Dubai for first-timers

Categories Middle East, Travel Destinations10 Comments

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.

Cultural brunch at SMCCU

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).

Desert Safari

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.

At.mosphere @ Burj Khalifa

DAY 4 – Water Park and JBR

Morning/Afternoon: Waterpark

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.

View from 360°

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.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

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.

Evening: 360°

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.

Barasti Beach


  • 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.

If you find this post helpful, do share on your social networks. And you can also show your support by following me on Instagram: @beetravelista.

If you have any other useful tips and tricks for Dubai, I would be thankful if you mention in the comments. Thanks in advance!


10 thoughts on “Dubai for first-timers

  1. It really amazes me how they made Abu Dhabi an ultra-modern city in just a few years. Those tall buildings always leave me in awe. I’m also always hearing a lot about the Desert Safari. I like that the experience sounds safe and scary at the same time.

  2. I recently wrote a post about Dubai and we have some similar things in mind! I hate I didn’t get to visit Abu Dhabi or get to go on a desert safari! Dubai was a very unique place that I would love to explore more!

  3. I am yet to go & explore Dubai, but I loved the old souks in Sharjah. I am not a shopping or mall person, so this post is of great interest to me.

  4. Every time I see a post about Dubai, I’m amazed at just how much there is to do there! I would love to go on the desert safari. And the food there looks amazing!

  5. This is one of the most complete itineraries I have seen for Dubai. There is a lot to see and seems like a week is a good amount of time to make sure you move around in no rush. I would like to visit the souk and Abu Dhabi.

  6. nice post
    ..Since I live in dubai I can add bit more ?
    1. BEST SEASON November till march
    2.NOT to miss BREATHTAKING MIRACLE GARDEN and GLOBAL VILLAGE which is opened only in nov till march
    3.Drive to FUJIARAH OR RASAL KHAIMAH..abosultey gorgeous mountain range
    4.AL HALAB for arabic food try absolute must
    5.DOW cruise of MARINA IS out of the world.
    CREEK cruise is not that great
    6.Visit to outdoor malls like london street look
    7.LASER SHOW IN GUINESS BOOK at international city..
    8. Last but not least ATLANTIS BROADWALK..absolute trucks..ocean ..breeze..?????????

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.