We had planned a long layover to see Dubai, but unfortunately ended up with two long layovers to see Dubai. Or perhaps fortunately. There are far worse places to be stranded than Dubai.
[Side note: Emirates customer service during and post-missing our flight was the worst. Those rebooking you and handling your layover won’t assist with issues regarding missed hotel reservations, and subsequently you can’t reach a human about any of these problems, and an email response took over 45 days. With no resolution, except for blaming the weather. Which is what all airlines do. I gave up. You can read more about our Emirates economy experience here.]
[Another side note: I LOL’d at this article regarding how U.S. airlines are mad at Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar airways business practices. I wondered how Emirates could ever make money on a full upper-deck of business class. Turns out they probably are not…but it doesn’t matter!]. It’s worth a read: Foreign Policy article.
I’m way off track.
We actually liked Dubai quite a bit. While I can see how it is off-putting to some, the glitz, the glam, the over-the-top was just fascinating. Couple that with the culture and the history of the area, and some great people watching, Dubai was a great place to spend some time and I’m pleased we visited.
So, how do you spend 10 hours in Dubai? Twice? Here’s our list of potential options–we didn’t get to them all, either. I’ve separated them into two groups, but it’s easy to mix and match whatever you are interested in doing or seeing. Just prioritize, so you are sure you get to the items you really want to see–and do as many as either you can fit in your layover, or keep going until you get tired!
Also–see my five tips at the bottom for enjoying your long layover in Dubai.
The New & The Novel
Gawk at the Burj Khalifa
If you want, buy tickets in advance to go to the top. We didn’t spend the money (those tickets aren’t cheap – they were at least $50 per person), and I’m relieved we didn’t as the air quality was not great when we were there the first time and instead of a view of Dubai, we would have seen a whole lot of awesome grey smog. But still, go downtown and gawk from the ground. Roam around and find some good shots from all over the city.
Metro Stop: Burj Khalifa
Enjoy the Fountain Show at the Burj Khalifa, at Night
The night fountain shows are something to be seen. And are very popular. We would suggest eating at one of the restaurants which border the fountain area, that way you get excellent views, less people, plus FOOD! The fountain show goes on for quite a while, so you get to relax and enjoy dinner with the show.
Metro Stop: Burj Khalifa
Check out the Marina & Burj Al Arab
Walk around and swoon at the insane yachts docked in the marina, including the people on them. Watch the sky-divers coming down (they jump near there). Look at the beach. Gaze at the Burj Al Arab. Depending on when you are there, find a restaurant or a brunch spot to enjoy the area–just be prepared to spend $$$.
Metro Stop: Dubai Marina
See or enjoy the indoor ski area.
Come on, you know you want to see this novelty. It’s pretty incredible to see the indoor ski lift, snow, and everyone in bunny suits. We didn’t ski (because, well, we have snow in America), but it was great fun to look and watch.
Metro Stop: Mall of the Emirates
Visit a Mall
I mean, aquariums, skating rinks, huge light and fountain installations? And hundreds of stores that I can’t afford, but are filled with people loaded with shopping bags? Worth a walk through, at least once. Plus, it’s fascinating to see the mix of people, from all around the world. You have women in burkas and niqabs next to Russia tweens wearing nothing, next to Chinese tourists, next to a british couple backpacking. It’s quite the blend of humanity.
Metro Stop: Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall if you have to choose but one mall…
The Old & The Cultural
For the brave and fearless…while perfectly safe (obviously use good judgment), the sellers in the souk are…aggressive. I thought Egypt was bad, and they make Egypt look like a cakewalk. I turned around to find my husband, trapped like a mummy, in a turban that made him look like Qaddafi. The guy had seriously lassoed him like a calf, and wrapped him up. Amusing, but terribly annoying. They call white girls Shakira (irony there? not lost on me), and love to hassle and haggle. A lot. This was all in the textile souk, but there is a gold souk, perfume souk, etc. Pick your poison.
Metro Stop: Al Ras, Al Fahidi, and Al Ghubaiba all work, depending on whether you want to take a boat (called an abra) across the creek and which souk you want to go to.
Truly “old” Dubai, the Al Fahidi area and Al Fahidi Fort makes you forget about all the glitz and glam that is only a stone’s throw away. While we didn’t graze more than the surface here, it’s somewhere we would return to find more little restaurants, galleries, and a bit more peace and quiet. Yes, nothing in Dubai is that old, but it was a nice change from the excessive commercialization of elsewhere. There is also a coffee museum which has some good reviews, as well as a cultural center (which also has some good reviews, and some bad).
Metro Stop: Al Fahidi
There are lots of other options depending on how much money you want to blow in Dubai and how much time you have. “Dune bashing” is one of those things–where you go out in the desert and drive up and down dunes. We didn’t have enough time to do this, and since I have horrible motion sickness, it’s certainly not on my “must-do”. There are also beautiful (albeit often hot) beaches, an adventure park, a race track, etc. You name it, Dubai probably has it.
1. Wear comfortable shoes. I repeat. Comfortable. This is nojoke. Yep, the metro goes all around Dubai. What it doesn’t tell you is that to get from the metro stop to a given place is not a 3 minute walk–it’s about a 25 minute walk in some cases. I think we had 20,000 steps in a layover, and that included sitting down for a long-ish dinner.
2. Bring a layer. In the winter, it cools off as soon as the sun goes down and gets chilly. In the summer, everything is super air-conditioned while it is 110 degrees outside.
3. Dress appropriately. Yes, I do realize that there are no formal “standards” in Dubai. But does it seem appropriate to stroll around anywhere in a see thru shirt and shorts so short you might as well not be wearing them? While some tourists would say yes, I would say no. While in the major malls and modern areas you might not get two glances, if you want to go into the less touristy parts of the city you’ll be better off dressed more modestly.
4. Admit to yourself that Dubai is expensive. If you want to save, stop in a market and buy some water and snacks. But the food in Dubai can be excellent. I had the most amazing octopus… Additionally, there is lots to see (as long as you don’t shop in the malls) that is free to do, so you can save money once you are there.
5. Finally, ignore the last tip and buy some dates. Listen to me on this one–the dates in Dubai are fancy, expensive, and just delicious. Spend some money and buy some dates. I prefer the dates with the orange peels inside…nomnomnom.