15 Fun Things to do in Dubai That Aren’t Shopping
Dubai. What a city. It seems almost unreal, an oasis in the desert full of skyscrapers and unimaginable wealth, the modern juxtaposed with the traditional. I can’t deny its draw as a fascinating place to visit, and here some travel bloggers share their tips for the most fun things to do in Dubai!
Things to do in Dubai
Take an abra on Dubai Creek
Visiting Dubai in the 21st century, it’s easy to forget that you are in the Middle East. That’s why one of my favorite activities in the city is to head down to the creek and take an abra boat trip in this historic heart of the city.
The creek is where Dubai’s trade developed, and as recently as 30 years ago it was still the hub of the city’s merchant life. Huge dhows still line the creek today; these traditional wooden ships plow the waters of the Arabian Gulf to India and beyond, and it’s fascinating to watch them being unloaded at the quayside.
From the northeastern bank of the creek, pick up an abra to cross to the other side of this wide waterway. Abras are canopied wooden ferries that crisscross the creek as they transport locals about their business in time-honored tradition. The fare is still incredibly cheap: just 1 dirham (less than $0.30) will see you safely to the other side. Board the abra at one of the ferry stations; once on board, just pass your dirham coin to the pilot at the front of the boat.
Along the creek, you will find historic trading centers, forts, and museums. Check out the gold and spice souks, or simply gaze in wonder at the skyscrapers of modern Dubai on the horizon. For me, the creek is an intoxicating reminder of old Dubai – so why not step back in time and check it out?
from Jill of Reading the Book Travel
Mingle with flamboyant flamingoes
One of Dubai’s defining features is how man-made it is. Between the record-breaking skyscrapers, glitzy malls, and improbable ski slopes rising out of the desert, one thing there isn’t a lot of is nature. But there’s one part of Dubai where you can see nature at its flamboyant best – even in Dubai, nature is a little bit extra.
The Ras Al Khor wildlife sanctuary is just a few minutes from Downtown Dubai and the Burj Khalifa, and is home to around 70 different species of birds. You can see all sorts of migrating birds here, but the star attraction are the wild flamingoes in Dubai. Hundreds of these beautiful pink birds live here year-round, while still more call in here on their way to nearby Abu Dhabi or Oman.
You’ll probably be able to see flamingoes from the highway, but for the most impressive displays, head to one of the hides spread around the nature reserve. The flamingoes are fed by nature wardens twice a day and the flocks that gather are an absolutely stunning sight. Visiting the hides is completely free, and there’s a good chance you could have the hide to yourself.
You’ll notice that some of the flamingoes are a more vibrant pink than others. The paler birds are the locals and the younger birds, while the brighter ones tend to be visitors, who’ve eaten a diet richer in the nutrients which turn their feathers that beautiful shade of pink. It’s amazing to see them strutting around, but watch and wait. When they get spooked, you’ll see a whole flock of them take off at once in a cloud of pink wings and long legs – one of the most amazing things to see in Dubai.
By Helen of Helen on her Holidays
Go on a desert safari
Of all the things to do in Dubai, our favorite activity would have to be the desert safari tour. It’s not until you leave the towering skyscrapers of Dubai that you realize that the city is surrounded by the sands of the Arabian Desert.
Once out in the desert, we were given the choice of desert bashing in jeeps or going traditional with a camel ride. After having our heads wrapped in Emirati headscarves, red and white for men and black for women, we headed off to meet our camel.
Climbing on our camel, we headed off into the sand dunes, some deep as canyons. We soon realized that the headscarves weren’t just for decoration, they protected our faces from the sand.
The desert was silent and filled with beauty. In the peace of the evening, we watched as the sun set over dunes that stretched out to the horizon.
We discovered the wonders of falconry before heading back to camp for a barbecue dinner. We spent the evening watching traditional Tanoura folk dancers, having henna tattoos, and relaxing under the stars with an apple-flavored shisha, the perfect end to a magical day.
