Dubai Travel Guide – Top 10 Vacation Highlights

When you think of Dubai, the first thing that probably comes to mind is an oasis of top-class hotels, world-famous restaurants and unusual attractions, all within the setting of the great Arabian Desert. One of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is a global hub with a cosmopolitan culture. With the myriad of attractions Dubai offers on your platter, you are certain to be spoilt for choice.
Dubai Travel Guide
Table of Contents

Begin your tour at one of Dubai’s many souks for a memorable shopping experience. Haggle over gold, at the Gold Souk, one of the more colorful shopping destinations of the Dubai Emirate. Sample dates at the Date Souk and take in the enticing aromas of the Spice Souk, where you can buy a little incense burner and a handful of frankincense as a souvenir to take with you.

Then visit Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building which rises to 828 meters high and stands today as a testament to Dubai’s burning desire to constantly attain new heights. Situated at the top of the Burj Khalifa is At The Top, which is the world’s highest observation deck, which is worth a visit. Also stick around for the Dubai Fountain light and sound show that takes place here in the evenings.

After taking a tour of the skyscraping sights, contrast your experience with a simple abra ride on Dubai Creek, one of the oldest and most beautiful areas in Dubai. Nothing matches the joy of riding an abra across the creek at sunset as the evening call to prayer sounds out across the mosque minarets. Close your eyes and you could very well be back in the Sixties when the city was just beginning.

Right on Dubai’s doorstep is the Arabian desert, and what better way to experience it than by going on a desert safari. Cruise over sand dunes in a 4×4, surf the dunes and feast on a desert barbecue underneath the starlit desert sky. And best of all, sit still for a moment and enjoy the absolute silence of the desert.

Your visit to Dubai wouldn’t be complete without seeing the insides of one of its popular mosques, Jumeirah Mosque, the only Dubai mosque that welcomes non-Muslims. Admire the vast interior of the Fatimid-style architectural marvel as your mosque guide provides you with insights on both local culture and Islam.

A beach lovers’ paradise, Dubai offers a range of options for fun in the sun. The Emirate boasts plenty of sand stretches that are ideal for sunbathing or indulging in a variety of water sports. Pack a picnic and head over to the popular Jumeirah Beach for a sunny day out.

Dubai is arguably the most popular tourist destination on the Arabian Peninsula. Filled with historic sites and architectural gems, the bustling city of Dubai offers plenty of things to see and do. Take advantage of these attractions, and you will be guaranteed memories of Dubai that will last you a lifetime.

1. Bastakiya

Also known as Al Fahidi, the historic Bastakiya Quarter defines the eastern section of Dubai Creek. One of the most engaging neighborhoods in Dubai, Bastakiya was founded in the 19th century by wealthy traders dealing in textiles and pearls. The neighborhood today features a labyrinth of lanes lined with the coral-clad houses of merchants, art galleries, shops, restaurants and cafés.

The Quarter has been fully restored to showcase the traditional tall wind towers designed to funnel cool air into houses even during the hottest months.

Generally a lovely spot for a stroll, the beautiful old area of Bastakiya features narrow atmospheric alleyways. You can wander through the neighborhood at your leisure, or even better, join a 90-minute heritage tour hosted by the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding – SMCCU.

Visitors to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding are invited to gain a greater appreciation of the custom and cultures of Dubai. The SMCCU was founded to 1998 and welcomes visitors to take part in activities such as heritage tours, Arabic classes, and sampling traditional cuisine and guided mosque visits.

Understanding the local tradition adds meaning and depth to every visitor’s experience in Dubai, and the Centre offers this from its location inside a beautifully restored wind tower house. The Centre’s motto is “Open Doors, Open Minds” which means that all questions, no matter how sensitive, are welcome and answered.

Visitors can also sign up for a traditional Emirati breakfast, lunch or dinner. Once ready, take a seat on the Bedouin-style carpets and pillows and enjoy a selection of traditional dishes, as your local host answers questions on life in the emirate. You will need to book in advance to be guaranteed a spot.

After your visit to Bastakiya, go sailing on the Dubai Creek. Dubai’s historical focal point, the Creek flows between Deira and Bur Dubai and signifies where the Emirate’s trade began with the outside world over a century ago.

