25 Best Things to Do For Your First Time in Dubai

A trip to Dubai can feel like a visit to another century. Or even another planet. From futuristic architecture to indoor skiing to camel races to stunning Arabian Sea beaches, Dubai offers lots of distinctive sights and activities.

Iranians first began to settle in Dubai in the 1920s, when H.H. Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum invited several Persian families. The lingering influence of this community on the old part of Dubai is still quite striking, especially in the beautiful Ali Ibn Abi Talib Mosque, commonly known as the Iranian Mosque. Adorned with intricate turquoise designs inspired by traditional Fatimid and Persian architecture, the ornate mosque stands in stark contrast with other edifices in the city. Only visitors of Islamic faith are permitted inside; however, make sure to continue your tour of Bur Dubai’s Persian-inspired architecture with a visit to view the spectacular Iranian Hospital and Textile Souk nearby.
Al Sabkha Rd
Dubai’s perpetually glittering Gold Souk has been one of this Emirate’s major attractions for many years—you’ll find dozens and dozens of shops selling gold, silver, platinum, and diamonds, plus plenty of touts hawking “geniune fake” Rolex watches, iPhones, textiles, laptops, and more. The government exercises strict controls over the quality of gold and other precious metals, so you can rest assured that what you’re buying is the real deal—though the same cannot be said for the wristful of watches you’re likely to be talked into purchasing down a back alley. The Gold Souk is a fantastic place to watch Dubai whiz by; pack your camera and plenty of memory cards for a wander through the back alleys, where you’ll encounter friendly folk eager to pose with you for a photo or two.
Financial Centre Road
In colloquial Arabic, an avid traveler is jokingly dubbed Ibn Battuta in honor of the medieval globe-trotter by the same name. Battuta set off on a legendary adventure in 1325 that took him from modern-day Morocco all the way to Somalia, China, and Spain. The Ibn Battuta Mall honors this journey with epic architecture divided into several “courts” symbolic of each place he visited. Ready for more? The mall balances its historical themes with hundreds of modern shops—you can even grab a Starbucks coffee or catch a movie in the majestic Chinese court.
Head Office, UAE - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
Frenetic as a beehive and as colorful as the towering piles of produce on sale, the Fruit and Vegetable Market can transport visitors back in time to the souks of old Dubai. Merchants, savvy bargainers, and amateur photographers convene under a just-barely-there wooden roof—why not join them? You can buy enough fruit for a lavish family picnic and dates for your loved ones back home. Even if you’re not buying, come for the smells, sounds, and people that keep this market buzzingly alive through the early hours of the morning.
Dubai Marina - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
The visual harmony between the high-rise buildings and the shimmering water of the canal can almost lull you into forgetting that Dubai Marina is a man-made development. Built in 2003, Dubai Marina is a residential area, yet it has generous offerings for visitors: There are yacht tours and luxurious restaurants, and a self-guided walk past the district’s unique architecture is an activity in and of itself. Bejeweled by the reflected light of skyscrapers, the canal runs alongside pathways lined with cafés and restaurants. Grab a coffee and walk along the canal, where you’ll see children jumping in water fountains, families taking an evening stroll, and friends dining in outdoor areas.

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.

Crescent Rd - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
The Atlantis Hotel is the focal point of Dubai‘s giant cluster of man-made isthmuses that jut out into the Persian Gulf. Even if you can’t afford to stay at this spectacular hotel, you can still go see what the decadent expat lifestyle feels like for the day by swimming with dolphins in Dolphin Bay or splashing about in the rivers, slides, and pools of Dubai‘s largest water park: Aquaventure. If that doesn’t float your boat (sorry), there’s Atlantis’s dive center, in which you can go diving in a nearly 3 million–gallon tank. You’ll literally be swimming with the sharks (and stingrays) this time. In Atlantis, don’t be surprised to find yourself feeding the rays next to a celebrity—this is one of the places they stay in Dubai.
