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Dubai Tourist Guide

Monday 18 February 2019 (UAE)   

Dubai Tour Guide and Sightseeing

Introduction to Dubai for Tourists

Dubai is a fast growing city with a rapidly increasing number of attractions for tourists. On this page are several guides and plans for tourists (or residents) to help them enjoy their time in Dubai. A few general sightseeing tips, followed by suggested itineraries for 1-3 days or a week in Dubai.

  • The Dubai Big Bus tour is a good way to see the city and get oriented. The explanations are reasonably helpful and they're not trying to peddle favorite merchants for carpet buying etc.
  • There is a discount coupon book called The Entertainer UAE available in bookshops and supermarkets in Dubai (for example Carrefour, Spinneys, Gulf Greetings, Borders, Choithrams, etc, and also online at www.theentertainerme.com) for about 350 dhs (2012 prices). Included are a couple of buy-one-get-one-free Big Bus tour tickets (we think - not confirmed for 2012) which will save you about half the cost of the book if two adults are travelling. Make sure you get the general Entertainer book, not the specialised ones. Other coupons include restaurants, fast food joints, Ski Dubai and Wild Wadi passes.
  • As a general rule, use the mornings to do any visits to Deira and near the creek on Bur Dubai side. Traffic (vehicle and pedestrian) gets much busier in the afternoon/evenings.
  • Shops are open till 10pm or so every day, many shopping malls are open until midnight on weekends (Thu, Fri, Sat nights). Other commercial activities stop on Fridays. Government departments are closed on Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Dubai is relatively safe and crime free compared to most cities but be alert as you would be anywhere. Lock your car if it's unattended. Mind your bags and pockets in crowded areas. If an area looks dodgy late at night, it probably is. Naif Square in Deira is a good example if you're looking for that sort of thing.
Top 5 things to see in Dubai

A very subjective opinion admittedly, not based on any survey or poll.

  • Burj Khalifa and observation deck (At The Top experience).
  • The Dubai Fountains.
  • The Dubai Mall - shopping mall.
  • Bastakiya historical area.
  • Dubai Ferry boat cruise - the one from Dubai Marina is more interesting than from Dubai Creek.
Top 10 things to see in Dubai

Start with the top 5 list, then add ...

  • Dubai Metro Red Line trip from Jebel Ali or Ibn Battuta Mall to Rashidiya.
  • Big Red sand dunes on the Hatta Road - rent a quad bike to drive around (and be careful - it's easier to topple over than you think).
  • Visit Atlantis hotel resort on the Palm Jumeirah Island. The hotel itself looks a bit like a fairy castle especially at night, but it's the drive out there on the artificial island that makes most visitors go wow!
  • Al Ras area on the Deira side of Dubai Creek - walk around. It's crowded, hectic, and shows a different side of Dubai to the futuristic buildings along Sheikh Zayed Road. Walk through the Al Shindagha pedestrian tunnel under the creek to the Heritage Area on the other side.
  • Pick one from: Wild Wadi water park; horse race night at the Meydan track and stadium; Umm Suqeim beach near Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the Burj Al Arab; the corniche and beach at JBR in Dubai Marina; art galleries in Al Serkal Avenue or DIFC.
Things that are overrated in Dubai
  • Dhow trip on Dubai Creek. Very mediocre food, a silly dance as entertainment on some boats. Good for views of the creek and photos at night - but wobbly so you need high ISO or low aperture setting on your camera to get good photos (flash is a waste of time). Take a Dubai Ferry trip instead, or rent an abra on the creek for an hour and then have dinner at McDonald's.
  • Global Village. Very popular but hard to understand why. Is a small amusement park and lots of country themed stalls selling mostly the same stuff you can buy in a supermarket. There are a few interesting things but takes a bit of time and exploration to discover them. Restaurant selection isn't as great as it sounds.
  • The Gold Souk - the original one in Deira. Crowded, lots of fake watch sellers etc. The gold is real though. Ok for photos of shop windows with all that glitters. For shopping, go to the Gold and Diamond Park on Sheikh Zayed Road instead. More relaxed, better a/c, less people. Possibly even cheaper prices.
Bus and boat tours of Dubai
  • Big Bus Tour of Dubai
  • "Cruise with Nakheel" - boat tours of The World (more details on that page) and the Jumeirah Palm. Operated by Nakheel.
  • Dubai Ferry - boat tours of the Dubai coast, Dubai Marina, Dubai Creek, Palm Jumeirah. Two terminals, Dubai Marina (near Dubai Marina Mall), and Dubai Creek, near Shindagha Tunnel on the Bur Dubai side. Adults AED 50 in 2011-2012. Operated by the RTA.
  • Easytour (Easy Tour) Dubai bus tour- new in October 2011? Appears to be similar to the Big Bus Tour of Dubai (but cheaper). Adults AED 140, children AED 70 for 24 hours hop on hop off in 2011-2012. Tel +971-4-3311399 (Sunday to Thursday from 0800-1700), email info@easytour.ae. Start and finish at the Burjuman Mall. Logo, name, and design appear to be related to the UK based EasyJet company (but we're not sure if the Dubai and UK companies are related).
  • Wonder Bus Dubai - combination street and creek tour of Dubai. Doesn't cover as much of Dubai as the other bus tours though.
Shopping in Dubai
  • If you are more interested in Dubai shopping malls, then The Dubai Mall which opened in late 2008 is probably going to be number 1 on your sightseeing list but allow at least half a day and replace other suggestions to suit. In the same area is the Dubai Fountain (10mins) and Souk Al Bahar (1-2 hours) with coffee shops and restaurants.
  • After the Dubai Metro Red Line opens on 09 September 2009, you can do a shopping mall tour of Dubai in a run from the Dubai Airport to Jebel Ali and back. Start at the Airport, shopping mall stops in order are: Deira City Center (busy), BurJuman (posh but good for a walk around), The Dubai Mall (huge), Gold and Diamond Park (jewellery, alight at FGB station), Mall of the Emirates (busy, skiing), Dubai Marina Mall (smaller, alight at Jumeirah Lake Towers station), Ibn Battuta Mall (less busy, more interesting), then go back to the airport to negotiate your excess baggage charges. Deira City Center, Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates, and Dubai Marina Mall (eventually) have hotels attached for the dedicated shoppers.
One Day in Dubai - introduction (using the Big Bus Dubai)

