The Perfect Weekend in Dubai

A weekend in Dubai serves as the perfect starter kit to the city. A place of excess and world-class everything, it’s easy to get overwhelmed in Dubai (but in the best way possible). Start with this three day Dubai itinerary that wanders through both traditional and modern-day attractions. Take in the glittering Dubai Mall; the Gold Souk; get a view of the city from the observation deck on the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa; and much more. After that? Go home. Collect your thoughts and book another trip back.

26 34th St - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
The Dubai Spice Souk is a traditional market located in Deira, near the famed Gold Souk. It’s easy to overlook the Spice Souk if you’re not looking carefully; tucked into alleyways off of Baniyas Street, the souk is small, but manages to pack a pungent punch. If you plan on purchasing spices – from cardamon to cumin to turmeric to nutmeg, and everything in between – be prepared to haggle. A good rule of thumb is to cut the vendor’s opening salvo in half, and then barter upwards from there until you reach a number you’re both comfortable with.
Al Fahidi Fort - Bur DubaiAl Fahidi - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
One of the cheapest tickets in Dubai is to the museum. At AED 1 when I visited (about .30 cents USD), the museum is a fantastic display of the short history of Dubai. From a pearl diving town, the City has grown in the last 30-40 years into a multinational metropolis where imaginations run wild and dreams are seen to reality. This museum, full of life-sized wax mannequins, allows visitors to wander through a day in the life of many different people and nearly interact with society. This photo was taken of a ship builder. Blue tones, mirrors, and a bit of air conditioning from the hot outdoors, allow guests to feel like they are in the ocean scene; wandering around a shipyard, and watching the latest catch being brought in. If you are interested in any bit of culture and history of Dubai, this small museum will be an unexpected way to walk through time.
1 Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Blvd - Downtown Dubai - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
Two architectural wonders helped put Dubai on the map: the Burj Al Arab hotel, which resembles the sail of a ship out on the gulf waters, and the Palm Jumeirah, a residential development on a manmade archipelago that fans out in the shape of a huge palm tree. But in 2010, the sleek Burj Khalifa stole their thunder. Now the world’s tallest structure, the tower soars 830 meters (2,722 feet) into the sky. Visitors can zoom by elevator up to the 124th floor to experience incredible views and explore interactive displays on Dubai’s history and the tale behind the building of this futuristic marvel. Another observation deck is even higher, on the 148th floor.

