We had five free days in the Middle East following a trip to Egypt, and my son really wanted to see Dubai, so we headed to the United Arab Emirates. He wanted to go to Dubai mainly to see the tallest building in the world, the largest manufactured seaport, the interesting architecture, and the fancy sports cars. I am generally more interested in history, nature, food, and culture, so I worked to make a 5-Day Dubai itinerary that would make both of us happy.
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Where is Dubai?
Dubai is in the country of The United Arab Emirates. The UAE lies on the Arabian Peninsula, consists of seven emirates, and has a coastline on the Arabian Gulf.
Abu Dhabi is the adjacent coastal emirate and is only about an hour away by car from Dubai. Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE.
I knew we wanted to make a day trip to Abu Dhabi, and the flights from Cairo to Abu Dhabi were cheaper than flying into Dubai, so that is where we started.
Historically UAE has been an important area for trade, relied on pearling and fishing, and had a tribal structure. The discovery of oil in the 1970s brought enormous wealth and business into the country.
Things to Do in Dubai
1 Day in Abu Dhabi
Although we were able to enter Abu Dhabi in April of 2022 with only a vaccine card, going out in Abu Dhabi required a PCR test taken in Abu Dhabi to enter any establishment. This significantly reduced what we were able to do, as we only planned to stay in the emirate for one day.
What to Do in Abu Dhabi
Because we didn’t have a PCR test, we were limited to outside activities and our hotel. We still enjoyed our time and were glad we came. If I could explore Abu Dhabi more, I believe I would have preferred it to Dubai.
Relax on the Water
We spent time relaxing in our hotel, The Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri, beautifully situated on the canal with an infinity pool, private beach, and lavish buffets, which even had tasty rose ice cream. It was even good enough to make my list of best ice cream worldwide.
Explore the Mangroves
Because I love nature and we could only do outdoor activities, we headed out onto the water of the mangroves. Abu Dhabi has a few areas of mangroves- the Eastern Mangroves and Mangrove National Park, which have spaces for walking, eating, and boating. We found a personal speed boat tour, but you can also check out this kayaking tour.
If you haven’t been to mangroves before, they are trees that live on water and support many animals and birds. Mangrove forests are lovely spots to boat, as they tend to be sheltered from big waves. I have explored mangrove forests in Key West, Puerto Rico, and Mexico.
If we hadn’t had the COVID restrictions, we wanted to experience the Falcon Hospital, tour the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and have a camel burger dusted in gold at the Emirates Palace. This tour of the mosque, Heritage Village, and Dates Market intrigued me, as well.
Dubai had none of the same COVID restrictions, so that we could do everything freely there.
And Overnight Stay in the Dubai Desert
If you go to Dubai, you should see its desert. We were delighted with our escape to the luxurious Bab Al Shams Desert Resort, a true oasis decorated like a fortress.
While here, I took a guided desert nature walk on which I saw a wild gazelle. My son and I learned about falconry and tried archery.
The buffet dinner and show with stories of the area and native dancing was in itself worth the trip to the desert. The hotel is about an hour from Dubai or Abu Dhabi. It is now undergoing renovation and will reopen in April 2023.
The desert of Dubai was unique, and I would love to get even farther into it. You can consider any of several Dubai Desert Safaris.
2 Days in Dubai
Las Vegas is my least favorite US city due to the manufactured atmosphere, heat, and excess. I travel mainly for nature and culture, but Dubai is much like a Middle Eastern Las Vegas.
Everyone we met spoke English, and it was easier to get European or American food than any Middle Eastern food.
Dubai is a built-up city on the water made for tourism, as well as being a hub of business. There are many beachfront resorts and so very many activities.
We mainly explored a few areas: the Marina, the mall, and the Creek.
The Dubai Marina
We stayed at the Dubai Marriott Harbor Hotel and Suites in the marina, and it was a perfect choice. The area is easily walkable and has many restaurants and nearby white sandy beaches. It was only built in 2003, so everything is vast and modern except the stunning Al Rahim Mosque nestled among the skyscrapers. The views from the rooftop bar are astounding!
We spent the first half of our day exploring the marina.
