If you’ve never visited Dubai in the United Arab Emirates before, then you should absolutely pop over to the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, and ride the elevator to the world’s highest observation deck with an open-air terrace, and relax in the world’s highest lounge. Additionally, visiting the largest mall in the world, The Dubai Mall, home to the Dubai Aquarium, Dubai Fountain, Dubai Ice Rink, Dubai Opera, and Ski Dubai, is a must for first-time sightseers. If you have traveled to this metropolis before, however, likely you’ll want to see other attractions and charms, and experience something new. Keep reading to discover the top things to do in Dubai, beyond the Downtown Dubai district’s most-visited sites.
Wander Around at Expo 2020 Dubai
The Al Wasl Dome and the Water Feature are seen at sunset at Expo 2020, in Dubai, United Arab … [+]
What was once a small fishing village along the Arabian Gulf, is now a major metropolis of over 3.3 million people. When oil was discovered in 1966, things changed. Rapidly. The city’s first skyscraper, the Dubai World Trade Centre, was built in 1979; in 1985, Dubai’s flagship airline, Emirates, launched; and in 2010, the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, was finished.
And now, in 2021, the Expo 2020 Dubai, a world expo that celebrates innovation, culture, and design, is up and running after a long wait due to the pandemic. From now, until the end of March, visitors can learn from 192 diverse nations, where each country has its own pavilion to showcase its best and brightest advances in the fields of sustainability, mobility, and opportunity. This is the first world’s fair ever to be held in the Middle East. Walk through the entry portals and see the Al Wasl Plaza, the centerpiece of the Expo, designed after the event’s jewel-like logo. Marvel at the Emirati pavilion, created to look like falcon wings. See one of the daily shows. Sample multi-cultural fare, from haute gastronomy to street food. Give yourself several hours to explore, taking it all in, alongside an international crowd.
Good to Know: Emirates, which serves 158 airports in 84 countries, is a chief partner and the Official Airline of Expo 2020. The world’s largest international airline offers Business Class travelers complimentary tickets to Expo 2020 (day passes are available for each person in the booking, on any day of the Expo, for all Emirates flyers) as well as a ride to the event. Other perks include in-air gourmet dining, luxurious amenities, fully reclining seats for comfort and rest, and Emirates Business Class lounge access.
Learn About Emirati Culture
A traditional Emirati dish called dangaw – lightly spiced and boiled chickpeas, Dubai, United Arab … [+]
For a unique experience, visit the non-profit organization Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) to learn about Emirati culture, food, and traditions. Located in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood in Bur Dubai, visitors will have the opportunity learn about how food is made and served in an Emirati household before tasting customary cuisine and coffee.
You’ll sit on multi-hued Bedouin-style carpets and pillows and meaningfully engage with a host, asking as many questions as you’d like. Afterward, your amiable guide will take you on a detailed walking tour of the old neighborhood, pointing out the design features of the buildings. For example, smaller windows are for bedrooms, and large doors have smaller doors cut into them to minimize sand getting inside the living spaces. Buildings were built fairly close to one another to allow for wind tunnels to lower the temperature.
Good to Know: Make sure you purchase your ticket in advance as space fills up quickly. The ambiance is open and welcoming so feel free to participate in discussions with your host.
Go on a Wildlife Safari in the Desert
Oryxes or Arabian antelopes in the Desert Conservaion Reserve near Dubai, UAE
Platinum Heritage, an eco-forward luxury safari company, will take you to the Dubai Desert, where you can explore the distinct flora and fauna of the inimitable and vast Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. You’ll ride in a 1950’s-era Land Rover as you look for native wildlife like the Arabian Oryx and sand foxes. Afterward you’ll enjoy a falcon demonstration, dine on traditional Emirati cuisine (sambousek, ouzi, camel meat, kebabs), listen to conventional drumming, and meet a herd of amiable camels.
Good to Know: If you want to extend the experience, you can book an overnight stay with a breakfast and hot air balloon ride for the next day.
Perk Up with Espresso
Fika from The Espresso Lab, Dubai
Emirati innovator and entrepreneur, Al Mallouhi, who believes coffee is sacred, has created something special at The Espresso Lab, located in the Design District. Educated “Coffee Chefs” here have won prestigious awards in the 2015 and 2016 UAE Barista Championships as well as the 2016 Latte Art and Brewers Cup Championships.
Good to Know: Menu items include espresso, with or without milk; Fika; cold drip; Affogato (espresso with ice cream); Catuai; or T.E.L. (served with an orange slice). No matter what you order, sugar or espresso to-go isn’t offered.
Snap Photographs from Various Viewpoints
S Bar Dubai
Around the city, there are multiple places that are perfect for capturing Dubai’s skyline and enjoying a scenic view. After all, capturing some of the most famous buildings in the UAE’s most populous city—like the Burj Khalifa; The Marina Torch; Almas Tower; Atlantis, The Palm; or the Burj Al Arab—is best done from a distance to offer perspective.
Dubai Frame tells the story of Old Dubai to the north and new Dubai to the south. The London Project, a botanical wonderland with a fun and inventive cocktail program, is located at the base of the Ain Dubai, the world’s tallest observation wheel—both locations have fabulous harbor views. The View at The Palm offers visitors 360 views of the renowned Palm Jumeriah, a palm tree-shaped series of man-made archipelagos.
Good to Know: For a stunning view of the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Creek, book a stay at the stylish SLS Dubai, one of the tallest hotels in the city at 75 stories high. You can see the famous skyline from your well-appointed accommodations, from the rooftop infinity edge swimming pools, or from the public spaces weaved throughout the hotel. Nighttime views from the restaurants, Carna or Fi’lia, as well as from the bar, S Bar, are unmatched.