Dubai is a city where you can have one foot in the future and one in the past. One day you could be exploring old souks and taking a ride on a traditional wooden boat, and the next, staring up at the tallest building in the world. This is a city with something for everyone, whether you want modern or historic, fast paced or laid-back. Shop until you drop, or while away a few hours sipping Arabic coffee at an outdoor café — the options are varied and allow you to personalise your experience based on the type of trip you’re looking for. Whether you have a few days or a few weeks to visit, here are some of the best things to see and do in Dubai.
Check out Deira
North of Dubai Creek you’ll find Deira, one of the oldest parts of Dubai. Head to this historical district between 5am and 8am to catch the early morning activities, such as the loading and unloading of merchandises aboard wooden trading ships, see the commuters crossing the creek on small boats, and watch early risers jogging along the creek. Walk around the Gold Souk, Spice Souk, and the Deira Fish Market to see locals in action, and then cross the creek on an abra (a small wooden boat) to visit the historical Shindagha and Al Fahidi districts. You can buy a one-way ticket or hire your own abra for an hour. Have a local breakfast and Arabic coffee at one of the nearby cafés on the creek before the area gets busy with traffic and tourists. Despite Dubai being a futuristic city, Deira gives you a unique perspective on the daily lifestyle of merchants and traders in more traditional times.
Explore Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Beach Residence
It’s time to see how Dubai has become one of the most futuristic cities in the world. Like a city within a city, this area is home to some prime people-watching cafés, sociable bars, and some of the best restaurants in Dubai. The Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Beach Residences are also nice places to walk as the sun starts to set. This place displays Dubai’s true colours, and the city’s amazing ambiance.
The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residences is one of Dubai’s outdoor attractions where you can take a walk along the waterfront, browse stalls selling handicrafts and local snacks, shop high-end boutiques (or just browse, depending on your budget), watch street entertainers, and choose from a variety of restaurants and cafés. What’s more, you’ll get to see the state-of-the-art architecture and get one of the most scenic views in the city. The panoramic skyscrapers built along the water are spectacular and look magical at night with the glittering lights from every corner of the area.
Go on a desert safari
Less than 20 minutes from the city, you can truly experience the marvels of the Arabian Desert with a safari, the original tourist attraction of Dubai. Head into the desert for an off-road adventure that includes riding a 4×4 vehicle across the sand and a visit to a traditional Bedouin-style camp. Depending on how long you choose to go for (anywhere from a few hours to an overnight excursion) you can indulge in desert activities like smoking from a shisha pipe, riding a camel, watching traditional dance, drinking Arabic coffee, or getting a henna tattoo and enjoying a barbecue dinner under the canopy of stars. Experience how locals used to live in the desert with camels and palm trees, and enjoy a panoramic view of the sunset.
Ride up front on the Dubai Metro
One of the best ways to see some of the city’s best attractions is with a ride on the Dubai Metro, which also happens to be one of the world’s largest automated driverless train systems. Since most of the Metro line is above ground you can sit back and relax and watch the futuristic city go by as you discover Dubai like a local and get a panoramic view of the main attractions of Dubai.
Sample some street food
Dubai may be known for having a seemingly endless array of world-class restaurants, but you don’t want to miss out on the city’s famous street food. Try the best varieties of Middle Eastern food on the old streets of Deira while exploring the flavours like locals do. Discover Middle Eastern customs and traditions as you feast on a vast array of tempting delights, including shawarma, kebabs, falafel, tandoori meats, dates, and some knock-out sugary treats.
Sparkling, glittering, and completely mind-boggling — that’s Dubai. But this larger-than-life city is more than just skyscrapers and shopping malls. It’s also home to more than 230 different nationalities, excellent street food, and its own local culture that mashes up Emirati modernity with Bedouin traditions and international influence. Curious to see the real Dubai? Let us show you the city’s true local life on a Dubai tour with a local guide.