Looking for things to do in Dubai? With the world’s tallest building, dancing fountains, mammoth amusement parks, heritage museums, cutting-edge galleries, traditional souks and a ground-breaking show to rival any you’d see in Las Vegas, Dubai has it all.
Dubai will sweep you off your feet and keep you on your toes with attractions that break records and blow minds. On a visit to this city, you can walk among millions of blooms in Dubai Miracle Garden one minute and whizz around the world’s largest indoor theme park the next. From jumping out of a plane 3,962 metres (13,000 feet) over Palm Jumeirah to seeing Dubai from the 154th floor of the tallest building on the planet, the edges of past and future blur together in this compact destination of souks, skyscrapers, deserts and beaches.
When Burj Khalifa opened in 2010, it was officially named the world’s tallest building, towering above Dubai’s already significantly elevated skyline. The epicentre of Dubai, it is the emirate’s foremost gathering ground each New Year’s Eve. Fireworks and light shows burst from its shimmering facade, and inside there are multiple ways to enjoy its lofty heights. Try breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea or dinner at At.mosphere restaurant on level 122, or cocktails and canapés at The Lounge on levels 152 to 154.
The Dubai Fountain lies at the base of Burj Khalifa, alongside the enormous Dubai Mall. The fountain erupts into different choreographed aquatic dances with accompanying soundtracks and light shows every 30 minutes from around 6pm. For the best view, hop on board a Dubai Fountain boat tour and watch the musical geysers, created with 85,000 litres (18,697 gallons) of water and 6,000 glittering lights, from the lake’s surface.
On both sides of the creek in Al Fahidi Historical District, the Dubai souks are loaded with gold, fabrics, perfumes and spices. Sail between these alleyway bazaars by traditional abra water-buses for just 1AED (£0.22). On the left bank, the textile souk vendors push their wears on passing tourists, while on the right, the gold, spice and perfume souks lure with a golden glow and intoxicating scents of frankincense, saffron and oud (agarwood). Not the easiest area to navigate, you can visit the souks in a comprehensive four-hour tour that also takes in the Coffee Museum, Dubai Museum and Arabic Calligraphy Museum, sampling authentic street food en route.
Dating back to 1787, Al Fahidi Fort – located alongside Dubai Creek in the heart of the heritage district – was a monarchic stronghold, a weapons arsenal and a prison. Today it holds the Dubai Museum, with a courtyard containing historic weapons, boats and exhibits consisting of photographs, artefacts and life-sized dioramas presenting life in old Arabia. Wander through the museum’s re-created souks, streets and scenes from ships, homes, farms and classrooms.
Franco Dragone, creative director of ‘Le Reve’ in Las Vegas, is the mastermind behind Dubai’s ‘La Perle by Dragone’, an enchanting show that sails through the seasons and the region’s history through death-defying stunts and body-bending acrobatics. Part of Al Habtoor City’s hotel complex, guests at the local Hilton, Habtoor Palace and V Hotel get complimentary passes. Tickets and special offers are also available online, and the pre-theatre dinner and gold seat deals represent brilliant value.
Replicating a photo frame, this soaring landmark puts two sides of Dubai in the picture from the vantage point of its surrounding park. Old Dubai is framed from one angle, while New Dubai and its skyscrapers are seen from the other. Inside, the 360-degree view from the top spans past to present and sky to earth with a glass-bottomed walkway connecting the two 150-metre (492-foot) towers. Lower floors house exhibits dedicated to the future of Dubai.
Discover how hard-working Emiratis of the past raised families and grew businesses as merchants and seafarers at Dubai’s newest heritage complex on Dubai Creek. Historical Shindagha was once prime real estate occupied by Bedouin leaders; today, their traditional courtyard homes have been converted into a collection of museums. If you only have time to visit one, inhale the history at Perfume House, with interactive displays revealing the mysterious scents of oud, civet musk and whale ambergris used in Arabia’s revered fragrances.
Commemorating the birth of the UAE in 1971, the Etihad Museum translates as the Union Museum. The eye-catching rolls of the building are shaped like the document all seven founding fathers of the Trucial States signed in creating the UAE, with its golden pillars representing the pens used. Next door stands the actual building in which the agreement was signed, which was relocated here, piece by piece. Learn about the history of the UAE, its first president, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and his philosophies on everything from education to women’s roles in Emirati society.
The only snow you’re ever likely to see in the UAE lines the inclines of Ski Dubai. There’s no better antidote to desert heat overload than snowboarding, skiing and enjoying other frosty frolics, including zorbing in big transparent balls. Featuring the world’s first indoor black run, the ski centre includes five runs of varying difficulty and length from 60 to 400 metres (147 to 1,312 feet). Ticket prices cover ski attire hire, so no need to pack your boots, poles and skis.
The ludicrously luxurious Burj Al Arab hotel, shaped like the sail of a traditional Arabian dhow boat, is an iconic landmark on Dubai’s skyline. Its interior is equally appealing. The rainbow-coloured atrium is taller than the Eiffel Tower, with aquariums and a dancing fountain at its base. Guests can only cross the private bridge from the mainline with approved tours or room, restaurant or bar reservations. Try the lunch tasting menus at Al Mahara, best savoured by day when the views from the 27th floor are most impressive.
