1. The excursion not to miss
There is no shortage of fun activities in Dubai, but this activity was my absolute favorite:
This is my top pick not only because it's a ton of fun, but also because dune bashing in the desert is a more authentic Middle Eastern experience than other excursions like jet skiing or scuba diving (which are also cool if you have the time/money).
A tour guide picks you up from your resort and drives you to the desert dunes about an hour away (there is a pit stop along the way where you can ride a 4-wheeler at an extra cost). Dune bashing amidst an ocean of sand was the highlight of my trip. Not to mention I also got to ride a camel, see a traditional belly dancing ceremony, and feast on traditional Arabic cuisine before returning to my resort 6 hours later.
Tip 1: If you get motion sickness, make sure to take medicine beforehand. Dune bashing is up, down, and all around.
Tip 2: Wear long socks so you aren't constantly shoveling sand from around your ankles.
2. Visit the Burj Khalifa at sunset
You definitely don't want to miss a visit to the top of the tallest building in the world, or at least what is currently the tallest building in the world as of early 2017. Sandwiched between the vast ocean and endless desert is the bustling city of Dubai below, with newly constructed skyscrapers, turquoise blue fountains, the manmade World Islands, and empty lots with cranes as far as the eye can see. The view is even more spectacular with a bright orange sun setting.
Book your tickets to the top well in advance because this time is the most popular. "Prime hour" tickets are slightly more expensive, but the views are well worth it! There are two options: "At the Top" (level 124 - 125) or "At the Top Sky" (level 148). Level 148 includes a lounge with refreshments, and even more impressive views of the city below. Check pricing and book here.
Seeing Dubai from the top of the Burj puts into perspective just how much room this city has to grow. What looks dense at the ground level looks sparse from thousands of feet in the air.
3. Learn the history
You shouldn't leave Dubai without understanding the city's origin and history. The best way to do this is to explore "Old Town Dubai" which is the area surrounding Dubai Creek. I started with the Dubai museum in the Al Fahidi Fort, which is the oldest known building in all of Dubai. I then walked towards Dubai Creek and stopped at some of the merchants along the way to buy traditional Arabic gifts. The water taxis were my favorite part of this area which, while not so common in the United States, are an every day mode of transportation in Dubai. Boats known as "abras" carry you across Dubai Creek to Deira, where you can explore a traditional gold souk. Two taxi routes, one of which runs 24 hours.
4. SHOP AT THE WORLD'S LARGEST MALL
The Dubai Mall attracts more visitors each year than the cities of New York and Los Angeles. I'm not a huge fan of visiting malls in other countries, but the malls in Dubai are attractions themselves and worthy of an exception. Where else can you find the world's largest indoor aquarium, an olympic sized ice rink, an interactive children's sized city, a 155 million-year-old dinosaur fossil, a 4-story waterfall with human fiberglass sculptures and over 1,200 shops (not including the popups)? No where. Be prepared to walk around like a kid in a candy store... (which they have the world's largest one of by the way: Candylicious)
Not to mention, there's an indoor ski park located in Dubai's next best mall, Mall of the Emirates.
5. See the Dubai Dancing Fountain at night
The Dubai Fountain is best seen by night because you won't get to witness the staggering amount of lights during the day, and the cooler nighttime temperature makes it slightly more enjoyable. This masterpiece holds the title as the world's second largest choreographed dancing fountain. The show comes to life with 1.5 million lumens, thousands of "Superlights", water jets shooting to 500 feet; all synched to contemporary Arabic and world music. The Dubai Fountain held the title as the world's largest dancing fountain show until March 2017 when Okada Manila's "The Fountain" debuted in The Philippines.
Evening Show Schedule:
Daily from 6:00pm-11:00pm, every 30 minutes
6. Stay at a RESORT with a private beach
A private beach is the best way to enjoy the Persian Gulf without the hassle of carrying bags, worrying about where to leave your belongings, and then trekking back to your hotel/resort when you've finished bathing in the sun. This also makes it easier to run to your room every once in a while to cool off from the scorching heat, which was over 100 degrees nearly every day during my trip.
Don't get me wrong... Jumeirah public beach is a great spot to sunbathe and go for a refreshing dip in the clear waters, but my private beach cabana at Le Méridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina took the cake. It also had shared amenities with the neighboring resort, The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina, which included a lap pool for early morning swims.
7. Take a day trip to Abu Dhabi
If you're in Dubai long enough and have a day to spare, a day trip to Abu Dhabi is absolutely worth your time. I traveled via bus from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, which was easy to navigate and took 1.5 hours each way. Plus the ticket only cost 10 AED, which is much cheaper than renting a private car.
Tip 1. Visit the Sheikh Zayed Mosque:
This place gave me chills in 110 degree weather. The magnitude of this work of art and the sheer detail behind every corner makes this one for the bucket list. The Mosque is open from 9:00am - 10:00pm daily, and closed only during prayer. On Fridays the mosque is open from 4:30pm - 10pm. Admission is free and there are complimentary guided tours in multiple languages. Operating hours and additional information.
Tip 2. Grab a 24 Carat Gold-Sprinkled Cappuccino:
This is about as close as you'll get to feeling like royalty... unless you are royalty of course. Indulge in the "Palace Cappuccino", located in Emirates Palace, which is a bold, aromatic coffee drizzled with real 24 carat gold flakes. I initially felt a little foolish paying nearly $20 for a coffee, but the overall experience and excuse to linger around one of the world's most luxurious hotels was worth it.
Served 7:00 am - 12:30 am at Le Café inside Emirates Palace.
Price: AED 60 (just under $20)
8. VISIT DUBAI CITY WALK
If you're looking for interesting photography backgrounds in Dubai, then you've come to the right place. This outdoor retail and dining destination was designed to resemble European streets, which provides visitors with a uniquely artistic experience.
What intrigued me the most about City walk was the display of artwork around every corner, which translated into an ideal amount of photo opportunities. Dubai walls is an initiative created to promote street art in the Middle East. The project launched in March 2016 when 16 globally renowned street artists were invited to create their art in public spaces.
Takeaway Tip: City Walk is a little off the beaten path making it best to visit by taxi.
9. Respect the Culture
Not much to say here. Just be aware of how men and women dress in The Middle East. I won't pretend to be an expert on this subject, so I'll link a great article here that I used to familiarize myself with the topic: Dress Code in Dubai.
Note: The weather is hot and there are plenty of tourists walking around in shorts, short sleeves and tank tops. You won't stand out as much as you might think; just don't wear anything too "risque."