The tallest, the biggest, the most expensive and the most extravagant. Dubai is a city of superlatives—a city where the impossible is possible, where dreams become reality. It makes sense, then, that this oasis in the desert is full of undeniable once-in-a-life-time experiences. Let one of Vacation’s expert travel agents help you plan your vacation or honeymoon to this magical Middle Eastern city, but for inspiration, take a look at our list of the 10 things you can only do in the magical Middle Eastern city.
1. Visit the Burj Khalifa, The World’s Tallest Building
Upon arrival in Dubai, it’s impossible to miss the Burj Khalifa, which, at 2,717 feet high (about a half-mile to be exact), is the tallest building on the planet. Not only does the structure hold thousands of square feet of office space, but it also encompasses about 900 private residences, the 160-room Armani Hotel and the elegant Atmosphere, the world’s highest restaurant. But the best place to experience this immense structure is by taking the elevator to one of the out-of-this-world observation decks: At the Top, located on the 125th floor, and At the Top SKY, on the 148th floor (no surprise here, it’s the tallest outdoor observation deck in the world). For the At the Top SKY experience, you’ll take a dedicated elevator, which makes it seem as though you are flying over global landmarks on your journey to the top.
2. Browse the World’s Second Largest Shopping Mall
Dubai is all about opulence, which means that naturally, it’s a shopping mecca. In fact, aside from London, Dubai is home to more global retailers than any other place in the world. And with nearly 100 different shopping malls, there’s literally an opportunity to shop around every corner. The granddaddy of them all is the impressive Dubai Mall, which sprawls over 10 million square feet with more than 1,200 stores. But malls in Dubai are about more than just retail therapy, they are entertainment destinations in themselves. Highlights at the Dubai Mall include a flight simulator, an ice-skating rink, an indoor theme park and a giant underwater aquarium where you can swim with sharks.
3. Ski Indoors in the Middle of the Desert
The Dubai Mall isn’t the only mall that boasts entertainment options galore. The nearby Mall of the Emirates has its fair share of activities, the most famous of which is Ski Dubai, home to the world’s largest indoor ski slope. This complex boasts more than 5.5 acres of snow spread over five runs, while a smaller Snow Park is designed for families, offering sledding and snow tubing. And don’t miss out on seeing the resident gentoo penguins. Not only can you watch these cute little snowbirds march several times a day, but you can also get up-close and personal with them with the world’s first-ever swimming with penguins program.
4. Shop for Authentic Wares at the Souks
Luxury brands are nice, but if you’re looking for more authentic, only-in-Dubai souvenirs, ditch the malls and head to the bustling souks, traditional open-air marketplaces selling everything from spices to gold to textiles to perfumes—a tantalizing experience sure to entice all the senses. Take an early-morning abra ride along Dubai Creek to the historic districts of Deira and Bur Dubai to explore these classic trading posts in all their glory. Bargaining here is a skill and a sport, so don’t be afraid to try some haggling in order to get the best deal possible. For a 21st-centruy take on these Arabian markets, visit Souk Madinat or Souk Al Bahar, which evoke the traditional souks, but are housed in modern-day structures.
5. Dine at Some of the World’s Best Restaurants
Dubai has no shortage of dining establishments (upwards of 10,000 eateries), catering to a wide variety of international tastes and flavors. Celebrity chefs from around the world (think: Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Wolfgang Puck, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Nobu Matsuhisa) have been scouting out locations in Dubai for years, realizing the city’s reputation as a top global culinary destination. Not to mention, Dubai has two of what are known to be among the best restaurants in the world (according to the respected San Pelligrino & Acque Panna list of the world’s best): La Petite Maison and Zuma.
6. Make a Splash on the World’s Largest Waterslide
Located at the notorious Atlantis resort, the Aquaventure waterpark is an unprecedented fun-filled destination perfect for the entire family. This wet-and-wild park is full of surprises (the near-vertical nine-story-tall Leap of Faith, for example), but its claim to fame is the Aquaconda, the largest waterslide in the world. In addition to waterslides, other can’t-miss Aquaventure activities include the underwater helmet-diving extravaganza, Shark Safari, Cownose Ray Feeding and Atlantean Flyer Zip Line.
7. Skydive Over the Palm Jumeirah and “The World”
Only in a dare-to-dream destination like Dubai would it be conceived to design islands in the form of recognizable shapes. The palm-tree-shaped Palm Jumeirah, which, despite naysayers who said that the project couldn’t be done, is now the largest man-made island in the world. And then, there’s “The World,” a largely undeveloped series of about 300 islands that resemble a map of the world. These unconventional archipelagos, best seen from above, have helped earn Dubai a spot on the list of skydiving’s top “drop zones.” For those less daredevilish, a number of other activities, such as seaplane and helicopter tours, also allow you to see these man-made curiosities from above.
8. Spend an Evening at the World’s Most Luxurious Hotel
Rising 1,053 feet above the sea on a man-made island about 900 feet from the shore, the distinctive white sails of the Burj Al Arab make it one of the more recognizable structures in all of Dubai. But it’s not just the architecture that has visitors swooning. Often referred to as the world’s only seven-star hotel, the Burj Al Arab has set an unprecedented standard in the hospitality industry. Amenities include a fleet of Rolls-Royces, a lavish award-winning spa, nine world-class restaurants and bars (including an underwater restaurant surrounded by a floor-to-ceiling aquarium) and an on-site helipad, where a cool $10,000 AED (about $2,700 USD) can get you a private helicopter transfer to or from the airport. And with private butler service and a staff-to-suite ratio of 8-to-1, it’s no doubt a stay here will make you feel like royalty.
9. Immerse Yourself in Emirati Culture
Dubai may seem to be all glitz and glam, but to truly get a sense of this buzzing metropolis, head to Dubai Creek, which is where the Bani Yas tribe first settled in the early 19th century. Here you’ll find a number of galleries and museums (such as the Dubai Museum, which is housed in the city’s oldest building, circa 1799) that shed light on the area’s first inhabitants and how the region has evolved over time. Also be sure to take the time to learn about local culture as it relates to modern Dubai at Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU), which offers a plethora of enrichment activities to raise awareness and educate visitors about the customs and culture of the people living in the UAE today. Most notably, the center leads guided tours of the stunning white-stone Jumeirah Mosque, the only mosque in Dubai that is open to the public.
10. Take a Desert Safari and Sleep Under the Stars
You don’t have to venture far beyond Dubai’s towering skyscrapers to uncover what this desert landscape once looked like. Exploring the dunes, the wadis (dry river beds) and mountain passes is essential if you want to experience Dubai at its fullest. Be prepared for a roller-coaster ride through the hot sands on a rugged 4x4 up the sand dunes, along the narrow, rocky mountain passes and through the wadis, all while keeping your eyes peeled for rare Arabian oryx or gazelle. The desert is also a playground for a number of activities, including camel riding (or even camel polo), sand boarding, falconry and more. If you choose, spend the night under the stars at a traditional Bedouin camp and discover what it really means to experience “Arabian Nights.”
Inspired by this article and want to speak with an expert travel agent about how you can plan an unforgettable luxury vacation in Dubai? Let one of Vacation’s on-call travel experts match you with an expert travel agent to customize an itinerary you’re gonna love.