Note that this suggested tour does not return you to the Wafi City Shopping Center where you start, and times are approximate - check with Big Bus for more accurate times on the day.

  • 0900 - start at Wafi City Shopping Center with the first bus for the Big Bus tour of Dubai. Get off at Dubai Museum and visit, then walk up to the Bastakia area to look at some of the Dubai art galleries, and take in a cultural experience at the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding - they offer walking tours of the Bastakiya area (tel +971-4-3536666).
  • 1200 - Stop for coffee and/or lunch at the XVA gallery or Basta Art Cafe. Or skip refreshments and catch the next big bus to be an hour ahead of schedule.
  • 1300 - Catch the next Big Bus to the other side of Dubai Creek. Jump off at the Gold and Spice Souk area for an hour.
  • 1400 - Catch the next Big Bus and stay on until Mall of the Emirates (MOTE) (indoor skifield, busy). Along the way you'll see the Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah Mosque tour, beaches, some of the big projects in Dubai. Ibn Battuta Mall is another possibility - less busy and more interesting to look at but you'll need to get off the bus at Dubai Marina and catch a taxi.
  • 1500-1800 - spend time in the shopping center for shopping, coffee, or go for a ski at Ski Dubai. All equipment except for gloves is provided.
  • Alternatively, stop for 30 minutes at the Nakheel Sales Center near Dubai Internet City to get an impression of the large offshore developments - The Palm Islands, The World.
  • Another alternative is to stop for an hour at Dubai Marina for coffee/tea/late lunch at one of the many restaurants along the boulevard.
  • 1800 - take a taxi to Madinat Jumeirah (you'll have been past it on the Big Bus Tour already) for a wander, a drink and a dinner. Not cheap but good surroundings and an excellent selection of quality restaurants. Taxi from MOTE is 10 dhs, from IBM 25 dhs. For cheap eats, visit a shopping center food court.
  • Or delay Madinat Jumeirah for an hour or two and visit the Gold and Diamond Park near MOTE - a short trip by taxi.
  • Finish with a look in JamBase at Madinat Jumeirah for a bit of jazz music, or go to the Trilogy nightclub for more noise. More impressive but less noisy is the Buddha Bar in Gosvenor House in Dubai Marina - 20 dhs by taxi from Madinat Jumeirah.
  • Catch a taxi back to your accommodation or the airport if you're flying out at night.
One Day in Dubai - Adventure, Thrills and Excitement
  • Autodrome Dubai - tear around a race track in someone else's car. Allow 2-4 hours.
  • Balloon Flight - expensive way to see sand dunes. Allow a morning.
  • Desert Safari - many companies offer tours, allow most of a day.
  • Helicopter - allow an hour. Quick, efficient, expensive way to see Dubai.
  • Parachute Jump, Skydiving - visit Umm Al Quwain airfield and fall out of a plane. Allow half a day at least.
  • Ski Dubai - great for beginners, ok for intermediates. Experts will get bored quickly but it's worth a trip for something different if you go with a mate. Allow 3-4 hours.
  • Wild Wadi - water park, allow 3-6 hours.
Two Days in Dubai