To fully enjoy your tour of Dubai Creek, take a cruise in a traditional “abra” water taxi from one side of the Creek to the other. This will enable you to experience how the Creek gives definition to the city. Cruising the shimmering waters past traditional dhows, historic houses, lively souks, modern buildings and the maritime trade will offer great insights into Dubai’s status as a global commercial hub.

2. Sharjah

Sharjah is both one of the 7 emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, and the city that is the seat of the emirates. Situated on the Persian Gulf, Sharjah shares borders with all the other 6 emirates. With a history dating back 5 millenniums, Sharjah is one of the oldest human settlements on the planet, which makes it one of the richest cultural enclaves of the emirates.

An emirate of contrasts, Sharjah is the type of place you can go to enjoy a holiday in the sun, discover traditional souks and explore numerous heritage sites and museums, while admiring majestic mosques, wandering around lagoons and experiencing the natural beauty of the Arabian desert, seas and mountains.

The literary and cultural hub of the UAE, Sharjah boasts attractions such as the Museum of Islamic Civilization; Al Hisn Fort; Al-Markazi which is famous for its Arabian rugs; and Souk al-Arsah, the oldest souk in the UAE. Other important cultural markers in the region include the Sharjah Art Center and the Sharjah Art Museum. A visit to the Sharjah Archaeological Museum may also be worth your time.

The Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization is situated at Sharjah’s historical heart, having begun its life as a traditional middle Eastern souk. Set inside a state-of-the-art cultural venue, the museum is today home to over 5,000 exquisite Islamic artifacts from all across the Islamic world, arranged in themes over 7 spacious galleries and display areas.

The Museum at the Al Hisn Fort offers insights into Sharjah’s former glory. Take a step back in time to experience Sharjah’s most important building since the early 19th to the mid-20th century. Built in 1823, the historic fort continues to stand majestically in the heart of Sharjah, and once served as the seat of government, residence of the ruling family and a jail.

During your journey through the museum, you will come across various fascinating galleries that display a broad range of photographs, objects and stories, providing visitors with the unique opportunity of experiencing the history that shaped Sharjah and its people.

Witness how daily life was experienced within the Fort and observe the astounding transformations Sharjah has experienced over the last 2 centuries. Also learn how to make date molasses and have a stimulating conversation in the sitting room.

Launched in 1997, Sharjah Art Museum is the largest in the Gulf and offers both permanent collections and temporary exhibitions by renowned artists. Explore the region’s history through the works of Orientalist painters of the 18th and 19th centuries, along with galleries of stunning cityscapes, landscapes, oil portraits, water colors and acrylics created by both local and internationally renowned artists.

The Sharjah Archaeology Museum was opened in 1993 and offers a permanent archive for the archaeological findings recovered within the Sharjah Emirate. Visitors can uncover the stories of Sharjah’s very early history, which come alive within this fascinating museum.

Explore the transformations in the environments of the region’s inhabitants from the Stone Age to the present day via displays of artifacts, jewelry, coins, ancient weapons and pottery. You can also explore models of burials, tombs and houses, as well as have a look at the first forms of writing in the area.

3. Dubai Museum

One of the best ways of gaining interesting insights into the evolution of the civilization and culture of Dubai is by visiting its museums. Dubai is home to a number of interesting museums, the most famous of which is the Dubai Museum. One of the major attractions of this museum is the fact that it is situated inside the majestic Al Fahidi Fort, one of Dubai’s oldest forts which was built in 1787.

Before it housed the museum, this enigmatic and interesting Fort served as the residence of the royal family, the government office, an armory as well as a jail. One of the most enchanting aspects of the Fort is its walls which are made of coral and shell rubble, cemented together with lime. It is in this way that the Al Fahidi Fort court offers the ideal setting and ambience for this lovely museum.

Dubai Museum was established in in1971 with the aim of preserving the city’s historic artifacts and information for posterity. Dubai’s traditional life is kept alive here. Interesting antiques and artifacts from Africa and Asia are also on display here. Step inside the entrance and be welcomed by ancient maps of the Gulf of Emirates, along with photos of dynamic Dubai transforming over a period of time.

