Confession: Dubai has never really been on my travel list. I’ve never been against going, I’ve just had so many other destinations on my list that take priority. The best things to do in Dubai are typically touted as being extravagant, touristy experiences that I honestly feel like could be done in other destinations, such as skydiving, indoor skiing, and aquarium visits. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things—they’re just not necessarily unique to the city. You’ll need to look a little harder to find the best unique things to do in Dubai, but they’re well worth it.
I found myself in Dubai on a three day stopover after visiting the Maldives, and ended up loving the city way more than I thought I would! Even though they may not necessarily be quite as advertised as Dubai’s flashier experiences, there’s tons of interesting cultural things to do in Dubai that showcase Emirati history and culture on a three day stopover, or long layover.
After visiting, I’ve decided Dubai is one of the best locations for first-time solo female travelers to visit. Everywhere I went, I was more than welcomed as a solo traveler. Plus, the city is so safe and easy to navigate.
Click below to discover some of the most popular things to do in Dubai!
The cultural experiences and flashy, luxury things to do in Dubai make it easy to create an itinerary that balances tradition and indulgent, modern, luxury (don’t even get me started on how amazing hospitality in Dubai is—my hotel was outstanding).
Discover the best unique things to do in Dubai below:
12 Best Unique Things to Do in Dubai
Take an Abra Ride
Bur Dubai Abra Station, 32 3 A St – Al Fahidi
An abra is a traditional wooden boat to Dubai. Coming from the arabic word “abara,” meaning “to cross,” this boat-meets-raft isn’t just one of Dubai’s best cultural activities, it’s also one of the most inexpensive modes of transportation in the city.
For just AED 1 ($0.27 USD) each way from 6 am to midnight, you can cross the Dubai Creek in one of these traditional boats. There are four stations you can take a ride from, but only two routes (each station is paired with another). I recommend starting at the Bur Dubai Station or Deira Old Souk Station. These stations are really convenient and will drop you off right where the souks are.
If crossing the creek in the heat doesn’t sound that enticing, air-conditioned abras are available for AED 2 ($0.54 USD).
Rides are only about five minutes, as Dubai’s abras are now motorized. For AED 120 ($32.67 USD), you can hire an abra for an hour.
You’ll buy your ticket from a very official kiosk at the station—not your boat driver. The whole process is really easy and not difficult to navigate at all.
I ended up doing this completely by accident—I was shopping the textile souk in Bur Dubai, and wanted to cross the river to shop the Spice and Gold Souks in Deira. Honestly, when I first heard about the ride, I thought it would be a really touristy ride, but everyone on my boat was local (abras hold up to 20 people). Abras are still well-utilized by locals, due to the lack of bridges across the Dubai Creek.
The ride was a pleasant surprise and for the price, absolutely worth it! An abra ride is definitely one of the best affordable things to do in Dubai.
Dine at the Tallest Restaurant in the World
Burj Khalifa – 122nd Floor – Downtown Dubai
Located on the 122nd floor of the Burj Khalifa, At.mosphere is the tallest restaurant in the world.
I debated visiting this restaurant up until the day I went—the restaurant has a pricey minimum spend of AED 880 ($239.58 USD) per person for window tables, and an AED 680 ($185.13 USD) per person for non-window tables for dinner. Breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea are much less expensive with minimums of AED 200 ($54.45 USD) per person for breakfast á la carte, AED 400 ($108.90 USD) per person for a window table at lunch, and AED 503 ($136.94 USD) per person for a window table at afternoon tea.
If those dinner prices are hard to swallow, don’t fret—I’ve got a tip for you. At.mosphere has a formal dining room complete with white tablecloths for a romantic date night in Dubai, but also has a lesser-known lounge. The At.mosphere Lounge forgoes the white tablecloths but still has a very upscale, trendy vibe (smart-casual or cocktail attire is recommended). At the lounge, you’ll only have minimums at dinner of AED 350 ($95.29 USD) per person for a window table, or AED 250 ($68.06 USD) for a non-window table. Although the minimums may still sound high, they’re not much more than booking a ticket to the official Burj Khalifa Observation Deck.
I’ll admit, I did originally book a non-window table in the lounge, thinking that being by the window wouldn’t justify the price difference. When I was seated, I couldn’t help but feel like I was really missing out by not being at the window. I asked my server if I could move, and he kindly accommodated my request when a table opened up a couple minutes later.
The view at At.mosphere is incredible and I could not stop looking out the window. My table overlooked the Dubai Fountain, which has a seriously impressive fountain show every 30 minutes from 6 pm to 11 pm.
As a solo traveler, you never know how a restaurant will accommodate you, and I really expected At.mosphere to not want to waste a window table on someone dining alone. Instead, staff at At.mosphere went above and beyond for me as a solo diner, even moving around to get every possible angle when I asked if my waiter could take a quick photo for me at the end of dinner.
