Situated between Europe and Asia, Dubai is a genuine crossroads both literally and figuratively. It’s a melting pot of Arabic and South Asian with a healthy dose of Western world thrown in.
As one of the world’s most popular airlines, Emirates, serves many destinations from DXB it’s a real possibility that you’ll end up here on a stopover. In fact, every time I pass through Dubai it is normally as a result of either taking a few extra days to acclimatise or a long layover.
Thankfully the city is perfect for a super quick stop. From a few hours to a few days, you can squeeze in a bit of Dubai with ease and add that stamp to your passport.
Getting out of the airport is easy, getting back in can take longer. I’ve been in and out of Dubai airport probably about 6 times and it’s never taken me more than an hour to get in. If you have a connecting flight make sure you give yourself ample time to get back through customs and to the correct gate in this massive airport.
Where To Stay
Dubai caters to both the super rich and the poor and all points in between. If you’re looking to stay in the city then you’ll find 7 star luxury or budget digs. Be warned, the budget digs can often be very low end, dirty and often with surly staff.
Luckily, if you’re on a stopover with Emirates they normally provide a decent quality 3 or 4 star hotel or similar. If you’re in town for a few days take the opportunity to find a nice hotel either near the creek in Deira/Bur Dubai, the Jumeirah Marina or near the Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall.
I have stayed in Karama, in a good quality 4 star hotel – and also in Deira, near the creek. Both hotels were clean, modern and of good standard and had on-site bars and nightclubs which is the norm. When booking try to ask to be situated away from any nightclub area as the music often goes on into the night and it can be noisy.
Distances are huge and traffic is awful, but thankfully the metro network has improved making it easy to navigate the sprawl.
From the airport you can jump on the metro into the city within a few minutes of disembarking your flight.
From Dubai Airport to Union Square or Baniyas Square (in Deira) will take less than ten minutes on the super fast metro. To Burj Khalifa will take about 35 mins by metro, or around 15 minutes by taxi, assuming the traffic is OK. A ride to Dubai Marina/Jumeirah Palm will take around 45 minutes by metro or half an hour by taxi (traffic permitting).
What To Do In Under 8 Hours
Assuming you have more than 4 hours but under 8, then you’ll be able to get out of the airport and stretch your legs.
Head to Baniyas station, walk to the creek and bear north past the moored dhows (traditional boats).
You’ll start to see the abras, small water taxis that ferry customers across the creek between Deira and the Old Souk. These are an inexpensive way to experience a ride on the creek (at UAD1, much cheaper than the organised cruises).
This area of town is the oldest part of this massive modern city and is worth exploring on foot for a few hours. I would wander the Gold Souk in Deira first just to take in the action (guys try to avoid being offered prostitutes, ladies try to avoid getting propositioned).
The area here is not the glitzy Dubai you will have seen in magazines and is much more real. When you’ve had your fill jump on an abra (water taxi) to Old Souk, which is a little more civilized.
Near to the Old Souk you’ll find the Al Fahidi Fort, an old Arab fortress, now a museum to Dubai.
There are great eateries on both sides of the creek, the best being the shawarma or falafel guys by the side of the road. Grab a couple for UAD5 each and wash them down with mint tea or fresh orange juice.
Another option is to take a guided bus tour. Big Bus offer tours overnight as well so you can see all the sights and still be back in time for your connection.
More adventurous explorers on a short stop off may be more inclined to head to the Dubai Mall. More to follow…
A 10-24 Hour Stay
If your airline has provided a hotel for you, great, drop your bags off and get out and explore.
The Dubai Mall is a vast sprawling mall at the base of the Burj Khalifa and has massive man made lakes which you can sit beside as you watch the world go by.
Arriving at Dubai Mall on foot from the metro is a bit of a wander, if it’s hot it can be quite unpleasant. For ease, take a taxi and the guy will drop you pretty much by the lakes.
From here you can marvel at the feat of engineering that is the Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest building. Be warned, tickets to go up the Burj Khalifa are extremely expensive if bought on the day. Book in advance for a significant discount (which is still very expensive). Adult tickets start from around US$70 to go to the first platform or US$130 for the second (higher) platform.
At the base, there is plenty to do. There are fountain displays in the lakes, food courts in the mall, an ice rink and a theme park for kids.
When you tire of the hustle bustle of the mall, head back to the taxi rank and grab a taxi to the nearest beach. There are two options, a public beach (free) or a paid beach (only UAD5).
Either is fine. The paid beach tends to be for the glamorous types. Women may find sitting on the public beach in a bikini attracts the wrong sort of attention. I found the paid beach perfectly pleasant and worth the price of entry (loungers are included).
If you have more time, head to Jumeirah and take a ride on the monorail up the palm to the Atlantis complex. This whole area is a big adventure park for kids and adults with water slides, a beach, shopping, restaurants and nightclubs. However, you will need to pay a for a pass to access many of the area around Atlantis (around US$60 per person per day) which includes much of the water park, the beaches and pools.
If this seems a bit much, head to Dubai Marina and marvel at the expensive apartments and luxury yachts. There is a mall here and plenty of places to relax with a coffee or some food.
There is always something to do in Dubai, no matter if you’re in town for a long or short visit.