There are also exciting displays of musical instruments, weapons and tower models. An interesting collection of boats next to the museum features ancient boats, as well as a variety of boat models used in the past to ferry people and cargo across the Dubai Creek.

Another of the Dubai Museum’s exciting features is the dioramas that house life-sized figures with fantastic sound and lighting effects. The dioramas offer insights into Dubai life before the discovery of oil. Some of the aspects highlighted here are the enchanting Arabian homes, souks, mosques, schools and marine life.

In the museum’s archaeology section, you can view displays of antique alabaster and copper pots, coins and weapons dating from the 3rd millennium BC.

While you’re in the neighborhood, follow up your tour of the Dubai Museum with a visit to the Miraj Islamic Center which is close by. Step into a world of artistic expression and excellence where you will find an enticing combination of a museum and art gallery with a mind-boggling variety of antiques from the Middle East on display, as well as arts and crafts by regional artists and craftsmen.

4. Deira’s Souk Alley

“Souk” is Arabic for “market”, and that is something Dubai truly has an abundance of. Vendors hawking wares and shoppers purchasing goods – this is the essence of what the traditional Dubai market looks like, a rarity in these days of the skyscraping shopping malls of modern Dubai.

While the traditional open air markets are no longer a common feature, you can still find what you need at the modern Dubai souks. Most of Dubai’s popular souks are situated within the historic Deira District and include the Gold Souk, Spice Souk, and Dates Souk.

Begin your souk tour in the Spice Souk at which you can stock up on any spice from every corner of the world. Here you will find your supply of cardamoms, cinnamon, cloves and incense, among many others, not to mention sacks of dried fruits and nuts. Basmati rice and pickled lemons can also be bought here.

A little further down from the Spice Souk is the Perfume Souk at which you can find the perfect Arabic attars to suit your senses. Go for some spicy Arabic perfumes whose flavors you can sample before you make your purchase. You can also buy incense here.

Being the largest gold trader in the gulf has earned Dubai the nickname the “City of Gold”. And you will understand why when you visit Dubai’s Gold Souk. Situated in a narrow alleyway in old Deira, the Gold Souk is a surreal experience in itself. The open air market comprises of 300 jewelry shops offering all sorts of golden jewelry items.

As you walk down the entire length of Deira’s souk alley, you will come across the Carpet Souk. Here you will find finely woven carpets in a variety of designs, colors and sizes. Be dazzled by the beautiful rugs with intricate weaving, and thereafter, begin negotiating with the merchants for good bargains.

Walk further down and you will find the food souks, with the Fish Souk situated adjacent to the Vegetable Souk. At the Fish Souk you will find Barracuda, Red Snapper, King Fish and Rock Cod among the catch as it arrives early in the morning or late in the night.

The full Dubai experience is never really complete without a visit to the emirate’s souks. The souks of Dubai offer a traditional atmosphere that you are bound to appreciate and are the best way of gaining insights into old Dubai.

5. Bait Al Banat Women’s Museum

Located in the Gold Souk area of Dubai, the Bait Al Banat Women’s Museum was opened in 2012 as a project of Rafia Ghubash, an Emirati Professor whose goal was to preserve and share the history of women in the United Arab Emirates. Ghubash’s vision in establishing the museum was to break down cultural stereotypes and misconceptions regarding the role of women in the country’s development.

The Museum today features 3 floors of exhibition space that celebrate women throughout the history of the nation, including numerous female artists who were pioneers in their fields. An entire hall has been dedicated to Ousha Bint Khalifa, the Emirati poetess who was nicknamed ‘The Girl of the Arabs’. Highlights of the exhibit include some of her hand-written poems.

There is also a Women’s Studies Center situated on the second floor of the museum, which features a library and database of documents which are available for research into the field.

The Women’s Museum is situated in a house of historical importance that dates from the 1950s. The name of the house “Bait Al Banat” is Arabic for “The Girls House”.

6. Burj Khalifa

A showplace of modern, innovative building, Dubai shattered world records for building height with the Burj Khalifa. Opened in 2010, the Burj Khalifa tower stands at 828 meters or 2,717 feet, including its spire and comprises 162 stories.

