Top 20 things to do in Dubai, from Museum of the Future to flamingo spotting

The emirate is packed with must-try experiences, from the world's tallest building to Michelin-starred restaurants

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Dubai's high-rise skyline, pristine shorelines and luxury shopping experiences have made the emirate one of the world's most sought-after tourist destinations.

It's not hard to see why.

With landmark tourist attractions including the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Fountain and the Burj Al Arab, Dubai is also home to an ever-increasing number of luxury hotels, Michelin-starred restaurants, water parks and more.

Whether you're a long-term resident, a new arrival or are here on holiday, Dubai is filled with things to do and see.

From riding across the old creek on a traditional abra, to swimming in the world's highest infinity swimming pool, here are some of the city's must-dos.

1. Visit Museum of the Future

Since opening in February, Museum of the Future has become a popular stop in the UAE's rich cultural trail. The striking 78-metre-high structure in Downtown Dubai has seven floors that cover topics such as space travel and living, climate change and ecology, health, wellness and spirituality. Information is presented in various innovative formats — from stunning state-of-the-art exhibitions and interactive installations to robotics.

Make sure to visit the Heal Institute where you will also see a clear representation of what Dubai is set to look like 50 years from now. The digital display shows an urban landscape where skyscrapers and buildings are expertly intertwined with green spaces. Residents stroll spacious white piazzas, while the skies are home to hundreds of zooming drones.

Museum of the Future, Sheikh Zayed Road, Trade Centre;

2. Eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant

A melting pot of international cuisines and celebrity-chef-led restaurants, Dubai firmed up its place on the global culinary map when it welcomed its debut Michelin Guide last year. A total of 14 venues were awarded coveted Michelin stars this year, with the city now home to 11 one-starred restaurants and three two-starred venues, as well as 17 “value for money” Bib Gourmand restaurants.

Quality fare is the overarching parameter for a restaurant to make the cut, so a meal at any of these establishments is a must-have, whether you’re a resident or a visitor.

The National’s top recommendations include tuna tartare cones at Portuguese restaurant Tasca; blue lobster salad at Il Ristorante; Wagyu burgers at 11 Woodfire; veal filet mignon at Al Muntaha; and tiramisu at Torno Subito.

3. Visit Meena Bazaar

For sights, sounds and smells associated with the Indian subcontinent in Dubai, head to this bustling bazaar in Old Dubai. Most famous for its gold and jewellery shops, which do a rip-roaring trade during Dhanteras, Eid and Diwali, Meena Bazaar is chaotic, colourful and exceedingly charming all year round.

Head here for authentic Indian groceries, cheap and cheerful tailors shops that take on everything from hem alterations to copycat ensembles, famous Indo-Pakistani clothing brands and perfume, mobile and electrical shops galore.

No trip to Meena Bazaar is complete without a meal at some of Dubai’s oldest and most beloved desi restaurants — from street food at Sind Punjab and wraps and rolls at Mini Punjab, to Indian-Chinese at Kathmandu Palace Restaurant.

4. Experience the creek on an abra ride

For an antidote to modern Dubai — and a sense of what the city was like before it was transformed into a world-class metropolis — head down to the Creek. Separating Bur Dubai and Deira, this waterway served as the city’s lifeline for generations and is where Dubai’s earliest settlers put down roots. It was the site of the city’s first port and the heart of its pearl diving industry.

Today, traditional dhows continue to traverse its waters and wooden abras zip from one side to the other. These wooden boats offer one of Dubai’s most affordable experiences. The word abra means “to cross”, and every few minutes abras depart from one of four stations on either side of the creek — near the spice souk, textile market, Baniyas Square and old souk.

The 150 boats working this route can hold about 20 passengers each and the crossing only takes five minutes. Hop on board for Dh1 to get a little taste of Dubai of lore.

