Actually, five days is more than the average visitor spends in Dubai. According to numbers released by Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce for the 2014 year, the average hotel stay is just 3.4 days. It’s a bit higher for visitors who opt to stay in Hotel Apartments, but added together, I suspect that five days is plenty enough for a first time visitor to get a strong sense of what Dubai has to offer .
Take the Big Bus Tour
Dubai has its own version of the “big bus tours” common in many big cities that have large groups of tourists passing through.
It’s a great way to quickly orient yourself with what Dubai has to offer and of course, you can get off, take as long as you like to see what takes your fancy, and then get back on the next Big Bus to pass by the stop, all for the cost of the ticket you have purchased.
How much? A standard adult ticket, valid for 24 hours, is $US66 or AED240. Currently, as we head into the hotter weather, there are discounts available. If, for example, you book online in advance for a fixed date, it’s $US 59.40. You can read all about prices here.
The Big Bus Tour visits all the famous landmarks: the Gold and Spice Souks, the Burj Al Arab, the Palm Jumeirah, Dubai Mall, the Burj Khalifa (currently, the world’s tallest building), and many other points of interest.
The Big Bus Company’s very comprehensive website can be viewed here. The sidebar on the Home Page contains pretty much everything else you could ever want to know about this very good value service.
And don’t be worried about the weather at this time of the year. The lower decks of the buses are fully enclosed and air-conditioned, while the upper deck has an enclosed and air-conditioned section if the heat gets a little too much for you.
Ride the Metro
Dubai’s Metro – its elevated and underground commuter rail service – is another very cheap and convenient way not only to get to key places you will probably want to visit, but to also get a good view of what has been happening in Dubai over the past 10 – 12 years.
Most of the Metro is on elevated tracks above ground. While it is primarily to move people quickly, efficiently, and pollution-neutrally to important points in the city, Dubai has also seen it has potential for the tourist and sightseeing market.
You can buy a one-day ticket (valid until midnight on its day of use) for just AED 14 or $US3.85 – and if that’s not a great bargain, then I don’t know what is!
So what can you use the Metro to see?
How about Dubai Mall, the Burj Khalifa (you can get right to them from the station via a fully air-conditioned elevated corridor), the Mall of the Emirates (the one with the indoor ski-slope), Ibn Battuta Mall right near the Jebel Ali end of the Metro’s Red Line, and now, the whole of the Palm Jumeirah is also accessible if you interchange with the brand new Al Sofouh light tram-railway and the Palm Monorail.
You can read more about the Dubai Metro, the Al Sofouh Tram, and the Palm Monorail here.
See the Main Sights
I’ve mentioned a few of these already, but I should also put in a plug for Dubai’s taxi fleet. Have no fears about being taken on a ride of the kind you might worry about in other places – Dubai’s taxis are all metered and there are no hidden charges – although you need to be aware that if you decide to take a taxi ride to nearby Sharjah, the fare will be whatever is on the meter, plus AED 20.
A surcharge also applies for Abu Dhabi, but you will find Dubai’s taxi fleet modern, clean, air-conditioned, and very reasonably priced by other big city standards.
So, what are the other sights worth seeing? As a counter to all the glitz and 21st century modernity of “new Dubai,” I’d strongly recommend both sides of the Dubai Creek (near the Spice and Gold Souks).
Just take a stroll (keeping out of the sun) and look at the dhows that still ply the waters of the Gulf – and all the way across to the Indian sub-continent. There’s a very pleasant park – Dubai Creekside Park (with shade) – on the Bur Dubai side of the Creek.
Dubai also has an interesting range of museums and heritage buildings, if you fancy learning a little more about life in the Trucial States (as the Emirates were formerly called), before independence, confederation, and oil changed everything in the early 1970s.
Here’s a quick summary of some of the cultural stops you could make if shopping and eating are beginning to lose their appeal. At its old heart, along both sides of the Creek, Dubai is really quite small and compact, so you can easily get to quite a few of these places with just a little prior research.
Head for the Desert
The sand is, of course, everywhere. The lush landscaping of the new and exciting parts of the city can easily make you forget what is really just a few inches beneath your feet everywhere. If you have a strong stomach, try a desert safari.
A whirlwind ride through the sand dunes, just a dozen or so kilometres from the bustle of the big city, is rather like a mix of severe turbulence on a plane and an out-of-control roller coaster. But don’t worry – it’s all very safe: I can’t recall reading about a fatality or even an injury in recent years, despite the thousands of visitors who enjoy this other side of the Dubai experience.
Really, the drivers know what they are doing and they are very safe. I guess if you are prone to car-sickness, you might want to think twice, or at least mention it to the driver to ensure you’re not in the back of the vehicle.
Arabian Adventures is just one of many companies that do these tours. This isn’t a special plug, but they have been in the business a long time and have built a solid reputation. You can find plenty of others just by doing a simple search using keywords like “desert safari/Dubai” – all the companies have to be registered to offer this kind of activity.
A typical afternoon/evening “adventure” costs around AED 360 per person and includes all transport from your hotel and return, the desert drive, a dinner at a Bedouin camp in the desert, demonstrations of falconry, dancing, camel rides, henna painting, and the like. Expect to be out for around 6 hours.
See Dubai from the Sky
Now, these next two aren’t exactly cheap, but I think I can promise that they will be memorable.
How about a hot air balloon ride over the desert – a great coda to your desert safari experience described above. It’s AED 995 per person, but the cost includes pick-up and return to your hotel or any other nominated point in Dubai.
It can all be booked online here. Time in the air is one hour, and the company suggests you allow four hours from pick-up to return,.
Fancy seeing Dubai by helicopter? See all those iconic landmarks that you have probably already seen from ground-level? You can charter a chopper for 45 minutes for the “Long Ride” for AED 9450 for 5 people, or the 60-minute “Maxi Ride” for AED 12850.
There’s also a 15 minute “Fun Ride” for AED 795 per person, or you can charter the whole helicopter for yourself for AED 3180. Read all about it here.
Camels and Race Horses
Do you fancy a night at the races – camel or horse races, that is? Dubai’s Meydan Racecourse opened just five years ago, and like everything else that is Dubai, it’s bigger, better, more opulent, greener, and richer than pretty much any competitor anywhere else in the world.
The racing season usually starts in November each year and peaks with the Dubai World Cup in March of the following year. If there’s no racing in progress (due to the hot weather), racing fans can visit the facilities and sample the amazing restaurant there.
Even if the horses, the Sheikhs, and the associated glitterati aren’t there, it’s a destination of its own merits. But for maximum fun, you want to be there for the Dubai World Cup if you can.
Definitely more in keeping with the traditions of the region is the Dubai Camel Racing Club. The dedicated website is in Arabic only, but you can learn more about what, where, and when via this link.
The 2015 Festival has come and gone, but the first two weeks of April 2016 might be worth noting in your diaries if this side of Dubai sightseeing has special appeal. Also, camels are a lot more tolerant of the hot weather than thoroughbred horses, so the action at the Al Ain Road Al Marmoom Camel Racetrack goes for more months of the year than the races at Meydan.
Five days might not seem all that long, but Dubai has plenty for you to see and do. It will probably whet your appetites for return visits. And if these haven’t hit the mark for you, there is always shopping or the outlet mall.