The Burj Khalifa currently holds the following records. It is the world’s tallest building and tallest free-standing structure. It also has the highest number of stories; highest occupied floor; and the highest outdoor observation deck. It also boasts an elevator with the longest travel distance in the world, as well as the world’s tallest service elevator.

Despite these achievements, the skyscraper has received both praise and condemnation, with some praising the building for its innovative structural system, and others condemning it for being impractical and expensive to maintain.

At the Top is Burj Khalifa’s observation deck and the highest outdoor observatory in the world. Step into an elevator and watch in amazement as specially designed projections leave you feeling as if you are flying over global landmarks during your ascent. At 555 meters, you can enjoy the breathtaking views. There is also a life-size screen that envelops you as you explore the various corners of the Emirate.

There is a spacious deck at which you can enjoy stunning 360-degree views of the city along with a ‘Falcon’s Eye View’ that enables visitors to explore the city from a unique perspective. Here you can learn more about the Dubai skyline.

Begin your vertical ascent to the observation deck inside a high-speed elevator that travels at 10 meters per second. The doors will then open to reveal floor-to-ceiling glass walls that offer breath-taking unobstructed 360-degree views of the city, its desert and ocean. By night, the stars compete with the sparkling city lights for your undivided attention.

Special telescopes are available to provide virtual time-travel visions of the scenes below and beyond. See close-up real time views of the future and the past, by day and by night. Visitors can also venture outside onto the open-air terrace to get another perspective of the sweeping views below.

A tour of At the Top typically lasts one and a half hours. However, you may linger as long as you wish before returning to the base of the tower. There is also a gift shop here where you can purchase souvenirs of your visit to the Burj Khalifa.

The attractions of the Burj Khalifa are not restricted to its top levels, but can also be enjoyed at its base. At the base of the Burj Khalifa, right in front of the Dubai Mall, is the world-famous Dubai Fountain. The world’s tallest performing fountain, the Dubai Fountain rises to an astonishing 900+ feet.

The Fountain is situated on the Burj Lake and features a unique design that comprises 5 circles of different sizes, two arcs, and powerful water nozzles that shoot up water to impressive heights. While operational, the Fountain has more than 22,000 gallons of water in the air at any given moment.

The Fountain features more than 6,600 Superlights, the most advanced incandescent large fountain lights available today. It also boasts 25 color projectors that create a visual spectrum of more than 1,000 different water expressions, with 50 color projectors offering a full spectrum of color.

A captivating spectacle of water, music and light, the Dubai Fountain performs to a selection of varying melodies and songs that range from contemporary Arabic to classical music. Some of the songs that the Dubai Fountain performs to on a daily basis include: Baba Yetu, an award-winning Swahili song; and Con te Partiro, the signature piece by Andrea Bocelli, the world-renowned Italian tenor.

A good way to enjoy the Dubai Fountain spectacle is by taking the Dubai Fountain Lake Ride on Burj Lake. This will guarantee you front row seats to the best show in town where you can enjoy a stunning choreography of water and light.

7. Burj Al Arab

Extravagance and opulence are second nature to Dubai. And nothing says this better than Dubai’s Burj Al Arab Hotel. With its distinctive sail-shaped silhouette, the hotel is an impressive sight. At 321 meters tall, the Burj Al Arab is also the tallest hotel in the world. And no matter what time of day you see it, it is bound to have a breathtaking effect on you.

More than just a stunning hotel, the Burj Al Arab is a true symbol of modern Dubai. Yet for all the amazement the stunning structure elicits when you finally get to see it in person, it’s the service offered within that truly makes the Burj Al Arab extraordinary. After all, the hotel boasts the status of being the only 7-star hotel in the world.

The only thing better than the out-of-this-world views offered by the towering Burj Al Arab is a tour of their world-class rooms that allow guests to escape into an amazing realm of imagination. The all-suite hotel offers the finest rooms in the world from its 28 stories that overlook Jumeirah Beach.

The hotel boasts 202 of the most incredible suites today. Each suite is arranged over two floors. The smallest standard room measures 160 square meters while the largest stands at 780 square meters, with floor to ceiling glass windows that offer amazing views of the Arabian Gulf.