Do the one day in Dubai introduction on the first day. Then, on the next day...

  • In the morning, visit Karama shopping area in Bur Dubai for cheap (fake) handbags, watches, DVDs, shirts.
  • In the afternoon, rent a car (or take a taxi for 200-300 dhs) to Big Red - the sand dunes on the Dubai Hatta Road about 40 minutes from Dubai. It will be obvious when you get there. Ride camels, quadbikes, take photos of big dunes, and watch the 4wds tearing around the sand. Best day is Friday for spectators. If you want to go for a drive in the desert, Friday is the worst day (busy). Alternatively...
  • Drive to Jebel Hafeet (mountain) near Al Ain and admire the view. Have lunch at the cafe at the top, or in the hotel restaurant. Even in summer, daytime temperatures are bearable at the top. It's better to allow most of the day for this rather than just an afternoon.
Three Days in Dubai

Follow the Two Days in Dubai schedule but go to Karama and Big Red on the second day, and Jebel Hafeet on the third day.

One week in Dubai
  • Day 1 - do the one day tour of Dubai
  • Day 2 - spend a morning shopping in Karama or a shopping center and the afternoon at Jumeirah Beach Club if winter, do the beach in the morning if summer (not so hot).
  • Day 3 - visit Jebel Hafeet (see the two days in Dubai section).
  • Day 4 - visit two or three of the following - one in the morning, one in the afternoon. Karama, Gold and Diamond Park, Bastakiya, a shopping center, Sheikh Mohammed's house, Dubai Museum, Gold and Spice souks in Deira.
  • Day 5 - visit Big Red sand dunes towards Hatta. In the morning if you want it cool and uncrowded. In the afternoon if you want it hot and hectic. Visit Nad Al Sheba camel racetrack on the way there or back to see the stables and the track. Camel races are held early Friday mornings in winter months.
  • Day 6 - visit the Musandam Peninsula in Oman. Start early (0600) if you want to do just a day trip.
  • Day 7 - do a day trip to Fujairah (the east coast) through the mountains - the road to Kalba past Fossil Rock is a scenic but longer route. Or a long day trip to Ras Al Khaimah and through Wadi Bih (mountain scenery - bring your passport) to the east coast and back to Dubai via the Sharjah Dibba road. Or a day trip to Abu Dhabi to see roads and buildings arranged more tidily than in Dubai. Or just relax in Dubai and catch up on sunshine or something else you haven't done.
Number of tourists visiting Dubai
Year 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 ... 2015   2020
Tourists (million)¹ 3.02 2.8 3.63 4.76 4.9 5.4 6.16   6.95 7.00 7.5 8.5 9.3   15   20
Hotel guests (m)²   2.84 3.06 4.11 4.34 4.72                      
  1. Might be total tourist visitors, or only hotel and hotel apartment guests. Sometimes figures released are not clear.
  2. From DDIA information for 2000-2004, includes hotel apartment visitors.
  • 2015 - 15 million estimated or expected. Although Bloomberg reported on 24 November 2008 that Khalid Ahmad Bin Sulayem, director general of the DTCM said "We are gathering information, looking at trends around the world of travel and tourism, and having daily meetings," and that the 15 million target figure for 2015 might be revised "depending on the feedback we get"
  • 2011 - WAM news 07 March 2012 reported the following figures:
    • 9.3 million hotel guests and cruise passengers (10% increase from 2010), with 7.26 million staying in hotels.
    • 32.8 million guest nights (23% increase from 2010), with hotels contributing 23.3 million guest nights, and hotel apartments accounting for 9.5 million guest nights.
    • 3.6 days - average length of stay, an increase of 12% from 2010.
    • AED 16 billion - Dubai hotel revenue (a 20% increase from 2010), with AED 13.6 bn from hotels, and AED 2.2 bn from hotel apartments.
    • 575 hotels and hotel apartment buildings (a 5% increase from 2010) with 53,828 hotel rooms and 21,015 hotel apartment flats.
