The best things to do in Dubai

From the essentials to local’s insider tips and new openings
The best things to do in Dubai right now

Think you've already done all the things to do in Dubai ? Think again. Dubai is pulling out all the stops in 2022, with the delayed Expo 2020 Dubai and the United Arab Emirates’ Golden Jubilee celebrations opening the country's doors to the world that little bit wider. This city continues to dream big, opening new things for visitors to do at a dizzying pace. So escape the year-round sun with a stay in one of the glittering hotels and get busy – these are some of our favourite activities.

The Burj Khalifa, Dubai Getty Images

Go up the Burj Khalifa

The Burj Khalifa is a dazzling sight, its needle-thin, glass-covered exterior shimmering in the desert sun. At 828 metres, it’s the world’s tallest building and is such a Dubai icon that Emirates put a ‘flight attendant’ (actually a skydiver and stuntwoman ) at the very top of it in 2021 to announce the UAE’s addition to the UK amber travel list . You don’t need to go to such heights to enjoy the view, but there are a couple of ways of doing it. Visit the At The Top observation decks, including the vertiginous outdoor terrace on the 148 th level, or head to restaurant and lounge Atmosphere on the 122 nd level. Our tip? Save sundowner hour for the beach , and head here for breakfast when you’ll see the city waking up far below.

The Burj Al Arab, Dubai mauritius images GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo

Go inside the Burj Al Arab

Celebrating its 22 nd birthday in December 2021, the Burj Al Arab still remains one of the city’s best loved buildings. Up to now, if you weren’t a hotel guest or dining in one of the restaurants, it’s been pretty much off-limits to casual visitors. But a new Inside Burj Al Arab experience has just launched, inviting guests on a tour through the world’s tallest atrium, up to the 24-carat gold-covered Royal Suite, and into a new Experience Suite showcasing the building’s history, design and quirky trivia. If a tour’s not your thing, you can still see inside the building by booking a meal – try Al Muntaha with its vaguely space-age aesthetic on the 27 th floor for French fine dining and some of the greatest views in the city.

Sonara Desert Camp, Dubai

Have supper in the desert

Avoid the bigger tourist desert camps and head to Sonara for a more intimate evening in the dunes. Cocktails and burrata pizza fresh from the wood-fired oven await on arrival at the sunset lounge, and supper is served in a fairylight-festooned hollow carved out of the dunes. You can even sandboard your way down to your table. Entertainment includes a whirling dervish, balancing acts and a fire show, but watching the moon rise over the dunes is the most dreamy performance of all.

Sophie Knight

Go on an elite desert safari

Get picked up from your door by Range Rover and watch the skyscrapers fade out of focus – within 30 minutes, you’ll be in desert territory. Whether you choose to ride in a vintage Land Rover or stick to your pick up vehicle, there'll be no dune bashing with  Platinum Desert Safari ; rather a leisurely drive through the beautiful natural landscape with an experienced guide. As you meander through the private conservation reserve, seek out Dubai's native flora and fauna, from snakes to Arabian oryx, and admire the rolling dunes as you go. Watch the sunset with a falconry show, canapés and sparkling date juice. Just before dark, enjoy a camel ride that leads you to a private cabana where you’ll settle in for an impressive six-course dining experience followed by star gazing. The whole experience lasts seven hours, before the journey back to your accommodation.

Bur Dubai Getty Images

Discover Bur Dubai 

Bur Dubai, one of the oldest parts of the city, is abuzz with energy. Go in the evening when it’s at its busiest, or go on Friday morning for a quiet stroll – Friday is the first day of the weekend in Dubai and it can be blissfully quiet until lunchtime. The Al Fahidi heritage district is home to galleries, small museums and cafés housed in restored traders’ homes topped by traditional windtowers. You’ll also find mid-century architecture , vendors selling jasmine garlands and lotus blossoms as offerings for the nearby Hindu temple, and streetside sugar-cane juice, karak tea and fresh samosas to fuel your wanderings. Closer to the Creek is the Old Souk where you’ll have to run the gauntlet of the often overly enthusiastic pashmina-sellers. Keep walking and you’ll reach the water where you can hop on an abra for a moment of calm.

