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Dubai, one of the world’s most dynamic cities, is a city of superlatives; not only the highest building in the world- the impressive Burj Khalifa is located here, they also built the world’s largest artificial island where now the most expensive houses and hotels can be found. And if you fancy going skiing in the desert, where outside the temperatures can rise up to 45°C in summer- that’s no problem at all.
Dubai has always been on my bucket list since I was curious to see all those things for myself. I find it especially impressive what they built in a short period of 50 years, though I was also very interested to see the old part of Dubai and learn about the culture and history.
Dubai airport is now the world’s busiest international transportation hub and with over 1000 flights leaving from there everyday. It only takes 6 hours from Germany and other cities in Europe to reach Dubai and to find yourself in another world. If you are changing flights in Dubai I can only recommend you to make use of the free stopover that Emirates airline offers its passengers and see Dubai yourself.
During my first time in Dubai, a 4 day stopover on my way from Vietnam to Germany, I fell in love with this place. I was fascinated by the pulsating city, the combination of tradition and modernity. Nothing seems impossible here in Dubai.
Returning from Bali I decided to use the opportunity once more to see more of what Dubai has to offer during a short stopover.
Of course I am going to share my recommendations with you.
Where to stay
There are so many great hotels in Dubai, one more luxurious than the other. If I only have a short stopover not only comfort but also the location is very important to me.
I simply don’t want to loose a lot of time getting to the attractions and if I feel like it I want to have the option to go back to the hotel during the day to change or relax a little bit.
This time I got the chance to get to know the Shangri-La in Dubai. It is located in the heart of the city and close to the business district as well as all the major tourist attractions.
From the airport it is only 15 minutes away and you can either take the sky train or a taxi to get there quick and easy.
I landed early in the morning and made my way to the Shangri-La. As I entered the lobby I was already pretty impressed by the size and the beautiful decoration. Since I stayed there in December the decoration was festive, they had a large christmas tree in the lobby and the even set up a real (!) gingerbread house in the lobby.
Due to my early arrival I didn’t expect to be able to check in already and just planned to drop my bags, however they already had a room ready for me and the receptionist handed over the room key. I was staying very high-up in a Deluxe Room overlooking the city and the Burj Khalifa.
The room offers stylish comfort with the luxury of space. And despite the large bed looking very inviting, I opted for a shower and decided to get ready for a day of exploring. The bathroom is equipped with luxury toiletries, a walk-in shower with a rainforest shower head and deep soaking tub. After a long flight nothing feels better than taking a hot shower.
The sun was just rising as I was ready. Someone recommended me to go up to the Horizon Club on the 42nd floor from where you have a mesmerizing view of the cityscape. Seeing the whole city bathed in warm light was just breathtaking.
The next morning I had breakfast at their restaurant Dunes Café where you have so much choice. From the buffet you can choose between a large variety of things like pastries, fruit, yogurts etc. There is also an Asian, Indian and Arabic corner to meet every taste.
After breakfast I got a tour of the hotel. There is so much things you can do that you could simply spend your entire stay in the hotel: there is an outdoor tennis court, outdoor jacuzzi and pool area with a relaxed and funky lounge and the spa.
Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to try out one of their restaurants for dinner. But next time I would love to visit Hoi An, their authentic Vietnamese restaurant or Shang Palace, offering a taste of traditional Cantonese cuisine. More impressions below.
Dubai isn’t really a pedestrian friendly city as there is a lot of traffic and the city is quite stretched out. The most convenient way to get around is by taxi as they are the easiest way to get to places, safe and relatively inexpensive.
There is also an extensive public transport system: there is a monorail, metro and buses servicing destinations across Dubai. For the metro and the monorail you can buy a ticket at the station, to use the bus you have to own a Nol card.
A traditional and convenient way to cross the Dubai creek to see the original Dubai is by local water taxi called abra. It only costs one dirham (ca. 0.25 €) and I can only recommend you to try it.
If you haven’t been to Dubai before and want to see a lot in a small amount of time I personally think that a hop-on, hop-off bus is the best way to see most of what the city has to offer. There are two companies to choose from: City Sightseeing Dubai and Big Bus Tours. I tried both and personally preferred the Big Bus Tour. The tour is almost the same but I preferred the extras they offered like a sunset desert tour, a marina cruise and there is free wifi on the buses
Dubai is a real paradise when it comes to shopping. Whether it is the newest fashion, expensive jewelry, gold, spices- here you will find it all.
