I was a guest of Hop On Hop Off Dubai provided me with a complimentary bus ticket during my trip to Dubai. All opinions stated in this article are my own.
My first trip to Dubai was completely unintentional.
I got extremely lucky when I was able to score a flight to South Africa from New York City for under $400 due to a glitch fare on Etihad Airways. In addition to this amazing deal, my flight was scheduled to have long layovers in the cities of Manchester, England and Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Not having much knowledge about Abu Dhabi at the time that I found out I would be on a layover there, I decided that instead of staying in that city, that I would travel to nearby Dubai via the complimentary Etihad shuttle.
When planning what I would do during my layover in the city of Dubai, I devised a pretty ambitious itinerary. My list included: sky diving, sailing on a yacht, relaxing on the beach, dune bashing in the desert, shopping in the souks, visiting the Burj Khalifa, and eating delicious Emirati food.
Anyone who has ever visited Dubai before will not only tell you that my plans were overly ambitious, but that they could not be accomplished in 14 hours, let alone a single day.
The reasoning behind my extreme planning was that I pictured Dubai as a small and easily navigable city in which I could do everything within a short time frame. Upon arriving to the city, I realized that its magnitude far exceeded my expectations; In fact, if I had done more research prior to visiting, I would have learned that Dubai is more than three times the size of New York City!
Trying to see a significant part of any city within a short time frame can be a challenge, especially in a city as large as Dubai. I decided that the easiest way for me move around the city and see numerous famous sites would be to ride on a hop on hop off bus, so I opted to travel with Big Bus Tours.
Big Bus Dubai has three different routes that traverse throughout the city, four excursions, and a couple of boat rides. Since I was on a tight schedule, I was not able to enjoy all of the routes, excursions, or boat rides, but I was able to see quite a bit.
At over 12 million square feet, the Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world (it is Dubai after all, where everything is bigger and better). With over 1,200 retail stores, over 200 food options, and plenty of entertainment options, a visit to the Dubai Mall can keep you entertained for days.
Practical Information – Address: Jumeirah 3 – إمارة دبيّ – United Arab Emirates // Hours: See website for details // Cost: FREE (to walk around)
Practical Information -Location: Dubai Mall // Hours: Starts at 6 pm and plays every half hour until 11 pm // Cost: FREE
At the Top: Burj Khalifa
The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world, and can be seen all over the city. Visitors can travel up the 124th building of the floor to get a sweeping view of the city below.
I personally think it is better to visit in the daytime and towards sunset, as the pictures of all of the colors in the city are magnificent, especially the fountain outside of the Dubai Mall.
Practical Information – Location: Dubai Mall, Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard, Down Town Dubai – إمارة دبيّ – United Arab Emirates // Hours: 8:30 am – midnight // Cost: AED 125-200 (Children: Complimentary – AED 95)
The Dubai Marina was by far one of my favorite areas in Dubai. A miniature waterfront city within the city, the marina has towering skyscrapers, beautiful yachts, amazing restaurants, and a canal that stretches 3.5 kilometers from the marina into the Persian Gulf.
If you’re looking for something to do in the Dubai Marina area, check out this great list by Time Out Dubai.
Practical Information – Location: Located directly south of the Palm Jumeirah // Cost: FREE (to walk around)
Burj Al Arab
As the only 7-star hotel in the world (and the 3rd tallest hotel in the world), the Burj Al Arab, which looks like the sail of a ship that is about to set out to sea, is by far one of the most famous landmarks in Dubai. It is beautiful from every angle, which is why it is one of the most photographed buildings in the city.
It is not possible to explore the inside of the hotel without a room reservation or a reservation at one of its many restaurants. One popular, but expensive option for checking out the hotel and having a nice meal is by having afternoon tea in the hotel’s Skyview Bar. Check out a review of the Sky Tea by blogger Nate of Vagabonding Heights.
Practical Information – Address: Jumeirah 3 – إمارة دبيّ – United Arab Emirates // Hours & Cost: See website for details
If you have a layover longer than 14 hours, consider adding the following places to your itinerary…
The city of Dubai is all about grandeur, and making a statement. The Egyptian-themed WAFI Mall is no exception and is the most opulent mall that I have seen in my entire life. With over 300 stores and 30 restaurants, the WAFI Mall is beyond spectacular.
Practical Information – Address: Oud Metha Rd – إمارة دبيّ – Dubai // Hours: (Sat.-Wed.) 10:00 – 22:00 (Thur. & Fri.) 10:00 – 24:00 // Cost: FREE (to walk around)
Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding
Besides being one of the most photographed buildings in Dubai, the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding aims to provide those that are unfamiliar with Islam and the UAE with information about the local culture, customs, and religion of the United Arab Emirates. They have numerous program offerings including guided tours, Q&A discussions about Islam, and cultural meals.
Practical Information – Address: Al Musalla Rd. – Dubai // Hours: (Sun. – Thur.) 08:00 – 18:00 (Sat.) 09:00 – 13:00 ; CLOSED Fridays // Cost: Some programs are FREE, others are paid; See website for details.
If you are on a short layover in Dubai, the best way to get around to major points of interest is with a bus tour. (Note: If you have a one-day layover, it is impossible to see everything that the tour buses cover. There were so many other places that I wanted to see in the city that I was not able to.)
There are several tour bus companies in Dubai, and I rode with Big Bus Tours, which offers a variety of features in addition to the bus ride including free boat rides, a desert safari, free tickets to attractions, and unlimited bottled water.Tickets come in 24 hr. and 48 hr. segments and start at €58,22, which I believe to be an excellent value for a number of things included.