Dubai is one of those destinations that a lot of people want to visit once in their lifetime. But, it is also one of those destinations which is not entirely known until you visit. And once you visit, there will be some “myth-busting” moments.
I have been to Dubai and Abu Dhabi for 3 times now and wanted to share this ideal trip for first-timers. But, let’s get one thing straight from the very beginning, “Dubai is not for shopping only” – ops ;). I found the malls in Dubai a bit expensive (compare to Europe at least). But there are many other things that should attract you to visit this place. And if you skip the shopping part, you might be able to cover this in 5 days as well.
So, let’s just jump to the basics:
|Day 1||Cultural brunch at SMCCU – Old Souks – Heritage Village – Dhow Cruise Dinner – QD lounge|
|Day 2||Desert Safari|
|Day 3||Madinat Jumeirah – Dubai Mall – Burj Khalifa – Dubai Fountain – Souk al Bahar|
|Day 4||Waterpark – JBR walk|
|Day 5||Abu Dhabi – Ferrari World – Grand Mosque – Emirates Palace – Corniche|
|Day 6||Ibn Battuta Mall – Mall of Emirates – Skydive – 360° – Barasti Beach|
You can plan these days in any order that fits your schedule, but starting your trip by indulging in a bit of history and culture is the best way in my opinion. Because from here on, it will just jump fast forward in time.
DAY 1 – History and Culture
Morning: Cultural brunch at SMCCU
Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding offers a lot of different activities, but a cultural meal at this place is one not to be missed. Every Saturday morning at 10:30 am is the brunch that will give you flavors of local cuisine and will also give you a chance to hear interesting facts about history and culture in UAE. You can also get your questions answered by the local experts. (Price per person > between 80-100 AED)
They also offer lunch and breakfast on some other days of the week. It would be better to check current prices and timings in advance and reserve. Try to be there 30 min ahead of time as getting there and finding the place can take a bit of effort. You can check the schedule HERE.
Afternoon: Dubai Museum and old souks
After the breakfast/brunch, you can continue on foot and explore the surroundings as you are already in the Bastakiyya area, which is the old part of Dubai. You can also visit the Dubai museum, continue to the old souk (“souk” is the term for old markets in Arab countries), and then take a short Abra boat ride to visit the Gold souk.
By this time, you would have walked enough and would be good time to take a short stop for some snack or lunch at Dubai Creek.
Evening: Heritage Village
Taking advantage of being in the area, you can visit the Heritage Village in the evening and get a bit familiar with how Dubai used to be before all the skyscrapers and man-made islands took over. This village was built in 1997 to show the traditional way of living to the visitors. It is free to visit.
Night: Dhow Cruise Dinner
So, for the dhow cruise dinner, you have two options, Dubai Marina or Dubai Creek. At any time, I would pick the ones in Dubai Creek as you get to see the old Dubai area and it just feels more authentic. There are many options to pick from. Most of them offer dinner buffet. I have tried both with Buffet and A La Carte, and I would suggest going for A La Carte option. The boats are usually nicer and less crowded. And of course, food is better too. I chose the one from Bateaux Dubai and would totally recommend it. The price is between 400 – 500 AED. The buffet boats are cheaper, but if you can manage with the budget, go for A La Carte.
Continue into the night: QD lounge
And if you still have some energy left and would like to relax in the nighttime view of Dubai skyline, head to QD lounge at Dubai Creek Club. Food, snacks, drinks, shisha lounge… you have many options. They even have a floating deck on the creek to sit and chill.
DAY 2 – Desert Safari
You can start your day at your pace by having breakfast close to where you are staying or at JBR or Souk Madinat Jumeirah.
And then comes one of the most attractive thing on the check list of every first-time visitor to Dubai. Yes, the desert safari. It begins with the pick up from the hotel around 3pm and back around 11pm. There are plenty of companies to pick from. I did it with Knight Tours and was totally satisfied. And if you have problems with a bumpy ride or have small kids with you, then they can take you directly to the tent with activities and avoid the dune bashing. Dinner is included in most of these tours. (Cost of desert safari: 150 – 200 AED/person approx.)
NOTE: Some of the desert safaris offer the option to do the sand boarding, but it isn’t worth it in my opinion. And if you want to do the Quad Bikes in desert, you can check with your desert safari company as well (costs extra).
DAY 3 – Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall and the New Souks
Morning: Souk Madinat Jumeirah
This is one my personal favorites in Dubai. This place is amazing at any time of the day for a nice meal or just a stroll. You can begin your day with a nice breakfast at this souk.