    • Top 20 source markets with visitor numbers in brackets, in order, for 2011, were 1. Saudi Arabia (873,152 guests), 2. India (702,142), 3. UK (643,196), 4. Iran (476,708), 5. USA (462,653), 6. Germany (275,663), 7. Kuwait (273,253), 8. Russia (255,746), 9. Oman (223,993), 10. Pakistan (221,374), 11. China (193,791), 12. Australia (179,214), 13. France (152,439), 14. Egypt (149,130), 15. Philippines (125,408), 16. Qatar (122,319), 17. Italy (105,523), 18. Jordan (95,818), 19. Bahrain (91,238), 20. Lebanon (90,984).
  • 2010 - WAM news 07 March 2012 reported the following figures:
    • 8.49 million hotel guests and cruise passengers (10% increase from 2010), with 6.56 million staying in hotels.
  • 2010 H1 (January-June) - 4,181,326 hotel guests vs 3,852,742 guests for 2009 H1, an increase of 9% (DTCM press release 14 September 2010). See also hotels in Dubai for more numbers.
  • 2010 - Tourist numbers expected to be over 50 million in 2010 according to a Dubai Chamber press release 17 August 2010 about the retail industry. Which sounds outrageously optimistic, especially since most other estimates are for up to 10 million tourists in 2010. Press release said ... Tourism is a central factor stimulating retail growth, with Dubai expecting more than 50 million tourists in 2010, according to the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM).
  • 2010 - Mr Eyad said the private and public sector developments were going in line with HH Sheikh Mohammed's vision to host 10 million tourists by 2010 and 15 million in 2015 on the soil of Dubai. AFP interview with Eyad Ali Abdul Rahman, Executive Director, Media Relations Division and Acting Director, Business Development, DTCM, 25 March 2008.
  • 2009 H1 - Mr Khalid A bin Sulayem, Director General of Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), said Dubai hotel industry received 3.85 million guests in the first half of 2009, a 5% increase compared with the same period last year. DTCM press release 19 August 2009.
  • 2008 - Despite the economic climate, global visitors to Dubai reached an all-time high of 6,996,449 in 2008 (DTCM press release 29 April 2009).
  • 2008 - Dubai hotel establishments played a host to 6,996,449 guests in 2008, up from 6,951,798 visitors in the previous year. In 2004, Dubai hotels received 5.4 million guests followed by 6.16 million in 2005 (DTCM press release 16 March 2008).
  • 2007 - the DTCM ... has projected the number of hotel visitors to Dubai to rise to ten million by 2010, from about seven million in 2007 (DTCM press release 05 May 2008).
  • 2007 - Though the figures increased in 2007 to 6.44m, they were still below the industry expectations due to a fall in tourist traffic from Europe. (Emirates Business 24-7 on 16 February 2008, or a press release)
  • 2006
  • 2005 - 6.16 million (DTCM press release 16 March 2009).
  • 2004 - Dubai, which has become a global travel and business destination and attracted 5.4 million tourists last year - DTCM press release 25 May 2005.
  • 2003 - The hospitality industry played host to all-time record 4.9 million guests last year, up from 4.7 million in 2002 (DTCM press release 17 August 2004).
  • 2002 - The number of 2002 hotel establishment guests reached 4,756,280 with an increase of 31.15 per cent over the year 2001 where the number was 3,626,625, or, The number of hotel guests in 2002 increased to 4,107,236 as compared to 3,064,701 in the year 2001 (DTCM press release 05 March 2003).
  • 2001 - 3.6 million or 3.1 million.
  • 2000 - The Government's vision is to increase the number of tourists from 2.8 million visiting Dubai in 2000 to 10 million per annum by 2010 (Dubai Development and Investment Authority)
  • 1999 - according to the DTCM ... The total number of tourists booking into hotels in Dubai grew by nine per cent from 1999 to 2004, from 3.02 million to 5.42 million, (Emirates Business 24-7 on 16 February 2008, or a press release)
Last update Thursday 19-Dec-2013
Related pages
Related websites (new window)
  • www.ddia.ae - Dubai Development and Investment Authority website (not available when checked 17 August 2010)


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