From sci-fi–like architecture and cutting-edge leisure attractions to empty desert and bustling beaches, Dubai has plenty to fill your time, feed your soul, and fire your adrenaline. Plus, because the city is so compact, it’s easy to enjoy the must-dos even if time is short. Here’s how to get the best from Dubai in just one day.
Start at the At The Top observatory of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, where the Level 124 viewing deck is the perfect curtain-raiser to the city—letting you experience Dubai’s most celebrated skyscraper along with stupendous city, gulf, and desert views. After an hour here, check out Dubai’s landmarks on a guided city tour. View modern must-sees such as the Burj Al Arab, ride a traditional boat (abra) across Dubai Creek, and browse the souks and wind towers of old Dubai. Alternatively, take a hop-on hop-off bus tour that lets you see all the sights and explore as you wish.
Dubai’s desert offers up myriad dune-based adventures. Ride a 4WD into the sands for dune bashes, camel rides, sandboarding, and traditional Arabian experiences, all capped by a sunset barbecue in a Bedouin-style camp. For a different kind of fun, book tickets to one of Dubai’s two water parks—Aquaventure or Wild Wadi—to enjoy their daredevil slides and gentler attractions. For thrills and views together, opt for a helicopter flightseeing ride or admire Dubai’s legendary skyline from the water on a RIB trip along the coast.
There are many ways to spend evenings in Dubai, with most centered on enjoying the glitz of the city or the quiet beauty of the desert. To admire the city lights while you eat, book a dinner cruise on Dubai Creek, and sail by wind towers and minarets on a wooden Arabian dhow or glass-enclosed boat. Other options include Dubai Marina dinner cruises that glide you past its rows of sparkling skyscrapers. For an Arabian Nights –style evening, book one of numerous tours into the desert where groups enjoy a live barbecue under the stars complemented by sequined belly dancing and tanoura whirling dervish shows.