Ultimate Dubai Itinerary for First Time Visitors: 3 Days

Dubai is a larger than life city in the Middle East. It’s one of the seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates and famous for many things. It’s known for its fun attractions, luxury shopping malls, futuristic architecture and an exciting nightlife scene.

It’s the kind of destination that has something for every type of traveller, no matter how young or old. If you’re travelling to Dubai, this Dubai itinerary will help you discover the city and hit all the highlights.

The United Arab Emirates is a very safe country. Even if you’re a solo traveller, you’ll have no problem exploring the city on your own. So without further adieu, here is the ultimate itinerary for visiting Dubai.

Emirates plane made from flowers in the Dubai Miracle Garden part of my Dubai Itinerary
The jaw dropping Dubai Miracle Gardens

Dubai Itinerary: How to Get to Dubai and How to Get Around

Dubai airport is one of the biggest and busiest airports in the world. It is possible to fly virtually to and from anywhere in the world. It is also the home hub for Emirates Airlines – don’t miss my Emirates Business Class Review post.

⇒ Book your flight to Dubai

Dubai is a sprawling city, but it’s well connected and offers plenty of public transportation options. The metro and bus are the easiest ways to get around the city on land. I used the metro quite a few times and found it very easy to navigate. If you need to travel on water, you can hop on the ferry or water taxis. 

Traditional boat on Dubai Creek
A traditional boat on Dubai Cree

The city’s main forms of public transportation are all managed by the RTA. They all use the NOL card, so you don’t need to worry about buying a different ticket for whatever option you choose. This also includes the ferry and water taxi.

Road taxis are also available. Although they are more expensive than public transportation, they are well regulated by the government. This means you won’t experience a huge fluctuation in the prices. I used Uber quite a bit to get around and this worked well.

The Dubai Frame
The well known Instagram favourite Dubai Frame

Dubai also has a hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus with six routes around the city. This classic red bus offers 46 well-placed departure points that follow a time table. Guests can hop-on or hop-off the bus at any stop they want.

Pre-recorded commentary (available in multiple languages) is also provided, so you can learn more about each major sight you pass.

view of dubai harbour from top of burj khalifa
Dubai Harbour from Burj Khalifa

Dubai Itinerary: Day 1

Kick-start your Dubai itinerary by visiting some of the city’s most popular points of interest. Let’s get into the top sights you don’t want to miss.

See Dubai From Above at Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa is Dubai’s famous skyscraper. Standing 828 metres high, it’s currently the world’s tallest building. It opened in 2010 and has since become an iconic symbol of the city.

view of dubai buildings from burj khalifa
The other buildings in Dubai look so short from Burj Khalifa

The two observation decks of the Burj Khalifa are a must-see. As you can imagine, they offer spectacular views. One is located on the 124th and 125th floors of the building. The second one sits on the 148th floor. With an altitude of 555 metres, it’s the world’s highest observation deck.

I visited both levels. As you may expect the cost is higher to visit the 148th floor. To be honest I didn’t find much of a difference between the two floor choices – I guess it is more about having bragging rights to say that you have visited the top of the tallest building in the world!

gates at top of burj khalifa dubai
Viewing deck at Burj Khalifa

Both the floors have indoor and outdoor areas. The viewing deck on 125 is enclosed so it is necessary to go down to the 124th floor to get outside. The 124th floor has a large open air area.

If you do choose to visit the highest point of Burj Khalifa you will also get coffee and snacks included in your visit. And on the 125th floor selfie wings have been painted on the wall for photos.

The whole area is done very well and there are lots of opportunities to purchase souvenirs, get a photo of yourself by a professional etc etc.

view of burj khalifa over mall of america dubai
Burj Khalifa with the Mall of Dubai in the foreground

Explore All the Entertainment Options at the Dubai Mall 

The Dubai Mall is the world’s largest shopping mall and a must visit on any Dubai itinerary. It spans an area of more than 1 million square metres and is filled with over 1,200 shops, as well as hundreds of food and drink options. Whether you want to pick up something fancy from a high-end retailer, or a souvenir to remember your trip by, you’ll easily find whatever you’re looking for.

And, if you’re not super keen on shopping, the mall also houses an Olympic size ice rink, a movie theatre, a haunted house, and an amusement park. It is almost quite overwhelming to visit this mall as it is so very large. Make sure you wear sensible shoes.

Dubai-mall

Discover an Underwater World at the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo

Located inside the Dubai Mall, the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo are not to be missed. The aquarium is one of the world’s largest, and home to many exotic fish species. You’ll feel as if you’re in another world as you admire 33,000 aquatic animals.

