Dubai International Airport has become one of the most important flight connection centers in the world. Driven by the growth of its main airline, Emirates, it has become the most convenient stopping point for flights between Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
But this sparkling city is far more than just an airport hub. Dubai has some attractions on its own, attractions well worth exploring if you’re in town for a long stopover (5+ hours).
Unlike other hub cities like Frankfurt, Dubai’s attractions are quite far away from one another, so it is almost mandatory to use taxis for transportation. Taxis are fairly cheap though, especially compared to Europe or North America, and they’re the most convenient way to move around town.
Before we start
Have in mind that the UAE require some nationalities to get a visa before entering the country, these visas are not necessarily requested for stopovers but if you’re planning to leave the airport, you may want to check with your local consulate first. US, Canadian, British and Irish citizens don’t need a visa to enter the United Arab Emirates.
Calculate the time of your stopover making sure you at least have a one-and-a-half hour margin to get to your flight on time.
Next to the visit titles there’s a time estimation for the route. This post is merely an indication and can be adapted according to your schedule and needs.
If you want to visit Burj Khalifa’s observation deck, plan ahead and get your tickets from their official site.
Also, if you stay in Dubai is overnight, it might be worth to book a hotel. Find out the best areas to stay in Dubai here.
Dubai in a few hours
Old Dubai (1h 30m)
The first thing you need to to do is catch a taxi from the airport to the Dubai Museum. This history museum can be visited in half an hour and is hardly spectacular, however, it is an interesting place to compare Dubai’s lifestyle then and now. The area around the museum is really nice and hosts many (if not all) of the historical buildings of the city, the textile souk, the market and the Dubai Creek promenade, with beautiful views of the Deira district on the other side.
However, Dubai is not nearly the most traditional place in the Middle East. When you’ve had enough traditional houses, markets and minarets, then it’s time to hop on a taxi again and go get your glam on.
The beating heart of modern Dubai (2h)
Tell your driver to drop you off at Dubai Mall, once inside, look for the aquarium. The huge tank has a capacity of over 10 thousand cubic meters and is the second largest aquarium in the world. It is home to many species of fish, including massive stingrays and sharks. You can visit the underwater glass tunnel to see them up close (AED 70) or enjoy the free views of the tank from the mall. You can even swim with the sharks for AED 800.
After seeing this huge tank, you can proceed to walk around the mall for both window and/or real shopping. With its 500 thousand square meters, it is the largest shopping center in the world by total area. The shops in the mall are mostly mid-range and upmarket Western brands.
After some serious shopping, you can go search for the calm waters of Dubai Fountain, one of the largest musical fountains in the world. If you’re lucky enough to visit during the fountain show hours, then you’ll get a glimpse of just how magnificently opulent this place is.
Then there’s Burj Khalifa, with its 800+ meters it’s the highest building in the world. If time allows it, do go on its panoramic deck (AED 120), the views are amazing.
Luxury for luxury’s sake (1h)
Just when you think Dubai has run out of superlatives, then it’s time to get another taxi and visit the place where luxury knows no limits.
For the best views of the Burj Al Arab Hotel, arguably the fanciest hotel on Earth, ask your driver to take you to the adjacent Hotel Mirage, a 5-star property built in a traditional Arabian style with great views of Burj.
Since you will be running low on energy from all that walking, you can enjoy a nice cup of tea at the hotel terrace with nice views over the Venetian-style canals. However, have a look at the price list before as the cheapest item on the menu (mineral water) is AED 35.
Back to the airport
You’ve seen the basics, now hurry up and don’t miss your flight!
A visit to Dubai – video
Most of the attractions described above can be seen on this video.