The tallest buildings. The most expensive cars. The biggest malls. The coolest nightlife. That’s Dubai for you in a nutshell – a fascinating city whose sheer extravagance inspires awe. America may be the land of plenty, but Dubai takes it a notch higher.
The mainstream things to do are plentiful and more than account for the regular traveller’s seven-day trip to Dubai. But what happens when you’re there longer? When the sheer scale of grandeur simply doesn’t hold your attention anymore.
Admit it, you need a break from all of it. So, here’s the good news – there’s tons of other fun, offbeat stuff to do in Dubai. Here are our top 17 picks.
Date Tasting At The Deira Market
Date palm tree plantation is so ingrained in Emirati culture that the farmers treat the date trees as family members. While we don’t particularly recommend getting that involved, we absolutely do recommend trying out this delicious fruit of the region.
Take a trip to the date section at the fruit and vegetable market in Deira, where you can sample some of the best dates in Dubai. Added bonus: you can get a taste of the local life as you stroll through this traditional food market, which is colourful, lively and welcoming.
Timings: This is recommended as an early morning activity before the scorching sun gets out – 8AM would be nice.
Location: Get to Al Ras Metro station (Green Line) and you will find it next to the glitzy gold souk.
Price: Dates come in a wide variety, but expect to pay between AED 50-70 for a kilo.
Riding The Urban Zipline By XLine
If you’re an adrenaline junkie, this is your thing. Ride the world’s longest urban zipline at speeds of 80 kmph, while taking in some breathtaking views of the Marina.
This is XLine’s second zipline in Dubai, the first one being over the Dubai Fountain. The Marina zipline is better in almost all ways – it’s longer, faster and affords a generally better view.
Word of caution: There are restrictions to participation – age and weight, for example. Pregnant women aren’t allowed. They also won’t let you through if you’ve consumed liquor.
Timings: 10AM to 5PM, every 20 minutes
Location: The XLine booth on Level P in the Dubai Marina Mall
Price: AED 650
Taking A Traditional Abra Ride
Abras are traditional wooden water taxis that are used to ferry people across the creek. And while you can experience an abra ride in Dubai Canal, Dubai Marina, or even the Burj Khalifa Lake, it is the one across Dubai Creek that gets our vote.
An abra ride is a great way to see the city from a different angle. Get a glimpse into Dubai’s past, with views of traditional Middle Eastern architecture, and also experience its present, with the frenetic water traffic that now takes place on this famed trade route. You can choose to rub shoulders with locals by sharing one, or rent one for yourself by the hour.
Location: There are 2 routes – both connecting Deira and Bur Dubai. You can either take the abra from Deira Old Souk Abra Station or Sabkha Abra Station.
Timings: Deira Old Souk Abra Station to Bur Dubai Abra Station takes 5 minutes and is open from 5AM to midnight. Sabkha Abra Station to Dubai Old Souk Abra Station lasts 7 minutes and runs 24 hours.
Price: An incredible value-for-money proposition at just 1 dirham.
Experiencing Global Culture At Global Village
This seasonal cultural extravaganza encapsulates the diversity that defines Dubai. Global Village is a lot of things – theme park, entertainment, handicraft shopping, food – all rolled into one. There are 25 countries represented in this open-air event and experiencing all those cultures in a matter of a few hours is a unique and enlightening experience.
Global Village has been around for over 20 years and now attracts more than 5 million people a year. It is safe to say that Global Village is tried and tested. Yet, somehow, inexplicably, it doesn’t show up in the mainstream Dubai itinerary.
Location: Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road
Timings: November to April only – check exact dates online. The market is open from 4PM to midnight from Saturday through Wednesday and up to 1AM on Thursdays, Fridays and public holidays.
Price: AED 15 for admission – then, pay as you go.
Taking A Treatment At The Talise Ottoman Spa
There are spas, and then there’s the Talise Ottoman Spa in the luxurious Jumeirah Zabeel Saray Hotel. This multiple award-winning spa is the largest in the Middle East, and possibly the most opulent. Everything about it, from its grand carved turquoise doors to the use of sparkling marble and mosaics, is pure decadence.
The Turkish Hammam in the Talise Ottoman Spa is a thing of beauty and must not be missed. There are over 40 different services to choose from, including massages, facials and body treatments. You can sign up for day packages that include a selection of their most recommended treatments. There is even a goat milk jacuzzi treatment that’s supposed to be out of this world – it’s guaranteed to leave your skin as silky and refreshed as Cleopatra’s.
The service quality at this spa is impeccable, and the treatments are innovative and effective. The decor is magnificent. After all that sightseeing and shopping, this is the ultimate place to go for some self indulgence.
Location: Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, The Palm Jumeirah, Crescent Road (West)
Timings: 9AM to 9PM, though the Hammam is only open from 11AM to 7PM
Price: It’s not cheap, but let’s be honest: the best things in life cost money. 45 minutes in the Hammam will set you back upwards of AED 500. Facials, massages and body treatments will all cost you between AED 550 and 1,000.
