Dubai truly is the epitome of luxury, the cars, the buildings, the hotels and the attractions. It has so much to offer! If you haven’t visited or you are planning to visit read more to find out how to spend a weekend in Dubai.
Living as an expat in a different country is exciting but just like any other country, you get caught up in daily routines and life in general. In the end, a lot of things are the same as they would be if I was still living in my home country. I still spend the last day of the weekend frantically trying to get my lessons planned (only the day has changed from a Sunday to a Saturday), I still spend every day after school battling myself to get to the gym (only now the gym is in my building and I don’t really have any excuse – regardless though, I’m the queen of making them), I still spend the evenings cooking dinner and getting lunch ready for the next day and I still binge watch My Kitchen Rules.
Even though I live in an exciting and exotic location, life still goes on.
Every now and again though, I’m reminded of what an amazing place I do live in. These moments are sporadic but they energise me and remind me to count my blessings. In those moments, it strikes me just how lucky I am to be living this awesome life!
Dubai is one of places for me.
Every time we start to approach the Marina area and the high-rises emerge from the plains of sand I think how cool is it that I live in the UAE?! It’s amazing that in around an hour and half I can drive to Dubai and experience all that this amazing city has to offer – people from all around the world dream of visiting and I’m lucky enough to have it on my doorstep.
Regardless of what brings you to Dubai, whether you live locally or are stopping off on the way somewhere else, this guide is for you.
Have fun, soak it all in and, when you’re done, waive the city goodbye, knowing that in a few years it will look substantially different – there’s nothing quite like it.
Looking for extra entertainment in the city? Check out this guide to help you plan a range of amazing (and free) activities in Dubai!
What to do in Dubai
Dubai is not short of fantastic things to do. To some, this city is a shopping paradise but look beneath the surface and you’ll find it’s so much more than that.
The following are just some of my favourite ways to while away the time in this incredible city.
Sightseeing on the Water – Splash Tours
Splash Tours is a fairly new company based out of Dubai Marina that offer jet boat tours around the Palm and Dubai Marina – and man is it fun! Before embarking on our journey we had imagined a tame, leisurely round-trip sightseeing tour. The only thing we managed to get right was the round-trip part!
It was a thrilling adventure that had some of our fellow passengers white-knuckling the seats in front of them. With the boat traveling up to 30 knots (around 55km/h), at times we felt like we were flying through the water. If this doesn’t sound exhilarating enough, the twists, turns and 360’s definitely got the blood pumping!
The best part? Not only were we jetting around The Palm but we were soaking up all of the iconic Dubai sights too. With stops in front of JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence), Atlantis the Palm, and the Burj Al Arab (the first seven star hotel in the world), a speedboat tour from the marina is the perfect way to tick all of your touristy boxes.
Not sure what all the buildings are or have questions along the way? Don’t worry, they’ll have you covered with their knowledgeable onboard tour guide. Ours was more than happy to provide us with facts and interesting information along the way – we’ve never had so much fun learning before!
Most importantly, we didn’t feel in danger at any time. The crew were professional and we felt safe and secure every step of the way.
My only advice, apart from booking this tour immediately, would be apply sunscreen before setting out as the Middle Eastern sun is strong and there isn’t a lot of shade on the boats.
Dubai hasn’t always been 100% glitz and glamour – far from it in fact. To gain an insight into life before the Emirates discovered oil, head to Dubai Museum. There you’ll develop a surprising understanding of the emirate all housed inside the oldest building in Dubai, Al Fahidi Fort.
The displays recreate the way in which people would have traditionally lived and worked in Dubai and also explore the previous uses of the fort.
It’s informative and interesting to see how Dubai looked before all the high rises – it certainly didn’t always look as it does now!
Dubai is known for its luxurious hotels and expansive shopping malls but to your average person, not so much for its traditional souks. If you’re visiting this amazing metropolis, you’ll no doubt want a taste of Arabic culture though and there’s no better place to get it than at one of their traditional markets.
Located across from Dubai Museum, you will find the textile souk which is a little like stepping back in time. This is a great place to pick up presents and souvenirs for your family or just to peruse the colourful and vibrant displays. The textile souk is still full of fabric shops and tailors ready to create a masterpiece, along with stalls selling beautiful pashminas, bright glass lamps and your typical tourist souvenirs.
Friendly bartering is expected and the way to ensure you get the best bargain.
From the textile souk you can catch a long boat across Dubai Creek (they are frequent, inexpensive and leave once the boat is full). Once on the other side of the creek, you will find yourself in Deria, the oldest residential area in Dubai.