Afternoon: Dubai Mall Visit
After the souk, a visit to Dubai Mall would be a good idea. Just be sure that shopping in malls is not really cheap in Dubai 😉
Evening: At.mosphere at Burj Khalifa
Now this one is probably not the usual advice you get to visit Burj Khalifa (829.8m – 160 storeys). The most usual way is to visit the observation deck (Prices HERE – online booking recommended), where they give you few minutes to go around, capture the views and return as more people are waiting down to come up. And if you want to go for sunset, be there 90 min in advance.
But I think the better way to visit Burj Khalifa for me was to reserve a place at the At.mosphere lounge, one floor below the observation deck (123rd floor) and enjoy it at your pace with a light tea, snack or a drink. There is a minimum spend for your reservation which is usually more than the ticket to the observation deck (between 300 – 500 AED depending on what you book), but it includes the ride up and you get some snacks and drinks. You can request for a window table. You can try to watch the dancing fountains from here which is an amazing experience. (Again, if visiting for sunset, try to be down at the lift 45 min before sunset. It is not the same lift as the one that takes you to the observation deck.)
Night: The Dubai Fountain and Souk al Bahar
Coming down from Burj Khalifa, as you are already in Dubai Mall area, stop to see the dancing fountains outside Dubai Mall and then head over to Souk al Bahar for dinner (which is also close by). If you can find a restaurant with a terrace facing the fountain, you can enjoy the fountain dance from here as well.
DAY 4 – Water Park and JBR
This is another thing that could be very exciting depending on your interest. There are two big waterparks in Dubai, Wild Wadi and Aquaventure. Both are offering similar experience. And if you choose the Aquaventure, you can also visit The Palm and have a look at the Atlantic Hotel. Wild Wadi is slightly cheaper overall, but it is busier because it is smaller.
Note: The waterparks (and certain beaches) also have “women only” days that you can check.
Evening: Dinner at JBR
After a tiring day at the waterpark, you can take the famous JBR walk and have dinner there. You will already be ready to head to bed by that time.
DAY 5 – Trip to Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi is just 1 hr 40 min drive away from Dubai and a day trip to Abu Dhabi is indeed recommended.
Morning: Ferrari World
You can spend the whole day here but I would go there only for the fastest roller coaster in the world (Formula Rossa). It accelerates to its top speed (240 km/h) in 5 seconds. It is an experience indeed.
Afternoon: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Emirates Palace
Grand mosque is a must visit. Plan between 1 to 2 hours for your visit. After this, you can visit the Emirates Palace.
Evening: Abu Dhabi Corniche
You can then enjoy a stroll at the corniche and have dinner there before heading back to Dubai.
Note: There is a Formula 1 track at the YAS Marina Circuit and you can take a ride with a trained driver in a formula1 car, but you need to book at least 2 weeks in advance.
DAY 6 – Shop, Eat, Party
Morning: Ibn Battuta Mall
You can start your day with a nice breakfast at Ibn Battuta Mall. This is my most favorite mall as it has 6 different themed courts that are not to be missed. Enjoy it at your own pace!
Afternoon: Mall of the Emirates
As it is the first-time trip to Dubai, you would for sure want to visit this as well. For me, after one or two malls, they all start looking the same. But if you are into shopping, why not. I would not suggest going to Ski Dubai as I find it very environmentally unfriendly and why to pay to be inside a big artificial freezer.
This one is not to be missed for me in Dubai. I find it the best place to enjoy the Dubai skyline and Burj Al Arab view. This place is perfect for sunset, so try to be there 45 minutes before sunset. It is located at the end of Jumeirah Beach Hotel walkway. Only opens in the evening and you cannot enter if you are below 21.
Night: Madinat Jumeirah
There is never enough of this place. After a busy day, enjoy your dinner at this lovely place.
Continue the night: Barasti Beach
And if you still have energy to continue, dress up and head over to Barasti Beach Bar or to the White Club.
Note: If you are not a shopping type, you can replace malls on day 6 with activities like Skydive Dubai and spend more time exploring The Palm and the beaches.
OTHER THINGS TO KNOW:
- Dubai is not cheap, so having it as a budget holiday would need quite some planning.
- Having a car with you is a big plus as you are flexible, but Dubai has good metro system so you should be fine without car as well. For Abu Dhabi, there are buses.
- It always takes longer than you expect to go from one place to another. Always keep at least 15 to 20 min margin time.
- JBR area is very nice for the stay.
- Avoid summer time for your visit as it can get extremely hot and you will not be able to do much outside.
- Avoid the dolphin show, no matter you are only adults or with kids. No one should support such treatment of ocean free creatures.
- Check out the app The Entertainer for offers and promotions of different attractions in Dubai.
- And if you are flying with Emirates, you can do a 4 to 5 days transit in Dubai for very little extra cost. In this case, you can also get the transit visa from Emirates online.
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If you have any other useful tips and tricks for Dubai, I would be thankful if you mention in the comments. Thanks in advance!