Car Racing At Dubai Autodrome
You know that ‘I wonder what that would be like’ feeling when you’re just walking along the road and a supercar roars past you? At Dubai Autodrome, you don’t need to wonder it anymore.Get the experience of a lifetime ad you push the throttle on some of the very best cars out there, including Ferraris, Porsches, McLarens, and an actual Formula1 car on a beautifully designed circuit.
These cars go from 0-100 in about 3 seconds and have over 500 horsepower engines – the growl from the engines is spine-tingling. The track has a nice straight patch for you to let the engine rip and turns to test your skills. The team is knowledgeable and their tutorial before you take-off is quite helpful. It’s just an overall awesome experience if you’re a motorhead.
Location: Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Timings: All 7 days of the week, 9AM to 5PM
Price: Depends on the car, but it is pretty steep no matter what you choose. The F1 experience will set you back by almost AED 10,000. The Ferrari experience costs almost AED 3,000 and a McLaren is for AED 2,365
Exploring The Camel Market In Al Ain
There are over 400,000 camels in the UAE and they have been domesticated for the last 2,000 years. They are ingrained in Arab culture and, to this day, are considered prized possessions. There is a festival called Al Dhafra in Abu Dhabi that hosts beauty pageants for camels with big cash prizes up for grabs. While Al Dhafra might leave you feeling a little perplexed, a trip to the Camel Market in Al Ain, Dubai, where you can get you up close to these gangly creatures while soaking in the vibrancy of a unique market, is fascinating.
Trading takes place early in the morning and that’s when you should be planning your visit. It’s entertaining watching traders negotiate hard with buyers, as their camels lounge about with nonchalant expressions on their face. The Al Ain camel market is loud, noisy and dusty, yet so very lively. It’s definitely worth a trip!
Location: Zayed Bin Sultan Street, Al Ain
Timings: 6AM to 7PM on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. 3PM to 5PM on Fridays. The market is closed on Mondays.
Price: Free to enter and check out.
Taking The ArtBus Tour
Art lovers can hop onto these comfortable air-conditioned buses and be driven through the art hubs of Dubai: Al Quoz, Downtown and the Al Fahidi Historical neighbourhood. Each bus is hand-painted by artists based in the UAE and gets a fresh look every year.
The guides on board shed light on the galleries and the art on display, and are generally well-informed and friendly. The tour also provides passengers with literature that they can refer to on the drive.
The flip side? It’s only open 3 to 4 days a year in mid-March.
Location: Starts from the Souk Madinat Jumeirah
Timings: Starts at 10AM and you get done with the tour at 5PM
Price: An absolute bargain at AED 50
Discovering The Bastakiya Quarter
One of the oldest neighbourhoods of the city, the Bastakia Quarter is a reflection of what Dubai must have been like before all the development. It was built in the late 1800s by traders from Iran and, with its narrow alleys and old architecture, it seems like not much has changed.
The lanes are pedestrianised and there are cafes, art galleries and boutique hotels everywhere. (We highly recommend the Basta Art Cafe.) This area also houses what most believe to be the oldest existing building in Dubai – the Al Fahidi Fort – that was built in the late 1700s to protect the town from raiders. You can also spend time at the Dubai Museum, which is housed inside the fort.
Location: Bur Dubai
Timings: You can visit anytime you’d like, but it’s probably wise to go in the mornings or evenings when the sun isn’t at its brightest.
Price: Like all the best things in life, it’s free
Horse racing is a rich man’s indulgence. And when you add Dubai level money to that, quite expectedly, you get the best quality experience for a day at the races. Meydan hosts the prestigious US$ 35 million Dubai World Cup, and is open from late October to mid-April. With great seating and awesome views, the Meydan Racecourse is the discerning punter’s delight. The horses seen in these parts, often owned by the wealthy Sheikhs, are some of the finest and most expensive in the world.
You can also visit the Meydan Racecourse for a stable tour to get up and close with the thoroughbreds.
Location: Al Meydan Road, Nad Al Sheba
Timings: Check the race calendar, but the races typically start at 6.30PM.
Prices: General admission is free and you get a pretty good view from here as well. For a better quality experience, complete with dining packages, visit Meydan’s website for options. Needless to say, those come with a cost attached.
Adventure Sports In Ras Al Khaimah
This lesser-known emirate is an hour-and-a-half away from Dubai towards the north, and is the ideal getaway from the city’s pace and lights. It is the staycation destination of choice for Dubai residents, and we see why – it’s quiet, has beaches with awesome resorts, and is set by the impressive Jebel Jais Mountain.
There’s enough to do in Ras al Khaimah to make a weekend out of it – there’s water sports and some very nice hiking trails and rock-climbing points. But if there’s one thing you MUST visit Ras al Khaimah for, it’s the worlds longest zipline from UAE’s highest point in Jebel Jais. This exhilarating zipline is 2.83 kilometres long with epic views of the rugged landscape along the descent at speeds of 150 kmph.
