Dubai is an unlikely combination of 7 Star hotels, theme parks and giant malls on the edge of the desert. It’s also one of the world’s busiest transport hubs. Given all this, it’s worth exploring Dubai on a stopover en route to Europe. Here are some things to do in Dubai on a brief 2 day itinerary.

Dubai Itinerary

In the desert, you can’t remember your name

There’s no shortage of luxury hotels to choose from in Dubai, but the main action is centred on Jumeirah Beach. This 26-kilometre stretch of sandy white beach is where you’ll find iconic landmarks such as the Burj Al Arab hotel (the one that looks like a sail), Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the historic Madinat Jumeirah.

All three are as outlandish as they are expensive, so if you’re not going all out, Dubai’s traditional five-star alternatives such as the Sofitel or the Hilton will spoil you with opulence for around a third of the price. Which means more money to spend on the other attractions in Dubai.

Desert Safari

Before you dive headfirst into Dubai’s material comforts, it’s worth taking a couple of hours to appreciate the emirate’s unique history. And one of the best ways to do so is with a spot of dune bashing. Services such as Desert Safari Dubai will pick you up from your hotel in a LandCruiser (the unofficial car of the Gulf region) and take you on a two-hour sightseeing tour of the sand dunes.

History lesson over, and you’re probably hungry by this point. If you’d like a photo op to go with your lunch the Atlantis, The Palm offers over 20 restaurants to choose from (including the world-renowned Nobu), a distinct nautical theme and one of the world’s largest aquariums. This huge structure houses over 65,000 fish, sharks and other marine life.

 

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Bigger, better, faster, stronger

Dubai isn’t known for doing things by halves, and its shopping malls live up to that image. So it’s no surprise that shopping is one of the top things to do in Dubai for any visitor. If you ski or snowboard than the Mall of the Emirates is worth a visit just for the surreal thrill of navigating a ski slope in the middle of the desert. But if you’re on a tight schedule then The Dubai Mall is the obvious choice.

Opened in 2008, The Dubai Mall is the world’s largest shopping mall and is home to 1200 retail outlets, connects to a ‘traditional’ souk market and sits alongside the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building). In other words, that’s the rest of your afternoon and evening sorted right there.

If shopping isn’t on your agenda, or you need a break, you can walk to the adjacent Burj Khalifa Lake and grab a coffee while you watch the Dubai Fountain run through its repertoire of choreographed performances. These are set to everything from traditional Arabic music to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.

And since you’re in the neighbourhood, sunset is the perfect time to visit the Burj Khalifa’s observation deck. Tickets can be purchased on the day, start at around US$30, and will shoot you up to either the 124th floor or the 555m-high SKY deck on the 148th floor (the highest observation deck in the world).

Drinks on the Beach

 Mamzar Beach

If your head is spinning from Dubai excess, you may want to slow down with a drink – or several – before retiring to your hotel. Barasti Bar, located along the northern edge of Jumeirah Beach, has long been a favourite with expats, and offers relaxed beach breezes to complement open-air dining in casual beach attire.

If you build it, they will come

You may need a little extra time to start your second day in Dubai. Whenever you wake up, the Madinat Jumeirah offers spectacular views to go with your brunch.

 The largest resort in the UAE, its 40 hectares of restaurants, gardens and shops are styled like a traditional Arabian town. It also offers great views of the adjacent Burj Al Arab, which you can snap from the private beach while you relax in some deckchairs.

Burj Al Arab is the world’s only seven-star hotel. Visitors wishing to sample its ostentatious delights without going broke can opt for afternoon tea, which is available at the Skyview bar for approximately US$160 per person.

Live Wild or Walk Into The Past

How you spend your last afternoon in Dubai then comes down to personal preference. If you want to live dangerously and recreate the video clip for Flo Rida and Sia’s hit single Wild Ones, you can go skydiving at the Palm for $550 and get an amazing birds-eye view of this unlikely city.

If you’re looking for something a little more low-key and traditional, one of the few remaining vestiges of the old city is the souk in Bur Dubai, and the best way to get there is via a five-minute cruise aboard a traditional abra (wooden boat). Once in the souk you can practice your haggling skills and stock up on gifts for back home.

Gold Souk in Dubai

 

Wind Down with a View

All that leaves is one final night to enjoy some drinks. And since you’re in Dubai, you may as well enjoy them in the world’s tallest hotel. Vault bar at the JW Marriott Marquis is located on the 71st and 72nd floors and offers spectacular views to go with your cocktails. Just make sure you dress nice for the occasion – someone blew $600 million building this hotel in the middle of the desert.