Start your shopping spree in old Dubai visiting the Gold Souk and the Spice Souk. I found it very hard to resist and not to buy everything.
Then head to the malls: Dubai Mall is one of the biggest mall in the world. It not only has all the big names, but also some great attractions like an ice skating rink, a waterfall and a gigantic aquarium. Here you can easily spend the whole day wandering around. The Burj Khalifa and the fountains are just next to the mall.
Another great mall to visit is the Mall of the Emirates where Ski Dubai, the first indoor ski resort in the Middle East, is located.
Best of Sightseeing
- Hop-on, hop-off sightseeing tour of the city: as mentioned above, this is in my opinion the best way to see most of Dubai in a short amount of time. While you are sitting on the bus you are getting some interesting information about the city and you can get off at the stops that interest you. In the end you are getting really good value for many as there are several tours included, water, entrance fees and you don’t spend any money on taxis to get around.
- Desert safari: a real Arabian adventure. Depending on the tour you book you drive across the desert of Dubai, visit a camel farm, see a falcon show, do dune bashing and end the day with a BBQ while enjoying the sunset in the desert.
- Dubai Marina: this is an artificial canal city along a stretch of Persian Gulf shoreline and once the project will be completed this will be the largest residential development in the whole world. Here you can take a yacht tour on the canal, admire the skyscrapers, go to the beach and visit one of the many great restaurants in the area.
- The Walk at JBR: along JBR beach, one of Dubai’s most popular beaches, there is The Walk where you will find a lot of burger stands, stalls with fresh juices and gelato counters. A very nice place to spend the day.
- Palm Islands: these islands are three man-made islands in the form of massive palm trees connected to the beaches of Dubai. On the island you will find luxurious hotels like Atlantis The Palm. The best view of the cityscape you will have from the beach of Fairmont The Palm.
- Old Dubai: When thinking about Dubai mostly images come up of skyscrapers and fast cars. Don’t miss to discover the charm of the city’s older areas and head down to the Dubai creek where the city first began to grow. Here you can take a local water taxi, go shopping at the souks and simply discover a more authentic side of the city.
- Downtown Dubai: “the center of now” is home of some of the city’s most famous landmarks including Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall and Dubai Fountain. There are many reasons to visit Downtown Dubai and I don’t think you can ever get bored there.
- Fountain Show: it doesn’t come as a surprise that the Dubai Fountain also holds the title of the world’s largest performing fountains. Set on the 24 acre Burj lake in front of the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Fountain features water that jets as high as 140 meters. There are daily performances, two in the afternoon and starting from 6 pm to 11 pm there are performances every half an hour.
- Enjoying the view on top of the Burj Khalifa: when in Dubai it is a must to go up the most iconic building of the city. Enjoy a stunning view of the city and beyond from the highest building in the world. There is an observatory deck spread over level 125 and 148. You can book your ticket online. An alternative is a visit to at.mosphere, make a reservation beforehand and enjoy dinner or cocktails in the world’s highest restaurant located on level 124.
- Dubai Museum & Al Fahidi Fort: if you are interested learning more about the history of Dubai you shouldn’t miss this place. It shows the story from before the discovery of oil in the 1960s to the current day.
- Burj al Arab: from the Umm Suqeim Park Beach you have a great view of the Burj al Arab and it is also a great spot to have your picture taken in front. If you want to see the world’s only 7 star hotel from the inside you can book a tour or make a reservation for afternoon tea or drinks in the evening at the Skyview Bar. (Prices start from 400 AED a person for high tea)
- Wild Wadi Waterpark: the perfect place to cool down from the heat and have fun. There are over 28 slides with some being up to 100 meters high. There is definitely something for everyone.
- Skydive Dubai: skydiving should be on everyone’s bucket list. Here in Dubai you have the unique opportunity to shoot down at 210 km/hour overlooking the palm islands.
Now to you, what are your recommendations for Dubai? Please let us know in the comments below.
Also a big thank you goes to Shangri-La Dubai for the great stay.