With Emirates Airines’ seemingly unstoppable expansion across the globe, more and more of us are stopping over in Dubai for short or sometimes longer stays. Most of us are familiar with the icons of Dubai; breathtaking architectural feats and an entire market devoted to gold; but are they really worth the trip? This is a brief guide to extracting the best of Dubai during your short stay. However long you are staying, buy yourself a Dubai Metro Day Pass for 14 Dirhams (AED) at the airport – this equates to $3.80 and is excellent value, considering how much travelling we’ll be doing!
6 hours in Dubai
6 hours in Dubai is easily enough to experience a bit of this exciting city. From the airport, jump on the sleek new Dubai Metro. Change trains at Burjuman for the Green Line, then get off at Al-Fahidi station. From there it’s only a one kilometre walk to the Dubai Museum. This museum is largely underground, and contains a wealth of information about the traditional life of the nomadic people who once called the UAE home.
You could spend an hour or two here, strolling around, before grabbing a cold drink and jumping back on the metro. From Al-Fahidi station, head back to Burjuman, change back to the Red Line, and take it to the Dubai Mall / Burj Khalifa station. There, walk through the kilometre long tube bridge to Dubai Mall and take in a bit of retail therapy (arguably the UAE’s national sport).
Then step outside to watch the dancing fountains in front of the world’s tallest building. If you have enough time, you could pay the $34 to go to the observation deck, but bear in mind that this price only applies if you book in advance through the website – otherwise, at peak times, you could be looking at a steep $108 to jump the often long queues.
Walking back through the mall, you might also take a detour past Dubai Aquarium, visible for free from the shopping arcade through a giant glass wall! Make sure you leave enough time to get back on the metro, and without changing trains, make the up-to-forty minute trip back to the airport for your flight out!
8 hours in Dubai
With an extra two hours in Dubai, you could also stroll through the gold market and grab a shwarma and a fresh juice at the old city of Deira. From the airport, head out on the metro but change trains at Union station (also known in Arabic as Al-Ettihad). Get on the Green Line and alight at Al Ras station, then walk the 700 metres to the Gold Souq, and admire the ridiculous amount of bling on sale.
Coming out the other end of the gold souq, you’ll emerge into the hectic workers world of Deira – this is the other side of Dubai, and a sharp contrast to the glamorous malls which we associate with the emirate. If you’re feeling hungry (and game), grab a shwarma and a fresh juice from one of the roadside vendors – our favourite is Ashwaq Cafeteria on the corner of Al-Soor Street and 18th Street, opposite the Deira Palace Hotel, but anywhere will do! If you’re looking for something a bit more familiar, hold out on lunch until you get to the Dubai Mall. From Deira, walk back to Al Ras metro station, travel on the green line towards Al-Fahidi, then join the 6-hour itinerary taking in the Dubai Museum, Dubai Mall and the dancing fountains at Burj Khalifa.
12 hours in Dubai
12 hours in Dubai is enough to experience more of what first took Dubai to the global tourism stage back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Follow the 6 or 8 hours itineraries, but when you’re heading out towards Dubai Mall, you will also have time to see the stunning Burj al-Arab, the iconic sail-shaped hotel for which Dubai is perhaps best known. After finishing up at Deira and the Museum, take the Green Line to Burjuman, then the Red Line past Dubai Mall to the Mall of the Emirates Station. From there, it’s three kilometres down to the coast and Burj al-Arab. You could either walk this, but considering the extreme heat that Dubai experiences for much of the year, many visitors opt for a taxi, at least in one direction to or from the station.
If you’re dressed to the nines and have a booking, you can have a meal at Burj al-Arab, but for the majority of visitors, its the exterior which they’ve come to see. After this, and if you have time, head back to the Mall of the Emirates station and take a walk through the mall itself – grab a bite to eat at the upstairs food court with a view of Ski Dubai, the only place to go snowboarding in the Arabian Desert! If you haven’t had your fill of malls and outlandish modern architecture yet, then on the way back to the airport make a stop at the Dubai Mall / Burj Khalifa, where you can round out the last of the 6-hour itinerary (above).
24 hours in Dubai
With 24 hours in Dubai, you may well want to spend at least eight of them sleeping, especially after a long flight. I recommend basing yourself in one of the locations on the above itineraries, so that after your slumber you can easily pick up where you left off. Choose Deira if you’re doing things on the cheap, or somewhere south of the river (near the malls) if you have the money to splash. You could also consider a hotel near the airport if you plan to sleep after sightseeing – that way, you can just wake up and board your flight, without needing to commute again.
If you’re not the sleeping type, or maybe jet lag is working in your favour, then 24 hours provides you an excellent opportunity to see some of Dubai’s more serene sights, before cutting loose and having some serious fun! Follow the 6 and 8 hour itineraries, but get off the metro at World Trade Centre, three stops past Burjuman. From World Trade Centre station grab a taxi or walk the three kilometres to Jumeirah Mosque. This pretty, if not necessarily historic building welcomes non-Muslims and even offers a free 75-minute tour and information programs at 10am every day except Friday. Arrive 15 minutes before, and try to dress modestly, although suitable clothes are available for hire at the mosque if you don’t have any.
Don’t forget to pack your swimmers in your backpack, because next we’re going to cool off at Atlantis The Palm Aquaventure, with some of the tallest and most exciting watersides in the Middle East! To get there, continue along the metro’s red line to Dubai Internet City station, two stops past the Mall of the Emirates. Until the Atlantis Monorail is connected to the metro, you’ll need to grab a taxi to take you from the station to the gate. Once your skin has turned suitably wrinkly, get back to the metro and head back to Mall of the Emirates and rejoin the earlier itineraries. Have lunch with a view of the ski fields at Mall of the Emirates, head down to Burj al-Arab for a happy snap, then finish up at Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa.
Disclaimer: It is each traveller’s responsibility to ensure that they tailor the above itineraries to their individual circumstances. Flights run late, trains get delayed, special events occur and people get carried away with the excitement of being in a new city. Don’t lose track of time while you’re exploring Dubai, and whatever you do, make sure you are back at the airport in time for your departure flight – airlines don’t have much sympathy for people who miss their connections while sightseeing.