Dubai is a mesmerizing city, an oasis of modernity in the Middle Eastern desert. It’s known for making everything extravagant -- nearly every attraction is the biggest, the tallest, the most expensive, or some other crazy superlative. There’s a lot to do in this young city, so we’ve narrowed it down to eleven things you must do when you’re visiting Dubai.
1. Ascend the Burj Khalifa.
How could you go to Dubai and not make it to the top of the tallest building in the world? Word to the wise: There are different prices for the different observation decks. To be honest, there’s not much a difference in view from the 125th floor to the 148th floor, so save the money and head to the lower observation deck. The views are still magnificent. (Also, pro tip: The entrance to the observation decks is inside the Dubai Mall.)
2. Take a helicopter ride.
It’s not a cheap activity, but it’s an incredible way to see the city from above. It’s particularly fun to fly over the man-made islands, like the World and the Palm Jumeirah — their impressive shapes are only visible from the air.
Aquaventure Waterpark at Atlantis, the Palm, is open to the public, so you don’t need to be a hotel guest to visit. The massive water park has a number of slides — including the iconic Leap of Faith, which shoots riders through a shark tank — as well as a lengthy lazy river and rapids, a beach, and dolphin and sea lion facilities.
4. Go skiing.
Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates is famous for its indoor ski slope, Ski Dubai. You can take lessons if you’re a beginner, or you can skip the skiing altogether and simply enjoy the company of the attraction’s resident king and gentoo penguins.
5. Ride a hot air balloon over the desert.
Head out to the desert at sunrise to take a spectacular ride in a hot air balloon. They can reach a maximum altitude of 4,000 feet — which is means you’ll be higher up than those tourists on the top observation deck of the Burj Khalifa.
The iconic sail-shaped hotel has a 590-foot atrium inside it, and it’s quite a sight to behold. Consider making a dinner reservation at one of the hotel’s experiential restaurants — the Al Muntaha is cantilevered off the building at a height of 660 feet, while Al Mahara has an aquarium (you take a simulated submarine ride to enter the restaurant).
7. Shop, shop, and shop some more.
Okay, you might not want to spend all that money, but Dubai’s many shopping centers and malls are something to behold, even if you don’t make a purchase. Dubai Mall is the largest mall in terms of total area (12,100,000 square feet), while Mall of the Emirates is home to Ski Dubai. Both have more than just shops, though. They’re home to sprawling entertainment centers to keep visitors occupied — and nice and cool in the air conditioning.
8. Meander the souks and take the ferry across Dubai Creek.
Not everything in Dubai is expensive. The souks, or markets, sell spices, gold, and other goods at relatively reasonable rates, though they’re notoriously touristy. We recommend wandering through, then taking one of the old-school wooden ferries across the Dubai Creek for a mere one dirham (about 25 cents USD).
9. Watch a show at the Dubai Fountain.
The world’s largest choreographed fountain system puts on a dazzling show at the base of the Burj Khalifa. Here are a few of the impressive numbers.
- An astonishing 22,000 gallons of water can be sprayed in the air in a single moment.
- The fountains are lit by 6,600 colored lights.
- Water can be shot 500 feet high.
10. Discover the Alkersal Avenue art scene.
Located in Dubai’s industrial quarter, Alkersal Avenue saw the transformation of 20 warehouses into art studios and galleries, independent cinemas, and cafés and restaurants in 2007, and a 2015 expansion saw even more space added for the creative community.
11. Walk through the Dubai Miracle Garden.
Though Dubai is in the desert, engineering ensures that the aptly named Dubai Miracle Garden has all the water it needs to support its 60 million flowers during its open season (it’s closed from June to September). Each year, the floral arrangements are changed to ensure guests can have a new experience when they return. It recently set a world record for the largest floral installation with a life-size floral model of the Emirates Airbus A380 plane.
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