If you’re in Dubai for a quick trip or a long layover, this guide is for you!
In case you missed it, we were flying standby (I work for an airline) to Hong Kong, but every flight was full so we ended up in Dubai instead. We arrived at DXB in the morning and after deciding to spontaneously spend a few days in Dubai, we spent the morning figuring out our game plan and booking our hotel via HotelTonight.
Breakfast at 21 Grams: After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, we decided to pop into the cute Balkan restaurant/coffee shop connected in the lobby for a bit to eat. We shared the Balkan breakfast (scrambled eggs in tomato, pepper and onion relish with beef sausages and crumbled feta cheese) and sipped on Turkish coffee before figuring out our next move.
Drinks at Shimmers: We still had some time to kill before we could check into our hotel, so we walked along the Jumeirah Beach to Shimmers, a restaurant located on the private beach of the Madinat Jumeirah Hotel. During peak times, you may need a reservation, but we arrived around 2:00 PM on Sunday and we managed to score a table on the beach. Drinks were quite pricey (76 AED or 20 USD), but totally worth it for the killer view of the Burj Al Arab. I can only imagine how stunning it would be for sunset drinks!
Check in at Park Regis Boutique Hotel: As I mentioned, we booked our hotel last minute via HotelTonight, a travel app that I’ve been using ever since I started working in the airline industry. This hotel was pretty affordable (about 93 USD per night including taxes), was right next to the public beach and had a pretty fresh, modern interior. If we stayed longer, I would have definitely enjoyed the proximity to the beach a little more, but since we wanted to do as much as we possible could in our short time there, we ended ordering a lot of Ubers to the attractions we wanted to see. Loved the hotel – and the staff is super friendly – but in retrospect, I wish we had stayed closer to the Dubai Mall / Burj Khalifa area.
Dubai Mall: After taking a nap, we went to the second largest mall in the world. With 1,000 retailers, an aquarium, a movie theater, 250 hotel rooms, grocery stores, currency exchanges, and more than a hundred restaurants, there’s something for everyone there. It’s also connected to the Burj Khalifa and home to the Dubai Fountain.
Dinner at Logma: Located in the Dubai Mall, Logma is a great way to try affordable Emirati fusion fare and also take in an amazing view of the Dubai Fountain (more on that below). Food and service was great, and it doesn’t break the bank like the rest of the city. There are a few locations in Dubai, but the Dubai Mall one is the way to go. If you can score a seat on the balcony, you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the Dubai Fountain show, which runs every 30 minutes.
Dubai Fountain: What can I say, I’m a sucker for a good fountain show. Imagine the Bellagio Fountain in Las Vegas (they share the same designers), but even bigger! Performances take place at 1:00 and 1:30 PM every day, every 30 minutes between 6:00 and 10:00 PM on weekdays, and every 30 minutes between 6:00 and 11:00 PM on weekends. I love the we caught the show from a higher vantage point instead of fighting the crowds down below.
This was our only full day in Dubai, so we had to make it count! We ended up getting around via Uber, but if we had more time, we probably would have rented a car because everything is so spread out. You probably wouldn’t want to pack this much into one day, but if you only have a long layover in town, you might want to!
Breakfast at Cafe Rider: We fueled up with breakfast and coffee at this motorcycle-themed cafe. It’s in a bit of an industry area, but has a spacious dining / social / working area that brings the industrial vibes inside. I had the shakshuka and James had the French toast.
Dubai Miracle Garden: This was the one thing I was most excited about seeing during our short time in Dubai. It’s home to five million flowers, including an Emirates Airbus 380 covered in florals, and of course – the most Instagrammable spot in all of Dubai. We arrived within minutes of the place opening and had it entirely to ourselves for at least 15 minutes or so. By the time we find the heart arch and snapped photos, a crowd was already building in the area. You probably don’t need more than an hour there. By the time we left, it was starting to get quite crowded!
Alserkal Art District: In the past decade, this industrial area has become a pretty noteworthy home to Emirati arts and culture. The district is made up of 39 warehouses, each containing art galleries, coffee shops, a chocolate shop, a perfumery and more. Our favorite was a photography gallery that showcased “street photography” from around the world. We popped into the Nightjar for avocado toast and some creative libations (I had the raspberry sour – raspberry iced tea, lime juice, egg white and coffee preserved cherry). I also heard a local next to us talking about the local roast chicken!
Burj Khalifa: Personally, I’m not easily impressed when it comes to views from skyscrapers. I’d much rather enjoy the view of the iconic building. But we were in Dubai, home to the tallest building in the world, so why not! We booked a visit to the 125th floor for a pretty penny (149 AED or about 40 USD) each. You could go even higher to the 148th floor, but I could justify the 380 AED/105 USD price. I imagine it’s a less crowded at the very top.
Arabian Tea House: We then headed over to the Al Fahidi historical neighborhood to get a vastly different perspective of Dubai. Here, you’ll find a taste of Old Dubai, with a beautiful mosque and this wonderfully lively tea house. We enjoyed some Arabian tea, kabobs and samosas and some amazing Emirati hospitality.
The Old Souk: Afterwards, we took the ferry (which was super affordable) across to the Old Souk and the nearby Gold Souk. It’s what you would imagine a traditional market to be – lively, bustling and shopkeepers trying to get you to come into their store and buy something. If you’re looking to pick up a souvenir, this would be the place to do it. But just be prepared for some very charismatic shopkeepers!
So that’s it – a quick 36 hours in Dubai. In the end, I’m glad that fate brought us unexpectedly here. Dubai is one of the mysterious, faraway destinations that I thought would be cool to visit, but never had immediate plans to do so. Everyone is so incredibly nice, and like NYC, most people that live in Dubai aren’t from there. If you can swing a few days – or even a long layover – Dubai is definitely worth checking out!
Leave a comment below to let me know if you’ve ever been to Dubai or if it’s on your list!