Dubai - United Arab Emirates
Dubai’s thoroughfare, Sheikh Zayed Road, is often seen in all its silvery steel glamour in Instagram feeds, but it makes for a unique experience in person, too. The roadway is lined with dozens of restaurants and cafés where you can enjoy a glitzy meal with friends against the backdrop of cars and trucks whizzing past. Visit at sunset for a nice breeze and even nicer views. Art lovers should head to DIFC to enjoy free art nights. After the sun goes down, cool off with a drink at the Sheraton’s Level 43 Sky Lounge, where you’ll be flanked by identical towers piercing Dubai’s sky. Pro tip: Use the metro stations to get from one side of the highway to the other.
3 - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
The name “Kite Beach” doesn’t cover the half of what goes on along this stretch of Dubai’s coastline. It’s a community space, an open-air gym, and home to several popular cafés and restaurants. For adrenaline junkies, Kite Beach offers Wire World Adventure Park, an obstacle course for visitors of all ages. The beach is also a favorite of surfers, volleyball players, and paddleboarders. And for sunbathing enthusiasts, there are towels, lounges, and umbrellas to rent. Many Emiratis and resident expats wait to visit until after sundown (when the day’s relentless heat dissipates) to go for walks, hit the running track, or order some burgers at SALT.
Bahar 7 - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
When it opened, Jumeirah Beach Residence, known to locals as JBR, was just a upscale beachside residential area with just a few cafés. Over the years, JBR got bigger and busier and now features dozens of cafés, restaurants, and pop-up boutiques and bazaars. Every day of the week, the neighborhood’s streets are busy with beachgoers and shopaholics. Head straight for the water, where you’ll be surrounded with great views and, more often than not, many Dubai residents enjoying at a day on the beach. When it’s time for a break from sunbathing, grab a Turkish dondurma (ice cream with a taffy-like consistency) from one of JBR’s many kiosks.
17, The Iridium Building, Umm-e - Umm Suqeim St - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
Whether you want to explore the stretch of sand dunes 40 minutes outside of Dubai or visit the largest expanse of uninhabited desert in the world, known as the Empty Quarter, a desert safari is the way to do it. There are any number of tour companies that will set you up for the adventure, which usually includes exhilarating (sometimes terrifying) dune-bashing rides, in which you’ll slide up and down the dunes in a 4x4; an Emirati-style supper under the stars; and, of course, a camel ride. Platinum Heritage can tailor its outings to the needs of your particular group.
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.
Shoppers, restaurant connoisseurs, travelers, and cultural enthusiasts will find the impressively designed Madinat Jumeirah a treat for all their passions. This area, once the residence of pearl divers, fishermen, and traders, is now home to many expats and a place for tourists to wander, shop, eat, and find a coffee. This neighborhood embraces the historical architectural styles of the region with wind towers that capture breezes and reroute them down to ground level to cool the pedestrian paths. The resort’s shopping mall is fashioned after a traditional souk, with archways and lanterns and live music. You will also find impressive views and photo ops of the iconic Burj al Arab hotel from this spot.
Al Seyahi St - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
If the viewing platform from the 122nd floor of the Burj Khalifa doesn’t induce vertigo, why not jump out of a perfectly good airplane at Skydive Dubai? The view of the Palm Jumeirah from 13,000 feet up will literally take your breath away—falling from that high above the ground tends to do that. If that sounds a little too extreme, give one of the biggest vertical wind tunnel in the world a go at Inflight Dubai. The tunnel, 16.5 feet in diameter, produces wind not by the inescapable force of gravity but by four 2,000-hp electric motors that let you experience skydiving without ever jumping out of an airplane. Tthe folks at Inflight Dubai opened an even bigger wind tunnel at Palm Jumeirah.
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.
