Rising up along the banks of the Persian Gulf, Dubai is a shimmering and modern global city. Over the past 10 years, Dubai’s tourism has boomed with regional travelers from within the Middle East. But lately, travelers from all over the world are starting to make their way to UAE’s capital. If you’re planning to be one of them, we’ve got the perfect 2-day Dubai itinerary ready to go.
This Dubai itinerary is great for first-time visitors. We’ll introduce you to the city, highlight the best things to see and do, and then help you pack it all into two great days. We’ve included transit instructions, those nitty-gritty planning details, plus tips that we’ve picked up from multiple trips to Dubai — all in one place! Keep reading to start planning your perfect 2-day trip to Dubai.
In this Post
Here’s what we’re covering in this post. We’ll start with some general planning information and then get into the itinerary itself.
- Meet Dubai
- How to get to and get around Dubai
- Where to stay in Dubai
- What to wear in Dubai
- When to go to Dubai
- About this itinerary
- Day 1 — Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall & Dubai Marina
- Day 2 — Old Dubai & Dubai Fountain show
- Other things to do in Dubai
Dubai is known for its over-the-top luxury and towering skyline, but also its desert landscapes and Arab influence. The city highlights a unique crossroads of metropolitan glamour and conservative religion which has all been highly influenced by massive amounts of oil money and a high number of expats and immigrants.
The first thing that stands out about Dubai is how new and showy it is. Even the things that look old are new. That’s because almost the entire city was built in the last 50 years.
Everything about Dubai is curated and planned, with a flare for the eccentric. Dubai loves a world record and they have shattered several, including tallest building, tallest free-standing hotel, and — no surprise here — city with the most skyscrapers (over 300 meters).
The city is very spread out and connected by a web of highways. There are clusters and neighborhoods that have a few things close together, but most destinations are separated by a car or Metro ride.
Speaking of cars and Metros, Dubai is almost impressively unwalkable. The intense desert heat means people don’t really want to be walking around outside, and their lack of outdoor sidewalks proves that. There are a handful of air conditioned pedestrian overpasses, but for the most part, everyone gets around by car or public transit.
Dubai has a large Muslim population — both locals and tourists — and Muslims don’t drink. This actually has a huge impact on the tourist experience in ways you might not expect. For example, you’ll notice that malls and coffee shops in Dubai are the epicenter for social life in the evening.
These locations are open late — like midnight or 2 AM late — because they replace bar culture for many locals. You can of course still find bars and nightlife in Dubai, but it’s not your only option like it is in other places.
The city is a massively popular destination for expats. In fact, expats comprise about 90% of Dubai’s total population. This becomes evident through the rich diversity you’ll find in Dubai, from the food to the language to the way people dress.
Overall, Dubai has Arab bones but the body of it is a melting pot of cultures. It’s liberal for the region and attracts expats and visitors from all over the world. Dubai is a modern and new city that aggressively strives to keep up with the thriving cities around the world.
How to get to and get around Dubai
Most international travelers are going to fly to Dubai and probably on Emirates — one of the two flag carrier airlines of the UAE that is based in Dubai. Emirates Business Class is one of the best Business Class products in the world, so that’s a great way to kick off a visit to Dubai.
Dubai International Airport is connected to the rest of the city via the Dubai Metro. For only 8 AED (about $2 USD), you can get from the airport to the Dubai Mall in just over 30 minutes. Alternatively, a cab will cost about 50 AED ($14 USD) and take about 20 minutes, depending on traffic.
To further get around Dubai, you have a few options.
- Metro: If your destinations are along the Metro, this is your best bet. It’s cheap, easy and quick. The lines aren’t extensive, though, so it won’t get you everywhere. The Metro runs from 5 AM to 1 or 2 AM depending on the day and costs 20 AED ($5 USD) for a day pass. There are special cars for women and children and Gold (first class) passengers, so pay attention to where you board.
- Trams & Monorail: Supplementary to the Metro, there’s a tram system that operates in the Dubai Marina / Palm area. Trams cost about 4 AED ($1 USD) and run from 6 or 9 AM to midnight, depending on the day. There’s also a single monorail line the runs the length of the Palm. It costs 30 AED ($8 USD) round trip and runs between 9 AM and 10 PM or midnight, depending on the day.
- Taxi: Taxi stands are located at many popular attractions, so this is a reliable option during busy times.
- Rideshare: Several rideshare services are available in Dubai including Uber, Careem and XXRide. These services can often be cheaper than a cab. You’ll need cell service or wifi to use the apps.
- Water transit: There is a variety of water taxi, water bus and ferry routes also operated by the RTA (Dubai Roads and Transportation Authority). Routes and prices vary, but you can learn more here.
