I love Dubai. It's not for everyone, but I love it - I accept Dubai for what it is and embrace what it has to offer. It's over the top, like Las Vegas without the casinos. It's not without controversy, with questionable labor practices and other issues. The city is mind-blowing, frenetic, and at the same time very calming. Dubai has it all. I've been many times, this trip visiting while onboard the Azamara Journey. (See more photos from that voyage on Instagram, where I've taken over Azamara's account.) There's a lot to see and do in Dubai, but these five things are must-sees.
Burj Al Arab
Burj Al Arab, known as the Burj, is probably the most famous hotel in the world. Realistically, I think only The Plaza Hotel in New York can even compete in that category. It’s famous for a reason. It’s absolutely mesmerizing in every way. You literally cannot stop staring and taking photos of everything.
This particular Azamara voyage is a special cruise for Azamara Circle loyalty members. Our first night in Dubai, they set up an amazing dinner on the 27th floor of the Burj for top guests. It was to die for and I was lucky to be brought along!
Walking into the Burj is the best part of the whole experience, as you’re immediately awestruck by opulence and bright colors. There are fountains and aquariums that deserve your attention as well. But most of all you can’t stop staring up and in circles. The Burj will do that to you.
As you move further in, it’s all gold. Everything seems to be coated in gold…and it is! I am fortunate to have stayed a few nights in the Burj when I was in Dubai for the Jumeirah Inside launch event last winter. I didn’t stay this time but I definitely got the royal treatment during dinner.
If you're not staying at the Burj but would like to visit, you'll need to make reservations at a restaurant. Otherwise, you may pay a fee of around $50 to go inside and look around. The restaurants are a hit to the wallet, but fantastic.
Burj Khalifah is the tallest building on Earth. It's over 3000 feet tall and it will literally blow your mind. I’ve been up to the top three or four times now and each time I am more impressed with the engineering marvel that it is. Not to mention the views are stellar, especially on a clear day.
You can make reservations ahead of time, or just head over to the Dubai Mall and get a ticket. You may have a to wait and/or come back later if it’s crowded.
If you want to go all the way to the top, they charge you over $100 for the pleasure but you do get a VIP experience. This is one situation where "go big or go home" really applies. If you’re only going to do it once, I definitely recommend going all the way up to the world's highest observation deck!
If you know me you know I hate malls. I actually hate shopping, crowds, stores and too many choices! However, I make an exception and visit malls when I'm in Dubai. Specifically, I make an exception for two malls: Dubai Mall and the Mall of the Emirates.
Dubai mall is at the base of Burj Khalifa and it is the biggest mall in the United Arab Emirates. It's the biggest and surely the best mall I’ve ever been to. I’ve been to both the Mall of America and the West Edmonton Mall and hated them both passionately. Dubai Mall is different; it has a lot on offer.
There are the fountains, a waterfall, an ice skating rink and of course, the world's tallest building. They have top-of-the-top stores and everything in between in the cavernous three-story monstrosity.
The Mall of the Emirates is the second largest mall and if you’ve never been to Dubai Mall, it’s the best mall you’ve ever seen. It’s got all the same stores and is just a smidge behind on fanciness. Plus, it has a delicious Din Tai Fung dumpling restaurant - yes, the same from Taipei, Taiwan! And, it has one thing Dubai Mall doesn’t have: an indoor ski slope and winter wonderland!
Yes, I know it’s hokey and I know some people may be rolling their eyes that I even mentioned malls on this list at all - but the ski slope is awesome! Keep in mind it’s like 120 degrees for 2/3 of the year in Dubai, so to have this cool indoor escape is an amazing thing and the local kids and tourists love it. I know I do, and I barely ski!
Right in the port, literally next to the cruise ships, you can do a scenic flight around Dubai. The seaplane can take up to eight people and there are really no bad seats. There are four on each side and the tour goes back and forth for everything so each side gets to see it all. The flight goes for about 40 minutes or so, and to be honest it's pretty awesome.
A city like Dubai is best seen from above to really appreciate how big it is. The weather and dust can make it hard to see certain things but at the same time, can make it even cooler with the effects it plays with the sun.
The highlights were certainly flying over Dubai's artificial islands. The Palm Islands, in the shape of a palm tree, really have to be seen from above to be appreciated.
The World Islands, in the shape of a world map, can also be clearly seen and gaped at because it’s just ridiculous that someone even thought of it let alone built it.
We flew over Burj Al Arab and viewed the tower from some great angles, allowing for photos you’d never get from sea level.
You also get panoramic views of downtown and Burj Khalifa. On the way back to port, you’ll cruise over the outskirts of the city to Dubai Creek, Deira, and Bur Dubai. All are worth checking out in more detail on the ground to really appreciate them.
Architecture of Sheikh Zayed Road and Dubai Marina
I always say that Sheikh Zayed Road is the coolest street in the world for architecture. It is awesome, it is imposing and it is just plain cool! I actually love staying on Sheikh Zayed at the Four Points by Sheraton because it has the Level 43 Lounge with the top views of Sheikh Zayed Road all the way to the Burj Khalifa.
Dubai Marina is fabulous. I would consider living there if I ever moved to Dubai. I first visited earlier this year when I was staying on the Palm Islands of Dubai. I took a little boat tour through the Marina. It’s absolutely fantastic both in terms of architecture, cleanliness and just sheer it factor. You honestly cannot stop staring.
That’s a common theme in Dubai. Everything is big; in fact, it’s usually the biggest in the world or at least aims to be. Dubai Marina is pretty far down from downtown but well worth a trip out to check it out. It’s a big local place to hang out as well.
These are just five of the many awesome things to do in Dubai. Obviously, there are a million others. (For more, read this blog.) I'd also recommend checking out the gold souk, the spice markets, doing a 4x4 tour in the desert, trying a falconry experience, or visiting a local farm outside the city. Embrace Dubai and it’ll embrace you back and you’ll love it!