Several locations including Bur Dubai Abra Dock, Al Fahidi;

5. Go horse riding in the desert

Forget the dune buggies and explore Dubai’s desert on horseback instead. You’ll tap into the UAE’s age-old equestrian heritage while experiencing its dramatic landscapes in a more authentic manner. Located on Al Qudra Road, Al Jiyad Stables, home to 120 Arabian horses, is a family-run operation, founded by Ali Al Marzooqi.

Rides are available for all experience levels and take participants to explore the neighbouring Al Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve and Al Qudra Lakes. More experienced riders can also try their hand at endurance racing.

Al Jiyad Stables, Al Qudra Road;

6. Take in a show at Dubai Opera

Now in its sixth year, Dubai Opera remains the city’s most prestigious venue for the performing arts; and has hosted several storied shows. From the booming baritone of Sir Bryn Terfel, to the choral anthems of Les Miserables, and the soaring heights of Verdi to the graceful pirouettes of Giselle, some of the world’s most celebrated talents from across the arts have performed at Dubai Opera.

This month, visitors hungry for a little culture can feast on the State Ballet of Georgia’s Romeo & Juliet and the sounds of French-Canadian singer-songwriter Ghostly Kisses.

Dubai Opera, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Blvd;

7. Get dinner and a show

The appetite for dinner and a show remains undiminished in the UAE, with plenty of options to suit various artistic and culinary tastes.

Those looking for a refined evening should visit Papillon at The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina. Running four nights a week from Wednesday to Saturday, each show comprises a series of song and dance routines reflecting the Parisian glamour and artistry of the genre. The on-stage action is paired with an elegant multi-course French and Mediterranean menu.

Music lovers should head to The Theatre at Fairmont Dubai. Also running weekly from Wednesday to Saturday, each of the two nightly shows here boast slick choreography, acrobatics and eclectic band performances of Levant folk and modern pop hits.

Papillon at The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina, Mina Seyahi; The Theatre at Fairmont Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road, Trade Centre;

8. Hit new heights at Aura Skypool

Aura Skypool is more than just a striking backdrop for a day of Instagram stories. The pool, which loops around the 50th floor of The Palm Tower, Palm Jumeirah, is 200 metres in the air, making it the highest 360-degree infinity pool in the world. Enjoy food and drink on a lounger or day bed, with vistas looking out over Dubai Marina, JBR, Bluewaters Island, Jumeirah Beach and Palm Jumeirah’s identifiable fronds.

Packages start from Dh150 per person indoors and Dh250 per person for the pool. Booking in advance is essential — this isn’t the kind of Dubai venue that you can just stroll into without a reservation … that is unless you’re an A-list star like Cristiano Ronaldo, who checked out the venue for himself in January. Reservations are spilt into three time slots throughout the day — morning, afternoon and evening, and prices vary depending on where you sit on the terrace.

Aura Skypool, The Palm Tower, Palm Jumeirah;

9. Immerse yourself in art at Alserkal Avenue

The vibrant creative community is home to contemporary art galleries, visual and performing art organisations, designers, artisanal spaces and a range of culinary hot spots. Alserkal Avenue has become a platform to showcase the UAE’s diverse and emerging artists and cultural practitioners along with many home-grown and creative entrepreneurs’ initiatives.

From a global standpoint, art galleries in the Avenue have been instrumental in exhibiting the work of culturally relevant and renowned artists from across the Mena region, as well as introducing contemporary and historically significant artists and exhibition to the UAE.

From art house cinema, sustainable fashion brands, contemporary art spaces, specialist coffee, gourmet chocolate and a diverse cultural programme, Alserkal Avenue is a must.

Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz 1;

10. Delve into Mohammed Bin Rashid Library

As a lover of stories and books, you’ll be spoilt for choice at the Mohammed bin Rashid Library, which comprises of ten main library collections: The General Library, Young Adult Library, Children's Library, Information Centre, Map and Atlas Library, Media and Arts Library, Business Library, Emirates Library, Periodicals Library and a Special Collections Library.