See the Iranian Mosques
Imam Hussein Mosque (Iranian Mosque, Satwa)
226, Al Wasl Road, Dubai
Imam Hussein Mosque (also known as the Iranian Mosque, Satwa), is one of the few mosque in Dubai open to the public. Unlike Dubai’s other public mosques, such as Jumeirah Mosque and Al Farooq Mosque, Imam Hussein Mosque flies relatively under the radar to tourists.
Imam Hussein Mosque’s under-the-radar reputation likely has to do with the amount of misinformation around this mosque online, which is unfortunate. This mosque is stunning, decorated in traditional Iranian tile style. As someone who’s had Iran near the top of their travel list for years due to its incredible architecture, I was thrilled to find the mosque.
Contrary to what the internet will tell you, Imam Hussein Mosque is open to the non-Muslim public. Tours are offered at 4pm daily, with the exclusion of Fridays (you’d be hard-pressed to find a mosque offering tours on Fridays, as it’s the obligatory worship day in Islam).
Women are expected to dress modestly. Even if you are, you’ll likely be ask to wear traditional abaya, borrowed from the mosque.
Don’t fall for tour guides telling you online that you can book through their Facebook group or WhatsApp. Like Jumeirah Mosque, you’re able to book a tour with their visitor’s center when you arrive.
Imam Hussein Mosque is located in Satwa, in an area known as being Dubai’s Little Iran. You’ll find more Iranian tile architecture walking around the neighborhood at the Iranian embassy, and also the local hospital across the street.
Ali Ibn Abi Talib Mosque (Iranian Mosque Hosainia, Bur Dubai)
33 8 B St – Al Safa – Al Safa 1 – Dubai
This Iranian mosque in Dubai goes by many names—in addition to being known as Ali Ibn Abi Talib Mosque, it’s also known as Ali bin Abi Talib Mosque, and the Iranian Mosque Hosainia.
Located in Bur Dubai, non-Muslims unfortunately can’t visit the inside of the mosque, but you are welcome to walk around the exterior and take photos.
I came across this mosque by complete accident. After being dropped off in Bur Dubai by my taxi driver, I found myself confused as to where I was and which way I needed to go to find the Textile Souk. I decided to start walking across the large parking lot he dropped me off in front of, and when I looked up, I was shocked to find the Ali Ibn Abi Talib Mosque on my right!
Ali Ibn Abi Talib is much more convenient to Dubai’s popular cultural attractions for tourists than Imam Hussein Mosque, making it easy to add on while in Bur Dubai, Deira, or Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood.
Visit Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood (Al Bastakiya)
Bur Dubai – Al Hamriya – Dubai
Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, also known as Al Bastakiya, is Dubai’s preserved historical neighborhood in Bur Dubai.
In the neighborhood, you can explore what life in 19th century “Old Dubai,” was like. The neighborhood is large, including 50 houses that you can explore, and the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, which organizes tours of the neighborhood and Al Farooq Mosque. Unlike Jumeirah Mosque and Imam Hussein Mosque, you can book this tour online in advance through their website here.
Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood is one of the best free things to do in Dubai. Walking around and exploring the neighborhood is totally free—you’ll only end up spending money if you shop the neighborhood’s many gift shops and galleries, or stop for lunch at the Arabian Tea House or coffee at XVA Art Hotel and Cafe.
Think of this neighborhood like an outdoor museum. There’s several guard stations keeping lookout. One of these guards actually stopped me when I was in the neighborhood because they thought I was doing a professional photoshoot when some guys walked near me. When he found out I was just a solo tourist, he apologized profusely for the mixup and actually offered to take photos of me!
I wandered this neighborhood for a couple hours and honestly could have stayed a lot longer, especially had more of the houses been open to explore, or I went on the tour. Plan your time accordingly—this isn’t a neighborhood you’ll want to rush!
Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood was by far one of the best places I visited during my trip. It’s a must for travelers looking for cultural things to do in Dubai.
Click below to find popular things to do in Dubai:
Shop the Souks of Deira
Deira is home to the majority of Dubai’s traditional souks. Located across the creek from Bur Dubai, you can find Dubai’s Spice Souk, Grand Souk Deira, Perfume Souk, and Gold Souk. Visiting the souks is one of the best must-do things to do in Dubai.
These souks were established in 1850 and have undergone restoration since, but still represent their original architecture.
Before you visit Dubai’s souks, make sure you dress modestly and haggle, haggle, haggle, to avoid getting ripped off. Although Dubai is a progressive city in the Islamic world, and you’ll hear from many a tourist (and even some locals), that it’s okay to ignore modest clothing recommendations, I wouldn’t recommend it. Bur Dubai and Deira are traditional neighborhoods, and you’re likely to get some serious side eye and unwanted stares.
