This article was published in association with Visit Dubai.
You can do so much on a stopover in Dubai. Whether you’ve got 24 hours, 36, or even longer, here’s how to make the most of your time
Dubai has a reputation for being an expensive, destination-only holiday, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Adding a stopover in Dubai to your trip gives you the chance to see what this amazing city has to offer, in a convenient time frame and on whatever budget suits you. Here’s the Kiwi.com guide to your Dubai stopover.
Lots of long-haul flights make a stop in Dubai nowadays, and the city has made it as easy as can be to take advantage of this.
Firstly, over 70 nationalities are eligible for visa-free entry, meaning you can simply hop off the plane and go explore. If you’d like to extend your stay, that’s fine too! Once you’re on the ground, don’t forget to pick up your free SIM card which gives you 1GB of data for your first 24 hours in Dubai — super useful for planning your stopover and finding your way around.
To experience more from your stopover, consider the Dubai Stopover Pass. This is a special ticket that lets you see a number of the city’s famous attractions for less in a 36-hour period, from heading to the very top of the Burj Khalifa, to a wonderful dinner and harbor cruise on board a dhow.
Finally, one of the great things about a Dubai stopover is how quick and easy it is to get around. The airport is less than 15 kilometers from the city center (Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall station) and you can get there on the Red Metro Line in less than 25 minutes. A single ticket costs €1 (Dhs 4.20), or you can get a day pass for €5.00/Dhs 20. One euro and a short metro journey? Yes, seeing Dubai really is that simple.
All 828 meters of the Burj Khalifa are absolutely stunning. At ground level, it serves as a focal point to the city, but what you really want to do is head inside and get spectacular views from what is the world’s highest observation deck. It’s a great starting point as you can get your bearings before deciding what to do next. You can also visit Dubai Mall and see the Dubai Fountain, one of the world’s largest choreographed fountains (which we’ll touch on again later), at no extra cost. If you do want to shop, however, check out this article on how to claim VAT refunds with ease.
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One of the largest man-made islands in the world and shaped like a palm tree, the Palm Jumeirah offers beaches, calm waters and views back into the city. It’s known for its beach resorts and great waterfront restaurants, but you can also grab a bite to eat from the food trucks on the Boardwalk, which serve local Emirati dishes like mashakeek (grilled meat or seafood skewers). Or, choose from Indian food, poke bowls, sushi, burgers and more. You can also head into The View at the Palm for a 360-degree vista of the island below and the Dubai skyline in the distance.
Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve
The Arabian Desert is a mere 20 minutes outside the city, offering safari experiences that you can easily fit into your stopover. Thrill-seekers can try quad biking, vintage Land Rover drives, or sandboarding over the dunes. Or, wait until evening and try some local food cooked and eaten under the stars.
Opposite the Jumeirah Beach Residence, The Beach is more than just a beach. During the day, it’s the perfect place to relax — just take your book or headphones and lie on a sun lounger for a couple of hours. However, it’s also a place where you can go shopping, get a meal, watch a movie, and at the weekend, dance the night away to a rotating cast of top DJs.
Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood
It’s not all super modern everywhere you look; Dubai has deep-rooted Arabian history too. Explore the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood and you’ll get to know the traditional side, with its winding alleys, city walls, towers and markets. You can also visit the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding to learn about the local ways of living, Emirati culture, sample authentic meals in a traditional setting, take a tour of old alleyways, or even learn a spot of Arabic.
Dubai on a budget: affordable stopover options
Your Dubai stopover doesn’t have to cost a fortune; contrary to what most people think, there’s loads to see and do in Dubai without breaking the bank.
Deira, one of the oldest parts of the city, is where you’ll find the souks — traditional markets selling spices, textiles and gold dotted on either side of the Dubai Creek. Even if you’re not buying, it’s a treat for the senses, enhanced by the laughing and joking between the market traders, the sound of the water and boats, and the evening call to prayer echoing from the towers of the mosques. You can also hop aboard an abra — a traditional wooden boat — to cross the Creek, for as little as Dh 1 per way.
To learn more about this side of the city, visit the aforementioned Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding and take a tour of one of the city’s largest mosques for just €8.80/Dhs 35. The aim of the cultural center is set out in its motto of ‘Open Doors, Open Minds’, and welcomes visitors to ask any questions on any Emirati cultural topic.
Back in the new city, take a stroll along the Waterfront. Watch the kite surfers at Kite Beach, sunbathe on the shore, grab a drink from one of the hip little bars and cafés, and generally take in the atmosphere. Later on, head to the Burj Khalifa (you’ll be able to spot it easily, after all!) and watch the beautiful Dubai Fountain, where dancing jets of water, lights and music make up stunning displays from early evening.
All of that will probably have made you hungry, and the place to go for delicious (and affordable) food is 2nd December Street (formerly Al Dhiyafa Street). Here you’ll find cuisines like Emirati, Lebanese, Indian, Iranian and more, all served in affordable casual diners. It’s a vibrant, buzzing part of town where locals and tourists all go to meet and mingle over steaming plates of something tasty.
Even if you’ve been to Dubai before, it’s worth coming back — there are always new, exciting attractions to discover.
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For a glimpse into a world of luxury that’s been a Dubai icon for decades, visit the Burj Al Arab, the famous sail-shaped hotel. Previously unseen unless you happened to be part of a gilded elite, the hotel has now opened its doors to casual visitors. The 90-minute tour lets you see its ultra-swanky suites and interiors while also giving a bit of history and context to this trailblazing building.
From an icon of Dubai’s past, you can take a look into the future — and not just of Dubai — at the Museum of the Future. Deemed “the most beautiful building on earth”, the external façade is decorated in Arabic calligraphy. By looking at traditions, technology and themes of the past, the museum aims to predict just how society could evolve, both in the more immediate and the longer-term future. Space travel, climate change, ecology, social science and more are all examined across exhibitions, immersive theater, and other attractions.
Finally, to look over the city with your heart in your mouth, try Sky Views Dubai. 220 meters up atop the Address Sky View hotel, you can walk around the very top edge of the building with only a rope and harness securing you in place, leaning out over the edge, and trying your level best not to see that mashakeek again!
If your Dubai stopover lasts a couple of days, perhaps spend one of the nights sleeping in the desert. You could choose somewhere like the Hatta Dome Park, a new glamping experience with views out to the mountains beyond; as night falls, the smoke and smell of barbecued food fill the air, and stars come out to blanket the sky. Find your bed in one of the domed tents and relax as the universe sends you to sleep.
For an even more culturally authentic experience, Platinum Heritage organizes trips both day and night to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, where you’ll see desert wildlife like gazelles, hyenas and the Arabian oryx. Meet the local Bedouin population and discover how they train falcons to aid in hunting, or spend the night learning about the constellations with a professional astronomer.
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Once you’re awake and back in the city, try a traditional Emirati breakfast at a place like the Arabian Tea House. Inside its clay walls, you can feel the cool wind drifting off the Creek while you sip your tea and enjoy some balaleet, a light egg dish served with cardamom-flavored noodles. Perhaps try the Al Fanar Restaurant and Café, a throwback to the 60s that smells of incense burning in traditional bakhoors, and serves sample platters of rich, tasty local food.
That’s your Dubai stopover
And we really mean that — it’s yours, to do with what you will. Whether it’s a brief stop to see the main sights, a chance to experience Arabic culture, or a couple of days to relax and unwind, you can tailor your Dubai stopover to suit you perfectly. So now you know about Dubai, what’s stopping you?
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