this journey started, like so many before, on a rainy Wednesday afternoon in March at Heathrow Airport. I was waiting in front one of the countless coffeeshops in the terminal for my friend Harry, who's joining me on this trip from Hamburg. At the time we had no idea what to expect, neither of us had been to Dubai before. We also had no idea what an amazing experience this trip was going to be.
About 7 hours, one airplane green curry and a few coffees later we touched down at Dubai International Airport. We stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton which is pretty central and also really well connected to Dubai's public transport. And being connected is quite important as this city hasn't been designed for walking. It's easy to underestimate distances on a map, and you don't want to get lost in almost 40°C.
In the following I've assembled my five favourite things and recommendations to do in Dubai. Our stay was about 5 days which felt like the ideal time to get a sense for the country, culture and people. Just a quick tip to make the most of your stay, we booked most of the following activities in advance and it's proofed to be quite hassle free and straight forward.
Dubai is probably the best opportunity in the world to get a seat in a helicopter. The true scale of city only really reveals itself from the air. Especially the Palm of Jumeirah looks nothing but stunning from above. If it's in your budget, it's worth every penny.
2. Go on a Desert Safari
Going on a desert safari is a great way to experience the deserts around Dubai. Most tours are pretty worry free, starting with hotel pickup, dune bashing, sand-boarding and camel riding as well as dinner under the stars, fire-eater and belly dancing. Now this might sound a bit touristy at first but I can ensure you it's perfectly fine and group sizes are manageable. And most importantly there are plenty of photo opportunities.
3. Sunset on the Burj Khalifa
The Burj Khalifa is dominating the Dubai skyline like nothing else. You will see it when you land from the plane, from the taxi, from your hotel, pretty much from everywhere. So you're going to regret not using the chance to get on top of the currently highest building in the world. Booking in advance is strongly recommended to avoid long cues, particularly at sunset hours. There is a maximum amount of people that are allowed on the top to make sure it never gets to busy.
4. Visit the Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi
Ok, let's be honest. Before looking into what to do in Dubai I had never heard of the Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi. We went there on our last day and to be frank, we weren't sure at all whether it was worth the 2 hours bus ride to the capital of the UAE - But I've never been so wrong. Today I would recommend everyone to visit this architectural masterpiece. It's indescribably beautiful, the vastness of endless pillared hallways and the grand square right in the centre is simply just breathtaking. And the entry is free, bus tickets from Dubai can be bought on the day and cost around 15£.
5. Go for a walk
Frankly speaking, Dubai isn't ideal for walking. It's pretty wide and open and sometime you might find yourself in front of a 10-lane highway with very few options to cross. However there are a some places that invite you for a stroll, especially the more historic parts of the town:
The area around Bur Dubai and the Creek offer a great insight into Dubai's past before it turned into the metropolis it is today. Great for an atmospheric wander through the narrow alleys of the souks and markets, relax at the river or take a tour on a boat.
If you're not tired stay up a little late and and experience the amazing Dubai skylines at night. Visit the Marina Walk and the Burj Lake right in front of the Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa after sunset for a colourful nighty cityscape. Don't forget your tripod.
A great way to get a relaxing escape from the big city life is to go to the Madinat Jumeirah. It's a contemporarily development area in the style of a traditional arabic village. There are little market stalls and coffeeshops surrounded by palm trees and waterways, villas and hotels. Also this is just a short walk away from Dubai's public beach, offering a great view on the Burj Al Arab.
Bonus tip: Breakfast at Tom & Serg
You can thank me later for this one. The best undoubtedly best breakfast in Dubai you'll get at Tom & Serg. This former warehouse style cafe has everything you can ever wish for, including a Salted-Caramel-Milkshake.