Every room has been painstakingly decorated in lavish textiles, bright colors and astounding décor; and each suite features state-of-the-art entertainment equipment including remote-control curtains.

Repeatedly voted the world’s most luxurious hotel, the Burj Al Arab offers the finest facilities and services right down to a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce. Visitors can also enjoy discreet check in, private reception and your own personal butler to cater to your every wish. Whatever your heart desires, the Burj Al Arab is designed to provide it to ensure you enjoy maximum comfort.

If you do decide to leave your room, there are plenty of activities to enjoy at the Burj Al Arab. There is a full spa and heath club with treatment rooms, steam rooms, swimming pools, a squash court, an aerobics room and 2 fully equipped fitness centers. There is also a private beach and an abundance of water activities to give you plenty to do.

Superior restaurant choices are also available at the 7-star hotel. From Arabic buffets to seafood, visitors have their choice of 10 unique out-of-this-world cuisine choices. All the restaurants offer the best in style, creativity and service to provide you with a superb dining experience.

The second most expensive hotel in the world after the Four Seasons in New York City, the Burj Al Arab does not come cheap. The price of a standard room goes for around $1,000 a night, while the largest penthouse suite ranges up to $25,000 per night. If you are prepared to spend a pretty penny, you can enjoy top quality service, amenities and rooms.

Even if such ostentatious luxury is not your thing, a visit to the Burj Al Arab is worth it just to witness the epitome of extravagance in our world today.

8. Dubai Beaches

Seen from above, the Palm Jumeirah group of islands resembles a palm tree comprising a trunk with seventeen fronds, encircled by a crescent-shaped island. The first offshore development of its kind, the Palm Jumeirah was originally touted as the Eighth Wonder of World.

One of the main draws to Palm Jumeirah – and Dubai as a whole, is the beaches. Every year, millions of tourists flock Dubai’s spectacular man-made islands to enjoy the aquamarine waters of the Arabian Gulf, and all they have to offer. The charm of Dubai’s attractive sandy beaches set against the cool sea waters entice a constant flow of tourists to its shores to sunbathe and relax.

Visit Dubai to enjoy its clear blue waters and crisp, fresh air at the enchanting, lovely beaches, the most popular of which is Palm Beach.

Palm Beach offers beach lovers an entertaining and exciting stay. Water sports are particularly popular at this beach on the Arabian Gulf, which itself is ideally suited to this purpose because of its warmth. This beach is great to visit especially during winter, as Dubai winters are very pleasant and ideal for vacations in comparison to the summers that are extremely hot and humid.

Another of Dubai’s popular beach destinations is Jumeirah Beach which stretches along the Arabian Gulf coast. The beach is lined with beautiful palms and greenery that invite visitors to go into the enchanting sea shore. The warm sands and serene sea waters will have you never wanting to leave. Al Mamzar Park in Deira is another popular Dubai beach that is attractive and worth a visit.

Dubai’s shores are studded with various touristic attractions and other entertainment options. There are picnic spots lining the beaches where visitors can spend their time lazing about. There are also eateries that offer different types of food. You can even have a fun barbecue on Dubai’s exciting beaches.

Dubai is a great destination if you want to enjoy a fun time by the beach. The more active travelers can engage in popular water spots such as surfing and skiing. Dubai’s beaches also offer the ideal setting for surfing even for beginners as the sea is not too rough and the waves rise to roughly a maximum height of 8 feet.

The calming mood of Dubai’s beaches will have you feeling relaxed in no time at all, while the serene ambience will make you want to come back over and over again just to enjoy the tranquil beauty of nature.

9. Desert Safari

The Dubai Desert Safari is a complete safari with plenty of things to see and do. When it comes to holidaying in Dubai, this is one experience you cannot afford to miss.

You typically have 4 choices when it comes to choosing a desert safari: the morning desert safari, the evening desert safari; the overnight desert safari; and the dinner-only desert safari – with each offering something different for you to enjoy.

If you are short on time or more interested in having an adventure rather than relaxing, opt for the Morning Desert Safari. A car will pick you up around 9am. Once you arrive at the desert, you will enjoy about 30 minutes of dune bashing, 30 minutes of quad biking and some more time for sand skiing, depending on the activities you want to enjoy.