You’ll note that the only thing I didn’t mention here is walking. Dubai is one of the least walkable cities we’ve ever been to. This is presumably because it gets so hot and people aren’t walking around outside. The city just isn’t designed with accessible sidewalks and outdoor pedestrian walkways.
Don’t force it. We’ve made several failed walking attempts and just ended up hot and frustrated. If public transportation isn’t an option, just lean into cabs and rideshares.
Where to stay in Dubai
More than some other destinations, where you stay in Dubai should be driven by the type of experience you want to have. Here are a few hotel recommendations and areas to consider based on your travel plans.
- For a resort experience, stay at Atlantis, The Palm. This luxury resort is home to numerous restaurants, one of the world’s largest waterparks, an aquarium and more. It’s a great place to relax while you adjust to the time change. The location on the tip of the Palm makes it a bit more secluded than other locations, so it’s best for visitors who want to spend most of their time at the hotel.
- For a busy city itinerary, stay at JW Marriott Marquis. This high-end hotel’s central location makes it a perfect choice for the busy traveler. You can take short cab rides anywhere in the city and then retreat to your exquisite quarters at the end of the day.
- For beach days and nights out, stay at the InterContinental Dubai Marina. The Dubai Marina area is filled with restaurants, nightlife, beaches and shopping. It’s well connected by pedestrian walkways and by tram. You could easily have a fantastic Dubai experience without ever taking a car. (That’s rare in Dubai!)
- For ultimate indulgence, stay at the Burj Al Arab. This 5-star hotel is the epitome of Dubai indulgence and extravagance. It’s over-the-top in everything from Michelin-starred dining to Rolls Royce chauffeur service to MacBooks in the rooms. It’s located near the Palm, but it’s closer to the highway so it’s a bit quicker to get to other destinations.
These are all pretty pricy hotels. If you’re looking for different price points, look at other hotels in the Dubai Marina and the Dubai Mall / Burj Khalifa areas. If you want to rely on public transportation or walking, the Dubai Marina area is best. Depending where exactly you stay in the Burj Khalifa area, you will probably need to plan to take cabs or rideshare to most destinations, but it’s a great central location.
What to wear in Dubai
Dubai is a modern, metropolitan city with a lot of expats. However, the local population is predominantly muslim and it’s in the heart of a conservative, Muslim region. Travelers (primarily women) from other parts of the world are left wondering what to wear.
The good news is that there are very few places in Dubai that have hard and fast dress codes. The bad news is that most establishments ask (formally or informally) that you dress respectively, and that’s hard to define.
In our experience, it seemed like most people were dressed slightly more conservatively than we’ve seen in other hot cities. Indoors, most people had their shoulders and knees covered. Outdoors, especially in touristy areas, we saw more women in sleeveless tops and dresses and skirts above the knee. We also saw plenty of people in shorts, crop tops and tank tops, but that definitely stood out as the exception.
That said, it’s a global city and you don’t really need to overthink it. I wore all long sleeves during my first visit and that simply was not necessary. This trip I primarily wore short sleeve shirts and maxi skirts or a maxi dress under a jean jacket, and I was perfectly comfortable.
Here are a few general rules to consider for what to wear in Dubai.
- Short sleeves are perfect. It’s hot, so having your arms exposed is fine. Short sleeves are a good way to stay cool while covering your shoulders.
- Go for a maxi dresses. A breezy maxi dress or skirt is great for Dubai. It’s breezy and cool, and there is a wide variety of stylish options to choose from. I personally can’t get enough of the Hill House Ellie Nap Dress in wrinkle-resistant crepe for travel. (You can use my link for 20% off your first order over $100.)
- If you’re shoulders are exposed, bring a jacket or scarf. It’s not likely, but you may run into an establishment that requires covered shoulders so it’s just handy to have an extra layer. Plus, they pump the AC indoors, so there’s a good chance you’ll get chilly anyways.
- You don’t need need a headscarf. Unless you’re in a mosque, non-Muslim women don’t need to cover their head in Dubai. You will not stand out without a headscarf.
- Swimsuits are fine, just cover up after. If you’re at a pool or the beach, pretty much any swimsuit or bikini is fine. But when you leave the water area, you’ll want to cover your top and bottom. Shorts and a tee or a dress would be fine, but a short sarong with a bikini top is not ideal.
When to go to Dubai
Dubai has a desert climate. They technically experience four seasons, but it tends to be hot and dry pretty much all year.
The best time to visit Dubai is during the winter months between November and April. This is when the weather is coolest, with highs in the 70s-80s (°F) and lows dipping into the 60s. Winter is also when you’ll see the most rain, but it still only averages about one day a month.
