8 Things You Absolutely Cannot Miss in Dubai
Heading to Dubai and looking for things to do? I just returned and have rounded up the best the city has to offer!
While I Dubai I got messages all week from friends who couldn’t believe I was there. Not just because it’s so far (it is), but also because it’s definitely not my style. I’m very much not into commercial, touristy stuff and would rather be wandering the streets of an ancient Italian town full of history. I don’t like to be indoors, I don’t usually like guided tours, and, although I love luxurious things, I don’t like cities that are flashy and seem to use that as their main selling point.
But my uncle invited me to join him and my cousin for spring break so I could not resist. I believe you can always find good in every place so I set out to find the best Dubai has to offer, tailored to my own personal interests — adventure, outdoor activity, healthy eats, beautiful spaces, etc. I didn’t set foot in the world’s biggest mall or the world’s tallest building, but I did find 8 things that I feel you should absolutely not miss when you visit Dubai.
So, without further ado, here are 8 things you absolutely cannot miss in Dubai!
Small disclaimer: I try to stick to off-the-beaten path recommendations but Dubai is unfortunately one big cliche tourist trap so a few of the below recommendations will be a bit more touristy than you are used to if you are repeat reader of mine. Sorry!
VISIT SHEIKH ZAYED MOSQUE IN ABU DHABI
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is an unbelievably beautiful mosque in the city of Abu Dhabi, about an hour from Dubai. If you have plans to visit Dubai you absolutely must go here - no excuses.
As with pretty much everything in the area, the mosque is really above and beyond in every way. It features the world’s largest carpet in the main prayer hall and, in the courtyard, the world’s largest marble mosaic. There are seven Swarovski crystal chandeliers located throughout and the most of it is constructed in marble, gold, crystals and ceramics. It is said to have a capacity of over 40,000 worshippers.
From Dubai there are dozen of tour options, most of which seemed to be offering full day tours starting at the mosque and then continuing onto other points of interest in Abu Dhabi. I wasn’t interested in spending a whole day there due to lack of time so I booked a half-day tour last minute through a site called Get Your Guide. I hadn’t done any research on it prior to booking and it ended up being fine, thankfully.
The dress code at the mosque is strict, especially for women. You have to be fully covered from head to toe more or less. If you visit as part of a tour they will more than likely have gowns for you to put on once you arrive, which is a nice perk for doing an organized tour.
RIDE A CAMEL
I don’t go many places where riding a camel is an option, so I found this to be imperative while visiting. In addition to riding them, you can also eat camel meat and drink their milk if those sound up your alley (they were certainly not up mine).
Camel riding can be done in a variety of places, including as part of a desert safari which I’ll cover in more detail below. Regardless of where you do it, you should not miss the opportunity to do this!
EXPLORE THE MIRACLE GARDEN
The Miracle Garden totally falls under the “touristy things I can’t help but love” column. If you’ve ever searched for Dubai photos on Instagram or even opened the app in general (ha), you’ve definitely seen a pic or two of a girl in a flowy dress posing under some heart-shaped flower arches. It’s a one of a kind flower garden that is like nothing I have ever seen before.
I almost can’t believe I am recommending something so touristy, but you really should check this out!
HAVE LUNCH AT THE ARABIAN TEA HOUSE
The Arabian Tea House in Old Dubai was recommended to me by a local on Instagram and it was easily one of the highlights of my trip! It is the most beautiful oasis, in a space filled with blue and white details and surrounded by greenery.
It is a delicious and healthy place to eat, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We went for lunch and it was almost completely full of people - both locals and tourists.
They serve traditional food and drink from the region. I got a salad that I think was called something like the "vegetable salad" and it was honestly one of the highlights of my entire trip. You must try it!
In addition to a full food menu, they also have fresh juice, tea, and more. It is not only delicious but a wonderful, tranquil place to relax and catch up with friends.