No meals are provided during this tour, but you should get some beverages to cool your thirst. Most morning desert safaris last 2-3 hours and will have you back by noon. While short, this is still a great safari that provides all the exhilaration you need.

The Evening Desert Safari on the other hand lasts six hours and offers a mix of both excitement and relaxation. This includes a drive with plenty of photography opportunities. You will also be taken to the heart of the desert to enjoy a gorgeous sunset. At the campsite you can do some sand boarding and then relax in between the dunes. Afterwards, you will be served a typical Arabian meal under the stars.

More conservative travelers can settle for the Dinner-Only Desert Safari which involves heading directly to the campsite for dinner, music and a starlight campfire that typically lasts 4 hours. This is ideal for travelers who really just want to relax.

Finally you have the Overnight Desert Safari that includes all the options above, such as dune bashing, picture taking, dinner and sitting under the stars in the middle of the desert. Visitors can stay overnight in sleeping bags and tents and then enjoy breakfast on the dunes.

10. Jumeirah Mosque

For all its glitz and glamour, Dubai still has a strong undercurrent of humility running through its Muslim population. And the best place to witness this is through a visit to Jumeirah Mosque. Jumeirah Mosque is situated on Jumeirah Beach Road at the northern end of Jumeirah. With its high peaks and towers, the mosque makes for a beautiful addition to the Dubai skyline.

One of Dubai’s biggest and most attractive mosques, Jumeirah Mosque is the only mosque in Dubai that is open to receiving non-Muslim visitors. Jumeirah Mosque thereby offers a unique opportunity for non-Muslims to learn about the Emirati religion and culture, within a casual, relaxed and open atmosphere inside a landmark mosque.

Visits to the Grand Jumeirah Mosque can be facilitated by the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding – SMCCU. The SMCCU organizes visits to the Jumeirah Mosque for non-Muslims as a way of promoting cultural understanding, as well as offering a firsthand experience and insights into the Islamic religion.

The SMCCU offers tours of the Mosque from 9.45 am, which lasts roughly 75 minutes. Go on this informal, lively and fun tour to gain insights into Arabian architecture. You will get to learn about the mosque’s architecture, as well as the religious significance of some of its key design features.

While modest attire is preferred during the tour, traditional attire can be rented from the Mosque. Women are required to cover their arms, legs and heads with long skirts, trousers, long sleeves, and a scarf for their head. Men need to wear trousers, a shirt or t-shirt but not vests. All visitors are required to take their shoes off before they enter the mosque.

A dominating landmark in Dubai city, the mosque is built in the medieval Fatimid tradition and is a tribute to modern Islamic architecture. The sandstone structure features a pair of slender minarets and a roofline crowned with domes decorated with intricate carving. While the mosque has the appearance of a historic building, it is in fact a fairly modern structure that was completed in the late 1970s.

The most impressive views of the Jumeirah Mosque can be enjoyed during your first approach to the splendid structure. Your first glance will be the most affecting, as the strong expression of Islamic architecture conveyed through the design aesthetic of the mosque, along with the traditional pattern of the Fatimid heritage leaves you awestruck.

Simply taking a stroll around the elegant mosque is enough to have your senses captivated. Wander through its quaint corridors at sunset and be washed in the shadows of its elegant formation. The architecture on the inside of the mosque is just as beautiful as that on the outside. The interior is richly decorated in Arabic calligraphy and rich ornamental patterns that offer a true feast for the eyes.

Photography is permitted inside the mosque so be sure to take your camera along so as not to miss out on capturing the allure of this respected and revered cultural landmark. The mosque makes for great photo opportunities, especially when lit up against the evening sky.

While the exterior of the mosque can be viewed and photographed at any time, it wouldn’t be polite to do so in the interior during prayer time. The best time to take a photo is very early in the morning just after sunrise. To avoid busy traffic, go on Fridays. Another good time for photo ops is in the evenings just before sunset.

There are various attractions and things to see and do in the area once your visit to Jumeirah Mosque is complete. You can visit the many souks around for some shopping; hit the beach for an afternoon of sun, sea and sand or take a traditional dhow cruise.