The summer months in Dubai, from May to October, get really hot. Expect highs over 100 (°F) and lows in the 80s. Fortunately though, many of Dubai’s best attractions are indoors (read: air conditioned) and there is plenty of water activities to cool you off. So don’t rule out summertime entirely.
About this Dubai Itinerary
With this itinerary, you’ll explore Dubai over the course of two full days. It works best with three nights at a hotel, but you could swing it with two depending on your flight times. If you have extra time on your arrival and departure day (or if you’ve already done some of these things before), we’ve also compiled a list of more things to do in Dubai that you can add to your specific schedule.
Two days in Dubai is enough to get a taste of the city. You’ll experience the glamour of downtown and the energy of Old Dubai. It’ll barely scratch the surface of what Dubai has to offer, but all the more reason to come back.
This itinerary is a great way to kick off a longer trip in the Middle East or South Asia. If you’re traveling from the Americas, Australia or East Asia, Dubai is an easy, comfortable city to arrive in after a long-haul flight. Enjoy this itinerary — possibly at a more relaxed pace — as you adjust to the time change. Then carry on to a nearby destination for a few days, like Qatar, Oman or India.
Similarly, this itinerary is also perfect for a stopover. Emirates is based out of Dubai. If you are flying Emirates from one country outside of the UAE to another, there’s a good chance it’ll come with a connection in Dubai. Make it an extra long layover and enjoy a few days in Dubai while you’re here.
Dubai Itinerary Day 1 — Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall & Dubai Marina
Okay, let’s get started with our travel plans!
Start your first day in Dubai with a trip to the top of the tallest building in the world. Then spend the afternoon at one of the largest malls in the world, where you’ll find everything from designer retailers to an aquarium. When the sun sets, head to Dubai Marina for cocktails and a dazzling evening stroll.
The details of day one may look something like this …
- 8 – 9 AM: Coffee at % ARABICA
- 9 – 11 AM: At the Top, Burj Khalifa
- 11 AM – 12 PM: Lunch
- 12 – 3 PM: Dubai Mall
- 3 – 4 PM: Transit and refresh
- 4 – 6 PM: Dubai Marina
- 6 – 7 PM: Happy hour at Pier 7
- 7 PM: Dinner
Coffee at Dubai Mall
If you can get yourself going, we suggest starting your day at the Dubai Mall bright and early. You’ll definitely want to be there between 8:30 and 9:30 AM to beat the crowds at Burj Khalifa. And if you’re going to be up early anyway, might as well get up a tad earlier and get coffee first.
Not all of the stores and restaurants in Dubai Mall will be open that early, but some of the best ones will be.
One of our favorite coffee shops around the the world is % ARABICA. They have six locations in Dubai, two of which are inside the Dubai Mall. They both open at 8 AM.
There’s also a handful of Starbucks locations in the mall, including a Starbucks Reserve. Even if you’re not normally a fan, check their menu because sometimes they have unique regional offerings. During our recent visit, they were featuring a Spanish Latte made with condensed milk. That’s not something you can get in the US.
Once you’re caffeinated, follow signs in the mall to “At the Top, Burj Khalifa.”
At the Top, Burj Khalifa
At 2,722 feet and 163 floors, the Burj Khalifa is the tallest building and structure in the world. You can spot the building jutting out of the skyline from miles away, towering above everything else around it. Try to take a photo of the entire building from the fountains below and you’ll quickly realize just how big it is as you struggle to fit it in the frame. (Pro tip: use panoramic mode!)
A visit to the top of the Burj Khalifa is essential for anyone’s first time visit to Dubai — as long as you don’t have a fear of heights.
There are three main ticket options.
- General Admission will get you to floors 124 and 125, including the outdoor observation deck on 124.
- The SKY ticket includes floors 124, 125 and a much less crowded 148th floor, which has another outdoor observation deck.
- Finally, the ultimate Burj Khalifa flex is the VIP package, which includes the highest floors 152, 153 and 154, including the highest lounge in the world.
Both SKY and VIP also come with skip-the-line privileges.
Personally, we’ve done General Admission and SKY. The view from General Admission is honestly fine, but the crowds and the lines can be brutal. We’d recommend the SKY ticket so you can skip the line and enjoy the views comfortably on the 148th floor before joining the masses.
Burj Khalifa basics
- Location: The entrance to the Burj Khalifa observation deck is inside the Dubai Mall on the lower ground floor on the far east side near the food court.
- How to get there: (1) Take a cab or rideshare to Dubai Mall OR (2) Dubai Metro to Burj Khalifa / Dubai Mall Station. Then follow signs to “At the Top, Burj Khalifa.”