The short walk from the docks had us questioning if we were still in Dubai! This is a side to the city that is rarely seen – the buildings are run down, the markets sell various wares (trinkets, school bags, material, abayas and an assortment of goodies) and, unlike in the malls, the shoppers aren’t locals – chances are they’re either tourists or some of the many expats that you will find living and working in Dubai.
After passing the markets crammed with what feels like a thousand different ethnicities and being hounded by the shop assistants to snap up their best deals, you will find yourself at Al Souk Al Kabir. Here there’s a perfume souk, spice souk and the infamous gold souk, so plenty of opportunities to test out your new-found bartering skills.
Pro tip – if you’re not interested in making a purchase, a friendly but firm la, shukran (no, thank you) will see you left in peace.
While I wasn’t in the market to purchase any jewellery (it was slightly out of my price range) it’s a great way to spend some time If you are looking for something shiny to take home, you’ll want to note that each jewellery piece has their weight written on the tag – this will determine the price depending on the gold prices for that day.
Burj Khalifa Fountains
A trip to Dubai isn’t complete without a visit to the Dubai fountains! They put on an incredible show every half hour from 6pm, at which time the fountains burst to life, dancing in time to the booming music. The tunes normally alternate between English and Arabic.
The back drop of the Burj Kahlifa is nearly as mesmerising as the fountains themselves and it still astounds me how talented the technicians must be who create the sequence and how much time they must put into planning out these phenomenal shows.
The fountains get very busy and, at times, finding a good spot can be challenging, as everyone vies for the prime spot with the Burj Khalifa in the background.
Pro tip – Head into Dubai Mall where on the second floor you will find several restaurants that have fabulous views overlooking the fountains.
Be sure to check out this guide to the Dubai malls so you can decide upon the other malls you’d like to visit during the course of your trip too!
This is one of the favourite past times of western expats living in the UAE and though you may think you know what brunch is, you may just find yourself surprised. The term brunch is significantly different in the UAE.
Brunch here is an all-you-can-eat affair that lasts for around 4 hours and generally falls only on Friday afternoons (our weekend). The hotels that host these events are often the epitome of luxury. The food is usually so incredible that it’s hard to hold yourself back and with an amazing selection of top-notch international cuisine, why would you?
If you find yourself in Dubai on a Friday I would recommend trying out this favourite past time for yourself.
More Time up your Sleeve?
If you have more time in Dubai there is a plethora of activities for you to explore, including but by no means limited to the following:
- No trip to the middle east would be complete without participating in a desert safari, you will find yourself absolutely enthralled or terrified while dune bashing in 4WDs, once at your desert camp you will have the opportunity to dress like the locals while eating Middle Eastern cuisine and participating in whole array of different activities.
- For nature lovers, check out Green Planet or Miracle Garden – both might take you by surprise within the concrete jungle that Dubai is.
- If shopping is more you thing (and let’s face it, this is Dubai) check out Dubai Mall (which has a huge aquarium in the middle of the mall), Mall of the Emirates (which also houses an indoor ski slope) and head to Outlet Village to try and get high quality brands at discounted prices.
- Or for a dose of excitement, there are countless possibilities with Skydive Dubai, Dubai Parks and Resorts, Aquaventure, Wild Wadi Waterpark and Aventura just being the tip of the iceberg.
The fastest and most convenient way to get around Dubai is by taxi. They are well priced but be sure to enquire if they know how to get to your location before departing – if not try another taxi.
In other parts of the world, it might be surprising to find taxi drivers unsure of their own routes but buildings shoot up so quickly here, roads change in a flash and many taxi drivers are new to the country, so allowances certainly have to be made in the UAE.
Uber is another option but this will be dependent on your internet access in order to book one. I’ve found Uber to be just as fast and often cheaper so it certainly is a good option.
Whatever you do, try to avoid the unregistered taxis at the airport – jump in one that’s sign written as they’ll always use the meter and you’ll be sure to pay a fair fare. That is, assuming you picked someone that knows where you’re going.
During peak traffic times, which can be hard work in Dubai, it may be quicker to take the metro. Dubai Metro is made up of two lines and covers an extensive part of the city. Make sure you purchase a ticket before boarding as these driverless trains don’t have ticket conductors onboard.
Where to Stay
For this weekend staycation we opted to stay at the Amwaj Rotana.
I have a soft spot for the Rotana brand as on moving to the UAE I was housed in the Park Rotana for just over a month. It was my first taste of the luxury that you grow accustomed to in the UAE and the customer service blew me away.
I was very eager to find out if the Amwaj Rotana would live up to the exceptional customer service I’ve come to expect from the Rotana brand and they didn’t disappoint.