Sheikh Zayed Rd - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
Admit it; you’re curious. A ski hill in the middle of the desert, on the Persian Gulf, no less, is as wild an idea as humankind has ever concocted—but isn’t dreaming big what Dubai is all about? The slopes at Ski Dubai are no substitute for Jackson Hole or Vail, of course, but then again, they’re not supposed to be. You go simply for the experience of leaving a housewares shop, sauntering down the hall, and hitting the slopes. All the gear required can be rented at Ski Dubai: They even have long overcoats for women in abayas. You can ski or sled, roll down the hill in inflatable plastic balls, frolic with penguins, or even just ride the chairlifts back and forth. When you’re finished skiing, you can head back into the mall for a meal or a movie. You know, just another day in Dubai.
1 31A Street Dubai, UAE
When the swell is up and the waves are high, Sunset Beach is Surf City, UAE. Count on left-breaking waves at the Jebel Ali end and right-breaking waves at the northern tip of the beach. In between, expect a busy beach full of tourists, locals, and expats soaking up the sun. Palace Beach offers easy access to the waterways of the Palm Jumeirah (perfect for kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders), a glimpse of the great sail of a building that is the Burj Al Arab in the distance, sugary white sand between the toes, and crystalline water all the way to the horizon. If you forgot your water-sports equipment at home, Club Joumana at the sprawling JA Jebel Ali Beach Resort rents it all—from Zapcat inflatable racing boats to paddleboards.
Madinat Jumeirah - King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud St - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
Dar al Masyaf is a tranquil boutique hotel at the end of a white-sand beach, away from the package-tour and convention crowds. It’s located within the sprawling Madinat Jumeirah complex of seaside resorts and a shopping souk modeled after a traditional Arabian walled city. It’s all set next to the Persian Gulf coastline within a Venetian-style network of man-made canals. Rooms, served by butlers, are accessible by footpath and electric dhow and occupy 29 two-story courtyard houses with the same traditional wind tower architecture and calm vibe of the resort’s shared Talise Spa. Closer to the resort water park are the seven freestanding Malakiya villas, with huge marble bathrooms and fully equipped kitchens for family life. Getting in and out of the resort grounds, whose more than 50 bars and restaurants are a Dubai nightlife beacon, can mean negotiating a madhouse traffic jam of taxis and high-end sports cars. But thankfully, noise does not penetrate the rooms. The palm-backed beach is large enough for guests to find private space, and evening terrace views of wind tower lights reflecting in the canals can be enchanting.
Al Fahidi St,Bur Dubai - Al Fahidi Neighborhood (formerly Bastakiya),Near Dubai Museum - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
Beloved by artists and curators attending the annual Art Dubai fair, XVA Art Hotel wraps around the three courtyards of the restored 19th-century home of the Seddiqi family, prominent traders who became the emirate’s Rolex dealers. Longtime resident Mona Hauser, founder and owner of the XVA Gallery of contemporary art, decorated each second-floor room of the traditional wind tower house in collaboration with a regional designer or artisan such as Nada Debs, a Lebanese designer known for her custom mother of pearl inlaid furniture. The on-site alfresco vegetarian lounge café—praised by chef Gordon Ramsay as his favorite place to eat in Dubai—is a hangout for independent travelers and resident creatives who linger over mint lemonade, salads, soups, and cheesecake. There is a running trail along Dubai Creek and the hotel can recommend nearby beaches, as well as spa services and fitness centers at all price points.
Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve - Dubai - Al Ain Rd - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
The most luxurious way to experience Dubai’s desert may smash an entire holiday budget, but a stay in the Bedouin-inspired tented suites at Al Maha might well be worth it. It’s one of the best places to see desert conservation in action: Al Maha is in the heart of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, home to the UAE’s largest free-roaming herd of Arabian oryx, a species brought back from extinction in the wild through rehabilitation initiatives. Guests should keep their eyes peeled for gazelles, too—300 Arabian and 100 sand gazelles inhabit the dunes, and the more inquisitive ones often come right up to the 42 tented accommodations. Water recycling, biodiesel, and solar panels all contribute to Al Maha’s efforts to tread lightly on the fragile desert ecosystem.
Al Musalla Rd. - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
Dubai isn’t just about shopping and architecture. The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding offers enriching and intellectually stimulating tours, meant to engage and inform visitors about Emirati history and culture. Visit the center for a communal Emirati breakfast followed by a walking tour of the surrounding Bur Dubai neighborhoods, where Dubai’s rulers have lived since the early 20th century. And if you’re eager to visit a mosque, the center runs the only mosque tours for guests of all faiths. The center is close to several historical and cultural attractions, including Al Fahidi Historical District and Al Bastakiya.
7GPJ+5CF, Doha, Qatar
The Gold Souq: Located in downtown Doha, next to the central bus station and Al Fardan Plaza, this gold market offers anything from very affordable imported bangles and chains to locally made bridal jewelry sets worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most of the gold available is 22-carat, although white gold, silver and platinum pieces are also available. The main attraction of this souq is that the jewelry is strictly regulated and all gold and precious gems sold here are weighed in front of the buyer, and have been previously tested and hallmarked, thus guaranteeing the purity of the metal. The must-buy accessory for tourists and expats is the necklace with the person’s name written in Arabic. These are made in just about every jewelry shop at the souq for a very reasonable price. Needless to say, haggling is mandatory.
Dubai - United Arab Emirates
The largest mosque in Dubai and the only one open to non-Muslims, the Jumeirah Mosque dominates the upscale beach area. The cream-colored sandstone structure with two slim minarets holds some 1,200 faithful. Though it looks historic, the mosque only dates as far back as the late 1970s. An hour-long guided tour takes visitors through the pale-yellow-and-azure interior. As you admire the magnificent ceiling decorations, you’ll also get a nice break from the city heat and noise.

Financial Center Street, Along Sheikh Zayed Road, Next to Burj Khalifa - وسط مدينة دبي - دبي - United Arab Emirates
You may have already seen photos of Dubai Mall on social media, but to visit is more of an experience than just a trip to a mall. While the mall has a lot to offer avid shoppers, other visitors may instead choose to experience the space as an art exhibit or performance piece. Hop on one of the mall’s taxicabs to whiz from one wing to the next, grab a coffee at Angelina with Dubai’s elite, or people-watch around the fancier, less crowded sections of the mall. And don’t miss the choreographed water dances and the wildlife on display at the mall’s aquarium.
During the many years I lived in Dubai, I must have sipped drinks on the wide, breezy veranda of Bahri Bar hundreds of times. It was the bar I took my many visitors to Dubai—from my Mum to my old school friends—on their first night in the city and on their last. On the first night it was all about setting the scene and creating an impression and on the last it was about making my guests already start to miss Dubai—and thereby ensuring they returned again to visit me! Although an expat favorite, it’s undeniably touristy. But there are few lovelier ways to start a vacation in Dubai than settling into a cushioned chair on a deck strewn with Oriental carpets and dripping with lanterns, sipping a glass of wine, a cocktail or icy cold beer, and feeling the warmth of sun on your face and a breeze wafting in from the Arabian Sea. The interior of the colonial-inspired bar is sumptuous and that’s where you’ll want to retreat during the warm (i.e., scorching hot) months of spring and summer. But in the cooler months (i.e., the beautiful stretch of weather from November to April) you need to snag a table on the veranda for views of the abra boats cruising on the man-made waterways, the striking sail-shaped Burj Al Arab, and the sublime sunset. Make sure you book a restaurant for dinner somewhere else, or you might never leave.
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