- Hours: 8:30 AM – 12 AM midnight
- Tickets: Buy online in advance here
- Cost: 160 AED to 734 AED ($43 to $200 USD) per person, plus taxes and fees
- How long does it take: 2 hours (or longer if you have to wait in line)
- Best tip: Go early (before 9 AM) or book a premium ticket (VIP or SKY) to avoid long lines to enter
Lunch at Dubai Mall
The exit from the Burj Khalifa puts you right by the food court — well, one of several in this massive mall — which is an easy option for a quick lunch. Vegetarians like us will be happy to know that Vegan Burger is delicious (but also check out Neat Burger) and parents like us will be happy to know that they have high chairs here.
If nothing hits you, don’t worry. There are over two hundred restaurants and cafes in the Dubai Mall! You’ll find everything from fast food chains (Five Guys, Shake Shack, Pizza Hut) to casual sit-down restaurants (Paul Cafe, P.F. Chang’s, Zaatar w Zeit) to international specialties (Din Tai Fung, Peppermill, Milas Restaurant).
Explore Dubai Mall
The Dubai Mall could fill multiple days on its own. It’s truly a destination, not just a place your mom would take you to buy jeans. Because Dubai gets so unbearably hot during the day, the mall is an oasis of sorts. And since Muslims don’t drink alcohol, the mall is a popular alternative to bars in the evening, so it’s open really late.
Let’s start with the shopping. The mall has over 1,200 shops so you’re bound to find something you like. Because it’s Dubai, they have just about every fashion designer that you can think of from Louis Vuitton to Christian Louboutin, Armani to Alexander McQueen — they’re all here.
If those places are out of your price range, they have stores for real people, too. All of your favorite mall brands are here, plus reasonably priced stores from around the world.
Even if shopping is of absolutely no interest to you, don’t write off the Dubai Mall yet. Inside there is also a full-size ice skating rink, aquarium, movie theater and more. You’ll probably still want to spend some time here.
We suggest giving yourself a few hours to explore the mall, do some shopping and enjoy some snacks that you come across.
Burj Khalifa building photos
Despite having just been inside the Burj Khalifa, there’s a good chance you haven’t gotten a good look at it from the outside yet. So when you get to the south side of the mall (near the Apple Store and Five Guys), follow signs to the fountains and pop outside.
This is where you’ll get the best full view of the Burj Khalifa from the ground. Take some photos of the outside of the building from here during the day. We’ll also come back tomorrow night to watch the fountain show, so you’ll have a chance to take the photo again in the evening.
Transit and refresh
After the mall, you may want to go back to your hotel. It’s a good time to freshen up or maybe change clothes for the evening.
If you don’t need a break, head strait to Dubai Marina. Getting there from the mall is an easy trip on the Dubai Metro. The mall has posted signs that will point you toward the Metro. Once you find the Metro mall exit, it’s a bit of a hike to the actual station. It’s all indoors though, and there’s plenty of moving sidewalks and air conditioning.
Take the Dubai Metro Red Line south (in the direction of EXPO Metro Station) and get off at Sobha Realty Metro Station. From the station, it’s about a 5-10 minute walk to the Marina.
Unless you already have a Nol card loaded up, you’ll need to go to the ticket booth to purchase a ticket for your journey. You can’t buy point-to-point tickets at the self-service kiosk. Be sure to keep your ticket after you scan in because you’ll need to tap it again to exit.
The Dubai Marina is a great place to be when the sun goes down. It’s located near a handful of hotels, so it’s got a steady flow of tourists, but it tends to really get going in the late afternoon and evening. There’s several bars, restaurants and coffee shops, an interactive fountain, and lots of food/snack carts. Sometimes they have seasonal events and festivals, too.
Our favorite way to enjoy the Marina is on foot. We suggest starting on the north end by Spinneys (a local grocery store that’s a good pin for Google Maps). This puts you right by an interactive fountain, which is fun if you’re visiting with kids. Follow the waterfront walkway around the south side of the Marina.
If you’re up for an adventure, take the water bus instead. It’s a great way to see the Marina from the water for a really reasonable price. The water bus runs between four different points on the marina and costs under 11 AED ($3 USD). The full route only runs in the evening hours (4 – 10:15 PM Saturday through Thursday, 5:05 – 10:45 on Fridays). You can read this detailed post for more info on the Dubai water bus.
If you have some extra time or get here earlier in the afternoon, check out Marina Beach or Bluewaters Island where you’ll find Ain Dubai — the world’s biggest Ferris Wheel. (Ain Dubai is actually currently closed temporarily for refurbishments as of March 2023, but it scheduled to reopen later this year.)
Happy Hour at Pier 7
If you’re walking along the south side of the marina, you’ll eventually run into Pier 7. The tower is home to seven different bars and restaurants, each with a different vibe and theme.