Housing more than 100,000 books, the General Library specifically is one of the largest physical collections in the Mohammed bin Rashid Library. This also includes access to a wide variety of e-books, audio books and Braille books for the blind.

Lose yourself in the newly opened cultural space, The Treasures of the Library Exhibition. From first-edition books, to the complete works of William Shakespeare, unique atlases and manuscripts, some that date back to the 13th century and The Ottoman Quran, a large ottoman-era version of the Holy Quran.

Mohammed Bin Rashid Library, Al Jaddaf, Al Khail Road, Dubai;

11. Eat at Ravi’s

For cheap eats and guaranteed authentic dishes, pay a visit to Ravi's Restaurant. Something of an institution in Dubai — the decidedly casual dining spot serves a range of freshly grilled meats, rich curries, fluffy rotis and crisp-edged roghni naans.

Having created something of a following for itself, there’s now several branches of this Pakistani eatery, but the original one in Satwa attracts visitors, locals and expats for its authentic dishes and super cheap prices amid the hustle and bustle of everyday life in one of Dubai's older communities.

While the eatery is probably better-known for its meat mains, there's plenty of choice for vegetarians too. Don’t miss the paneer masala — it’s the vegetarian equivalent of Ravi's moreish butter chicken and costs a mere Dh21. Get ready to dig in with your hands.

Ravi Restaurant Satwa, Al Dhiyafah Road, Al Satwa;

12. Explore Global Village

Dubai's favourite seasonal theme park is a must-visit in the cooler months for its buzzing vibe. People young and old flood to Global Village come 4pm each evening, as the family-friendly attraction opens its doors. Expect food stalls, shops galore, fairground rides and games, plus live performances and more.

This year marks the 27th season and Global Village is all set to return in October with 27 pavilions and a brand new concept called Road of Asia, which will be a dedicated street featuring food kiosks from 13 Asian countries.

Global Village, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road;

13. Underwater adventures at Deep Dive Dubai

Deep Dive Dubai is home to the deepest indoor pool in the world, with a depth of 60.02 metres, and the ability to hold 14 million litres of water — the equivalent of six Olympic-sized swimming pools. It also comes complete with a sunken city for swimmers and divers to explore.

The fantastical underwater city has attracted some A-list clientele, from Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, who inaugurated the attraction, to Hollywood actor Will Smith, who visited within the first week.

Freediving and scuba diving experiences, along with courses, are offered to people of all abilities by international diving professionals. Experiences and courses to go into the blue start from Dh800.

Deep Dive Dubai, Nad Al Sheba;

14. Take a walk along Jumeirah Beach

The Jumeirah Beach walking and running track stretches seven beach-adjacent kilometres. Whether you choose to walk, run or cycle, the track begins at the Jumeirah Public Beach (near the Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach Hotel) and runs to the Dubai Canal — with a brief off-beach interruption near Dubai Offshore Sailing Club.

Along the track there is plenty to see and great places to stop for food including Bu Qtair Restaurant near the Fishing Harbour, busy cafes and food trucks of Kite Beach – Salt is a highlight, and the bustling Jumeirah Fish Market, where you’ll find Mena 50 Best Restaurant winner 3Fils.

You’ll encounter free libraries, where you can swap your books with new reads, Careem bike stations dotted along the stretch — in case walking the full 14km round trip doesn’t appeal, and several watersports schools and centres.

15. Adventuring in Hatta

Make a day of it with a trip to Hatta – a Dubai exclave located about an hour-and-a-half drive towards the Hajar mountains. Opening seasonally each year — September 15 is the launch date for the coming season — there’s a host of activities to be found at Hatta Wadi Hub, where you can go zorbing, try your hand at archery, cart down a mountain, brave a suspended net bridge, hop on a zip line, rock climb and much more.

There are also biking and hiking trails of various intensity that are free and open to everyone. If you want to make a night of it, bring your own tent and set up camp in the designated area, or splurge on a stay in the park's caravan site, in a mountain chalet or a luxury airstream trailer.