Keep in mind that many of Dubai’s souks are closed on Fridays, due to mandatory worship.
All of the souks in Deira link into each other. It’s easy to find yourself in a completely different souk when wandering.
Gold Corner Building, 3rd Floor – Gold Souq – Deira – Dubai
At Dubai’s spice souk, you’ll find mounds of spices, herbs, dried fruit, and tea spilling into narrow alleyways. Spices at the spice souk are imported from Iran, Pakistan, and India.
The spice souk typically opens around 7:30 am, staying open well past 9 pm, sometimes as late as 11 pm.
The most popular spices to buy here are saffron, baharat (a blend of spices that varies by shop), sumac, zaatar, rosebud tea, and paprika. I definitely fell into the tourist trap of it all and walked away with tons of smoked paprika, saffron, curry, black tea, and rosebud tea. I couldn’t resist also picking up some indigo for dyeing fabric.
41 34th St – Deira – Al Ras – Dubai
Dubai’s Gold Souk is a glittering maze of jewelry stores. If you’re aware of current gold prices and willing to haggle, the Gold Souk is a great place to shop for jewelry, especially because it’s not taxed in Dubai.
Even if you’re not in the market for jewelry, the Gold Souk is still an interesting place to wander. While wandering, stop by Kanz Jewellers, where you can view The Najmat Taiba (Star of Taiba). The world’s largest gold ring, the Najmat Taiba is estimated to be worth $3 million.
The Gold Souk is open daily from 9:30 am to 9:30 pm, except on Fridays when the Gold Souk is only open from 4 pm to 9:30 pm.
Watch out—the phrase “all that glitters is not gold,” definitely applies here. Avoid purchasing from street vendors and stick only to actual stores to ensure that the gold jewelry you’re purchasing is real.
Sikkat al Khali – Dubai
Unlike Deira’s Spice and Gold Souks, the Perfume Souk isn’t a covered area with a traditional feel. Instead, it’s street of fragrance stores.
Popular perfumes to buy here are those with notes of oud, bakhoor, and jasmine. Like the Gold Souk, it’s easy to buy fake or low quality product here, so be careful to go to reputable stores such as Ajmal or Swiss Arabian. A good rule of thumb at the Perfume Souk is to head to stores and stalls that appear to be popular with locals, not tourists.
For something custom, head to Khadlaj where you can create a something unique to you by blending fragrances together. Many stores offer custom fragrances—just ask!
The hours of the perfume souk are a little murky online as they vary a little bit by store. As a general rule of thumb, consider the perfume souk open from 9:30 am to 2 pm and 5 pm to 9:30 pm daily, with the exception of Sunday. On Fridays, the perfume souk is generally open from 4 pm to 9:30 pm.
Eat at the Arabian Tea House
Bastakiya Opposite Musalla Post Office – Al Fahidi St – Bur Dubai – Al Fahidi – Dubai
If you’re looking for the best traditional restaurants in Dubai, look no further than The Arabian Tea House. The Arabian Tea House is a landmark restaurant at the edge of Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood for traditional Emirati cuisine.
The restaurant opened in 1997 as Basta Art Café, when Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood was still known as Al Bastakiya. To this day, it’s still one of Dubai’s most popular restaurants.
I was so excited to visit this spot, and not just for the admittedly Instagrammable turquoise benches, white rattan chairs, and bougainvillea covering the restaurant. The Arabian Tea House was my first taste of traditional Emirati food, which I had been dying to try.
Here, I fell in love with the special mint limeade drink popular in the UAE, had my first bites of fried halloumi cheese, and tried Khameer Halloumi Zaatar. Khameer is a type of bread in Emirati and Levant culture. Mine was stuffed with halloumi, cucumber, tomatoes, olives, and of course, was finished off with zaatar.
I recommend trying to make a reservation in advance, if possible. Although the restaurant is spacious, it does get very busy. The Arabian Tea House has now expanded to locations past Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, but I still recommend visiting the original. After your meal, you can wander the district.
Visit Jumeirah Mosque
Jumeirah Beach Road – Jumeirah 1 – Dubai
Jumeirah Mosque is one of the best known cultural things to do in Dubai. Part of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding’s “Open Doors, Open Minds,” policy, non-Muslims are welcome to visit this mosque on a guided tour.
Tours are just AED 25 per person. Booking in advance is not required, or available online. Just make sure that you’re at the mosque entrance 30 minutes in advance.
For hours, dress code, and everything you should know before visiting Jumeirah Mosque, read my full guide here.