Alcohol in Dubai can be wildly expensive, and at Pier 7 specifically it can feel down right ridiculous. However, these bars usually have great happy hours that go pretty late into the evening. Most of these happy hours have drinks available for around 25 – 35 AED ($7 – $10 USD). That’s actually pretty good for a place where a bottle of Corona will otherwise set you back over $13 USD.
Before we had a kid, we spent quite a few nights at Pier 7 and always had a great time. However, many if not all of these restaurants are also kid-friendly. Cargo, Bedrock and The Scene were our favorite spots, but we’ve always just come for drinks and not food. Some of the restaurants also have patio and rooftop dining, which is appealing in this area.
Pier 7 Happy Hour Schedule*
- Atelier M: Monday through Friday, 5 – 8 PM. Discounted selection of beer, wine, liquor and cocktails.
- The Scene: Weekdays, 4 – 8 PM. Discounted selection of beer, wine, liquor and cocktails.
- Cargo: Sunday through Friday, 12 – 8 PM. Discounted selection of beer, wine and liquor.
- MAMA ZONIA: Sunday through Friday, 4 – 8 PM. Discounted selection of beer, wine, liquor and cocktails.
- Bedrock: Every day, 12 – 7 PM. Discounted selection of beer, wine, liquor and cocktails.
- Asia Asia: No posted happy hour
- Abd el Wahab: No posted happy hour
*As stated on their websites as of March 2023.
Dinner by Dubai Marina
After a few drinks, it’s probably time to head to dinner. There’s a ton of restaurants in this area to choose from, even right inside Pier 7.
On days like this, we like to kind of wing it. Since we don’t know how the rest of our day is going to go or how we’re going to feel (or look!) at this point in the day, we don’t want to commit to anything too far in advance. The Dubai Marina has so many options nearby that you can easily wander around till you’re hungry and find a place that has room for you, without stressing about making a reservation.
If you want to plan ahead, though, here are a few places worth noting.
- Buddha Bar: This is where we went when we were young and hip and dressed up for dinner.
- Marina Social: Though technically a hotel restaurant inside the InterContinental, the menu at this British/Mediterranean spot was crafted by a Michelin starred chef.
- Catch22: For a more casual, beachy seafood meal.
- La Carnita: Nicer than casual but still no dress code, and great Mexican food.
- The Pods: If you want to indulge in a unique, private fine dining experience, this spot on nearby Bluewaters Island looks incredible.
Day 2 — Old Dubai & Dubai Fountain show
Our second full day is all about Old Dubai. This has always been our favorite part of Dubai because it’s got so much energy, plus we just love when public transit involves a boat.
We’ll spend most of the day exploring several of Dubai’s souks — or Arab street markets. The day starts a bit later because these markets don’t really get going until 10 or 11 AM. We’ll start in the Diera neighborhood, which is the historical city center of Dubai, and then cross Dubai Creek over to Bur Dubai. We’ll end our day back at Dubai Mall to watch the Dubai Fountain show in front of the Burj Khalifa.
The details of day two may look something like this …
- 8 – 10 AM: Breakfast and coffee near your hotel
- 10 – 11 AM: Gold Souk
- 11 AM – 12:30 PM: Diera Grand Souk
- 12:30 – 1 PM: Abra across Dubai Creek
- 1 – 2 PM: Lunch
- 2 – 3:30 PM: Bur Dubai Grand Souk
- 3:30 – 4:30 PM: Transit
- 4:30 – 5:30 PM: Relax or Souk Al Bahar
- 5:30 – 6:30 PM: Dubai Fountain show (includes arriving 30 minutes early for a good spot)
- 7 PM: Dinner
Dubai Gold Souk
To get to the Gold Souk, take the Dubai Metro Green line to Al Ras Metro Station. Then walk a few blocks to the entrance of the souk, which is marked with signs.
The Dubai Gold Souk is a covered, pedestrian street lined with gold shops. In this souk you’ll find mostly gold jewelry, watches and other accessories, but some other metals are sold as well. The shops in the Gold Souk are regulated and inspected by the government regularly, so you can trust the quality.
The souk is about three blocks long with small off-shoots popping off with more vendors. Along the side streets you’ll find more souvenirs, clothing and non-gold items.
If you’re planning to purchase gold, you can often get a good deal at the Gold Souk. Lower gold prices are often considered to be the result of lower import and jewelry taxes in the UAE. Sellers will name a price, but this is definitely a place where you can and should haggle.
If you’re not interested in shopping (we’ve never bought any gold here), it’s still a fun experience. Be warned that I said “fun” and not “relaxing.”
Be prepared to say “No thank you” or “la, shukran” (Arabic for no thanks), about a thousand times. You will relentlessly be invited to come inside each shop, hear a list of each vendor’s offerings or even just be complimented with hopes that you’ll stop and shop. A smile and a “no thanks” will get your point across and they’ll be on to the next. This is true of most souks in Dubai.
