Ways of seeing Dubai — from land to water and air. There are far more ways to experience this striking city than the stereotypical ‘sun, sand and shopping’ perspectives from beach, desert and mall. Here’s our guide to experiencing Dubai from some different vantage points.
Ways of Seeing Dubai — From Land to the Water and Air
Ways of Seeing Dubai on Land
One of the best ways to get your bearings in this big, sprawling city is to do one of the most touristy things you can do in Dubai…
Dubai By Bus
Spend a day hopping on and off the double-decker bus around the city with Big Bus Tours. While I don’t recommend these tours in every city (too touristy and the commentaries can be naff), in sprawling Dubai the hop-on hop-off facility is fantastic. It will save you money, as well as getting you a free dhow cruise and free entry to many other museums and attractions.
Dubai By Train
Riding the Dubai Metro is a great way to see the city as it now covers it quite well. The bonus is the elevation of the track, many metres off the ground, which offers sweeping skyline views as you glide above Sheikh Zayed Road, where most of Dubai’s skyscrapers bother the clouds. The metro is also tailor-made for a traditional shopping run in Dubai, with stops near most of Dubai’s monumental malls.
Dubai On Foot — Self-Guided Strolls
Far too often these days, visitors to the city don’t get to Dubai Creek, let alone walk along its banks, yet it’s by far the best thing to do in Dubai as far as we’re concerned. We used to live in Bur Dubai, just a ten-minute stroll from the Creek and we were often down there walking along the waterfront.
There are both breezy restored souqs and sprawling old ramshackle souqs, on both sides of the Creek. On the Bur Dubai side, there is the labyrinthine yet compact old Bastakiya quarter, where the lanes are lined with art galleries and small museums.
At Shindagha, at the mouth of the Creek on the site of the original old settlement of Dubai, the Dubai Heritage and Diving Village offers a glimpse of ‘old’ Dubai. During winter evenings it gets busy with locals (such as the guys above), who come here to celebrate Emirati culture, performing traditional songs and dance, and re-enacting weddings and other rituals. It’s a fantastic time to visit.
On the Deira side stroll along the busy dhow wharves, which are still active and absolutely fascinating, with the traditional wooden boats arriving and departing daily for Gulf ports, loading and unloading all kinds of crazy stuff. It has long been one of our favourite spots for a walk.
Dubai On Foot — Walking Tours
If you prefer a guided stroll with a local resident, there are a whole array of Dubai walking tours you can book these days.
Ways of Seeing Dubai from the Water
As a city founded on trade, particularly sea trade, Dubai Creek has always played a major role in the lives of the locals.
An Abra Ride in Dubai
Start exploring by taking an abra (a small wooden communal water taxi) across the Creek, from Bur Dubai to Deira — at one dirham (less than .20p) a ride it’s the cheapest form of entertainment in Dubai. You can also hire an abra of your own to explore the Creek further. Sunset is the best time.
Dubai Dhow Cruises
Take a cruise on a dhow, a large wooden boat traditionally used to ship goods to and from Iran and around the Arabian peninsula — which many still do. If you’re not interested in going that far, you can take a dinner cruise on a restored dhow, which generally includes an Arabic buffet, bellydancing, and puff on a fragrant sheesha pipe.
Dubai Dinner Cruises
If food is more important than atmosphere, then for a dinner cruise, the best option is the sleek, modern flat-bottomed boat Bateaux Dubai, which offers the best cuisine.
Ways of Seeing Dubai from the Sea
Swimming in Dubai
While everyone thinks of Dubai as offering up little more than beach resorts where you can work on the tan or sip cocktails on a stool at a swimming pool wet bar, there are plenty of public beaches in the city where you can take a dip in the Arabian Sea while soaking up some local atmosphere.
Right next to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, expat favourite Umm Suqeim is a sandy beach that is great for a swim in the sea. Further up the stretch of beach towards Dubai Creek is Open Beach, also known as Russian Beach, which is popular with a real mix of locals and expats.
Another family beach where you can make a day of it is Al-Mamzar Park. Tucked away towards the neighbouring Emirate of Sharjah, its location away from the buzzy end of town makes it quieter than the beaches of Jumeirah Beach Road. It has a lovely white sand beach, still water making it safe for the kids, and facilities that include a swimming pool, BBQs, kiosks, and chalets. There’s a small entry fee.
See our guide to Dubai’s best beaches for more details.
During the cooler months, you might even find some decent waves here being ridden by a dedicated group of local surfers. A guy getting a tube ride with the Burj Al Arab as a backdrop is a photo opportunity worth sticking around for.
Kite Surfing Dubai
Kite Beach is obviously popular with local kite surfers. You can get lessons and equipment through the Dubai Kitefly Club.
Diving in Dubai
If you want to go underwater, Dubai, as well as the neighbouring emirate of Abu Dhabi, and the east coast of the country all have excellent diving. Through Al Boom Diving, you can learn to dive, get your PADI (Professional Association of Scuba Instructors) certificate, and dive in the Dubai Aquarium, as well as the dive centre at the Jebel Ali Dubai Golf Resort and Spa.
If you’re a certified diver, there are great trips further afield, in the Mussandam Peninsula in Oman, just a few hours drive from Dubai, or at dive sites accessible from Al Aqah near the town of Fujairah on the east coast.
Deep Sea Fishing in Dubai
Back on top of the water, you can also try your hand at deep sea fishing off Dubai’s coast. Fishing has always been a way of life in Dubai and locals love nothing more than a seafood feast featuring fresh local fish, such as hammour. Although we don’t recommend eating this fish now, as it has sadly been over-fished and numbers are extremely low.
Charter Your Own Sailing Boat in Dubai
From Le Méridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina you can try your luck on a charter. They also have sailing classes — another of the traditional sports of Dubai, and you can still see dhow races from late September when the season starts.
Ways of Seeing Dubai From the Air
You’ve probably seen Dubai from the sky on the flight in — it’s a spectacular sight. And it could be said that a birds-eye-view of Dubai is the best there is.
Scenic Flights in Dubai
So take a closer look by booking a 40-minute seaplane flight with Seawings which takes in the iconic Dubai landmarks such as the world’s tallest building Burj Khalifa, the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab Hotel and historic Dubai Creek. Be prepared to burn through plenty of memory cards on your camera.
Hot Air Balloon Rides in Dubai
While a 4WD desert safari tour has long been on the itinerary of most visitors to Dubai and is lots of fun, experiencing the desert in a hot air balloon with Balloon Adventures is a different way of seeing the desert — one that those who have done it describe as sublime.
While the 4am start is a little alarming (so to speak), the silence as you drift over the golden desert at dawn is magical. Floating above the gently undulating dunes allows you to fully appreciate the contours of this harsh land. It’s amazing that the local Bedouin can even find their way around it!
Helicopter Rides in Dubai
If a balloon is too slow and a plane too fast, you might find a helicopter ride over Dubai just the right pace. There are two trips offered by Arabian Adventures, leaving from the helipad at Atlantis on The Palm.
The shorter journey known as the ‘Fun Ride’ is a 15-minute trip covering The Palm, Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab and The World Islands. The longer 25-minute flight adds flying over Dubai Creek, Dubai Marina and ‘New’ Dubai.
Do you have any suggestions for ways of seeing Dubai that we haven’t covered?