Places to Visit in Dubai (From a Resident)

Due to the fact I’ve lived in this city on and off for almost a decade, I regularly receive messages from blog followers/family members/friends/friends of friends/randoms asking me to recommend my favourite places to visit in Dubai. I’m happy to see that this city seems to feature on so many people’s ‘wish list’ of places to travel to and it’s not hard to see why. If you’re a shopaholic/adventure junkie/culture vulture/architecture enthusiast/food lover you’re in for a treat.

So instead of answering all these messages separately like I used to, I’m putting together this post with all my recommendations of the best places to visit while in town.

Places to Visit in Dubai

Sights

Burj Khalifa

It doesn’t really need an introduction, but in case you’ve been living in a cave for the last ten years, here’s the lowdown: the tallest building in the world standing at 830 metres and which can be seen from pretty much everywhere in the city. No visit to Dubai is complete without going to the top, which actually isn’t the top – you have the choice between At The Top (the 124th-floor observation deck) and At The Top Sky (spread across floors 148 and 125), which is a more ‘VIP’ affair. Prices for At The Top for adults start at AED125 during non-peak hours. I’ve only ever visited at night and it was truly spectacular to see the city lights twinkling below.

To book in advance (highly advisable), click here.

Nearest Metro station: Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall

This building needs no introductions…

The Dubai Fountain

The name is pretty self-explanatory – the Dubai Fountain is a fountain where water is jetted into the sky to the sound of different songs. It’s located next to the Dubai Mall, so you can tie it in with a visit there, and is one of the few things that are free to do in the city. The show is on for five minutes every half an hour and is definitely worth a look.

Nearest Metro station: Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall

Dubai Creek

By far my one of my favourite places to visit in Dubai, the creek really has a special charm of its own. This is where the city’s story began after people started to settle here in the 19th century. The creek fast became a source of wealth, thanks to the pearling industry and, subsequently, the thriving port.

I always recommend visitors head here for a number of reasons: a) it’s proof that there’s more to this city than shiny hotels and towering skyscrapers and b) it’s one of the few places in Dubai that has a thriving street culture. On the Bur Dubai side, you can spend the late afternoon/early evening looking around the souqs (be prepared to haggle if you wish to buy something), taking photos and watching the tiny abras chug to and fro, ferrying people between the Bur Dubai and Deira sides.

You can then opt to have shisha by the water or visit the Dubai Museum, which is a stone’s throw from here and worth a quick look. Also, try the shwarma or egg roll from the Bab Al Ghubaiba Cafeteria – although I don’t eat meat, I’m told the former is delicious.

Nearest Metro station: Al Ghubaiba

Al Bastakiya

A ten-minute walk from the creek, Al Bastakiya is a historic district where you’ll find tiny alleyways teeming with cafés and art galleries. It really is a lovely little area to spend a few hours meandering through. I recommend making a stop The Majiis Gallery, which features a nice mix of local and international artists. The Coffee Museum is also worth a look.  To round off your time in the area, quench your thirst with a glass of mint lemonade at XVA Café.

Nearest Metro station: Al Fahidi

The buildings of Bastakiya on a rare gloomy day

Alserkal Avenue

Alserkal Avenue is a collection of warehouses that house the city’s coolest arts and culture venues. Spend an afternoon looking around one of the contemporary art galleries or catch a live band. They also offer free, guided tours of the galleries on a Saturday, and it’s worth keeping an eye on their website for up-to-date information on what’s on every month.

Nearest Metro station: Noor Bank

Madinat Jumeirah

When I first moved to Dubai in 2007, I spent my first night in the city at Madinat Jumeirah. I recall likening it to what the set of Aladdin would look like if it were turned into a movie. It consists of a souk and the hotels Al Qasr, Mina A’Salam and Dar Al Masyaf.

The souk part is laid out in the style of a traditional Arabian market place where you’ll find loads of things that are geared towards tourists – trinkets, swimwear, souvenirs, art galleries etc. The prices here aren’t cheap, so don’t expect to find a bargain, but it’s still worth walking around. There are also plenty of restaurants and bars overlooking the waterways outside, where you can enjoy a glass of wine and watch the little abras ferrying guests around. I believe you can pay to go on a ride around the complex, too.

Nearest Metro station: Mall of the Emirates (you’ll need to take a cab from there).

Jumeirah Mosque

Jumeirah Mosque is the only mosque in the city that is open to the public and non-Muslims. Paying a visit is a great way to learn about Emirati culture and religion. Every week, The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding hosts tour visits of the mosque from Saturday through to Thursday at 10 am (you’re advised to arrive at the entrance of the mosque 15 minutes earlier). The tour costs AED20 per person and is inclusive of water, dates, Arabic coffee (yummy), tea and traditional pastries.

Dubai Gold Souq

Even if you have no intention of buying any gold, a visit to the Dubai Gold Souq is a must. It’s quite the sight, so cameras are a must here! If you do intend on buying something, be prepared to haggle – hard. And the great thing is that the government controls the quality of all the merchandise, so all your buys will be genuine. You can easily tie this in with a visit to Dubai Creek and Bastakiya. Cross the creek on an abra for the full experience.