Test your mettle on terrifying sky-high tube slides the Jumeirah Sceirah and the Burj Surj. One of three water parks in Dubai, Wild Wadi is also home to an aquatic adventure playground designed like an old dhow boat, a lazy river, a wave pool and Wipeout and Riptide FlowRiders. The surfing device here shoots more than seven tonnes (1,883 gallons) of water per second across a moulded foam structure, producing body-board-ready waves. Access to the park is complimentary when you stay at Jumeirah Beach Hotel, or day passes can be booked directly.
At Aquaventure Waterpark, the two aquatic rides Leap of Faith and Poseidon’s Revenge separate the hedonists with a head for heights from the vertigo sufferers. The former slide drops from the height of a nine-storey building, while the latter features a floor that falls away, letting riders plunge at 60 kilometres per hour (37 miles per hour) before looping upside down. This white-knuckle water park is part of Atlantis, The Palm – a resort that’s become a tourist attraction in its own right with its 11-million-litre (2,419,661-gallon) Ambassador Lagoon aquarium and 28 restaurants, including celebrity chef outlets by Nobu Matsuhisa and Gordon Ramsay.
Immerse yourself in millions of blooms arranged in spectacular arches, patterns and forms, including a 12-metre-tall (39-foot-tall) teddy bear, a heart-shaped corridor, fairy-tale houses and a castle, all made from flowers. Dubai Miracle Garden broke world records for the largest vertical garden in 2013; the world’s largest floral sculpture shaped like an Airbus A380 airplane in 2016; and the tallest topiary sculpture, an 18-metre (59-foot) Mickey Mouse, in 2018. Open from mid-November to mid-May, this 72,000-square-metre (775,001-square-foot) technicolour park adds new attractions each year and maintains an indoor garden occupied by around 15,000 resident butterflies.
Skip through the bright lights of Dubai Garden Glow, an illuminated electrical garden with multiple themed parks, including a Dinosaur Park with more than 100 animatronic model dinosaurs and an Ice Park where 5,000 tonnes (5,511 tons) of ice have been carved into a sub-zero playground. Elsewhere, this glow-in-the-dark garden is populated with multicoloured bulb sculptures taking the form of underwater worlds, wildlife and forests. Nocturnal and seasonal, Dubai Garden Glow’s gates open from the beginning of October to the end of May.
A fairground surrounded by 27 pavilions presenting food and goods from more than 90 different countries, Global Village is Dubai’s resident version of the World Expo. The range of cuisines on offer is phenomenal. From American skirt burgers dressed in capes of molten cheese to Japanese octopus balls called takoyaki, it features flavours from every corner of the world. Open from 4pm, from October’s end to mid-April each year, the entrance fee costs less than a latte and includes regular live music, dance performances and fireworks displays at 9pm every Thursday and Friday.
The Middle East’s largest amusement park complex contains LEGOLAND Dubai, LEGOLAND Water Park, Motiongate Dubai, Bollywood Parks Dubai and two hotels. The open-air food court in Riverland Dubai echoes different historical eras from 17th-century France to 1950s America, with food to match. Gain a few pounds and lose a couple of days with the family building LEGO rafts, enjoying Bollywood dance performances and braving cinema-themed 4D simulators and white-knuckle rides.
In Dubai’s soaring summer heat, the world’s largest indoor theme park is weather-proof, making it a year-round hotspot for thrill seekers. Visitors can take a motion-seat in a stereoscopic cinema dome to immerse themselves in one of the Hulk’s epic battles and get into the swing of the Powerpuff Girls’ high-flying cars. The biggest frights are to be found on The Velociraptor roller coaster, which loops outside of the building, or within the Haunted Hotel, where characters lurk in the shadows ready to make guests shudder.
Experience the thrill of free-falling at over 193 kilometres per hour (120 miles per hour) while securely harnessed to an instructor. Skydive Dubai offers tandem jumps over either the desert or Palm Jumeirah – Dubai’s iconic tree-shaped island, best viewed from 3,962 meters (13,000 feet) above. Among Dubai’s more costly adventures, tandem packages cost from £375 and include a USB of photographs and an edited video of the experience. Another voyage on offer is a 20-minute flight across Dubai in a two-man Skyhub Gyrocopter, hovering over Dubai at 457 meters (1,500 feet) with a trained pilot at the helm.
Pinned in a curve of Dubai Creek, next door to Palazzo Versace Dubai, Jameel Arts Centre is free to enter, placing it among Dubai’s best budget-friendly attractions. Set within its own sculpture park, punctuated with courtyards designed for personal reflection, the gleaming white Cubist building is as striking as the art inside. Enjoy contemporary collections largely created in the Middle East and Asia through installation, assemblage, drawing, photography and painting. There’s also a regular programme of talks, workshops, films and events.
An industrial estate repurposed as an art hub, the streets of Alserkal Avenue are lined with warehouses converted into commercial galleries and studios, on-trend eateries serving charcoal lattes, an arthouse cinema with vintage fixtures and beautiful boutiques. Indulge in automotive appreciation at Nostalgia Classic Cars, satisfyingly messy art classes at TheJamJar and sweet shopping at Mirzam Chocolate Makers factory-café, where free samples are laid out for tasting.