The wooden water taxi abra in Dubai Getty Images

Take an abra on Dubai Creek

Dubai’s not cheap, but if you have one dirham in your pocket, the equivalent of 20p, you can spend it on an abra to cross Dubai Creek, one of the loveliest things to do in the whole city. These little wooden boats have been chugging along for years, ferrying commuters, traders and tourists between the souk markets on each side. For a more leisurely cruise , rent your own for a circular tour. The trip takes around an hour and costs AED120. Prices are fixed – just go to one of the counters at the abra stations along the Creek. As you glide past minarets, windtowers and some of the city’s earliest skyscrapers, it feels like a journey back in time.

Deep Dive Dubai

Deep dive in Dubai 

Dubai’s pre-oil fortunes lay largely in the pearl trade. Before cultured pearls were invented in Japan , around 40 to 50 million pearls were exported each year from the waters of the Arabian Gulf. Partially inspired by this heritage is Deep Dive Dubai , newly opened in summer 2021, housed in a building shaped like an oyster shell and, with a depth of 60 metres, the deepest diving pool in the world. But this is where the similarities end. The pool is designed as a sunken city filled with dystopian sights, such as an abandoned apartment, arcade games and a tree with far-reaching tangled roots. Beginners can join a Discover Scuba session and explore the shallower sights; advanced divers can head all the way down into the distant depths.

Experience a floating nightclub

Dubai’s love of breaking Guinness World Records knows no bounds, and the latest to be smashed is the world’s largest floating nightclub. New nightclub Float is located on the deck of the QE2 , itself a bit of a secret hiding in plain sight – surprisingly few people know that the grande dame ocean liner is permanently docked in Dubai and operates as a hotel. For those who’d prefer to see this piece of travel history in a more sedate way, the QE2 offers excellent heritage tours led by Peter Warwick, the ship’s former Cruise Director.

Mojo art gallery at Alserkal Avenue warehouses in Al Quoz district in Dubai  Urbanmyth / Alamy Stock Photo

Soak up art and more at Alserkal Avenue

Alserkal Avenue’s grey and blue warehouses reward those who take the time to explore them. Previously known for being one of the ultimate places to discover regional contemporary art , the area has grown to include much more. Watch movies at Cinema Akil , the UAE’s only arthouse cinema. Pick up uber-stylish Arabian Gulf-style leather sandals at Tamashee and vinyl at Dubai’s first independent record shop, The Flip Side . Stop for coffee at Nightjar and burgers at futuristic food truck Fomo . These new additions don’t mean that it’s forgotten its beating arty heart, though – globally famed calligraffiti artist eLSeed has his studio here, and you’ll always find something exciting and thought-provoking at Ayyam Gallery and The Third Line .

Hatta, United Arab Emirates Venice Rica Caldona / EyeEm

Hike in the mountains 

Hiking mountains may not be something that springs to mind when thinking of things to do in Dubai, but if you’re looking for a breath of fresh air, a day in the emirate’s craggy region of Hatta reveals a completely different side. Hike or mountain bike trails ranging from ‘easy’ to ‘severe’ (the latter are not to be underestimated), kayak on the dam, and visit the Hatta Honey farm where a ‘Bee Suit Attendant’ will ensure you’re zipped up into a beekeeping outfit covered in cartoon bees before sending you out into the garden. Worth it for the pics alone. You can also stay overnight in accommodation ranging from dome tents to Airstream caravans, farm stays , and the lovely, rather retro,  Hatta Fort Hotel . This is not the Dubai you thought you knew.

Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary, Dubai  Getty Images

See a flamboyance of wild flamingos 

Another unexpected Dubai sight is the colony of Greater Flamingos living in the heart of the city at the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary . While some are migratory visitors, many live here year-round. Come in summer and you’ll see the few hundred permanent residents, but visit in winter and they’ll be joined by thousands more, constantly honking. The hides open in the early morning, the best time to see the flamboyance (the collective noun for a group of flamingos) at its fullest.