United Emirates Arab
Day 1 – The glamorous, touristic Dubai
If you are in Dubai for just one day, I recommend you visit the two most famous landmarks:
Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa
Dubai is about extravagant and nonsensical buildings and, therefore, the two main attractions in the city are the largest mall in the world and the tallest building on Earth, which is attached to the mall. I personally don’t like the Dubai Mall, basically, because I am not into shopping but I like the Burj Khalifa. By the way, you should know that, despite being the biggest mall, they extended it in 2018 by adding an additional luxury section.
Downtown – Dubai
As per the Burj Khalifa, being the tallest building you will ever see, nobody can deny that this 160-storey building is actually impressive. It won’t be the tallest one for very long though, as its two biggest competitors, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are currently building two brand-new towers which will be taller than the Burj Khalifa itself.
You can actually go to the top, but only to the 125th floor and, for some extra money, to the 148th. If you want to save money, you must book your tickets in advance and I recommend booking them with GetYourGuide, as they offer plenty of different combos and good deals.
In the evening, don’t miss the Dubai Fountain, which is the world’s largest musical fountain. It takes place every half an hour, from 6pm to 11pm.
Souq Madinat and Burj Al-Arab
Some people claim that Souq Madinat is a fake bazaar that tries to imitate a traditional Arab souq.
I like to focus on the positive part of travel so, for me, this is just the adaptation of an Arab bazaar to the real concept of Dubai, which is a 21st century, luxurious and modern city.
Souq Madinat is actually pretty, has some cool canals with giant turtles swimming around and, since the place is attached to a couple of hotels, there are plenty of bars and high-quality restaurants serving alcohol.
Pro-tip – Have dinner at Tortuga, the most authentic Mexican restaurant in Dubai. When I say authentic I mean Mexicans come here to eat because they serve traditional dishes and not fake Tex-Mex food like nachos, quesadillas, and burritos. My girlfriend is Mexican and we used to go there all the time.
Moreover, from Souq Madinat, you get amazing views of Burj Al-Arab, the most luxurious hotel in the world. You can’t visit it though, unless you book a tour in advance, which often involves eating at one of the restaurants.
Top rated hotel – Jumeirah Mina A’Salam – Well, this Arabic-luxury-thematic hotel is absolutely gorgeous and quiet, located right next to the canal and with fantastic views of both the sea and Burj Al-Arab. It is one of the best luxury options in town.
The Burj Al-Arab – Dubai
Day 2 – Dubai Marina and JBR
Marina and Jumeirah Beach Residence
The Western expat land, home to a pleasant beach walk that, somehow, tries to replicate Santa Monica’s in LA, is a set of skyscrapers, which is more like a resort than an actual neighborhood but the truth is that there are a few hundred people living in them.
With as little as 10 or 15 years of history and a pretty decent beach where you can ride a camel while staring at 60-floor buildings, Marina is the place where people hang out, from tourists to Western expats, locals and 18-year old kids who spend the day driving around the area just to show off their fancy cars.
JBR Beach and Marina – Dubai
Day 3 – The Palm, Jumeirah, Kite Beach and Jumeirah Mosque
The Palm Jumeirah
After the Marina, if you continue along the coast you find the beginning of The Palm, that famous palm-shaped island which is attached to Dubai mainland and has an Atlantis Hotel replica at its furthest edge.
You can get to the very edge by a monorail that runs 20 meters above the street and, for me, this is the best part of this tiny trip, as you can get a feeling of the island’s shape. Otherwise, when you are walking over it, it is like being in a normal street plus the island itself is boring.
The monorail and the Atlantis – Dubai
Jumeirah, Kite Beach and Jumeirah Mosque
Following the road along the coast, 18km after The Palm (I already told you that distances in Dubai are huge), you find Jumeirah, a set of streets filled with expensive villas where the local Emiratis live.
I like this area because it is one of the very few actual walkable parts of Dubai and also because you find the Jumeirah Mosque, a small but beautiful mosque which non-Muslim people can visit and the only cultural site to visit in the new part of the city.
There is no metro line to come here but the bus leaves from the main street in Marina.
Pro tip – Go to Bu Qtair Fish restaurant, a pretty budget seafood restaurant that serves fresh fish cooked in the traditional Gulf way.
Jumeirah Mosque Dubai – Dubai trip itinerary
Day 4 – Old Dubai
Old Dubai is my favorite part of the UAE as it is the only place with a real soul. You can easily there by metro. The place is huge though and it has several metro stations.
Bastiqaya and Bur Dubai
Inhabited by Indians since many hundreds years ago, when the local Arabs were still Bedouins living in the desert, this used to be one of the greatest centers of the pearl trade and industry, one of the region’s main economic pillars.
Today, Bastiqaya and Bur Dubai are still mostly inhabited by Indians who are able to provide a deeper cultural feeling than the soulless Dubai. Here you will find authentic (and cheap) Indian eateries filled with tens of Indians, real bazaars and traditional architecture.