Sea ceiling at Palm Jumeirah Atlantis Dubai

The walkthrough aquarium tunnel will give you an interesting vantage point of these incredible underwater creatures. And, you can also check out the world’s largest collection of sand tiger sharks while you’re here.

Dubai-Aquarium

After you’ve spent some time visiting the aquarium, head to the Underwater Zoo and learn about the sustainability of marine life through fun and interactive exhibits. The zoo contains three different ecological zones: Rainforest, Rocky Shore, and Living Ocean. You’ll have a chance to see playful penguins and sea otters, as well as one of the world’s largest crocodiles.

woman with person in dolphin costume at Palm Jumeirah Atlantis D
Hanging out with a local

Learn About the United Arab Emirates’ History at the Etihad Museum

The Etihad Museum is the best place in the city to learn about the history and heritage of the United Arab Emirates. Having only been founded in 1971, it is a fairly new country. Gain insight into the seven different emirates and how they came together to form one great nation. 

street sign and building in dubai old town
Dubai Old Town

The visual and interactive displays/exhibits tell a story and make learning fun for all ages.

Visit Old Town Dubai

No trip to Dubai would be complete without experiencing the city’s Old Town. This area isn’t as built up and modern as the other districts, which allows you to experience Dubai without all the glitz and glam.

Dubai old town area 1

The Al Bastakiya Quarter is a historic district in Dubai that dates back to the 1890s. Walk through the old labyrinth of streets and see the original architecture of the city. Have lunch at a traditional Arab tea house and visit a local museum, like the Coffee Museum.

Spice-Souk dubai

The Spice Souk is a great market to visit if you’re into cooking. You’ll find top-quality traditional and rare spices from Dubai and neighbouring regions.

And of course no visit to Dubai would be compete without visiting the gold souq. There are many stores in the souq – as a westerner the biggest challenge is finding a store which carries the type of designs that you will find attractive.

grand souq dubai

I am a big Georg Jensen fan so I like my jewellry simple. I did manage to get some great gold hoops. The store will quote you a gold price for the day and that plus the weight of the item that you are purchasing will generate a price. I felt very safe making the purchase and felt like the process for providing a price was above board.

inside the dubai souq

Relax at Dubai Creek

Dubai Creek is another area in the old town you don’t want to miss. Walk along the saltwater creek and watch the sunset.

dubai old town harbour

For a special treat, book an evening Dhow cruise and dinner. Ride on a traditional Arabian dhow and enjoy a buffet-style feast of Arabic and international cuisine. See the sights of Dubai from a different perspective.

bicycle and cart in front of water and dubai syscrapers

Admire the Famous Dubai Fountain

The Dubai Fountain hosts the largest choreographed water show in the world. This powerful fountain performs water acts accompanied by a range of songs, from classical and contemporary Arabic music to world-famous songs.

This daily show runs every 30 minutes from approximately 6:00 pm until 11:00 pm. There are also two day time shows.

The best place to watch this captivating act is on a Burj Lake ride by traditional boat. Cruise the water on a traditional “abra” water taxi as you admire the fountains from the best seat in the house.

Dubai-night

If you’re planning some solo travel don’t miss my posts on the best Singles Holidays over 40, vacations for over 50 singles, the best singles ski holiday options, the 30 best singles travel groups, Bali Retreats for Singles and some fantastic solo spa breaks.

Take an Amazing Food tour

Perhaps the biggest highlight of my first trip to Dubai and of this Dubai Itinerary was taking an evening food tour with Frying Pan Adventures. This local tour company is a fantastic insiders guide to a very non touristy side of the Dubai food scene.

many plates of mediterranean appetisers

I took the company’s signature Middle Eastern Food Pilgrimmage Tour and I absolutely loved it. Our tour guide was both Jordanian and Bangladeshi and lived in Dubai. In addition to telling us fantastic stories about the places that we visited she was able to present them in the context of Middle Eastern food traditions and customs.

very colourful nuts and seeds in bowls for sale
Colourful foods on the Frying Pan Adventures tour

The first stop was for mezze – all vegan and dairy free – at the kind of falafel place that I would never have stepped into. We enjoyed some delicious freshly made bread with slow cooked fava benas, hummous, falafels, tahini, salsa verde – all were on offer to make your own sandwich style falafals.

large grilled fish presented on a steel plate
Fish Iraqi style
large fire with large fish and man attending to them
The BBQ pit

I had never been a fan of Middle Eastern desserts until this tour. We actually went into the kitchens of some of the restaurants we are visited and saw these delectable desserts being made from scratch – and being able to eat some of them straight from the oven.

arabian sweets with nuts up close
arabian sweet cake with white icing and pistachio up close

We also visited an Iraqi restaurant – a first for me. The restaurant specialised in barbequing its fish in a pit in a uniquely Iraqi way.

