If you’ve only got a long weekend to spend in Dubai, arguably the most ostentatious city in the world, what would you do? Gleaming and proudly ultramodern, Dubai also offers traditional Arab enclaves and old-world souks along with with desert safaris, indoor skiing and beaches with WiFi, and they’re all vying for your attention.
We’ve set up a Friday-to-Sunday itinerary to give you some ideas of how to see the must-see sites (and sights), while enjoying oases of peace amidst the frenetic energy of modern Dubai.
Under the UAE Labour Law, only Friday (being the holy day of the week) is an official day off. The working week in Dubai differs from its counterparts around the world and from business to business. The working week for both the private and public sectors runs from Sunday to Thursday, although many private companies work 6 days taking only Friday off.
Things to do in Dubai on Friday
Morning — Breakfast at the Sahn Eddar
If you’re lucky enough to be staying at the immediately-recognizable Burj Al Arab Jumeirah, which dubs itself the most luxurious hotel in the world, why not enjoy breakfast at one of its nine restaurants, such as the Sahn Eddar? Located in the atrium on the first floor of the Burj Al Arab, an international breakfast is available between 8 and 11 in the morning. If you have trouble pulling yourself away from your morning coffee in such lush surroundings (replete with marble, mosaic and soft touch lighting), remember there’s always High Tea each afternoon.
During the Day — The Palm Jumeirah and The Dubai Mall
This man-made palm-shaped island is a tourist Shangri-la, home to beachfront hotels, apartments and villas, and the Aquaventure Waterpark. Visitors are always taken aback by the sheer size of it all — there are 48 miles of beachfront on the archipelago, more than doubling Dubai’s entire coastline. The best way to appreciate it is to go there by taxi via the underwater tunnel and make the return trip by monorail to view the island from a completely different vantage point.
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Back on the mainland, the world’s largest shopping mall, with 1,200 retail outlets, awaits. You can’t miss it: It’s on Sheikh Zayed Road near Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. And you don’t even have to be a shopaholic to spend some serious time at The Dubai Mall.
There’s the DubaiDino to ogle, for instance. A dinosaur skeleton measuring more than 24 meters (80 feet) long and 7.6 meters (25 feet) high, it was shipped from Wyoming to Dubai after its discovery in 2008, with almost all its bones intact. There’s the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, too, home to more than 33,000 animals (including 400 sharks and rays). It’s not only one of the largest tanks in the world, but it also has one of the world’s largest viewing panels as well as an acrylic walkthrough tunnel. The zoo allows you to touch rock pool inhabitants, view a Humboldt penguin colony, and come face-to-face with piranha (although touching those is not recommended).
SEGA Republic is the mall’s high-tech entertainment park, with motion simulators and virtual experiences ready to enthrall all comers. Meanwhile the world’s largest dancing fountain, The Dubai Fountain, is a sight not to be missed. It’s right outside the mall on the waterfront promenade, set in Burj Khalifa Lake. Two afternoon shows are available daily, as are evening shows, which run every 30 minutes from 18:00 until 23:00.
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Evening — Reem Al Bawadi Restaurant
After a busy first day of sightseeing, a casual evening meal sounds just about right. Located near the Dubai Mall on Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard, there’s a popular restaurant called Reem Al Bawadi, where traditional Arabic lanterns create a welcoming atmosphere. If you want to try a variety of Arabic dishes, the buffet is a good choice. Prices are slightly high, but the quality of the food and the service is said to be worth it.
For a nightcap, the Alta Badia Bar is a favorite. Near the Dubai Mall, it’s on the 51st floor of the Jumeirah Emirates Towers. If you’re still a bit peckish, you can sample some classic Italian cicchetti (light bites) along with your cocktail — and that incredible view.
Events in Dubai this weekend
What to do in Dubai on Saturday?!
Morning — The Ibn Battuta Mall
There’s another mall on today’s itinerary, but again, shopping is only a secondary activity. The design of the Ibn Battuta Mall on Sheikh Zayed Road is really what you’re after: It celebrates the travels of the famous Moroccan-born explorer Ibn Battuta. Each of the six courts in the mall reflects one of the regions he explored: Andalusia, Tunisia, Egypt, Persia, India and China. If in your morning rush you missed breakfast, there’s a Starbucks in the Persia Court. While having coffee, take that moment to appreciate the splendour of the hand-painted dome above (and the carts full of shoppers whiz around the 1.3 kilometer-long mall).
During the Day — Dubai Museum and Al Fahidi Fort
Housed in a restored fort, the Dubai Museum is located on Al Fahidi Street, opposite the Grand Mosque and near the Arabian Court Hotel. Built in 1787 to defend against invaders, the fort is home to exhibits that showcase the lives and times of the city and its people, from the third millennium B.C.E. to the present day.
The nearby Heritage Village is best explored in the late afternoon to avoid the full heat of the sun. Although it’s a replica, with some 15 structures made from palm-tree leaves and mud, it is built on the site of the original Dubai, once a simple fishing village, and gives you an idea of how people lived not all that long ago, before the city exploded into a wealthy hub of business and tourism.
From Heritage Village, it’s an easy walk to the picturesque Bastakiya quarter, with its restored merchant’s houses, art galleries, and boutique hotels. Also nearby is Deira Creek, from where you can get to the souks, including the silk markets. Locals and tourists alike enjoy traditional dishes here and sit in open air cafes along the water. For a spectacular view, grab one of the water taxis or abras (traditional wooden boats), which are available either to cross the creek or for a tour.
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Evening — Awtar Restaurant with Belly Dancing
You’ll find this Lebanese restaurant in the upper atrium of the Grand Hyatt on Sheikh Rashid Road. It not only offers an opulent setting, complete with a traditional tent-style ceiling, but also a large selection of hot and cold mezze (small dishes) and grilled items designed for sharing. There’s live music, singing and belly dancing nightly until 3 in the morning. Awtar, which was awarded the 2015 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence, also has an outdoor terrace, and one guest called the shisha service impeccable.
Explore Dubai on Sunday
Before You Leave — The Beach and Wild Wadi
Guests at the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah really shouldn’t leave until they’ve taken a dip in the Arabian Gulf, by way of the hotel’s own private beach. You can also do some kayaking, deep sea fishing or a cruise on a luxury yacht. You don’t have to be staying at the hotel to spend your last day at the Wild Wadi Water Park, situated right in front of the hotel. A perfect spot for families and the young at heart, the park has are 30 rides and attractions. Each is given a thrill rating, so you can easily determine whether the 5-thrill Tantrum Alley or the 1-thrill Lagoon is the ride for you.
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