Location: Ras Al Khaimah
Timings: Depends on the activity
Price: Depends on the activity
Riding A Hot-Air Balloon In The Desert
Imagine floating over the desert in the wee hours of the morning as you watch the sun rise in the horizon. If this is the kind of thing that interests you, you’ll love taking a hot-air balloon ride in Dubai. Your operator will usually pick you up from your hotel at around 3.30AM and you’ll be back by 8AM. If you book with Balloon Adventures Dubai, you can choose to fly with falcons and have a gourmet breakfast as part of the experience, although there are other operators who offer a cheaper price but without the breakfast and falcons.
Location: Somewhere in the desert
Timings: 3.30AM to 8AM (usually). Timings may differ from operator to operator.
Price: Balloon Adventures Dubai charges AED 1,250 for adults and AED 1,100 for kids aged 5-11
Getting A Taste Of Bollywood At Bollywood Parks Dubai
You KNOW Bollywood is big when it has its own theme park outside of India! This one’s got live entertainment, over-the-top stunts, movie-themed rides, restaurants, shopping – all with a big dose of Bollywood and spread over 1.7 million square feet.
The park has 5 distinct zones, each with its share of a total of 16 attractions that are all movie-related – think Lagaan, Sholay, Dabangg, and more. You can grab a bite at one of the six restaurants on site. Go in for coastal-style food from Mumbai in a full-sized reproduction of a train in their restaurant, Victoria Station, or enjoy modern and authentic Indian delicacies in the royal darbar-themed restaurant, Mughal-E-Azam Dining.
There’s a shop where you can take silly pictures with studio props, or you can buy yourself a Bollywood-themed T-shirt at Bollywood Haat. There’s lots to do here, and if you dig Bollywood, you’d certainly enjoy this experience.
Location: Sheikh Zayed Road
Timings: Thursdays and Fridays from 3PM to midnight. All other days, 3PM to 11PM
Price: A one-day full-access pass is AED 175 per person
Enjoying The Chill At The Chillout Ice Lounge
Speaking of unusual and offbeat things, can you imagine freezing in -6 degree temperatures with snow around you in a desert? We thought not! But in the wonder that is Dubai, you get to do just that. Visit the Chillout Ice Lounge, which dubs itself as the Middle East’s first sub-zero lounge. Located in Times Square Center, it features ice seating, tables and sculptures illuminated by shades of pink and purple, and you’re given a coat as you enter to withstand the cold. But, of course, this being Dubai, there’s no alcohol sold – instead, feast on a range of hot chocolate, mocktails, cakes, and light bites, making it a family-friendly experience.
Location: Times Square Center, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai
Timings: 10AM to 10PM from Saturday to Wednesday, 10AM to midnight on Thursdays and Fridays
Price: AED 80 for adults and AED 40 for kids (includes a complimentary drink)
Having A 23-Carat Gold Ice Cream At Scoopi Café
Granted, Dubai is the land of excesses – and no amount of bling is too much for it. But did you imagine that this trickles down in their food and drink, too? If you ever feel like you haven’t indulged yourself enough, go try the 23-carat gold ice cream at Scoopi Café.
Known as the Black Diamond, this liquid nitrogen ice cream is freshly made and frozen right before serving and contains Madagascar vanilla, saffron from Iran (the world’s most expensive, of course), and black truffle slices from Alba in Italy. It is then covered with edible 23-carat gold powder and gold flakes. And if all of this wasn’t too much, there’s further bling in the form of a Versace bowl and silver spoon, which – mercifully – the café lets you keep.
Location: Scoopi Café, Jumeirah Beach Road, 800, Umm Suqeim 2, Dubai, UAE or Scoopi Café, Marina Mall, Reel Cinemas
Timings: 1PM to 1AM, seven days a week
Price: AED 2,999, or the combined expense of your entire trip
Playing A Round Of Camel Polo
The ‘ship of the desert’, or camel, is ubiquitous to Dubai. If you’re as fascinated with this animal as we are and enjoy an exhilarating yet unusual experience, camel polo is for you. Played in a minimum group of eight, you will be picked up from your hotel and taught the ropes of the sport, which has originally been the domain of kings.
No kind of prior riding experience is required and the operator will arrange for a polo T-shirt, riding equipment and soft drinks for you throughout the experience. Each participant will be accompanied by a trainer who controls the direction, while you, the passenger, gets to hold the mallet and score goals. Competitive, exhilarating and oodles of fun, this is one experience you shouldn’t miss!
Timings: Monday and Wednesday mornings, only in the winter (from 1 October to 30 April)
Price: AED 840 for a group of 8
Getting Lost Amid Flowers At Dubai Miracle Garden
A visit to Dubailand may be on your mainstream tourists’ itinerary, but delve a little deeper and make sure you visit the Dubai Miracle Garden. Set in the heart of Dubailand, this Instagram-worthy garden has 150 million flowers, sculptures, and displays and is the recipient of two Guinness World Records (for the largest vertical garden in 2013 and the world’s largest floral sculpture, forming the shape of an Airbus A380, in 2016). From aeroplanes and butterflies to entire townships and birds, you’ll find it all made in flower form here.
Location: Al Barsha South Third, Dubailand, Dubai, UAE, PO Box 181157
Timings: The park is only open from mid-November to mid-May. Timings vary, so please check the website before you go.
Price: AED 50 for adults and AED 40 for kids below 12