Nearest Metro station: Al Ras

Dubai Gold 😍 #dubaitravel #travel #dubaigold #dubaigoldsouk #goldsouk

A post shared by Macy Galang (@macypgalang) on

Burj Al Arab

As someone who has lived here for eight years, I must say a lot of the buildings that once made me say ‘wow’ now don’t get much of a reaction out of me at all. The Burj Al Arab is one of them. See, us Dubai expats are a bit of a spoiled bunch and once you’ve been exposed to the same things over and over again, they start to lose their lustre – Burj Al Arab makes that list.

Billed as the only seven-star hotel in the world (although it actually isn’t), it was the city’s most iconic building until Burj Khalifa swaggered onto the scene. You need to pay to even cross the bridge and look around the lobby, so if you’ve got some spare cash handy it’s worth booking to have a couple of drinks or afternoon tea at the Skyview Bar – I did the latter there with my mum six or so years back and we had an amazing time.

Nearest Metro station: Mall of the Emirates (you’ll need to take a cab from there).

The Desert

It’s a no-brainer, really – when you’re here, you must head out into the desert. I never thought that the desert could be beautiful until I lived here and did a few desert safaris. A desert safari is the quintessential Dubai activity. There is an abundance of safari operators and they all follow a similar programme: dune bashing, camel rides, a barbeque meal, belly dancing, henna painting etc. My friend Anna from Slightly Astray was in town recently and she did one that sounded a little different – instead of starting in the afternoon like most of them do, this one began with sunrise over the desert and included dune bashing, 45-minute drive through the dunes on a quad bike, sand boarding and a camel ride. She absolutely loved it.

#dubai #sharjah #sharjahdesert #dubaidesert #oceanairtravels #desert

A post shared by BrianHarrington75 (@brianharrington75) on


Shopping

Malls aren’t my favourite places to visit in Dubai, so I’m not going to sit and write about them, although I’ll say one thing – if you’re looking for the most impressive, go to Dubai Mall (it has an aquarium, the Dubai Fountain, and is where you access the Burj Khalifa from if you’re going to the top), but if you’re looking for the best stock I’d recommend Mall of Emirates. I always find clothes there, whereas Dubai Mall can be hit and miss even though it’s the bigger one of the two. Go figure.

What I will recommend if you have the time and if you’re this way inclined, is to check out the more quirky stores or markets that are now popping up. Such a refreshing change from the air-conditioned, cookie cutter malls…

Ripe Market

Every Friday during the cooler months, Ripe Market is held in various locations, including Zabeel Park (gate two). Find everything from handmade jewellery to clothes, pop-up food outlets and live music. It’s always a great way to spend a Friday afternoon during the cooler months. The scheduling can vary, so be sure to check their website for updated details.

The Collective, Al Quoz

This recently-opened boutique shopping area is home to up-and-coming designers and shops, and offers a welcome respite away from the city’s many malls. Find quirky souvenirs or gifts for your loved ones back home and then pop into Brew Café for a flat white.


Eating

Again, I’m not going to sit and recommend all the places you will have read about over and over again, rather I’m going to provide a selection of my favourite restaurants and cafés in town.

One Café by Life and One

I wasn’t in Dubai when I read that a vegan café had opened here, and one look at the pictures told me one thing – I belonged there. One Café’s ‘secret garden’ setting looked like the kind of hippie-esque place you’d find in Thailand. They have a great selection of raw/vegan food (I recommend their avocado on toast and hummus, as well as a fresh coconut – yum). It’s a great place to head to for a quiet afternoon of reading.

That hummus is darn good

Aryaas

Over the last few months I’ve become obsessed with South Indian food, and what’s not to love – it’s delicious and cheap! Head to Aryaas in Bur Dubai for some of the best dosas in town. Their idlis are also delicious as they come with a selection of at least six yummy chutneys. And like I mentioned, it’s cheap – you’ll be hard-pressed to spend more than AED25 per person for a meal here.

Nearest Metro station: Burjuman 

Mythos

As a Cypriot who’s travelled around Greece, I am highly critical of Greek food. That’s why I was so happy to find that Mythos in Jumeirah Lake Towers lives up to its name of being one of the best Greek restaurants in town. First of all its setting is what sold it to me – the white washed walls, wooden furniture and sounds of Greek music twinkling away in the background all comes together to make you feel like you’ve been transported to a small island in the Med. And the food seals the deal – it’s frills-free, downright good homemade-style Greek food. Vegetarians are very well catered for, too. I can highly recommend their tomato kefta and gemista. Yum!

Nearest Metro station: Jumeirah Lake Towers

Nothing like Good Greek Food (TM)

Common Grounds

I love café-style food and I’m so happy to see that plenty of independent outlets have opened in Dubai since I was last here. One of my favourites is Common Grounds in Mall of the Emirates. They do a mean avocado on toast with eggs, and their matcha latte is my favourite in town. Great little spot to try if you’re ever in the mall and want some decent grub!

Nearest Metro station: Mall of the Emirates

Din Tai Fung

Yes, this is an international brand (founded in Taipei), but gosh do I love Din Tai Fung. The ever-present queues for a table are a testament to how great the food is. They specialise in soup dumplings and noodles, and despite the fact that as a vegetarian there aren’t that many things I can try, I love it. I usually have their house special chilli noodles, a mushroom vegetable bun and steamed mushroom and vegetable dumplings – yum! And their prices are very reasonable.

Nearest Metro station: Mall of the Emirates


Like this? Pin it!


What are your favourite places to visit in Dubai and why?