I don’t want to give away too much about this wonderful tour as a large part of what I enjoyed was having one interesting and surprising food experience after another. But I will say that I did experience saffron ice cream – yet another first for me on this great Dubai food tour.

⇒ When you book your Frying Pan Adventure Food Tour be sure to give them the code BOUTIQUE5 to receive a 5% discount on the Middle Eastern Pilgrimmage tour that I went on or their Dubai Souks and Creekside Tour or their Little India Tour.

arabian style sweets with pistachios and nuts
arabian style grilled cheese sweets up close

Dubai Itinerary: Day 2

Now that we’ve covered some of the city’s top sightseeing destinations, it’s time to check out some of Dubai’s modern, thrill-seeking attractions. You’ll notice there aren’t a lot of stops on day two. This is because you’ll want to spend at least 2-3 hours at each attraction.

entrance to wave house at Palm Jumeirah Dubai
Wavehouse at Palm Jumeirah

Hit the Slopes at the Mall of the Emirates

The Mall of the Emirates is another one of Dubai’s famous shopping malls. It’s a one-stop-shop that will keep you entertained all day with its many shopping and dining options.

What makes this mall stand out is it’s indoor skiing facilities. Beat the heat and cool off on the slopes at Ski Dubai. Enjoy skiing or snowboarding on one of the park’s five different runs.

They vary in difficulty from beginner to advanced. All of the clothing and equipment is provided so you don’t have to worry about bringing anything.

entrance to aquaventure at the Palm Jumeirah dubai

⇒ If you don’t have as much time in Dubai check out my post on One Day in Dubai

Cool Off at the Aquaventure Waterpark

There is no better place to spend a hot day in Dubai than at Aquaventure Waterpark. It claims the title of the largest waterpark in the Middle East. It’s perfect for all ages. There are thrilling rides and tidal waves for adults and splash areas and water playgrounds designed for kids.

There is also a private beach and a lazy river. When you need to refuel, the on-site restaurants serve snacks and cooling refreshments.

dubai la mer colourful beach huts

Spend the Evening at Marina Walk

Marina Walk is an outdoor area of Dubai that stretches for 7 km along the city’s waterfront. The paved walkway is well-landscaped and lined with palm-trees. It’s one of the best areas to enjoy a leisurely walk or a cycle ride.

dubai la mer beachfront

You’ll find a wide range of restaurants, from fine-dining to casual. And, for the particularly hot days, there are plenty of ice cream shops. It’s also a popular departing point for water-themed entertainment activities, like speed-boat sightseeing tours, wakeboarding, and jet skiing.

Dubai La Mer shops

Or the other option is to visit the fantastic La Mer area. La Mer is filled with shops, restaurants, beaches, colourful beach hots and a boardwalk. La Mer is home to some of the hottest restaurants in Dubai.

dubai la mer kaftan restaurant baba ganoush with bread

I had an outstanding meal whilst I was in Dubai at Kaftan, a Turkish restaurant in La Mer on the boardwalk. Like most restaurants along the boardwalk it is large and offers a choice of indoor and outdoor seating.

I chose outdoor covered seating (well most of the outdoor seating is covered) and enjoyed some fantastic baba ganoush with freshly made bread and an outstanding sliced meat dish with a tomato sauce.

dubai la mer kaftan restaurant tomato on meat with green pepper

Dubai Itinerary: Day 3

On day three of your Dubai itinerary, round off your trip by visiting a few more attractions in the city. Then, make your way to the desert for an experience you won’t forget.

dubai miracle garden umbrella arches

Wake Up and Smell the Flowers at the Dubai Miracle Garden

Spanning over 72,000 square metres, the Dubai Miracle Garden is the world’s largest natural flower garden. It features millions of different flowers and plants.

See characters crafted out of flowers, including a topiary of Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters. Walkthrough large flower-filled heart passageways and admire a floral castle and houses. This garden is a true feast for your eyes. Don’t forget to pack your camera, the pictures will practically take themselves.

dubai miracle garden lady in pink

It is honestly a little bit like Instagram vomited! There are love heart shaped arches covered in flowers, an umbrella ceiling of course and numerous opportunities for selfies – and lots of people taking selfies.

I was most impressed by the Emirates plane decorated with flowers. It is quite amazing to see so many flowers in bloom in the middle of a desert. The gardens are quite large so it does take some time to explore them.

