Dubai is one of the most visited cities on earth, characterised by its man-made islands, huge skyscrapers and shopping malls. According to the latest Mastercard rankings, more tourists now go to Dubai than New York, Tokyo or Barcelona. A city that never sleeps, it is known for its constantly evolving, modern skyline and endless opportunities to explore new and exciting attractions every year. There are so many things to do in Dubai that it can be difficult to plan your time there. Based on our experiences, here are the best things to do in Dubai on your first visit there. We did them with our kids, so it's also a great list of things to do in Dubai with kids.
The top attraction in Dubai, according to Tripadvisor, is the Burj Khalifa, followed by the Dubai Fountains and the Dubai Mall. All of them are within the same complex. My family has a penchant for seeing the views from tall buildings, so ascending the Burj Khalifa was high up on our Dubai bucket list.
We shot up 125 floors within 1 minute in one of the fastest elevators in the world, and spent over an hour savouring the views from the tallest building in the world. The panoramic city skyline views extend to the deserts and the ocean. At the top, you can take drool-worthy Instagram selfies to brag with, and buy refreshments and souvenirs. This is definitely one for the bucket list. Book your tickets here.
Although we visited the Dubai Museum with the City Sightseeing Bus, it is a must-see attraction even if you are not travelling with the bus. The museum was built in 1787 and is the oldest existing building in Dubai. Housed in the Al Fahidi Fort which is near the Al-Fahidi Souk, it has some fascinating exhibits of life in Dubai before the oil boom.
I’m a big fan of hop-on hop-off buses around the world. So naturally, the City Sightseeing Dubai bus was one of the first activities on my Dubai itinerary. It was a great way to see Dubai’s main attractions in a short period of time and the informative on-board commentary taught us several things about Dubai that we didn’t know. We drove through the old and new parts of Dubai and saw most of Dubai’s most iconic symbols, like the Burj-Al-Arab, The Palm, the Dubai Creek, Jumeirah Mosque and more. Book tickets here.
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Atlantis The Palm is one of the most recognisable symbols of Dubai. It is situated on the furthest tip of The Palm, a man-made palm-shaped island. The magnificent palm tree-lined resort spans 46 hectares. It is also home to the Aquaventure Waterpark, which has won the award for the Middle East's Leading Waterpark in the World Travel Awards, several times. We spent many fun-filled hours at Aquaventure and ended our day there with a delicious late lunch at Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen. Book your tickets here.
The Dubai Miracle Garden is the world's largest natural flower garden and one of the most Instagram-worthy too. I had seen umpteen pictures of the beautiful landscaped garden on social media over the past few years and it had been on my Dubai bucket list for ages. The popular garden consists of floral sculptures and installation of all shapes and sizes, including a life-size Emirates A380 airbus. It is only open during Dubai’s cooler months, between November and April. What makes this garden most unusual though is that it was built on desert land. My daughter and I walked around admiring the blooms while my husband and son sipped karak chai at a shaded outdoor café. Book your tickets here.
La Perle is a permanent live show which takes place in a state-of-the-art 1300 seat aqua-theatre. Launched in September 2017, it was created by Franco Dragone who is known for his work with Cirque du Soleil and Celine Dion. In less than six months, the show was ranked as Dubai’s number one show on TripAdvisor. We first heard about the show on a BBC documentary before we went to Dubai and it was promptly added to our itinerary. We watched mesmerised as talented artists, death-defying stunts and amazing special effects combined to transport us to a magical world. Book your tickets here.
Dubai is known for its shopping but I am no mall rat. However, I had to visit Dubai Mall - not to shop - but to experience some of its more unique attractions. Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world by total area. It contains one of the largest suspended indoor aquariums in the world, and an indoor waterfall adorned with silver sculptures of divers. Between the mall and the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, are the Dubai Fountains, the world's largest choreographed fountains, which attract hundreds of visitors every evening.
A desert safari is a must-do when in the UAE. Although, we did ours from Abu Dhabi on this trip, a Dubai desert safari is pretty similar. It typically combines dune-bashing in the desert, with desert activities like sand-boarding and quad-biking, followed by a Bedouin-style dinner in a desert camp with live entertainment. It certainly was one of the highlights of our trip and the kids especially loved it. Book your desert safari here.
Dubai is a theme-park lover's paradise. There are so many to choose from. The most popular theme parks there are IMG Worlds of Adventure, the largest indoor theme park in the world, Legoland Dubai, which is great for younger kids, and Bollywood Park Dubai, which is the world’s only Bollywood theme park.
See here for the best things to do in Dubai in summer .
PF Changs - for their authentic Asian cuisine
Shake Shack & Five Guys – for their delicious burgers
Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen - because Gordon Ramsay is a legendary chef who makes great food
Luciano's at Habtoor Grand Resort for delicious authentic Italian food
Habtoor Grand Resort - Great location, service, rooms and food
Hilton Dubai – Al Habtoor City , a popular family-friendly hotel
Or book here.
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Click here for things to do in Abu Dhabi.
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Have you been there? What are your favourite things to do in Dubai ?