If I’m being completely honest, the Gold Souk is a bit overhyped. You should definitely go to Old Dubai, so you should certainly walk through the Gold Souk while you’re there. But don’t worry if you’re unimpressed; there are better souks to come.
Gold Souk basics
- Location: Here – pedestrian street between Old Baladiya Street and Souk Deira Street
- How to get there: Dubai Metro Green line to Al Ras Metro Station, then walk
- Hours: 9:30 AM to 9:30 PM
- How long does it take: 1 hour
- Best tip: Avoid Fridays. The market closes midday for prayer.
Grand Souk Diera (aka Diera Old Souk)
Just southwest of the Gold Souk is the Grand Souk. The market sign itself says Grand Souk, but other signs (including the abra station named after the souk and Google Maps) refer to it as Diera Old Souk. I think Old Souk refers to the entire area while Grand Souk is a specific portion, but I can’t officially confirm that. (If you know for sure, please let me know if the comments!)
The Grand Souk is a feast for the senses. Like in the Gold Souk, the sellers in the Grand Souk will be constantly vying for your attention and money. The Grand Souk is more market stalls though, not actual stores. And instead of one wide street like the Gold Souk, the Grand Souk has lots of smaller and windier streets.
The Grand Souk offers a wide variety of goods, but specifically caters to tourists. Here you will find clothing (things like flowy cotton pants, “Dubai” t-shirts and traditional abayas), pashminas galore and a slew of different keepsakes and souvenirs (like stuffed camels, magnets and tote bags).
You can get some really great deals in the Grand Souk. Some styles of bags, tops and pants will often go for about 10 AED (about $3 USD). Some prices are marked, but you can barter as well. I got a maxi skirt (priced at 25 ADE) and a children’s t-shirt (priced at 15 AED), for 27 AED total (about $7 USD).
The Grand Souk is broken up into smaller souks like the Herb Souk (or Spice Souk), Mattress Souk, Utensil Souk and more. The Herb Souk you definitely don’t want to miss. By the time you make it to this souk specifically, you’ve probably already passed several other stalls with overflowing baskets of spices. The sight and smells from so many all in one place, though, should not be missed.
All of these different souks are connected and close together. There are also maps posted throughout the area. This is a good place to bop and weave through the different markets at your leisure.
Grand Souk Diera basics
- Location: Here – the area just north of the Diera Old Souk Abra Station
- How to get there: Dubai Metro Green line to Al Ras Metro Station
- Hours: Exact hours vary by vendor, but generally 10 AM to 10 PM Saturday to Thursday, and 4 PM and 10 PM on Fridays.
- How long does it take: 1.5 hours
- Best tip: Haggle for a deal, especially if you’re buying multiple items
Abra across Dubai Creek
Dubai Creek separates the neighborhoods of Diera (where the Gold Souk and Grand Souk Diera are located) and Bur Dubai (where our next souk, Grand Souk Bur Dubai, is located). The creek is lively with everything from modern yachts to large shipping boats, but it’s mostly filled with small wooden water taxis called abras.
The boats are operated by the RTA (the same organization that operates the Metro), so they are very safe and efficient. Both tourists and locals use the boats everyday to quickly and cheaply cross the creek.
You can take the abras to a few different stations around the creek, including two destinations from Diera Old Souk Station. However, the small electric abras (as shown here) only take one route from this station, and it’s the one you want. The main route (for tourists specifically) is CR1 from Diera Old Souk Station to Bur Dubai station.
At the Diera Old Souk Station, there are a few different docks that are each numbered but are not labeled by route. In our experience, the abras to Bur Dubai were boarding from dock #3. Since there’s only one route on this specific type of boat, look for the dock that’s loading people. You can also confirm with the employee on the dock that they’re going to Bur Dubai. There is also a manned information booth if you have questions.
Board the boat and take a seat as directed. Before the boat departs, the operator will come around and collect 1 AED from each passenger. The trip across the creek takes about 10 minutes, but the whole experience with boarding and everything takes about 20.
If you’re taking the abra in the other direction from Bur Dubai to Diera, there are many more routes so you’ll want to be sure you get on the right boat. Docks at Bur Dubai Station are labeled by route. The route back to Diera Old Souk is CR1.
- Location: Deira Old Souk Abra Station to Dubai Old Souk Abra Station
- Hours: Monday through Sunday, 5 AM to midnight. Boats run on demand as they fill up.
- Tickets: No tickets, just have cash (AED) ready
- Cost: 1 AED per stop
- How long does it take: 15 minutes
Lunch in Bur Dubai
You’re probably hot and hungry by now, and you’ve come to the right place. The area around Bur Dubai has a handful or restaurants that are great for a quick-ish lunch.
