For a relatively small country, the United Arab Emirates packs quite a punch. The capital city is Abu Dhabi, but Dubai is where it’s happening. In just a few mile radius you can go up the world’s tallest building, view the world’s largest fountains, ski down the world’s largest indoor ski slope, shop in the world’s biggest mall, set foot on the world’s largest man-made islands, and view the world’s only 7 star hotel. That’s an incredible amount of world’s tallest, biggest, and most impressive stuff in one tiny area!
However, this enormous display of wealth and ingenuity isn’t all there is to Dubai. While modern Dubai is full of glitz and glamour, Old Dubai is full of old world charm. I would consider it a crime to visit Dubai without also experiencing the old part of the city as well. The narrow, twisting streets are captivating, and wandering through the markets is a real treat.
Below is my 3 day itinerary for experiencing the highlights of Dubai.
Day 1: Old Dubai
I recommend starting in Old Dubai to experience the charm of the city because your visit might be a little anti-climactic if you begin with the craziness of the modern part of the city and then explore Old Dubai.
Dubai Museum – This museum is an oasis in the desert (literally and figuratively!) It was built as a fortress in 1787, but was converted into a museum showcasing the history and modernization of Dubai. The museum is well laid out and full of information, and adult admission is only about 1 USD, so a visit is well worth the time and money.
Gold Souk – Even if you’re not in the market for gold, a visit to the gold souk (market) is an experience. If you do want to purchase some gold, good luck deciding because there are over 300 vendors in this market. It is said that at any given time there are over 10 tons of gold in the souk, so if you can’t find what you want it probably doesn’t exist. If you do find a piece you can’t live without, don’t forget to haggle for a fair price.
Spice Souk – This souk is full of old world charm because upon entering you’ll feel like you’ve discovered a secret market hidden from time. It’s tucked between narrow, covered streets and has displays of fragrant herbs, spices, and colorful dried fruits that are just dying for their picture to be taken.
Dubai Mall – End your day at the Dubai Mall to watch the Dubai Fountain dance and illuminate to a variety of music soundtracks. Catch at least one of the evening shows that perform every half hour from 6pm to 11pm. In between shows get lost in the world’s largest mall that boasts an incredible 1,000+ shops, 100+ restaurants, indoor ice rink, aquarium, and 22 movie screens.
Day 2: City Tour
Acquaint yourself with the modern city of Dubai.
Jumeirah Mosque – This mosque is said to be the most photographed mosque in Dubai and is open to the public for tours at 10am from Saturday to Thursday. Modest dress is requested.
Burj al Arab – This hotel is the world’s only 7 star hotel and offers those who are willing to cough up anywhere from $3,000 to $50,000 per night a helicopter flight from the airport, a private driver in a Bentley to tour the city, and a golden pool in which to relax and escape the stress of life.
Palm Islands – These islands are one of the man-made island groups in Dubai and are so large you won’t even know you’ve entered on an island. They’re home to multi-million dollar private homes, hotels, and the Atlantis resort.
Marina District – The Marina District is a scenic place to gaze upon some beautiful marine vessels. Restaurants and shops surround the lake and make the perfect backdrop to a memorable afternoon or evening.
Desert Safari – Enjoy a mesmerizing evening in the desert under a sky of stars. Chose a safari where you can go dune bashing or 4-wheeling through the sand dunes and you won’t regret it. Afterward, enjoy an Arabian dinner with traditional entertainment like belly and Sufi dancers.
Day 3: Extreme Day
Make sure to participate in one of Dubai’s most extreme experiences. There are plenty to choose from, and I’m sure you can find one or two that appeal to you.
Burj Khalifa – The world’s tallest building stands at 2,716 feet tall with observation decks on the 124th and the 148th floors. View past the modern oasis of Dubai into the Persian Gulf or a sandy desert that both go further than the eye can see. This experience only takes a couple of hours, so you have plenty of time to do something else!
Ski Dubai – Yes, you can snow board or ski in the desert! The Emirates Mall is home to one of the world’s largest indoor ski resorts. It has 5 different ski runs as well as an opportunity to toboggan, ride a sub-zero zip line, and tumble in a giant inflatable ball. Because you probably didn’t bring your hat and gloves, the admission fee includes all necessary gear. In addition to frolicking in the snow, you can also reserve a time to interact with a live penguin.
Wild Wadi Water Park – Escape the heat of the desert and jump head first into this water park that is fun for all ages. Situated near the iconic Burj al Arab, Wild Wadi offers thrill seekers 30 rides and attractions to choose from including a lazy river, water coasters, and a Wipeout Flowrider.
Atlantis The Palm – Even if you’re not staying at the Atlantis resort you can still partake in some of the activities. Book a day pass and have a blast at the Aquaventure Waterpark, explore the Lost Chambers Aquarium, interact with a dolphin or sea lion, or scuba dive in the aquarium.
Ferrari World – About an hour drive to the United Arab Emirates’ capital city of Abu Dhabi is Ferrari World. It is one of the Middle East’s most famous attractions and you can ride on the world’s fastest roller coaster: formula Rossa. There are also rides for the whole family.
A hop on/hop off tour is a great way to see Dubai without having to worry about the logistics of getting everywhere. You can get on and off the bus as many times as you like and learn a bit about each attraction along the way. There are a few companies (Big Bus and City Sightseeing) that offer similar packages, most of which include a dinner cruise, desert safari, and multiple bus routes. This is a very economical way to see both old and new Dubai, and it can easily cover your transportation for days 1 and 2 of the itinerary.
Needless to say, a visit to Dubai is well worth your time. Within the same day you can wander through an enchanting spice market tucked in a narrow alleyway between well-worn buildings, and then have a wild and crazy night on the town that Miley Cyrus or Charlie Sheen would be proud of. Until the visionaries of the UAE go crazy and construct even more outstanding attractions, three days is enough time to get a solid grasp on this amazing city.
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