There was a time when Dubai was viewed as a mere springboard to other destinations, but not anymore. The city has blossomed like an oasis in the desert in the last few decades. High-rise buildings compete with each other in height, shape and beauty. New attractions are created every year. Anything seems possible in Dubai.
I had last been there in 2006 and the city has changed drastically since then. My children were also experiencing Dubai for the first time. With just three days in Dubai, we had a lot to see in a short space of time. The hop-on hop-off bus is one of our favourite ways to explore a new city, especially when we have limited time. Having experienced it in London, Johannesburg and many other cities around the world, we did not hesitate to add it to our itinerary in Dubai too.
It was a 10 minute drive from the Westin Dubai Al-Habtoor City to Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the world (by total area). The mall is one of the main hubs for the City Sightseeing Bus. There are six routes for the Day Tours and two for the Night Tours. We managed to do the three main routes with our one-day tickets - red, blue and yellow.
Our tickets included free entrance to the Dubai Museum and Global Village, a cultural and shopping festival. They also included a complimentary dhow cruise on the creek, a walking tour and a night tour. Unfortunately, we did not get to take advantage of all of these, as one of Dubai’s rare bouts of rain began to fall while we were on the bus, preventing us from engaging in outdoor activities. On a more positive note though, our bus had a covered air-conditioned section, so we didn’t get thoroughly soaked.
The Dubai Museum is housed in the Al Fahidi Fort. Built in 1787, it is the oldest existing building in Dubai. The museum has some fascinating exhibits of life in Dubai before the oil boom.
This is the tallest building in the world at 828 metres. You can visit the Observation Decks for great views of Dubai.
The sail- shaped Burj Al Arab hotel is one of the most luxurious and unique hotels in the world. We had great views of it from the bus.
This majestic 5 star luxury hotel is located on The Palm, a palm-shaped man-made island. It is one of the iconic symbols of Dubai. The Aquaventure Waterpark is also located there. We spent some time there the following day.
This is a recreation of a traditional souk with its narrow alleyways and relaxing courtyards. You can go on an abra ride on the water canals amid the Arabian architecture. Do visit the traditional souks as well, if you have time.
The beautiful Jumeirah Mosque is said to be the most photographed mosque in Dubai. Guided tours are available.
The saltwater Dubai Creek, flows between Deira and Bur Dubai. The best way to experience it is to cross it on an abra.
Although malls are associated with shopping, we did not go there to shop. Rather, we went to see the Dubai Fountains (the largest choreographed fountains in the world), the indoor Dubai Aquarium and the waterfall in the mall.
We saw the huge golden Dubai Frame which just opened on 1 January 2018 and the incomplete Ain Dubai Ferris Wheel, which will be the world's largest ferris wheel when completed.
The Orange Route takes one to the Dubai Miracle Gardens (which we visited separately) and Global Village but as these are both some distance away, it is advisable to do them with multi-day tickets.
The buses offer individual commentary in 13 languages. There is a kids’ channel too. Among the interesting trivia we heard on the on-board commentary was where the name Dubai came from. Although no one is really sure, a popular theory suggests that the name 'Dubai ' may have been derived from an old Arabic proverb "Daba Dubai", which means "They came with a lot of money." The city is certainly evidence of this.
There are 1 day, 3 day and 7 day passes for the City Sightseeing Bus. You can also get combination tickets which include a variety of other activities.
As in other cities around the world, we found that the City Sightseeing Bus was a great way to see the highlights of Dubai in one day . The buses ran on schedule, and helpful staff were easy to find.
To get the most out of your day, get to Dubai Mall or Mall of the Emirates before 9 am when the buses start running.
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If you have more time, see this 3-day Dubai itinerary.
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