10 Things to Do in Dubai For First Timers
Although expensive, there are many great reasons to visit Dubai. It’s got great beaches, great shopping and so many novelties that you will only find there. Dubai likes to be the best, and you can definitely tell. And I think that is what makes it an interesting place to visit! Okay so maybe it doesn’t have as much culture as you are looking for, but from man-made islands shaped as palm trees to real life snow and penguins in a snow dome in a shopping mall in the middle of a desert, Dubai sure does pull out all the stops to impress its visitors.
But what should I do if this is my first time in Dubai? I hear you ask.
Well, here are my top 10 things that I would recommend to first timers to Dubai based on my first two trips there. Enjoy!
1. Check out the views from the world’s tallest building.
Because you can’t really go to Dubai and NOT check out the Burj Khalifa – you can see it before you even get close to the city! The Burj Khalifa has over 160 stories and is full of all sorts of fancy and expensive things, such as the Armani Hotel and over 900 private residences. If you’re interested in some pretty amazing views of Dubai, check out my post on Visiting the Burj Khalifa.
Cost: 125AED (approx. £27) for a non-peak ticket booked online in advance for the At The Top Experience. FREE to view from below.
2. Marvel at the Dubai Fountains
Located at the base of the Burj Khalifa, watching the Dubai Fountain is one of my favourite things to do in Dubai and it’s totally free. This fountain is the world’s largest choreographed fountain system and the water, light and sound shows are amazing. They run every evening between 6-11pm so make sure you get down after dinner one day and stick around for an hour or two. A different show occurs every thirty minutes and the shows are always mesmerizing. Don’t believe me? Check out this (super amateur) video I took last time I was there. There are also a couple of afternoon shows – check out the Dubai Mall website for more info.
3. Explore Dubai Mall
Dubai Mall is the biggest mall in the world and exploring it is an activity in itself. You don’t even need to pay to go in to any of the attractions or spend any of your money at the 1000+ shops to appreciate this place. Make sure you don’t miss a glance at the Dubai Aquarium, the Dubai Ice Rink or the indoor Waterfalls… all of which are located IN the shopping center. Amazing. The Sega Republic is also pretty great for all those big kids out there…
Cost: FREE to enter. All attractions are individually priced but are free to marvel at!
4. Watch the Penguin Parade at Ski Dubai in the Mall of the Emirates
And no, this isn’t just on here because I love penguins… I’ve included it because inside the Mall of the Emirates is an actual SNOW DOME. They have real snow, real penguins, a real ski slope and even a real ski lift INSIDE a mall. So even if you don’t pay to go into Ski Dubai, it’s worth checking out just for the novelty of a room full of snow in a city surrounded by desert. And if you manage to time it right, you’ll get to see the cute little penguin parade too!
Cost: Entry to the snow dome is 200AED (approx. £44). Watching through the window is free! More ticket info here.
5. Take a Big Bus Tour
I don’t usually recommend things like this unless I actually enjoy them and seeing as I have done a Big Bus Tour twice in Dubai, I guess you could say I must have enjoyed it the first time! There are 3-4 different routes available depending on which ticket you buy and each one has its perks. You can get a free dhow cruise, walking tours, entrance to the Atlantis Lost World Aquarium, included entry to museums and loads more. I’d recommend the Unlimited Attraction Pass because then you get the bus tour and the attractions. The nice thing is that every bus is air conditioned inside and you get free unlimited bottled water on board, a free coupons booklet and a commentary about the things you are seeing. Oh, and it’s a convenient way to see the whole city in a short space of time!
Also, it was pretty fun zooming through the city on an open topped bus… This photos was taken on the Sheikh Zayed Road – my favourite road to drive down in the city.
Cost: A 2 Day Unlimited Attractions Pass is £56.10 if you buy it online. More info here.
