.The United Arab Emirates are artificial, fake, one big fair and there is nothing to see. That's about the cliché that prevails with most people so a week in Dubai is not an option. When my husband and I could take a week off in November we were looking what destination met the criteria "not too far away, '' little time difference 'and 'guaranteed good weather’, we ended up with Dubai. So we decided to give it a try.
Things to see in Dubai
Where to stay in the Dubai desert
After a pleasant flight we are greeted in Dubai by a driver who brings us straight to the ‘Al Maha Desert Resort’. We arrive in the middle of the night (unfortunately without luggage, because it was still in Brussels), but we see immediately marvel at the fabulous setting. 42 Bedouin tents are arranged so that you have undisturbed views from your terrace into the desert. A small private plunge pool completes the picture. This is definitely the best hotel in Dubai desert.
When they asked us if we wanted to wake up early the next morning to watch the sunrise, we immediately said “yes”, of course. However, we didn’t anticipate two men entering our tent just before dawn to open up the front part of the tent. It meant that we could enjoy the most spectacular sunrise ever from the comfort of our bed. Near the terrace of our tent, two beautiful oryx nibble quietly on some of the plants that grow here. We are intensely quiet and fully enjoy this unique moment.
Things to do in Dubai desert
The next morning, we get up early to make the most of our short stay in the desert. After a great breakfast we leave with a driver to explore the desert by terrain vehicle during a dune drive. During one of the stops we stand on top of a beautiful orange-red dune. Nothing but gently rippling sand all around us. Words fail to describe how breathtakingly beautiful it is here.
On the back of a camel
In the evening we return to the desert, but now by camel. While sipping a glass of champagne, we enjoy another wonderful view at sunset.
After a refreshing shower in our tent (an understatement really) we bask in the afterglow of a great day on our terrace, and look forward to tomorrow.
Sandboarding in the desert
Are you a skier or surfer? Then consider trying sand boarding. After a steep climb to the top of a breathtaking dune, you go down at breakneck speed as an accomplished sand boarder. According to our oldest sun this was the most fun thing to do in Dubai.
Tip: book this activity for early morning or just before sunset to avoid the worst of the heat.
Falconry in the desert
I had always wondered how it is possible to train a falcon. Once you release that beautiful raptor, why wouldn’t it just fly away, never to return? Falconry is a popular sport in the Emirates. In one afternoon we learned all about the training of falcons and we accompanied a falconer with his falcon into the desert for a demonstration.
Of course, there are a lot of other things to do in the desert. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking, and is a stark contrast to the glitz and glamour of the city. A visit to the desert is an absolute must during your week in Dubai.
After our stay in the desert, we are brought back to the city where we take up residence at the Royal Mirage hotel, one of the finest hotels in Dubai. Of course everything is a little 'fake' here, and the luxury is over the top, but it still has a certain charm.
We immediately noticed that people park their cars and leave the key. We have rarely felt so safe.
We rented a car because you can easily explore Dubai on your own. One building is even more megalomaniac than the other, the desert is a big construction site. The center, around the Creek, is much more traditional with its souks and magnificent dhows.
Things to do in downtown Dubai
Atlantis The Palm in Dubai
If you are a week in Dubai with children, you should not miss Atlantis. The hotel is inspired by the sunken city of Atlantis, and it is as though you're at Disney World. We are therefore quite happy that we can escape the chaos after an hour as this is not really our thing. On the other hand, the children marveled at the giant aquariums and the fairytale setting.
Hotel Atlantis is located on one of the Palm Islands. Now that you're here anyway, you can also enjoy a brief stop at the marina.
Hotel Burj Al Arab in Dubai
This beautiful six-star hotel resembles the sail of a ship, and stands on its own small island near Jumeirah Beach. Staying in this super-de-luxe hotel in Dubai is only for the happy few, but of course you can visit for afternoon tea or dinner in one of the restaurants. Not cheap, but just barely feasible. Good for an overdose of glitz and glamour.
You cannot miss visiting a shopping mall when you’re a week in Dubai. The Mall of the Emirates is known for its indoor ski slope. The Dubai Mall is the newest and largest shopping paradise. It features entertainment as diverse as a huge aquarium fit for diving, an indoor skating rink, and much more. Shopping is one of the main things to do in Dubai.
Fly over The Palm
Literally and figuratively, the highlight of your week in Dubai is a flight by helicopter or seaplane. We booked a Seawings seaplane, and flew over the Palm Islands and The World. It is only from the air that you get a good idea of these artificial islands. You also clearly see that The World is slowly sinking.
In 2009, one day before the official opening of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, we stood before what was then called the Burj Dubai. At that time, it was still one big construction site around the tower. We did not recognize the area during our visit in 2016. The area around Burj Khalifa has turned into one big entertainment area. The largest mall of Dubai is located here, and there lots of terraces with cosy bars and restaurants. All of the terraces overlook the water around the Burj Khalifa.
Try to visit in the evening to enjoy the dancing fountains. At 1pm and 1.30pm beautiful music is played, and the fountains dance to the rhythm of the music. In the evening, between 6pm and 11pm, the fountains dance every half hour, with the additional bonus of a breathtaking lightshow.