Haggle at the Textile Souk
57, Opposite to Abra – Ali Bin Abi Taleb St – Dubai
Dubai’s Textile Souk is located along the Dubai Creek, in Bur Dubai. The Textile Souk is much smaller than Deira’s Grand Souk, Spice Souk, and Gold Souk, but is still worth a visit if you’re looking for textile goods in the city.
In the Textile Souk, you’ll find traditional clothing such as kaftans and abayas, as well as fabric by the meter for making them. In addition, you’ll see home furnishing such as pillows, poofs, and rugs; and cashmere pashminas.
I visited the Textile Souk on the hunt for fabric and cashmere pashminas. Although I couldn’t find fabric I was interested in, as I ducked in and out of pashmina stalls, I was led into stores with walls lined with stacks of scarves from floor to ceiling. As store owners figured out what I was looking for, shawl after shawl was brought out to me. Eventually, I landed on two, and managed to haggle the price down to less than 50% of the original asking price. I believe I paid about $100 USD for both scarves, each 100% cashmere.
Keep in mind that you get what you pay for in terms of quality here. If a scarf is under AED 100, it’s likely viscose, not real cashmere. Expect to pay between AED 150 to AED 350 for cashmere pashminas, depending on quality and your negotiating abilities (don’t be afraid to start low, and walk away).
The Textile Souk is open from 9 am to 2 pm, and 4 pm to 9 pm every day except Sunday.
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26 43c St – Al Fahidi – Dubai
Meena Baazar is located in the surrounding area to the Textile Souk. If you’re looking to go fabric shopping in Dubai for an affordable price, this is the place to go.
The area mostly consists of fabric stores with textiles imported from India and Pakistan. There’s huge quality discrepancies between stores, so be careful to choose your stores wisely—a little review checking goes a long way.
I recommend Rivani. This fabric store offers everything from legitimate silk and beautiful embroidered fabric, to bargain bin finds with great prices. I walked away with cuts of embroidered chiffon that I just couldn’t resist.
Meena Baazar is also a popular area for tailoring in Dubai. If you’re looking to get a custom suit or South Asian clothing, this is the spot.
Stores are typically open from 10 am to 1 pm and 4pm to 10 pm.
See the Burj Khalifa (the Tallest Building in the World)
1 Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Blvd – Downtown Dubai
The Burj Khalifa is one of the most popular things to do in Dubai, and for good reason. The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world.
You can see the Burj Khalifa from just about anywhere in Dubai on a clear day. Even on a hazy, sandy day, you’ll likely still be able to see the building from miles away.
Although you can just admire it from afar, you won’t be able to get a view from so high up anywhere else. Reserve your tickets in advance to visit the Burj Khalifa’s observation deck on floors 124 and 125. After, be sure to stop and watch the Dubai Fountain show at night.
Alternatively, head up into the Burj Khalifa to dine at At.mosphere on floor 122, as mentioned above.
If you want the thrill of staying in the Burj Khalifa, you’re in luck. The luxury Armani Hotel is located in the Burj Khalifa.
There are five mosques in Dubai open to the public. Mosques in Dubai open to non-Muslim tourists are Jumeirah Mosque, the Bur Dubai Grand Mosque (Grand Bur Dubai Masjid), Mohammed Bin Ahmed Al Mulla Mosque, Imam Hussein Mosque, and Al Farooq Omar Bin Al Khattab Mosque.
View my guide to visiting Jumeirah Mosque by clicking here.
Three to four full days is the perfect amount of time in Dubai. This will allow you to visit all of Dubai’s cultural attractions, try some of Dubai’s best restaurants, and spend a little bit of time relaxing at a beach club or shopping one of Dubai’s famously large malls.
There’s tons of interesting free places to visit in Dubai. The best free things to do in Dubai for tourists are visiting the Bur Dubai Grand Mosque, wandering the souks, exploring Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, strolling the Dubai Mall, touring the Mohammed Bin Ahmed Al Mulla Mosque at the Dubai Marina, and seeing the Dubai Fountain show at the Burj Khalifa.
The best neighborhoods in Dubai for tourists to stay in are Downtown Dubai, and the Business Bay, however that can change based on your itinerary. Travelers looking to relax at a luxury resort in Dubai might enjoy staying in Palm Jumeirah. First-time travelers to Dubai should stay in Downtown Dubai for a central location in good proximity to the best things to do in Dubai.
For my full guide on where to stay in Dubai, click here.
Click below to find popular hotels in Downtown Dubai!Booking.com
Looking for more of the best things to do and places to stay in Dubai? Click here to explore more Dubai travel guides.
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Eva Phan is the founder of Eva Darling, a travel and style website aiming to empower women to see the world solo while sharing on-trend, luxury feminine style inspiration. Featured in publications including Forbes, Thrillist, and Yahoo News, Eva has combined her education from Parsons School of Design with her incurable case of the travel bug to create a global destination that encourages others to romanticize their everyday.