There are plenty of must-visit attractions in Dubai, with the city being home to many record-breaking sites and an exciting hub for visitors to reach from across the world.
Even if you live in the United Arab Emirates, there are certain attractions in Dubai that everyone must visit, whether you’re on holiday or in it for the long haul. Culture Trip selects 20 of the Dubai attractions you’ve got to tick off as soon as possible.
The Madinat Jumeirah is connected by three kilometres (two miles) of clear waterways that take you through the resort’s facilities, including 50 restaurants and bars (such as Katsuya and Black Tap) by authentic abra (a traditional wooden boat). The structure of the build is a homage to the Arabian citadels of the past, and it includes the Al Qasr, Mina A’Salam and Al Naseem hotels, as well as the Al Malakiya Villas and Al Masyaf summerhouses. The rooms inside are exuberant, but not too bold. A nod back to earlier times, the resort also contains a traditional Arabian souk (an open-air marketplace).
Home to some of the best hotels and resorts in Dubai, the Palm Jumeirah is frequently visited by tourists and locals. But seeing the manmade island from a distance is something truly spectacular. If you can’t get yourself to jump out of a plane for a skydive over the palm tree-shaped island, seek out a helicopter ride from Atlantis The Palm or make a reservation in a sky-high Dubai Marina tower, such as lunch in The Observatory or drinks in Q43, to easily spot another one of the top attractions in Dubai.
The most popular mosque and one of the most religious attractions in Dubai is open to all faiths, except on a Friday, which is the most important day of Islamic worship. Jumeirah Mosque is a must-visit for those who want to experience a lesson on the local religion of the region, but you do need to dress modestly. With 75-minute guided tours in English, and you can try some of the local snacks on offer, such as Arabic coffee and dates. The architecture in itself is worth glimpsing from the outside with its two minarets framing the huge dome of the white stone building. Up to 1,200 people can fit inside this iconic venue at one time.
Home to the planet’s largest floral installation (an Emirates A380 plane made of five million flowers and weighing 100 tonnes or 100 tons) the Dubai Miracle Garden is a Guinness Book of World Recordsstar attraction. Open from October to April before operations take a break when the summer heat becomes too much, it’s home to 109 million blooms, 100,000 of which make a five-metre (18-foot) Mickey Mouse figure weighing 35 tonnes (39 tons).
For a classy night out, check out the Dubai Opera, located right next to Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall. The interior of the opera house is designed with a vintage boat look in mind, and since opening in 2016, it has hosted big-name musicals, dance companies and singing performances, as well as Q&As with famous faces, among other events. It’s the first of its kind in Dubai, and visitors love dressing up to take photos in front of the huge Dubai Opera letters in front of the venue, complemented by a lit-up water feature. The Dubai Opera seats 2,000, so there are plenty of opportunities to watch one of the great offerings on the calendar of events.
The World archipelago is composed of islands made from sand excavated from the Gulf’s shallow waters, and resembles a map of the Earth. Situated just off the coast of Dubai’s Jumeirah neighbourhood, the project has been in on-and-off development for years and names each of the 300 islands after a real country. While some of the projects are mainly to attract residents to buy properties (such as the Floating Seahorse homes that launched in 2017), others, like the party island of Lebanon, are up and running. Other ‘countries’ that were planned as far back as 2006 include the UK and Sweden. The Heart of Europe cluster plans to host snow despite the hot climate, making it one of many attractions in Dubai that is constantly outdoing itself.
At eight kilometres (five miles) long, the Dubai Marina is a popular running route thanks to its waterside views. It has a mix of lively restaurants and bars, but its residential buildings are actually what’s most impressive about the wider neighbourhood. They help make up the iconic skyline that includes the Cayan Tower – the second-tallest twisted building in the world – and Elite Residence, which was the third-tallest residential building in the world when it was completed in 2012. If it’s too hot to walk around, take one of the many boat trips that are available and soak up the skyscraper views.
Anyone looking to have a fun day filled with adrenaline, laughter and rides definitely needs to head to Dubai Parks and Resorts. The massive theme park, the biggest theme park in the world, combines several smaller parks: Legoland Dubai and Legoland Waterpark, Motiongate Dubai, Bollywood Parks Dubai and Riverland Dubai. One ticket can get you access to all the parks, or guests can buy tickets individually. Highlights include riding the Bullet Train in The Hunger Games zone at Motiongate’s Lionsgate section, seeing the world’s coolest buildings made from building blocks and clapping along to live dance shows inspired by India’s movie scene. Filled with the best of food and beverages, Riverland Dubai doesn’t charge an entry fee, so feel free to soak up the energy of themed characters roaming around even if you don’t purchase park entry.
Tourists and residents alike congregate at one of the oldest attractions in Dubai, the one and only Dubai Gold Souk. With its lines of glittering shops and piles of jewellery in the store windows, be sure to act like a local as you browse rings, necklaces, bracelets and other pieces, because prices can be as much as halved if you haggle. With more than 379 retailers, there are plenty of bargains to be found in this historical part of the city.
Wild Wadi Waterpark is up there with some of the best in the world and features 30 different rides to keep children and adults entertained and cool. Guests can learn to surf in a pool that mimics the real wave experience and the park offers a unique view of the Burj Al Arab. For women who don’t feel comfortable donning swimwear in public, the venue hosts ladies’ nights during the summer months. It’s unique thanks to its Arabic folklore theme, which centres around the story of Juha and his donkey.