Book your desert safari online here.
By Ros Cuthbertson of Frequent Traveller
Explore the Dubai Aquarium
One of the best things to do in Dubai, one of the world’s luxury destinations, is visit the Dubai Aquarium. The Dubai Aquarium is one of the largest aquariums in the world and one of the most impressive things you can do in the city.
There are a couple of interesting things about the Dubai Aquarium: first, it’s located in the Dubai Mall, so you can casually do your shopping and then visit the aquarium.
Second, there are different packages for visiting the Dubai Aquarium: you can either visit just the aquarium and the underwater zoo, or you can add on a ride in a glass-bottomed boat. There are also VIP packages that include fish feeding and a behind-the-scenes tour. Book tickets online in advance or at the aquarium.
Finally, it’s open until VERY late: it closes at midnight and it’s cheaper to visit after 10 p.m. That’s due to the weather in Dubai: in the summer months, it’s extremely hot during the day, so some people prefer to wake up later, start the day late, and go to sleep very late as well.
By Liza of Tripsget
Relax at the Beach
One of the best places to see in Dubai? La Mer.
Dubai is best known for its skyscrapers, malls and other crazy places. La Mer is a gorgeous place that represents a different side of Dubai. It opened in late 2017.
La Mer has a more relaxed, easier-going vibe than the rest of the city. While it is all quite new, the style is shabby and retro-chic. Stylish restaurants, shops and graffiti add beauty to this place. But you can also spend a wonderful time at the beach; fun and cute beach houses and other stylish details make this one of the most fun places in the city.
Bring your towels and some snacks – and of course your bathing suits. You can do different kinds of water sports, swim in the clean water (be alert: there are some really scary little fish, though!) and get a tan.
For an entry fee, you can also visit the water park, Laguna Water Park.
La Mer also comes with a view of Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world.
By Arzo of Arzo Travels
Snap some selfies in the Dubai Miracle Garden
One of the most Instagram-worthy experiences to add to your Dubai itinerary is the Dubai Miracle Garden, a flower paradise which displays over 150 million blooming flowers.
This unique flower garden spans across 72,000 square metres: an open-air art gallery where visitors can admire enormous flower displays including an Emirates airplane covered in flowers.
Here, no season is the same as the Miracle Garden gets a new look every year. The Miracle Garden opens every November with completely different creations and remains open until mid-May. The best time to visit is the afternoon when it’s not as hot.
To get to the Dubai Miracle Garden you can take the metro until the Mall of the Emirates and from there take bus No. 105 which costs 5 Dirhams. The journey is approximately 20 minutes. Alternately you can book this tour that includes entry and transfer to the garden. Taxi and Uber service is also an option.
By Elena of Passion for Dubai
See the desert from above on a sunrise hot air balloon ride
Seeing the sunrise in the desert, quietly and floating softly above the dunes, believe me, is priceless.
Still, if you want to pay for it, there are some companies that will graciously take your money in exchange for the sunrise hot air ballooning experience over the Dubai desert at dawn.
I had the great fortune of having my balloon baptism with Balloon Adventures Dubai, backed by many years of experience in this field. Because I don’t know about you, but I would not be happy to fly a balloon for the first time with someone without the necessary training.
Ballon rides are only held from October 1 to May 31, and it is very convenient to book in advance, since the collection takes place at dawn. Four hours later, they will leave you where they picked you up.
By Inma of A World to Travel
Eat dinner on a cruise in the Dubai Marina
Dubai is the centre of all the Middle East’s entertainment activities. From the world’s tallest skyscraper to the largest mall in the world, the small state offers everything a tourist could imagine.
However, among all the fancy activities to do in Dubai, not many people realise that cruising in the Dubai Marina, witnessing the shining tall buildings in the surroundings, offers a unique way to relax away from the entire hustle and bustle of the city.
There are many tour companies that organise dinner cruises starting from the Dubai Marina. Book through the hotel travel desk or by directly contacting the companies online. It’s a two-hour journey and is one of the loveliest things for couples to do in Dubai.