Right across the street from the hotel is the Harbor Walk. We took a Love Boat tour, which was thrilling and let us see Dubai’s prominent landmarks from the water.
This area was, by far, my favorite part of Dubai. The Dubai Creek is a natural saltwater creek on whose shores sit restaurants and souks. Our taxi dropped us off in the Bur Dubai Souk Market (Dubai Creek Market). We explored the souk, buying trinkets and clothing with the typical Middle Eastern bartering.
Right outside the entrance to the souk, you can catch an Abra boat to cross the creek. These boats are so cute, and you ride with tourists and locals. The cost is one dirham per person each way, which you pay the driver while you are on the boat. The ride only takes about 10 minutes. On the other side of the creek are interesting spice, utensil, and gold markets.
I wanted to visit the Dubai Museum here, which would have given us a glimpse into Emirati life, but I was very disappointed that the cultural center and fort have not been open since 2022.
We then walked to the Arabian Tea House and Cafe to have our only Middle Eastern meal while in Dubai. The decor in this restaurant was adorable, and I highly recommend visiting this chain restaurant.
The Dubai Mall, Aquarium, and the Burj Khalifa- Day 2 Dubai
We spent our last day exploring things my 15-year-old son had on his Dubai bucket list.
The Dubai Mall
This enormous mall is the second largest by landmass in the world. My son had heard that he could see fancy sports cars here, and the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Aquarium are in the mall.
If you like sea creatures, this is a worthwhile place to spend half a day and a great way to escape Dubai’s oppressive heat. We especially enjoyed the vast aquarium that we could walk through and seeing King Alligator and his girlfriend. Like much of Dubai, it is expensive, and there are lots of add-on costs inside the aquarium.
The Burj Khalifa
The tallest in the world, this building was the real reason my engineering-loving son wanted to go to Dubai. There are a few choices for tickets, which you can buy here.
The basic ticket takes you to level 124. I had read bad reviews about the crowds, so I sprung for the At the Top Ticket, which brought us to level 148. We never had to wait too long in line, even though we chose a peak entrance time of 5 pm to be able to see the views in the daylight and sunset.
The whole time we were in Dubai there was smog, so although we were very high in the air, the only great views we got were right around the Burj. On level 148, things were pretty comfortable with available couches and views from inside and out.
Included in the whopping price tag of the ticket is unlimited coffee and tea in the lounge. They will make specialized coffee, but you have to ask for it, which was not apparent. They also offer small treats to eat.
The most interesting part of the Burj Khalifa were the educational displays on the way out about the construction and systems of the building. I definitely could have skipped the braggart propaganda also on display.
My favorite part of this day in Dubai is also my favorite part of Las Vegas, the fountain show. The Dubai Fountain Show is the tallest in the world. It is spectacular, produced by the same people who designed Bellagio’s fountain show.
The show happens right outside the mall in the Burj Khalifa Lake, and the Burj Khalifa looms over it. It is free and happens every half an hour starting at 6 pm nightly. We enjoyed it enough that we viewed it three times. The Burj Khalifa also has a light show twice nightly that you can see from the same spot.
Restaurants with patios surround the lake, so it is easy to find a restaurant and enjoy the show while dining. We ate on the second-floor balcony of Trove without a reservation.
What Else to Do in Dubai
If I had another day in Dubai, I would have headed out for a full-day tour to Hatta Mountain to see the area on the border of Oman and kayak.
I would also love to see a camel souk, and I would take a day tour to Al Ain City to do that.
Getting Around in the UAE
We had no problem using taxis everywhere we visited in the UAE. There was no haggling, and the prices were reasonable. While in Dubai, you can also use their Metro.
When to Visit UAE
As I stated, when I visited in April it was already oppressively hot and humid- much more so than in Egypt. I can’t begin to imagine the weather in the summer. It was nice to visit in spring to see the migratory birds, but I would recommend visiting a bit earlier.
We were also in Dubai during Ramadan, which did not affect our trip too much other than meal times and availability is slightly different than normal. During Ramadan, we could always find food and drink all day, but the nightly meal, Iftar, was generally a large buffet.
Have you been to Dubai? What did you think of it? What was your favorite part?