Dubai in all its glory, Sheikh Zayed Road is worth a visit. Dubai’s most futuristic road, is lined with a sequence of neck-cricking skyscrapers ranging from the unquestionably wonderful to the irrefutably weird.

Rising imperiously skywards at the southern end of Sheikh Zayed Road stands the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Ride the world’s fastest elevators to the spectacular observation deck on the 124th floor. Seeing the city from this view is one of the best things to do in Dubai.

Sheikh Zayed Road in sunset time, Dubai, UAE ©  Iakov Kalinin/Shutterstock

Sheikh Zayed Road in sunset time, Dubai, UAE © Iakov Kalinin/Shutterstock

15. Dubai's many water attractions

Swim, splash and slide your way around the pools, rivers and rapids of the entertaining Wild Wadi water park. Or, take a deep dive of the coast for some of the world's best wreck diving. Or if you want to dive in a natural reef, UAE's east coast has many outstanding dive sites in Fujairah.

Looking for inspiration for your trip to Dubai? Don't miss our guide to where to stay in Dubai.

Fujairah sandy beach in the United Arab Emirates © AdobeStock

Fujairah sandy beach in the United Arab Emirates © AdobeStock

Discover more of the Arab Emirates with our guide to Abu Dhabi holidays: perfect for romance and relaxation.

From sleek modern high rises to historical regions rich with Emirati history, Dubai has a lot to offer. Ready for your dream trip to Dubai? Check out the Pocket Rough Guide to Dubai or – for in-depth coverage – the full Rough Guide to Dubai. Read more about the best time to go, the best places to visit, and the best things to do in the United Arab Emirates.

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Dubai without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

We may earn a commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Rough Guides Editors

written by Rough Guides Editors

updated 13.12.2022

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