I took an uber each way to the Dubai Miracle Gardens as it was a bit off the main strip action in Dubai. It was well worth a visit – particularly if you like taking fun photos.

dubai miracel garden ladies in pink

Visit One of Dubai’s Public Beaches

Dubai boasts many public beaches that are perfect for sun-seekers and water lovers. Jumeirah Open Beach is one of the most popular. It’s family-friendly and offers fun attractions, like volleyball courts, a kids playground and a jogging track.

There are lifeguards on duty and shower facilities are available.

dubai la mer beach

Take an Exciting Desert Safari

Escape the city for the evening and go on a desert safari. Just one hour outside of Dubai sits the rural desert that provides a whole new list of experiences and activities. Go on a camel ride, sandboard the dunes, and ride quad bikes through the desert. Partake in some local customs, like smoking a shisha pipe and henna painting.

woman on camel being led by man from behind in the distance

Visiting the desert is the perfect way to cap off your Dubai itinerary.

camel face up close

Where to Stay in Dubai

Dubai is filled with world-class hotels and resorts. Here are three accommodation options that will take your trip to the next level.

Atlantis-The-Palm.jpg

Five Jumeirah Village

Five Jumeirah Village has everything you need for a relaxing vacation. In fact, it’s so luxurious, you might have a hard time leaving the property to explore the city. With two outdoor swimming pools, a private beach area, a restaurant, and a bar, you’ll be all set for a good time.

The rooms have private balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows. As you can expect, the views are spectacular. They also include Wi-Fi, a flat-screen TV, and tea/coffee making facilities.

⇒ Read more reviews on TripAdvisorBook Now

Dubai-waterfront

Atlantis The Palm, Dubai

Atlantis The Palm, Dubai is one of the most popular hotels in Dubai. It’s so extravagant, it’s an attraction in itself. The rooms feature Arabian and oceanic decor, as well as a balcony with scenic views.

Everything is super modern, from the flat-screen satellite TV to the tea/coffee making facilities and minibar. And, if you check into this hotel, you’ll enjoy complimentary access to Aquaventure Waterpark.

⇒ Read more reviews on TripAdvisorBook Now

Dubai-boat.

Al Bandar Rotana – Dubai Creek

If you’d prefer to stay in the historic heart of Dubai, Al Bandar Rotana is a great accommodation choice. It enjoys a waterfront location on the edge of Dubai Creek. The chic rooms feature stunning city or creek views and the very best amenities and technology.

When you’re not out exploring the city, book a treatment at the wellness centre, or dine at one of the property’s five restaurants.

⇒ Read more reviews on TripAdvisorBook Now

traditional boat statue in Dubai old town

Voco Hotel

For a more boutique (albeit this is a hotel chain) option check out the Voco hotel. This hotel feels glamourous but it is definitely more in the boutique direction vs the over the top mega Dubai 5 star option.

View from bathtub at Voco hotel dubai
The wow view from my bathtub at the Voco Hotel

It has a fantastic location on Dubai’s main street and is about halfway between New and old Dubai. And it is just a 5 minute walk to the metro station.

rooftop infinity pool at Voco dubai
Rooftop infinity pool at the Voco

I ended up getting an upgrade to a stunning suite at the Voco Hotel as there was an error when I was checking in. The room was absolutely huge and the views were jaw dropping.

bedroom suite at Voco hotel Dubai

The highlight for me was the amazing views of Dubai from the shower and the bathtub. There are also some good views from the rooftop infinity pool.

steam erupting from dish
Dry ice going made at Tresind

I also enjoyed an excellent modern Indian lunch at Tresind, one of the restaurants at the Voco Hotel and one of Dubai’s hot restaurants. The food was outstanding and served with quite the flourish – Japanese grills, dry ice – it was a very full-on lunch!

⇒ Read more Reviews on TripAdvisorBook Now

chicken in mango sauce with pineapples on white plate
Delicious modern Indian chicken at Tresind
black grill with japanese writing and sliced meats on top

Final Thoughts on the Ultimate Dubai Itinerary

Dubai really has it all. It’s the kind of city where there’s never a dull moment and the list of things to do seems endless. Even the museum and shopping malls have state-of-the-art facilities. You’ll be captivated your whole trip.

burj al arab dubai

This Dubai itinerary will guarantee you hit all of the highlights and experience a vacation you won’t forget.

If you’re looking for more places to explore in the Middle East, make sure to check out the ultimate Jordan itinerary.

arabian style lights

Who Paid for What in this Dubai Itinerary Post?

I covered the large majority of the costs associated with writing this post. However, Frying Pan Adventures did provide me with a complimentary tour. My opinions are my own as always and as you can tell from this post I absolutely loved my Frying Pan Adventures food tour.

This Dubai Itinerary post includes affiliate links. That means if you click through and end up making a purchase I will receive a small commission. I wanted to make sure you were aware of this.

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