Al Hadiqa Street
Safa Park is a regular stop on the weekend itineraries of most Dubai families, and as such, has a place in the childhood memories of many of the city’s residents. The family-oriented public park is ideal for a relaxed picnic in the shadow of the park’s older trees, away from the city’s clamor. The Dubai Water Canal runs through the park and the walkway that follows its route makes a pleasant place to stroll and enjoy beautiful views of the city. This park is near the city center, near many of its landmarks and shopping areas, such as Boxpark and the Business Bay.
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.
Women in exquisitely designed abayas and all shades of Hermès sandals and men in pristine kandoras and fancy cars frequent this mall to satisfy their boutique shopping needs. Because it’s in an affluent neighborhood and its roster includes homegrown shops like Zayan the Label as well as international brands like Laura Mercier, the Galleria is the shopping destination for the wealthiest locals. Forget the nachos and popcorn of your hometown mall: here you can partake in a rooftop movie screening at the Emirate’s only outdoor cinema, catered with Italian food and baked goods. Or, you can treat your children an afternoon at the Adventure Zone for some rock-climbing or a ride on a zip line across the indoor park.
Dubai - United Arab Emirates
Dating back to the 1780s and restored in the late 20th century at the behest of Prince Charles, the historical town of Al Bastakiya is a lovely historic exception to the modern glass and steel towers that dominate Dubai’s skyline. Originally named after Bastak, the Iranian city from which Persians migrated to Dubai, it has recently been renamed the Al Fahidi Cultural and Historical District. Clean, sandy beiges characterize the wind-tower architecture that houses several galleries, cafés, and museums. Tourists, locals, and many artists keep the old town hip and upbeat, while the wind towers mean the area is a couple of degrees cooler than the rest of the city. For history, architecture, and art lovers, a daytime visit to this district is a must.
Naif Street, Near Naif Police Station - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
One of Dubai’s oldest and busiest traditional souks, Naif Souk is a great spot for buying souvenirs and trinkets that will tell the world “I just came back from Dubai!” Offering fabrics, cosmetics, street food, and much more, Naif Souk is frequented by a variety of the city’s residents, from South Asian laborers to Arab women. Everyone is trying to score good deals and outsmart the merchants, so practice your bargaining skills. Characteristic of souks of olden times, Naif Souk exudes a lively ambience. If you love a good deal—and who doesn’t?—Naif Souk deserves a spot on your itinerary.
Dubai - United Arab Emirates
Dubai Miracle Garden is home to over 15,000 butterflies and 45 million flowers, all displayed upon eccentric props in a distinctly over-the-top Dubai style: Take, for example, the Ferrari and Emirates airplane covered with hundreds of buds, or the village of topiary cottages festooned with a rainbow of flowers. While the garden’s strict rules ensure its cleanliness, the area is kept lively with enthusiastic visitors and a food court with a variety of cuisines. Make sure to check the opening hours before your visit, as they change depending on the temperature.
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.
Tucked behind Sheikh Zayed Road and its imposing skyscrapers, Al Satwa is a low-tech hot spot for all your tailoring needs: Patch up an old skirt, tailor a designer dress, or get fitted for a custom-made Indian sari. The textile stores here offer rainbows of colors and materials at affordable prices, and their staff will happily recommend tailors nearby. Dubbed Little Manila by locals, Al Satwa is also home to a Filipino supermarket, where you can buy kabocha squash and banana blossoms. Cap off your visit with a stroll through Al Satwa’s 2nd December Street, named to commemorate UAE’s National Day, with many works of art celebrating Emirati national culture.
Dubai Gold Souq,Deira,Behind Malabar Gold Showroom - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
On Friday afternoons, this unassuming expanse of sand comes to life with music and athletes practicing the lively art of pehlwani, a South Asian wrestling tradition. Spectators sit on the ground to listen to the ringmaster and watch scantily clad wrestlers engage in a tight embrace until one is overpowered and falls to the sand. The winner then runs around in celebration, and some spectators give him money for his victory. Depending on how many wrestlers step up to fight, the matches usually end right before sundown.
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