If you’re spending one day in Dubai, it’s most likely due to the fact that you’re there for a layover. However, this is only manageable with a transit visa, which you would need to organize beforehand.
Although it might be tempting to opt for a 4-hour layover in Dubai, you’re really not doing yourself any favours. Those four hours will be spent inside the airport, as you won’t have enough time to pass immigration and head into the city.
The best advice I can give you is to extend your layover to to include a visit to the city. You’ll need to factor in time spent on transport, organizing luggage and waiting in queues.
Now that you’ve got enough time to explore the city, let’s take a look at what you can get up to in just a day in the city.
To find out about visa requirements, make use of the Emirates tool.
- One Day in Dubai: Getting there and Getting Around
- Things to Do in Dubai in a Day
- See Dubai From Above at Burj Khalifa
- Explore All the Entertainment Options at the Dubai Mall
- Visit Old Town Dubai
- Take an Amazing Food tour
- Enjoy a Meal at One of Dubai’s Top Restaurants
- Accommodation for a Day in the City
- Ready for One Day in Dubai?
- Who Paid for What in this One Day in Dubai Post?
One Day in Dubai: Getting there and Getting 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
If you’ve arrived at Dubai Airport at an odd time, say in the early morning, taking a taxi can be one of your best travel options as they run 24 hours a day. You’ll be in good hands because the marked cream taxis parked outside the airport exits are registered under the Dubai Taxi Corporation.
If, however, you arrive at a reasonable time the most affordable option is to hop on the Metro which is located directly outside the airport. For an extra bit of money, you can opt for a VIP ticket. A perk of this ticket is that the first-class carriages feature glass roofs, providing better viewing of the incredible skyscrapers.
To reach downtown Dubai, take the red line from the airport terminal 1 or 3. A lot of the major hotels, like the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and Emirates Grand Hotel, are found along this line. I found the Dubai metro very easy to use.
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.
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.
Things to Do in Dubai in a Day
One day in Dubai is tricky and may seem impossible without the right knowledge and guidance. But spending a day in this beautiful metropolis city is more than possible. In fact, it could be just the right amount of time for you.
This itinerary highlights the most ideal locations and travel routes for seeing as much of Dubai as possible. It includes some iconic attractions, incredible dining restaurants and fantastic shopping opportunities.
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.
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!
⇒ If you have more time to spend in Dubai don’t miss my post on the Ultimate Dubai Itinerary.
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.
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. And it is underneath Burj Khalifa so it is very easy to get there from the tower.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
⇒ Another fascinating country to visit in the Middle East is Jordan – have a look at my Jordan Itinerary to see if it is for you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Enjoy a Meal at One of Dubai’s Top Restaurants
If you’re not in the mood for a food tour Dubai has a fantastic food scene. Here are a few to choose from:
- Neos Lounge: Neos is a bar and lounge in Downtown Dubai that offers panoramic vistas of the cityscape. Views that are arguably better than those from inside the plane. With art-deco furnishing, entertainment and magnificent service, Neos is a top restaurant for early evening dining.
- Hurricanes Grill: If you’re looking for something a little more casual, a Dubai steakhouse is the way to go. Hurricanes is a modern and relaxed spot that promises the best ribs and steaks in the city.
- Ewaan: This restaurant is nestled in Palace Downtown, just a short walk from the mall. The cuisine is Arabic and Oriental, which may be a new and interesting dining experience for some. Dishes are served from a live cooking station and buffet.
- At.Mosphere: I’d only recommend dining here if you know exactly when you’re going to be in Dubai. Dining here, whether for breakfast or dinner, requires a reservation. It’s a premium dining experience offering traditional and fusion food, located right on the 122nd floor of the Burj Al Arab.
Accommodation for a Day in the City
If you’re arriving late evening in Dubai, you’ll most definitely be needing a place to get some shut-eye. Finding accommodation in Downtown Dubai is the most ideal option for utilizing this 24-hour itinerary.
Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Canal View
The Radisson Blu Hotel is located just 10 minutes from the Dubai Fountains and is a fantastic option for those looking to explore the city on foot. With an outdoor swimming pool and fitness gym, as well as a continental breakfast, guests have a place to escape the busyness of the city.
The hotel offers budget accommodation, without compromising on luxury. There’s a kids club and onsite babysitting on offer, in case parents would prefer some extra date time in the city.
Maison Privée – Damac Maison
Damac Maison is a luxury apartment that is absolutely perfect for both couples and solo travellers. Each apartment is fitted with a hot tub, seating area, bathroom, kitchen and flatscreen TV. As you’re only spending a night in the city, the apartment is brilliant for relaxing before a busy day of exploring the city.
The hotel is within walking distance to the top attractions and only a 20-minute drive from Dubai International Airport.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
⇒ 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.
Ready for One Day in Dubai?
Even if a day is all you’ve got, you can still see just as much of the city as you would on a weekend trip to Dubai. Fortunately, some of the most iconic attractions are situated within walking distance from each other and not too far from the major airport.
This itinerary is designed to fit everything in, and all in just one day. Enjoy marvelling at the wondrous skyscraper, feasting on delectable cuisines and being blown away by the entertainment in the city centre.
Who Paid for What in this One Day in Dubai 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.