Bastiqaya is the place to get lost among its narrow alleys while savoring some real authentic cuisine in the many restaurants where, according to Indians, they serve the best Indian food in the world, because it tastes like back home but it is much more hygienic.
This is, by far, my most favorite place and the reason why I finally liked Dubai.
Bur Dubai – Dubai 2-day itinerary
Don’t forget to check out the Dubai Museum, which is built inside a fortress from the 18th century, the Creek, the Textile Souk and a real Hindu Temple that holds real Hindu ceremonies.
Cross the Dubai Creek in an Abra, from Bur Dubai to Deira
Pay 1 AED and enjoy a fabulous ride in the abra, the traditional water taxi to cross the atmospheric Dubai Creek from Bur Dubai to Deira on the opposite side. The quaint old wooden boat has a fishtail carved out of wood.
Traditional abra in Dubai Creek – one week in Dubai
Deira and the spice market souq
From saffron, cinnamon, cardamom, sumac and turmeric, Deira has the most traditional and photogenic souq, selling all sorts of spices, to the extent that any Indian can actually cook any curry they can come up with.
Deira and the gold souq
If you are into jewelry and gold, this souq sells some of the cheapest gold in the world and its biggest attraction is one ring which is claimed to be the biggest ring on Earth, which doesn’t make any sense because it is so big that your entire body would fit into it, so it is a completely useless ring.
Day 5 – Get off the beaten track
These are my top off the beaten track activities to do in Dubai. You can’t do everything in one day but you can choose 1 or 2 or replace some of the previous fancy stuff with any of these places:
Be part of the heart-pumping action that is so integral to the Emiratis’ life at the Al Marmoom Racetrack deep in the desert sands. It’s an experience like no other; about 60 camels rush out from the gates, long legs flying in every which direction, running as fast as they can down the track while the jockeys steer and hold on for dear life.
They are followed by their owners in 4X4s, yelling at their camels and jockeys to do better. The excitement is contagious and soon you’ll be screaming at your favorite camel (yes, you actually read that), just as you would at a horse race.
The camel race is one of the most traditional activities in the Arab Gulf and will be one of the highlights of your Dubai itinerary.
The races take place on Friday and Saturday, from October to April. For more information, check the official website.
The winner camel gets his head covered by saffron – Dubai travel itinerary
Horse racing in Meydan
The national sport in the UAE is horse racing and, in fact, they have some of the best and most expensive horses in the world.
If you want to experience something very traditional but modern at the same time, you can’t miss the weekly horse racing at Meydan racing stadium, which takes place every Thursday at 7pm, from November to March.
The races are impressive, so is the atmosphere, as all types of people attend: from wealthy locals to expats and laborers. The general entry ticket is free but, of course, you can also get a premium seat, which gives you access to the bar and restaurant. For further information, visit the official website.
General entrance Meydan Horse racing
Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding
The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding is one governmental entity which tries to promote and create awareness of the Emirati culture, a culture which most foreigners have very little exposure to.
You can visit the centre and book different tours but I recommend the lunch tour, which involves spending 1.5 hours with local Emiratis over a traditional Emirati lunch, who will explain you the customs in the UAE to you.
Since you will be having lunch with these men, the interaction will be higher and much closer than just visiting the centre on a guided tour.
Day 6 – Day trip to Abu Dhabi
Go to Sheikh Zayed Mosque (a must)
This is one of the largest mosques, with the largest carpet and the largest chandelier in the world.
The mosque can accommodate an astonishing 40,000 worshippers. It has 82 domes plus 1,000 marble columns and 24-carat gold gilded chandeliers everywhere. One of the world’s biggest ever chandeliers dominates the main prayer hall; it is 10 meters in diameter and 15 meters in height and weighs twelve tons.
If that weren’t enough, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque has the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet, made by Iranian carpet weavers.
The mosque is surrounded by reflective pools that amplify its beauty. What glitters gold and white in the sun is transformed at night by a unique lighting system which reflects the phases of the moon. The best time to see the mosque is during sunset, at 5:30 P.M. The mosque has a ‘Sunset Hour’ sightseeing set up at that time, to enable visitors to see the best of the mosque.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – Dubai travel itinerary
Pro Tip – Modest clothing is expected when you enter the mosque, including an abaya for women (provided at the entrance) and covered head, shoulders, and knees for the men. The mosque is open from 9 A.M. to 10 P.M. every day and is open daily to visitors except on Friday morning.
How to get there – Well, there is no direct public transportation. You would first need to to take a bus from the outskirts of Dubai to the center of Abu Dhabi and then look for a taxi, which I don’t recommend.
Going directly by taxi from would cost, roughly, around 300AED (one way), so the best way is to rent a car or, even cheaper, to go on a tour.
If you aren’t self-driving, I recommend you book the tour with GetYourGuide, as they have pretty good deals for visiting the mosque which you can combine with visiting other places within Abu Dhabi.
Etihad Towers Abu Dhabi – UAE
Day 7 : Fly back to South Africa