Drawing up a list of 10 things to see in Dubai is an arduous task because this dynamic city is constantly on the move, avowedly projected towards the future. At the time of writing, numerous construction sites are at work to complete colossal new works that will add to the astonishing attractions of this metropolis devoted to luxury, excess and the incredible.
In a constantly changing cityscape, however, one can recognise certain buildings that have become symbols of the city: they are masterpieces of contemporary architecture with stratospheric costs. And not far from the VIP hotels, the billionaire yacht marina, the world’s largest shopping centres and exclusive towers, one can discover corners where Dubai’s past resurfaces.
It is worth leaving the glossy neighbourhoods of the new Dubai for a while to dive into the atmospheric chaos of the souk, to be dazzled by the white walls of a mosque beautifully decorated with Arabic motifs, to feel the wind blowing into the houses expertly channelled by ingenious ventilation systems of the past or to photograph ancient fortresses.
Put it away, by the time you have decided what to see in Dubai there will be at least five more incredible new attractions worth a visit. The ones below, however, are the must-see attractions. The only way to add more to the list is to extend your holiday!
The symbol of Dubai is Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world: 163 floors with a total height of 829 metres and 57 lifts. In comparison, the Empire State Building in New York with its 443 metres looks like a small house!
Inside this futuristic skyscraper you can find everything: restaurants, clubs, swimming pools, luxury flats and a very expensive hotel owned by fashion designer Giorgio Armani. If you cannot afford the entertainment or a VIP stay, you can always go up to one of the panoramic observatories on floors 124, 125 or 128 and enjoy a spectacular view of Dubai from above.
The Burj Khalifa will soon have to surrender its supremacy to another grandiose construction destined to become a top attraction in Dubai: the Dubai Creek Tower designed by archistar Santiago Calatrava. The total height of this building currently under construction has not been declared, but it is certain to exceed 1,000 metres.
Another ingenious Dubai folly that has become a symbol of the city is Palm Jumeirah, an artificial island that, seen from above, is in the shape of a palm tree and on which rise billionaire residential complexes and the Hotel Atlantis, a luxury resort with a spectacular design.
The island is practically reserved for the inhabitants of its exclusive villas and resort guests; the only two experiences granted to ‘ordinary mortal’ visitors are visiting the island aboard the Dubai Monorail, a scenic monorail that runs along the trunk of the palm tree, and spending a day of family-friendly fun at the Aquaventure water park.
Opened in 2018, Dubai Frame has already become one of Dubai’s must-see attractions. It is an eccentric building shaped like a giant 150-metre high frame and entirely covered in gold.
Visitors can climb up the catwalk that joins the two vertical sides of the frame and from there admire a splendid panoramic view of Dubai: on one side the modern business and shopping districts, on the other the Old City with its romantic old-world atmosphere.
The building houses an interactive museum dedicated to Dubai’s past, present and future.
Another building that embodies the grandeur of Dubai is the Burj Al Arab, one of the most expensive hotels in the world and an icon of luxury worldwide. The official classification says ‘5-star’ but the hotel boasts of being a 7-star and no one dares contradict this bold claim.
Those who can’t afford to sleep in one of its sheiks’ rooms (you have 1000+ euros to spend per night? Lucky you!) can photograph from afar this futuristic sail-shaped building of astonishing design, built on an artificial island alongside Palm Jumeirah.
If you are willing to spend a little, you can treat yourself to a drink at the SkyView Bar on the 27th floor. It’s not cheap, but it definitely costs less than €1,000.
The show with the most spectators in Dubai is the daily Dubai Fountain show, a stunning system of dancing fountains on the waters of Burj Khalifa Lake, the water basin adjacent to the Dubai Mall.
You have probably already seen other dancing fountains, with water sprays that move in time to music and are made even more impressive by spectacular light effects, but the one in Dubai is gigantic and boasts record-breaking numbers (just to name two: water jets up to 150 metres high, lights visible up to 30 km away). The show is repeated several times throughout the day, with different music and colours.
One more reason to put it on your travel schedule: Dubai Fountain is one of the very few free attractions in the United Arab Emirates.
One of the most popular areas of Dubai for tourists is Dubai Marina, the marina area overlooking the waters of the Persian Gulf.
Here, too, you will find the ultra-modern skyscrapers that have made Dubai’s skyline world-famous, but the special feature of this area is its pedestrian promenade adorned with palm trees: a true oasis for those who like to walk or run, considering that Dubai is a city built purely for cars and walking is rather difficult.
In this area are the best publicly accessible beaches in Dubai (not reserved for hotels or villas).
After indulging in modernity, spend some time in Dubai’s past, which is no less fascinating than its effervescent present. The ideal place to rediscover the atmosphere of the old Dubai of fishermen, traders and pearl hunters is the Persian quarter of Bastakiya located along the Creek, the waterway that laps the original core of Dubai.
The narrow streets of this district are lined with low houses of traditional architecture, famous for their so-called ‘wind towers‘: this is a unique ventilation system that allowed these houses to remain cool despite the torrid temperatures of the Emirates long before the invention of the air-conditioner.
Dubai is a shopping mecca: one could fill an entire holiday in Dubai just by visiting the shopping malls within the city. But if you only have time (or the desire) for one, head for the Dubai Mall, the world’s largest mall in terms of number of shops.
It is a true city within a city, with 1,200 shops ranging from high-fashion boutiques to small independent shops via franchises of international brands, plus 120 bars and restaurants and themed attractions.
Of the latter, the most spectacular is the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, an aquarium housing more than 30,000 marine specimens, while the most popular with children and teenagers is the video game theme park.
It is hard to imagine that the skyscrapers and futuristic buildings we admire today stand on an area that was once completely deserted. Yet the desert is still there, just a stone’s throw away from the hustle and bustle of modern Dubai.
Hop aboard a 4×4 for an unforgettable tour of the Dubai desert and enjoy dinner under the stars in a Bedouin-style camp after watching a breathtaking sunset from the dunes. To prolong the enchantment, choose a tour with an overnight stay in a tent, so you can experience the unique magic of a night in the desert.
You can fill your time in the desert with adrenaline-pumping activities such as quad biking or sand-boarding, or more relaxing ones such as taking a camel ride, taking a selfie in the dunes, smoking hookahs, watching belly dancing or dervish dancing.Read more
The capital of the United Arab Emirates can be reached in an hour and a half from Dubai and is the ideal destination for a day trip. As opulent and stunning as Dubai, famous for the world’s most technologically advanced Formula 1 circuit, Abu Dhabi is focusing on culture to build a new identity.
The first colossal work inaugurated with this in mind is the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a museum that investigates the connections between artistic currents from around the world; it will soon be joined by other museums and art galleries of equal ambition.
The must-see attractions to include in a tour of Abu Dhabi are: the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a marvel of traditional Arab architecture; the sumptuous Qasr Al Watan Palace; the Etihad Towers, an exclusive complex of five buildings with a 360° panoramic observatory.Read more
City Card allow you to save on public transport and / or on the entrances to the main tourist attractions.