City tours can take the stress out of travelling, and good guides will help keen travellers cover more ground through Dubai’s sea, sand and souks. Compact and action-packed, Dubai is a delight to discover, whether by foot, bus, camel, boat, aircraft or 4×4. To experience a whole new side of the city, try one of Dubai’s best tours.
Navigate waterways, skies and narrow alleys, called sikka, on Dubai’s best tours with professional guides who will guarantee that you get the most out of every minute in the emirate. For avid adventurers, there are walking, driving, sailing and flying tours. Intrepid explorers can get a bird’s-eye view of Dubai’s Burj Al Arab by aircraft, visit Mesquita Jumeirah – an ornate mosque open to non-Muslims – and climb near-vertical dunes in the desert. Here are some of the most exhilarating, enlightening and memorable ways to discover Dubai.
Dubai’s year-round clement weather equates to safe skies, and regular helicopter tours around the city mean you can experience an aerial view of Dubai’s incredible skyline. See world-famous landmarks from a different perspective, such as the palm-tree-shaped island Palm Jumeirah, the man-made archipelago World Islands, ‘seven-star’ Burj Al Arab, and the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa, on 12-, 15- and 25-minute tours taking off from the hotel Atlantis, The Palm. Several flights take off throughout the day, and standard helicopters accommodate up to six guests. Complimentary hotel pickups are provided.
Board a speedboat for a 90-minute sightseeing tour around the city’s coastline, starting in Dubai Marina, a glamorous neighbourhood known for its towering architecture. Share the waterways with vessels ranging from multistorey superyachts to traditional wooden dhow boats – the kind Dubai’s pearl divers would use during the pearling season, long before the discovery of oil. Closer to the shoreline, jet-skiers, paddleboarders, wakeboarders and surfers pose against unique backdrops that include two of Dubai’s most famous hotels, Burj Al Arab and Atlantis, The Palm.
Established in 1998, the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) aims to demystify Emirati culture, traditions and customs. With the mantra ‘open doors, open minds’, the non-profit organisation takes curious visitors on a guided tour of Dubai’s Jumeirah Mosque – one of only two mosques in the city open to non-Muslims. Dress modestly for the occasion, covering shoulders, knees and, if female, hair; additional attire can be borrowed from the mosque if required. The tour begins at the mosque’s fountain, where the cleansing process known as the wudu takes place, which involves washing your hands, face and feet, before prayers. The tour continues inside the mosque where you can learn about the architecture and religion of Islam.
Situated at the Al Bastakiya trading village in Dubai’s Al Fahidi Historical District, the SMCCU offers you a chance to uncover Dubai’s cultural customs by dining on a traditional Emirati breakfast in a wind tower house. This 90-minute meet-up held in a majlis lounge setting gives you a chance to learn more about Middle Eastern traditions with a guide on hand to answer all of your questions. Dine on typical Middle Eastern food, with plates such as balaleet (sweet vermicelli with eggs) and baidh tomat (scrambled egg with tomato), and drink aromatic spiced Arabian coffee.
Taking off and landing on Dubai’s waterways, Seawings Seaplane Tours provides the perfect way to explore Dubai’s sea, sky and land. It offers three tours: ‘Snapshot’, which lasts 20 minutes; ‘Signature’, which flies high for 45 minutes; ‘Signature and Dubai Heritage’, which includes an added history tour on the ground. Fly by Dubai’s most celebrated architectural marvels, including the Burj Khalifa, Palm Jumeriah, Dubai Creek and Burj Al Arab. Flights accommodate up to nine passengers, with regular departures from 9am to 4.30pm or 5pm (depending on the season), and flights take off from Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club or JA Beach Hotel.
Go on an off-road adventure and try a desert safari that takes passengers deep into Dubai’s majestic dunes. Choose between a vintage 1950s Land Rover or an up-to-date 4×4, and speed across Dubai’s dramatically undulating peaks – a national pastime known as dune bashing. Be sure to take a moment to stand on a sandy crest to take in the full scope of the desert. After a day of dune bashing, guests can experience more of the city’s culture, from henna painting and shisha smoking to falconry displays and al fresco feasts.
Get straight to the heart of Dubai’s foodie scene with a gourmet guide. As the first food-tour group in Dubai, the family-run Frying Pan Adventures’ philosophy is to preserve and share dishes from around the world that have made their way to the city. Discover Iran’s honey-and-saffron-laced confections, the best Arabian falafel and shawarma, and Indian flavours from Keralan pancakes to Goan curries on Dubai’s lesser-known side streets. Whet your appetite for what’s to come by listening to the Frying Pan’s brilliant podcast with tips on where to find the area’s best and most authentic food.
Dubai’s hop-on, hop-off bus tours with audio guides feature more than 40 stops near most major points of interest. Alight at Dubai’s historical district Al Seef for atmospheric creekside strolling, the Spice Souk for tasty condiments or The Beach at Jumeirah Beach Residence area for sandy shores lined with seaside entertainment. For malls, try the Mall of the Emirates for indoor skiing and The Dubai Mall for access to the sky-piercing Burj Khalifa. Bus tickets cover complimentary traditional dhow cruises, non-stop 150-minute night tours and access to the Dubai Museum. Multiple ticket options are available, including one-, two- and three-day bus passes with more perks allocated per day.