Dubai is a strange city, it’s built in the middle of the desert and has only existed as a popular tourist destination for a few decades. Before then, it was a little trade town built up along the creek and rarely had visitors unless they were tradesmen or lost. The Dubai you see and know today is very different to the Dubai of old and the thing is, the Dubai of old is still there. Most people don’t realize this, hell even I thought Dubai was all skyscrapers and beach clubs before I came here.
Today I thought I’d share a little list with you of those touristy cannot miss attractions but also of the not so touristy attractions which show you what Dubai used to be. There is more to this city than the world’s tallest building and biggest mall even if it likes to trick you that there is not.
Touristy things to do in Dubai
The world’s tallest building and one of Dubai’s main attractions. Even if you don’t like to do the touristy stuff when travelling I feel like this should be your one exception. The views are incredible and watching the sun go down and the city light up is pretty magical.
Dubai is hot all year round so it is not really surprising that they have more than one waterpark. The Atlantis Palm one is pretty iconic and where else can you take a water ride through an aquarium? This trip will set you back a rather hefty amount but there is no time limit on your stay so that maybe makes up for it, a little.
The biggest and fanciest mall I have ever set foot in. They have an aquarium, ice rink, waterfall and some of the most gorgeous interiors of a mall ever. You can also find pretty much every shop ever, except Primark. Worth a visit even just to see the aquarium and get to the Burj Khalifa from the metro.
The Beach JBR
This fancy promenade is a lovely part of Dubai and almost feels like a stepping stone between city and beach. During the cooler months I can imagine this area bustling with life as people enjoy an al fresco meal, relax on the beach, watch sunset and enjoy all this area has to offer. Perfect place to come for an evening meal.
These fountains are located right outside of Dubai mall, underneath the tower of the Burj Khalifa. They have daily shows during the evening from 6-11pm (every 30 minutes) and then two lunch time shows. No two are the same so it’s worth catching more than one display. You could also treat yourself to a fancy dinner while watching the fountains.
This spot is right next to the Burj al Arab and offers some of the best views of the fancy seven star hotel. You’ll also find a modern souq, plenty of restaurants and some gorgeous blue canals. Don’t want to spend a fortune while at Madinat Jumeriah? Then head to Costa as they have cheap drinks and some of the best views.
Not so touristy things to do in Dubai
Al Fahidi Historic District
This district is in Bur Dubai and represents what Dubai buildings used to be like. Admittedly you’ll still find buildings made from the same colour brick but most are so much taller and don’t have the iconic wind tower that these historical buildings have. You’ll also find a few art galleries, some street art murals and a handful of cafes.
Unlike Abu Dhabi, Dubai has one mosque open to the public and that is Jumeriah Mosque. They run daily tours (except on Fridays) at 10 am where they aim to educate people about their religion. You are also welcome to ask questions and requested to wear their traditional dress to show respect.
This trendy art industrial estate is one of the coolest but slightly bizarre places I visited. Bizarre because there seemed to be no other visitors doing the same but cool because they have some amazing exhibitions. Many of the galleries also run workshops so this is certainly something I’m going to look into for the future. This area is also home to some cool cafes worth stopping in namely Wild & the Moon and Tom & Serg.
Explore Bur Dubai
Bur Dubai is one of the main hubs of ‘old Dubai’ and is now home to a large Indian and Pakistani community. This area of Dubai feels very different to the rest of the city; there are few skyscrapers and a lot more culture. Wander around the textile souq, soak up the creek and listen to the call to prayer. Then come back in the evening to see groups of people gathered on the banks of the water and in open spaces just enjoying each others company.
Dubai Ferry cruise from Marina to Al Ghubaiba
For just 50 AED you can take a 90 minute cruise from the south of Dubai to the north of the city. You’ll sail past the Marina, the Palm, Burj al Arab and more. What’s more, if you take the 6.30pm boat you’ll be able to watch the sun set into the ocean and the city turn it’s lights on.
This little museum located in Bur Dubai is an absolute gem if you want to know more about Dubai. It walks you through life in the 1930s to now a days, detailing the changes and how they happened. It talks about the roots of Dubai and what life was like for a local before they found oil. The museum is mostly set unground with many real scenes laid out in front of your eyes.
Eat local food in Deira
Like London, Dubai is one of those cities where you can get food from every where in the world. The thing about that is that it then seems hard to find actual local cuisine. I mean I’m not really 100% sure what local cuisine is except dates but Deira will certainly offer you the closest and most authentic options for Middle Eastern food.
Have you been to Dubai? Would you add anything to this list?
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