We suggest making your way to Mazmi Coffee & More. It’s a shaded patio restaurant right on the bank of Dubai Creek. They have a large menu with Middle Eastern and international options, plus a huge cold beverage menu which you’ll definitely need. (I can’t recommend the lemon mint enough!) They also had high chairs if you’re visiting with a little one.
Another popular restaurant nearby is the Arabian Tea House, but it’s on the other side of the souk. It’s got a darling garden that’s great for a meal or just a break for tea. They have the most beautiful blooming teas, which are fun if you’ve never had them before.
Grand Souk Bur Dubai
The Grand Souk Bur Dubai is similar to the Grand Souk Diera. Both are loud, lively markets selling very similar items. Here you’ll find more colorful pashminas, lanterns and rugs, miles of spices, a wide variety of textiles and clothing, and all the souvenir trinkets you could ever want. There’s more niche areas to this souk as well, with areas grouped by each specific type of offering.
The biggest difference that I noticed about the Grand Souk Bur Dubai is that there were a lot more prices marked. At the Diera souks, there are almost no listed prices and you’ll almost always have to ask then barter. If you’re good at haggling, you’ll probably get a better deal on the Diera side but you have to work for it. On the Bur Dubai side, items with posted prices are usually less negotiable.
Grand Souk Bur Dubai is also a bit smaller and surrounded by more stores on the periphery. At the end of the Grand Souk Bur Dubai is the Dubai Museum, which has been closed for renovations for the past few years with no set reopen date (as of March 2023). There’s also some historical buildings and replicas in this area, like the old city walls and model boats.
Grand Souk Bur Dubai basics
- Location: Here – Between Dubai Old Souk Abra Station and Dubai Museum
- How to get there: Via abra from Old Souk Abra Station OR Dubai Metro Green line to Al Ghubaiba Metro Station
- Hours: Exact hours vary by vendor, but generally 10 AM to 10 PM Saturday to Thursday, and 4 PM and 10 PM on Fridays.
- How long does it take: 1.5 hours
Head toward Dubai Mall
It’s time to go from Old Dubai back to the shiny new Dubai. If you are planning to go straight on to your next activity, you can either take the Metro (Green line to Red line, takes about 45 minutes) or take a car (cab/rideshare will get you there in about 20 minutes).
If you’re using rideshare, we suggest meeting them at Al Fahidi street, which is much easier to navigate than the small side streets by the souk. Ask them to take you to Souk Al Bahar or they can drop you off at the Dubai Mall if that’s easier, and then you can walk.
Alternatively, this is a good time to take a break. You may want to head back to your hotel to rest or refresh before heading back out for the night.
In either case, we suggest getting back to the Dubai Mall area around 4 or 5 PM.
Souk Al Bahar
Across the water from the Dubai Mall is Souk Al Bahar. It’s called a souk, but it’s really more of a mall. Instead of mainstream fashion brands, this souk has more speciality items, handicrafts and Arab lifestyle goods. There’s also a handful or restaurants, many of which have water-front seating.
There’s not too much to say about this particular souk. If you wrap up in Old Dubai and get to the Dubai Fountains before 5:30 PM or so, this is a good place to spend some time. It’s worth checking out, but it’s also fine to miss.
Dubai Fountain Show
Every evening, Dubai Fountain in front of the Burj Khalifa comes to life in a dazzling performance of water, light and sound. I don’t know what it is, but I personally love a fountain show and this one does not disappoint.
You can view the fountain show from all around the water front. The best views are from Souk Al Bahar Bridge (the pedestrian bridge that connects the Dubai Mall to Souk Al Bahar), but the whole promenade has a fine view.
The fountain show is very popular and tends to draw crowds. We suggest arriving about 30 minutes prior to the first show to secure a good spot. If you’re sticking around the area for dinner and/or dessert, try to come back later on to watch the show again from a different place.
Dubai Fountain show basics
- Location: Here – in front of the Burj Khalifa
- How to get there: (1) Take a cab or rideshare to Dubai Fountain OR (2) Dubai Metro to Burj Khalifa / Dubai Mall Station, then walk following signs to Dubai Fountain (long walk, but all indoors)
- Hours: 6 – 11 PM, every 30 minutes
- Tickets: No tickets required for general viewing. Premium viewing options can be booked online here.
- Cost: General viewing is free. Premium viewing is available for 20 AED and boat rides are available for 68 AED.
- How long does it take: Each performance is about 5 minutes
- Best tip: Watch the show more than once throughout the evening.
Dinner near Burj Khalifa
After the fountain show and maybe an evening stroll through the mall, it’s time to head to dinner. Both nearby shopping areas are jam-packed with dinner options. However, if this is your last night in Dubai, may we suggest splurging for a special experience? (If you haven’t already!)