Make yourself comfortable on one of the surrounding terraces and enjoy.
The Burj Khalifa has many world records to its name:
- World's tallest building (828 meters)
- Tallest freestanding structure
- Highest number of floors
- Highest floor with residential space
- Highest observation deck
- Highest outside observation deck
- Highest lift in the world
Of course, during your week in Dubai it is worth to take the elevator to the observation decks to enjoy a spectacular view of the city. The entrance is in the Dubai Mall. But you have to dig deep into your pocket for the experience.
TIP: Book your tickets in advance and save some money!
Pictures below; Burj Khalifa in 2009 and 2018.
Boat trip on the Creek
The Dubai Creek flows through the old centre of the city, near the souks. For a few euros you can sail to the other side and on the way you enjoy the hustle and bustle on the water. We made the crossing in the evening and enjoyed a breathtaking sunset over the water.
TIP: You can also book a Dhow cruise with dinner. That way you combine your trip with a nice dinner. Beware though, as the quality can vary.
Visit the souks and the old town
A walk through the souks is a must during your week in Dubai. The most delicious smells meet you in the Spice Souk, and you can view the heaviest golden ring in the world, at nearly 64 kg, in the Gold Souk. A Guinness World Records certificate hangs proudly in the window, so you can not miss it.
Where to stay in Dubai
Al Maha Desert Resort
This luxurious desert resort is 2 hours from the airport in the middle of the desert. I'll never forget the moment when we arrived. From one of the 48 tents you have uninterrupted views over the surrounding landscape. Orange-red sand dunes as far as the eye can see and a small pool right in front of your tent. The bathroom in the tent is insane, and the activities they offer here are all equally good. During your week in Dubai you have to stay (or at least visit) in the desert. it's one of the most fascinating things to do in Dubai.
If you’re only staying briefly, the perfect answer on where to stay in Dubai is the Armani Hotel Dubai. The hotel occupies several floors in the Burj Khalifa and is therefore very centrally located. This design hotel is decorated quite darkly but very stylish. If you book the Fountain Suite, you have a phenomenal view of the dancing fountains from your room - your TV even has a separate channel broadcasting the accompanying music to your room.
You reach the Dubai Mall through a tunnel from the lobby of the hotel. When you return, the bell boy will carry your bags to your room. So you can shop till you drop.
One & Only Royal Mirage
If you are looking for a beach holiday in Dubai, then this hotel is a gem. Located in a huge garden it features a private beach of no less than one kilometer long. It is built in Moorish style and consists of four distinct parts:
- The Palace, Arabian Court, Residence & Spa, and Beach Garden Villa.
- The Palace: here you can taste the grandeur of ancient Arabia.
- Arabian Court: Oriental decoration with many fountains and ponds
- Residence & Spa: for those who love the Spa. A member of The Leading Hotels of the World.
Where to stay in Dubai for the most demanding guests? Book the Beach Garden Villa: there is a two-bedroom villa with private pool, private beach and lavish luxury.
Jumeirah Beach Hotel
This iconic hotel on Jumeirah Beach is inspired by a wave. The luxury 5-star Dubai hotel has a private beach, 10 restaurants and bars, and no less than 5 pools. And if that's not enough, you get free access to Wild Wadi Waterpark.
Burj al Arab
Burj al Arab calls itself the most iconic hotel of Dubai. This hotel in the shape of a sail, is on a small island near Jumeirah Beach. It is said to be the most luxurious hotel in the world. Your transfer to the hotel is a Rolls Royce, and your helicopter can land on their own helicopter platform on top of the hotel. Looking for something over the top, this is the place where to stay in Dubai.
Hotel Miramar al Aqah Beach
This luxurious five-star resort located in the nearby emirate of Fujairah. Here are the prices slightly lower than in Dubai. The Emirate is located 1.5 hours drive from Dubai airport. If you visited Dubai before, and you’re here for some peace and quiet and only the odd trip to Dubai, this hotel is highly recommended.
We have traveled a number of times to Dubai already. It is the perfect location if you want a few days to see the sun during the winter. Sunshine guaranteed, not too far to fly, no jet lag, luxury hotels, fine dining, and safe. In short, everything you need to recharge the batteries. In the past years, we have seen it change from a desert construction site to a built-up Emirate.
If you think Dubai is too busy, you can choose to stay in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. They’re expanding their tourist offerings rapidly, but the city is not as built-up. Moreover, they have some great attractions such as the Louvre, the White Mosque and Ferrari Theme Park. Here you can read how to enjoy yourself in Abu Dhabi for 6 days. Like Dubai, Abu Dhabi also has many luxury hotels.
TIP: Emirates offers interesting rates to many destinations. Why not stopping over in Dubai on your way to South-Africa, India, Thailand or many other destinations. Stay there for one or 2 nights to discover the Dubai highlights.
If you want to go to the Middle East, but want to immerse yourself in a little more culture, then Oman is a good choice. More information about our trip to discover Oman can be found here.
Do you want to United Arab Emirates? Check out this example itinerary: Highights of the Emirates.
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