Hatta Wadi Hub, off the Dubai-Hatta Road;

16. Get a taste of the wild at The Green Planet

Dubai might be in the desert, but that doesn't mean you can't explore the jungle. Get a taste of the wild at The Green Planet, the city's very own tropical rainforest.

More than 3,000 species of plants, animals and birds call this enclosed sanctuary at CityWalk home and visitors can get up close and personal with toucans, sloths, lemurs, anacondas and more.

Tickets start at Dh125 and include access to educational exhibits where you can learn more about the role rainforests play in the future of our planet. You can even find out what it feels like to be in a tropical downpour. The very brave can opt to go snorkelling with piranhas or visit the dome as night falls.

The Green Planet, City Walk;

17. Take a tour of Burj Al Arab

Dubai’s landmark sail-shaped hotel is one of the most recognisable buildings in the city. In its 21-year-long history, it has been exclusively inaccessible to anyone who is not a hotel or restaurant guest, which meant most visitors had to make do with photographs of the seven-star hotel taken from nearby Kite Beach.

But in October 2021, that all changed when Jumeirah Hotels & Resorts launched Inside Burj Al Arab, an immersive, 90-minute tour of the hotel. The butler-guided experiences are curated for up to 12 visitors at a time and offer access to some of the hotel’s most exclusive spaces including the lavish Royal Suite on the 25th floor. You also stop in the newly curated Experience Suite, to partake in interactive digital experiences that traces the history of the hotel, back to the original architectural designs.

Burj Al Arab Hotel, Umm Suqeim 3

18. Thrill seeking at Sky Views Dubai

Fancy yourself as a bit of an adventurer? Then get down to Address Sky View hotel, where you can scale out over one of the city’s tallest skyscrapers.

Located on level 52 of the luxury hotel, Sky Views Dubai allows visitors to enjoy amazing views of the city with the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa almost in touching distance. A 25-metre glass walkway connects the two towers of the Address Sky View — and guests can walk between the two.

Afterwards, get ready to have some fun on a glass sky slide. Entirely transparent, it whisks visitors from the 53rd to the 52nd floor with some amazing views. If you are feeling particularly brave, head to the Edge Walk, a thrilling air-walk experience. Put on your safety equipment and get ready to step out over the edge of the building for one of the most exclusive views of Dubai.

Address Sky View, Emaar Square Area, Downtown Dubai;

19. More extreme thrill seeking with Skydive Dubai

Gigi Hadid, Lewis Hamilton, Akon — these are only a few of the celebrities who have taken the plunge with Skydive Dubai. Newbies can try a tandem jump, while more experienced skydivers can do it alone.

There are two locations to pick from: the Palm Dropzone, which offers a dive over amazing views of Palm Jumeirah, or the Desert Dropzone, about 35 kilometres outside Dubai, which offers glorious vistas of rolling dunes. Skydive Dubai also offers gyrocopter flights and indoor skydiving.

Prices for a tandem jump start from Dh1,799 from January to April and Dh1,899 from October to December.

Skydive Dubai, Al Seyahi Street, Dubai Marina;

20. Flamingo spotting in Ras Al Khor

It’s easy to forget that in a city as modern as Dubai, there are plenty of natural wonders on our doorstep, notably the flamingos of the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. On wetlands, located between Dubai Design District and Downtown Dubai, there is a reserve that serves as the home to tens of thousands of the distinctive pink birds.

The area is fenced off and protected by Dubai Municipality, however there are three bird hides putting nature lovers and ornithologists (budding or expert) in a prime position to watch the flamboyance from a safe distance. It’s recommended you pack a pair of binoculars to make the most of the bird watching, and remember it’s a quiet zone, so phones should be kept on silent and voices hushed throughout your visit.

Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary, off Ras Al Khor Road;

Updated: August 24, 2023, 12:14 PM