When you are done, make sure to explore Old Dubai a bit!
SEE THE SIGHTS VIA A BOAT TOUR
I almost always recommend starting your adventure in a new city with a tour of some kind, and in Dubai I recommend doing that via boat!
I booked the Yellow Boats Tour based on a fellow travel blogger review. It was 90 minutes and showed you some different points of interest, stopping in front of a few places to snap some photos.
The Yellow Boats Tour was nice, but later I saw some friends of mine that I met at our desert safari do the Hero Self-Drive Boat Tour and that looked like a real adventure! It’s the only self-drive boat tour in Dubai and you get to explore the highlights behind the wheel yourself.
The site lists them as being fun, safe, study, and good for family activity. If I had known about it before we did our boat tour, I would have definitely chosen this instead!
PERUVIAN DINNER AT COYA
Living in San Francisco we are more than a bit spoiled with our food options. I often forget this and am therefore surprised to find most people I run into have not tried Peruvian food before, including my travel partners!
When I saw the Four Seasons had a highly recommended Peruvian restaurant, Coya, I knew we had to go. Not surprisingly, it was AMAZING.
We had the most divine ceviche sampler, each tasting five different types, a beet causaus, crab tacos, and more! Also do not skip the pisco sour. Side note: I was too busy gushing over how amazing the food was to remember to snap some photos - sorry!
Do note this is definitely on the pricier side and will cost at least a few hundred dollars.
Once you are done, if you aren’t staying at the Four Seasons I would recommend walking around the grounds. It is truly beautiful! In fact, if you are able, I would stay here.
GO ON A DESERT SAFARI
When I was doing my Dubai research I got a bit overwhelmed while trying to decide on a desert safari because I found there to be so. many. options. Thankfully my friend Kelsey saw that I was going and texted me that I absolutely had to book one through Platinum Heritage, so I did just that!
Platinum Heritage has a lot of claims to fame - they are #1 for safaris on TripAdvisor, they’re the Middle East’s leading desert safari company, they’re the world’s only safari to use 1950’s museum quality, vintage Land Rovers, etc. They’re also eco-friendly!
The safari I chose was the Heritage Desert Safari. I was going back and forth between this one and the Camel Desert Safari, but 45 minutes in direct sun on top of camel did not seem as wonderful as in a vintage Land Rover so I went for the former. After going and seeing both of the tours, I made the right choice, especially since I was still able to ride a camel.
You will be picked up from your hotel and taken to the Dubai Desert Conversation Reserve where you will either hop in the vintage Land Rovers or on a camel. Assuming you do the Heritage Desert Safari, you then drive through the desert, stopping every so often to take photos and admire some wildlife. At sunset you’ll see a falcon show before arriving at the authentic Bedouin camp.
The Bedouin camp is quite wonderful - there are Henna tattoos, music, dance, bread making, Arabic coffee making, and camel rides! The camel rides are in the dark, so if you’re trying to get a good camel photo this tour isn’t the one for you.
After all of that excitement, you sit down for a beautiful dinner at the camp. There’s a few different courses and many different options, including camel meat and camel milk. While you eat there are cultural Emirati performances, some of which you will be able to join in on!
It’s a truly wonderful experience and probably the #1 recommendation for those visiting Dubai.
Other options Platinum Heritage offers in addition to the Heritage Desert Safari: Camel Desert Safari, Overnight Desert Safari and Hot Air Balloon Flight, and Sunrise Hot Air Balloon and Wildlife Safari.
SHOP AND DINE AT COMPTOIR 102
Comptoir 102 is many things — a healthy cafe, a furniture store, a boutique. Each piece is Instagram perfection and so much fun to walk around, especially if you need to pick up something for friends (I especially loved the jewelry).
If you’ve been here before, you know I am on the hunt for the best, most healthy spots in every city I go and this one definitely fits the bill. Their site describes Comptoir 102 about being about good food and taking the time to pause.
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