A few decades ago, no one in the tourism industry had heard of Dubai. It was an obscure city; but today, it is one of our world’s most glamorous metropolis with an incomparable futuristic skyline. Nearly 20 million tourists travel to the city every year, whether it is for shopping for some of the best global brands or for business or for sheer entertainment. Dubai is home to some of the best airlines in the world. The Dubai Airport is a class apart, worthy of exploring by itself. People travel through this giant hub every day, and layovers in Dubai offer the perfect chance to explore the city. Here’s what you can do in Dubai if you’re there on a layover.
The Grand Mosque: Total Time: 1 Hour
The Grand Mosque of Dubai is located very close to the airport. The building is a magnificent piece of artwork. It can contain about 1200 worshippers at a time. If you are not a Muslim, you won’t be allowed within the mosque, but you can explore the outer section of the mosque and take pictures of the incredible design.
Burj Khalifa: Total Time – 4 Hours
The Burj Khalifa should be your first stop. It makes no sense to have a layover in Dubai and not visit the Khalifa. You’re your tickets in advance so that you don’t waste time in the queues. Best to take a taxi straight from the airport to the Khalifa. Be sure to take in the view of the building from the bottom and from the observatory deck on the 124th floor. The views from up there are simply amazing.
Dubai Fountains: Check out the Dubai Fountains, just below the Burj Khalifa, from the observatory deck. The fountains leap up to a height of 152 meters and are very clearly visible from the observatory deck. If you have time, take a walk around the Burj Khalifa to admire the Dubai Mall, the Dubai Fountains and the Burj Khalifa from the ground.
Dubai Mall: No point in visiting the Burj Khalifa is you don’t check out the Dubai Mall as well. It’s after all the world’s largest shopping mall by area, with more than 1,200 shops. Even if you’re not a great shopper, the sheer grandeur of the Dubai Mall is just not to be missed. The lobby with the fabulous waterfall with its sculptures of divers suspended in their dives is fascinating. There’s an Ice Rink, the VR Park, a 22-theatre multiplex, and the fabulous Underwater Zoo and Aquarium that beg to be explored.
Dubai’s Souqs: Total Time – 2 Hours
After admiring the Burj Khalifa, be sure to take a taxi to Dubai’s Souqs. The two main souqs are in Bur Dubai and Deira, which are separated by the Dubai Creek.
Dubai Creek: If you want to enjoy Dubai’s majestic skyline in a completely different way, cross the Dubai Creek. You can do this cheaply on a wooden vessel called the abra. Or, if time permits, you can take a dhow cruise along the Creek, passing under the many bridges and past supertall towers that overlook the water beside beautiful gardens. The creek bustles with locals and tourists and is seamed with a number of eateries, souqs, and vibrant people. If you want to feel the soul of Dubai, visit the Dubai Creek.
Dubai Souqs: The most popular market is the Gold Souk, which is a covered part of the bazaar with many shops selling gold jewelry. You can see the shine of gold from a distance. There’s more gold here than you’ve seen at any one place in your lifetime. If you want to pick up some exotic spices on the cheap, visit the Al Sabkha Souk. You’ll see baskets and baskets of fragrant saffron, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg and a horde of other spices. You’ll also find many baskets piled up with the finest nuts. You are allowed to haggle at these souqs. Some of the merchants will quote outlandish prices the moment they realize you’re a foreigner. Be sure to check with a few stalls before you commit to purchasing from one. Enjoy the colors and smells that are sure to take you back to Old Arabia.
The Dubai Museum: Total Time – 2 Hours
If you want to understand how Dubai has transformed from being a pearl-diving and fishing village, visit the Dubai Museum. Dubai was once a small Bedouin village but today it is this magnificent entertainment hub that everyone wants to visit. The Dubai Museum is located at the Al-Fahidi Fort that was built during the 17th century. Explore the beautiful gallery of the museum which houses a wide range of military artifacts, a number of clothing and other local antiques of the Arabic culture plus old weaponry. Some of the exhibits are outside, and it is best to visit this museum from August to April, as it can be incredibly hot during other months.
Jumeirah Beach: Total Time – 2 Hours
Get to the Jumeirah beach next, from where you can enjoy the most magnificent views of the Burj al Arab hotel in the background. This is the world’s tallest and the only seven-star hotel. You cannot go inside the Burj al Arab unless you are a hotel guest or you have booked a table in one of the restaurants. If you are able to do that in advance, nothing like it. For now, enjoy the terrific views and be sure to take pictures of yourself against the backdrop of the Burj al Arab. The Jumeirah beach is best relegated to the last part of your day, so you can enjoy the sunset with the Burj al Arab in the background, before returning to the airport. Also check out the nearby Jumeirah Beach Hotel, with its iconic wave-like design.
- It takes about an hour and a half to be done with immigration and customs, so take this delay into consideration.
- We suggest you use the taxi system and forget the Metro, in the interest of saving time.
- For a short layover, you don’t need to book into a hotel. Just store your luggage at the Dubai airport luggage storage facility for up to 12 hours at terminal 1 & 3.
- At the airport, be sure to obtain your transit visa for Dubai so that you are able to sightsee.
If you are a frequent traveler who’s passing through Dubai on business or pleasure, be sure to factor in layover time whenever possible. This will allow you to formulate itineraries that’ll help you see a bit more of Dubai each time you travel. It’s a great way to see everything this grand city has to offer, in bits and pieces.
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The Dubai Guide for Digital Nomads
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