Location, Location, Location
The Amwaj Rotana is located in the heart of JBR (Jumeriah Beach Residence) which is a stone throw from The Walk – a beautiful part of Dubai.
The Walk is a stunning outdoor area with plenty of al fresco dinning, boutique shopping and a beautiful promenade that has plenty to offer with parks, carnival games, a free public beach and even an outside gym facility. It’s a great place to spend a day or an evening, provided you don’t start to melt with the heat and humidity that Dubai is known for in the summer months.
Checking out the Amwaj Rotana
Amwaj Rotana was built in 2010 and is one of the largest hotels located in JBR. It has 301 rooms and suites spread over 25 floors, with each of the modestly decorated rooms being bigger than your standard hotel room. The enormous beds are so comfortable that you will find it hard to get up in the mornings and, incredibly, every room has a balcony with unobstructed views of the stunning Arabian Gulf and Palm Jumeirah.
The hotel facilities will ensure that you have a memorable stay. Aside from the standard facilities offered by hotels, the Amwaj also offers a complimentary shuttle bus service to popular shopping malls in Dubai, a car rental service, an on call doctor and a hair and beauty salon.
Recreational activities include a fully equipped gym (with 24 hour access), a jacuzzi, sauna, spa, steam rooms and for the little ones, Flipper’s Kids Club. My personal favourite was the pool which I was absolutely fell in love with. Not only was the water perfectly refreshing but with its location on a bridge that spanned the road, you were literally swimming above Dubai’s traffic!
Without doubt though, the highlight of my stay was the level of customer service. The staff were amazing, so friendly, professional and went above and beyond to make our stay a memorable one. It was impressive how we were greeted by name everywhere we went in the hotel and in a city as big as Dubai, it’s a small touch like that that makes a hotel feel a little more like home.
How do you really judge a hotel though? Everyone looks for something different in their perfect stay but I’m a real sucker for hotel slippers. I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with them – I really need to stop collecting them as I have far too many knocking around home!
The first thing I usually do on arriving at a hotel is locate the complementary slippers, kick of my shoes and slide my tiny feet into them. For this reason I’ve decided to accompany any accommodation reviews with Sarah’s slipper rating.
With that said, Amwaj Rotana slippers come in at 4 stars (out of 5). The only factor letting them down is I have tiny feet (UK size 4) so the slippers were swimming on me.
Everything about this hotel hit the spot for us – from the comfortable rooms to the high-pressured showers and everything in between.
Did Someone Say ‘Food’?
Within the Amwaj Rotana, there are plenty of options for fine cuisine.
For our visit, we settled on Rosso, an authentic Italian restaurant. Being a bit of a foodie, I was very impressed with the menu and the gorgeous outdoor setting, made all the better by a portable air conditioning unit.
Aircon outside – don’t we live in an amazing time?!
The wait staff were attentive, knowledgeable and eager to make sure our evening was one to remember. Their suggestions on what to order were spot on and the only disappointment we experienced all evening was not having enough room for dessert.
To start we shared a traditional antipasto which was absolutely gorgeous and included a selection of Italian pork cold cuts (hard to find in the UAE), mixed grilled vegetables, olives, melon, figs, and bocconcino cheese. This all came accompanied with parmesan, pesto and a scrumptious focaccia.
After our generous starter I was feeling full but with a mushroom and truffle risotto truffle I found it in me to push on through – someone’s got to do it, right?
I love truffles and can’t get enough of this tiny-but-expensive mushroom. I usually find restaurants to be a bit stingy with the truffle but not in this case! The risotto was full of rich flavour; it was creamy and cheesy and had truffle mixed throughout the whole dish – not just served on the top as many places do. I would wholeheartedly recommend this dish to anyone dining at Rosso’s.
I can’t wait to head back again to experience their scrumptious food, outstanding service and relaxed setting.
Dubai – Stop Over or Fly Through?
Is Dubai somewhere you should consider visiting?
Absolutely! Whether you live locally, are on holiday or are making a quick stopover, Dubai has something to offer for everyone. It has glitz and glam that will wow you, inviting beaches, high end shopping and theme parks that rival some of the best in the world.
Above all where else can you experience a modern city with a traditional twist?
It’s a truly vibrant city that knows how to put on a good show!
The best time to visit is in the winter months where you can really experience everything the city has to offer without those hot rays beating you down.
So, next time you are flying through this international hub, think about making a stop to explore fascinating Dubai! You might just surprise yourself.
Love Dubai enough to stay? Check out these ten tips that Gabby wish she knew before making the move to Dubai.
Planning a trip to Dubai? Pin this post!
Thank you to the Amwaj Rotana and Splash Tours for hosting Sarah for the purpose of this review. As always, all thoughts are our own.