The boats are usually a luxury double-decker cruiser resembling the Arab dhow boats. If the weather is good, I highly recommend asking for seats on the upper level for better views of the brightly lit buildings and the breathtaking Atlantis hotel on the Palm.
The dinner buffet consists of Arabic and international cuisines. Towards the end of the journey, there is also a belly dance performance.
Book a dinner cruise online here.
By Rahma of The Sane Adventurer
Go skiing in the desert
Dubai makes it feel like anything is possible – even skiing.
Ski Dubai, modeled after other indoor ski areas such as the ones in Japan, opened in 2005 to much fanfare. However, when you think of the Persian Gulf, being able to escape into sub-zero temperatures is certainly a respite from the blistering temperatures often outdoors.
The Ski Dubai area features a few short ski trails, one ski lift, and one tow lift. There is a mid-station stop-off for those who don’t want to go all the way to the top and even a mid-point café for a hot chocolate stop.
For those who’ve never skied (or possibly never seen snow), the ski area offers some excellent opportunities to get on skis or snowboards. For more avid alpinists the area may seem a bit too small. Even if skiing is not your pursuit, Ski Dubai offers areas for people to play in snow, go snow tubing, snow bumper cars, sledding and more.
The ski and boarding packages include everything you need, from lift tickets to equipment and even winter clothing.
Ski Dubai does offer lessons as well for those interested for an additional cost. For people who may just want to people watch snow goers, the TGI Fridays has a large window looking into Ski Dubai or you can dine at the onsite restaurant North28. Ski Dubai is located within the Mall of the Emirates and is open daily until 11 p.m. (midnight Thursdays and Fridays). The last entrance is 90 minutes before closing.
By Anwar of Beyond My Front Door
Visit the Old Souk
The Old Souk is a place where you will discover an authentic Dubai, more colorful and traditional. Here, a large number of sellers put their goods on sale in small stores. They sell all kinds of clothing, footwear, accessories, souvenirs, gold, and home decorations, as well as all sorts of flavors and spices that will steal your eyes.
Be prepared to negotiate and deal with the wave of sellers who will show you their offers, hoping you’ll stop and buy something from their stand. My favorite products include very colorful lamps and beautiful handmade pillowcases.
However, even if you decide not to buy anything, it’s worth visiting for the experience itself and it’s a place you need to see when you’re in the Emirates.
The easiest way to get there is to stop at Al Ras subway station or Al Ghubaiba, then cross Dubai Creek on an abra, a traditional boat, for only one dirham.
By Raluca of Whisper Wanderlust
Marvel at the Burj Khalifa fountains
The fountains at the Burj Khalifa are one of the great free activities in Dubai. It is the largest water fountain performance in the world and one of the most popular things to do in Dubai. After a day of shopping for the best souvenirs in Dubai at the Dubai Mall, visit the fountains just outside the mall doors and watch the water dance in the sky to an assortment of classical and modern music. There is no need to book, just show up outside the tallest building in the world and check out the amazing light and water display.
While you don’t need to buy any tickets to see the fountain performance, you can book a lake ride on the 30-acre lake to get even more up close and personal to the show. Otherwise, arrive about 15 minutes early if you want to get an unobstructed view of the show. They start at 6 p.m. and run every 30 minutes until 11 p.m. If you are not at the mall at night, you can catch performances at 1 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. daily (1:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Fridays)
If you are arriving from the Dubai Metro, take the Dubai Mall stop. Then, it’s about 5 minutes’ walk.
By Lindsay of Carpe Diem OUR Way
Zip around on the Yellow Boats
On a recent trip to Dubai we joined a Yellow Boats tour for their 99-minute Original Tour. They are based in the very swanky area of Dubai Marina, and I strongly encourage you to book this tour if you are in Dubai.