On our first visit, we dined at Amal Restaurant inside the Armani Hotel at the Burj Khalifa. We had the most incredible Indian food of our life (and we’ve been to India!) with the very best view. The outdoor dining space was closed for a private event, but we were still able to watch the fountain show from out there and it was epic.
Be warned that they charge for water! (Something almost every non-American knows.) After accidentally spending more than $20 USD on a variety of waters at different temperatures, we didn’t have the heart to order actual drinks.
Other things to do in Dubai
For first-time visitors coming to Dubai for just a few days, we love the itinerary we put together above. However, this doesn’t even scratch the surface of what Dubai has to offer. If you have more time or if you’ve already done some of the items above, consider checking out some of these other great things to do in Dubai.
Atlantis and Aquaventure Waterpark
A prime example of Dubai’s extravagance is the Palm, a manmade island that looks like a palm tree. It’s home to some of the city’s most luxurious residences and hotels, including the Atlantis, The Palm.
The luxury resort hotel is incredible, but many of it’s best features are reserved for hotel guests. It’s not worth visiting the hotel if you’re not staying staying there.
Adjacent to the hotel, though, is Aquaventure Waterpark, which is open to the public. The waterpark is massive and holds the world record for the most waterslides. (Have you noticed that Dubai has a lot of world records?)
It’s hard to find a list of things to do in Dubai that doesn’t include a desert safari. These excursions will take you out into the desert for things like 4-wheeling, sand boarding and camel riding. There is often a cultural component, maybe a falcon experience, and a meal or snack. There’s daytime and nighttime options.
This is super popular and people love it. It’s just not something we’ve personally done. You can view different packages and book them here.
Day trip to Abu Dhabi and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. I would put it on par with the Taj Mahal, honestly, in terms of beauty and grandeur. If you have the chance to work this into your itinerary, you absolutely should.
Having spent a few days in Abu Dhabi after an Etihad flight, I can confidently say that there isn’t a ton you have to do in Abu Dhabi other than go to this mosque. Since it’s only 90 minutes from Dubai, you can easily do this as a day trip instead of planning a whole separate trip to Abu Dhabi. You can even take the bus between the two cities!
This indoor ski resort is located inside the Mall of the Emirates. You can rent skis or snowboards and then hit the slopes! There is even an indoor gondola to carry you up to the top.
If skiing inside wasn’t cool enough, they also have penguin encounters, a snow park (with sledding and a snow playground) and even a theater in the snow. We’ve never done this, but now that I’m writing about it, I really want to!
Unless you count the beach in Aquaventure Waterpark, we’ve never personally been to a beach in Dubai. However, there are several that blend tropical beach vacation with metropolitan city quite well.
Jumeirah Beach and La Mer beach are two popular picks.
Other Dubai Malls
Malls in Dubai (and all of the Middle East) are often the center of the social scene. They’re a cool place to escape the heat during the day and a not-alcholol-centric place to mingle in the evenings. For that reason, malls in Dubai are about more than just shopping.
In addition to the Dubai Mall, two of the other most popular and biggest malls are Mall of the Emirates (home to Ski Dubai) and Ibn Buttata Mall (themed to the journeys of the famous explorer by the same name).
This is the only mosque in Dubai that is open to non-Muslims. They offer tours to the public every day except Friday at 10 AM and 2 PM for 35 AED ($10 USD).
If you’ve never been to a mosque before and you don’t have time for a trip to the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, Jumiera Mosque is worth a visit. Otherwise, it’s a lovely mosque, but it doesn’t need to be on everyone’s itinerary.
Museum of the Future
From the futuristic subject matter to the unique building itself, nothing quite screams “Dubai” more than the Museum of the Future.
The building itself has quickly become an icon of the city. It’s located right off the Dubai Metro, so you can visit the building even if you don’t go inside. Unfortunately, the museum content gets mediocre reviews, which isn’t what you want to hear about something with a $40 USD per person entrance fee.
Souk Madinat Jumeirah
This is more so a replica of a traditional Arab bazaar than it is an actual souk. It’s a shopping mall in souk’s clothing, if you will. It’s really beautiful and curated, and also very expensive. If you like the idea of wandering a souk but don’t want to be hassled by salespeople, this is a great pick.
It’s also a great place to go in the evening, maybe on your arrival day if you get in early enough. It’s got a happening waterfront, lots of dining options, and views of Burj Al Arab.
The world’s biggest Ferris wheel is located on Bluewaters Island just beyond Dubai Marina. At 820 feet, it’s almost twice as tall as the London Eye!
Unfortunately, it’s never been open while we’ve been in Dubai. It first opened in 2021, but closed in March 2022 for renovations and has not yet reopened (as of March 2023).
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