At The Dubai Fountain, built on the enormous Burj Lake, you can witness the expulsion of water that reaches impressive heights of 140 metres (450 feet). The structure is a creation of the California-based WET, the masterminds behind the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas, and is the world’s largest choreographed fountain. The Dubai Fountain comprises five circles of varying sizes, along with two central arcs. Comparable in size to 18 soccer fields, it features 6,600 WET lights and 25 projectors that produce an illuminating spectrum of kaleidoscopic colour. The beam of light shining upward from the fountain can be seen from miles away and is visible from space, making it the brightest speck of light in the Middle East, but visitors can get up close via a long boardwalk (which costs AED20 or £4 to access) or sail through the lake in a boat. You can avoid the crowd by watching the show every 30 minutes from the Thiptara restaurant terrace at Palace Downtown. The attraction is choreographed to music and performs daily, with an eclectic playlist including songs in Arabic, English and Swahili.
Dubai Garden Glow brings together massive light structures, creating a whimsical world for visitors. Often holding shows and live music for extra entertainment, the venue opens in the evening so guests can watch the lights turn magical as the sky turns dark. Split into various fun zones and edutainment opportunities, highlights include the Ice Park, Dinosaur Park and Happiness Street, but there’s also a Sea World, Happiness Forest and Colourful Zone to add to the glow-in-the-dark attractions in Dubai. Guests are able to see why it took 500 craftspeople to complete the interactive project before it opened in 2015. Visitors can also enjoy a selection of international bites at the food pavilion.
Atlantis The Palm is better known for being one of the most photographable hotels in Dubai. The epic resort is based on the Palm Jumeirah island and is visible from various surrounding points both on and off the manmade land which juts off the coast. Guests can even go scuba diving in its aquarium. Celebrity restaurants include Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen and Nobu, but they’re accessible via a separate entrance to the main hotel. If you haven’t booked a room it’s worth treating yourself to a spa appointment. The resort also boasts the Aquaventure water park and offers encounters with sea lions, swimming with dolphins and helicopter tours.
At 828 metres (2,717 feet) high, the Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world and consists of a dizzying 160 storeys. The best way to make the most of one of Dubai’s iconic attractions is by going into the two-level observation deck and paying a fee to take in the views. Alternatively, book a table or a seat at the bar inside At.Mosphere on the 122nd floor. The restaurant serves a great afternoon tea and guests at the window can view Dubai from above the clouds. Afraid of heights? The tower is also home to the Armani Hotel and restaurants, which are housed on much lower levels.
Burj Park is one of the must-visit attractions in Dubai; as well as providing a great view of the Burj Khalifa, you can also see the “Win, Victory, Love” sign of High Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The statue shows the leader of Dubai’s hand holding up the three-finger salute he created as a logo for the UAE and is often a focus feature while many events and festivals are hosted in the park throughout the year. At a length of five kilometres (3.1 miles) that winds throughout Downtown Dubai, it’s a much-welcome stretch of greenery in the concrete jungle.
Who knew you could go skiing in the desert? In fact, Ski Dubai is one of the city’s most popular attractions. Not only does it offer the full skiing and snowboarding experience, but there are penguins and a café where you can warm up with hot chocolate (Après Dubai). As well as brushing up on their skiing and snowboarding skills, pros can take things to the next level by travelling from the top after a gondola lift. It also has an ice-park course for adventurous snowy games. All clothing and equipment are provided, so there’s no need to worry about bringing winter coats to Dubai; just make sure to wear trousers so that the padded outerwear provided can easily slip on over them.
The biggest mall in the world, The Dubai Mall is a must-visit for those who want to experience the grandeur of Dubai in one go. With its own ice rink, waterfall, haunted house, cinema, aquarium and hotel, there are buggies to drive visitors around – it’s that spacious. Inside you’ll also find a virtual reality park, a mix of high-end and high-street fashion, plus sleeping pods if it all gets too much. For those to prefer to wander around gazing at the sights, there are plenty of visiting artworks to spot in the shopping centre, which is split into themed avenues.
Etihad Museum is undoubtedly one the city’s most impressive. Focused on teaching visitors the story of how the United Arab Emirates was founded, it is located on the exact spot where the country was born in 1971 (formerly Union House), and allows people to better understand the time period when the seven Emirates were united to become the UAE as we know it today. Through photos, video and film from 1968 to 1974, the gigantic museum provides an interactive and educational experience for visitors and is one of the must-visit attractions in Dubai for all history lovers. As well an exhibition hall and education centre, there’s a library and a restaurant inside.
The Burj Al Arab is a 280-metre (919-foot) building that stands on its own artificial island. The sail-shaped icon might just represent the most luxurious hotel in the universe. It’s the only hotel in the world often referred to as ‘seven-star’ and boasts one of the most expensive suites, at a whopping $18,716 a night. Aside from viewing the stunning architecture, make reservations for afternoon tea or a drink at its gold-themed bar just to glimpse the Rolls Royce cars in the high-security private driveway, enjoy a ride in the gold elevator and hang out in the building that boasts an incredible helipad on the 28th floor for VIP use. You must have a booking or be staying at the hotel to get anywhere near the entrance.