At the start of the tour you’re kitted out with a life jacket and your bags are stowed away in the under-seat storage. A quick safety demonstration follows, and then you’re off. You are in comfortable seating with handrails to hold on to. For the first 10 minutes, you slowly make your way through the Dubai Marina to the open sea. You get some great commentary here from the tour guide.
When you reach the open water, the boat speeds up… it’s hair-raising stuff! A lot of fun. The tour takes you all the way around the Palm, stopping for photo opportunities at Atlantis and Burj Al Arab. Between these two landmarks, there’s an adrenaline-fuelled fast ride! It’s a lot of fun and you will get splashed. The water is incredibly salty, so does sting a little. Our advice is to make sure you have hats, sunglasses and waterproof sunscreen. It’s a lovely cooling experience, but the sun is relentless.
My children (aged 9 and 11 at the time) said it was their highlight of our time in Dubai.
By Tracey of Pack The PJs
Picnic in front of the Burj Al Arab
The Burj Al Arab has immensely contributed to Dubai’s skyline. The hotel, located on an artificial island near Jumeirah Beach, is shaped in the form of the sail of a boat. Crowds usually gather on the weekends or when the weather is cool to lay on the beach, or choose to picnic at Umm Suqeim Park which is a little further away.
Apart from the fact that Burj Al Arab is touted as being the only “seven star” hotel in Dubai, it is also known as one of the most luxurious hotels in the world. And, while most may find affording a room heavy on their pockets, the best way to appreciate the landmark’s beauty is to settle in with a picnic on Jumeirah Beach. This is one of my top recommendations when tourists are visiting the country for at least three days, however not really on my list to explore Dubai in one day.
For tourists, a tip would be to pack an Emirati breakfast or dinner to really experience the culture of the country. Don’t forget to take advantage of the nearby cafeteria serving hot karak tea, a sweet milk tea brought into the United Arab Emirates by Indian expats.
The best time to visit Jumeirah Beach or Umm Suqeim Park is on weekday afternoons which are Sundays to Thursdays in the U.A.E. Crowds pack the beach on the weekends so it’s best to avoid visiting during that time.
By Sarah of Hungryoungwoman
Visit Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood
As one of the most exciting adventure travel destinations in the Middle East, when people think of Dubai they usually think of a modern, glamorous city of high-rises and luxurious nightlife. However, Dubai existed as a much smaller town long before the Burj Khalifa was built or the man-made Palm was created. To get a taste of the history of Dubai and how the city looked, felt, and worked from the mid-19th century up until just a few decades ago, visit the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood.
Located on the banks of Dubai Creek, where most of the city was centred before Dubai’s recent expansion, the Al Fahidi neighbourhood is a beautiful representation of traditional Dubai. The houses and buildings of the neighbourhood are made of stone, gypsum, teak and sandalwood. Winding alleys give the area a maze-like appearance and occasionally open up into beautiful public squares with benches, trees and street art.
Al Fahidi was not just designed for walking around; museums, art galleries and shops are scattered throughout. Stop by the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding or take a look inside the Coffee Museum to get a glimpse into one of the most important and prized products in this part of the world.
When you’re done, have some tea and traditional Emirati cuisine at the Arabian Tea House. If you want to keep exploring the older part of the city, and make your way to the Grand Mosque and Spice Souk across the creek, you can board an abra for just 1 Dirham (about $0.30) and cross the creek in just a few minutes.
By Joanna of Lose the Map
Take a Food tour with Frying Pan Adventures
Did you really think I would put up a post that didn’t mention an amazing food tour? Frying Pan Adventures runs amazing tours in Dubai and I take (or retake) one every time I go. The guides are top-notch, the spots are places I wouldn’t find on my own, and the food is amazing.
If you want to eat well and you want to learn more about the real Dubai, you MUST sign up for one of these tours. Trust me, if you love food then this is the one thing you have to sign up for.
There you have it 15 things to do in Dubai that have nothing to do with shopping! There are so many more things to list, don’t be surprised if I come back and add more!