6. Relax at the Souk Madinat Jumeirah
The Souk Madinat Jumeirah is not the cheapest of places to eat but it is such a wonderfully relaxing place that I had to include it. So even if you only go for a drink, definitely check it out. Inside you’ll find lot of little boutiques selling all sorts of traditional and tourist goods and outside and on the terraces you’ll find an abundance of places to grab a bite to eat. I love it here in the evenings.
Cost: FREE to enter and wander around
7. Be amazed at The Lost Chambers Aquarium
If you fancy visiting an aquarium whilst in Dubai then you will have two choices – The Dubai Aquarium in Dubai Mall, or The Lost Chambers Aquarium in Atlantis The Palm. Whilst the one in the mall is cool and has a pretty cool aquarium tunnel to walk through, I’d recommend the latter, simply because the tanks are larger and much more interesting to look at. Also, if you time it right then you will get to see the rays being fed and that’s a great experience for all ages! I also like that this aquarium has cushions placed in front of the tanks so that you can simply just sit and watch the fish swim by and have a rest from all these tourist activities that you’ve been doing…
Cost: Free if you have an unlimited attractions pass with the Big Bus Tour Company or you are staying in The Atlantis Hotel (I wish!). A standard Day Visitors pass is 100AED (£22). The Dubai Aquarium in Dubai Mall has various tickets available from 100AED (£22).
8. Wander around the Miracle Garden (seasonal)
It was only on my third visit to Dubai that I finally managed to make it to the Miracle Garden and I’m glad I did! I had great fun walking around these gardens, admiring the way that the gardeners had managed to sculpt so many trees and flowers into various shapes, patterns and displays. Whilst I was there there was a pretty cool section with landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and the Burj Khalifa. The nice thing about the gardens is that they change slightly each year so you’ll always see something different. The Miracle Gardens are definitely worth checking out and are open during the day and the evening if you want to avoid that desert sun.
Cost: 40AED, approx. £9 (tickets can only be bought at the ticket counters by the entrance)
9. Cool down at a Waterpark
After all that exploring I expect you will want to cool down somewhere and for this I recommend spending a day or two at a waterpark. Again, you have two choices – Wild Wadi or Aquaventure Waterpark on the Palm. I’ve been to both and can’t really pick a favourite as they each have their perks. Aquaventure is much bigger and has that cool drop slide where you slide through an aquarium full of sharks. It also has the better rapids and a better lazy river than Wild Wadi. However, Wild Wadi has some really good group rubber ring rides and also has a waterslide where you don’t need to carry your ring up the stairs – jets of water shoot you up to the top in your ring! So it depends what you fancy. But if you have enough time (and enough cash!) then try and fit in both – you’ll have a blast.
Cost: Wild Wadi General Admission is 275AED (£60) per adult and locker rental is 45AED (£10). Aquaventure Waterpark General Admission is 260AED (£57) and locker rental starts from 40AED (£9). Or you can buy a combo ticket with The Lost Chamber Aquarium for 310AED (£67).
10. Chill out on the beach in front of the Burj al Arab
And finally, after all those activities, you might find that you just want to chill out on a beach. And whilst you will probably be staying at a hotel with beach or pool access, Jumeirah Public Beach is still pretty cool to check out. There’s not many public beaches in Dubai but I like this one because of the view of the Burj Al Arab that it provides – one of the fanciest five-star hotels that Dubai has to offer.
And there you have it… 10 things to do in Dubai for first timers.
However, if you have some more time then you could also take a road trip over to Oman to go cruising with dolphins. Or up to Ras Al Khaimah to drive up the tallest mountain in the UAE. You could even venture over to Abu Dhabi if you fancied!
But as you can tell, Dubai isn’t exactly a budget travel destination. So if you are planning a trip here, make sure you budget accordingly. Whilst you can find affordable accommodation and food, many tourist attractions do tend to be quite pricey. Top tips? Book an apartment and cook your own food – you’ll save a lot! If you don’t fancy cooking then check out the food at the food courts in the malls. It’s not fancy but there’s loads of choice and it’ll save you some money too.
There really is so much to do in Dubai if you have the budget for it.
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