A guide to things to do in Dubai

In a city like Dubai, you’ll always have something to see or do. Boredom simply doesn’t enter the vocabulary of this gleaming metropolis, where towering skyscrapers, cultural centres of history and opportunities to shop in some of the most prestigious malls on Earth are just the start. Amusement parks, beach days and the vastness of the desert beyond all make for unforgettable Dubai holidays.

More than a mirage

Most holidaymakers head to Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, which towers high above an already impressive skyline like a spire from a sci-fi movie. Take a tour to its lofty observation decks and witness the sprawl of Dubai stretching in every direction, with the desert and sea tracing the horizons beyond. Booking in advance for savings is always advised.

Shopping over the centuries

Being a city of trade has given Dubai access to every kind of commodity imaginable. From gadgets and gaming to perfumes, runway fashion and a whole host more, it’s easily found in the shops and stores that garland Dubai’s streets. You may have already heard of some of the immense shopping malls that exist in the city, which include the Mall of the Emirates and the massive Dubai Mall. The latter of the two is so big that it’s got plenty of room not only for almost every fashion house and leading retail brand on the planet, but also its own amusement park.

The Sega Republic takes those classic videogames you grew up with and turns them into a family experience of bumper cars, thrill rides and a soft play area for your daring little adventurers. With a certain famous blue cartoon hedgehog grinning alongside you, you’ll also have the chance to immerse yourself in virtual reality games or show off your Guitar Hero skills.

If you’re after a more traditional experience, it’s a good idea to check out the Old Gold Souk. Dubai is a wealthy city, so gold and jewellery of every kind is draped and displayed over traditional stands at this market, which sustains the same Arabic traditions as it has for centuries. Haggle yourself some bling in this treasure trove, and you’ll go home feeling like royalty.

Surf, ski and explore

It may seem inconceivable to go skiing in the desert, but remember that Dubai always dares to dream big. That’s why there’s an entire complex, Ski Dubai, that’s dedicated to giving you some substantial slopes to weave down. Naturally, booking Dubai holiday deals might have seen you packing more summer-wear than skiing gear, but luckily you can rent everything you need on-site, and leave the kids in their own play area.

Jumeirah Beach is the most famous coastline in Dubai, and it’s as inviting as it is hot beneath that desert sunshine. Of course, relaxation is only half the tale, as daring Dubai challenges the more energetic of us to take on some waterskiing, scuba diving or boat trips out into the bay. Having said that, if you prefer more slides and rides to surfboards and sun-tan lotion, your wet and wild adventures can instead take place at Wild Wadi Waterpark. The tube slides and various rides here have to be seen to be believed.

Dubai is in a good location to explore the desert, and you can take in some dramatic landscapes from here. Journey through the plains and dunes of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, where horseback and camel rides are also available. If you’re feeling a little more pacy, you can instead opt for a 4×4 trek through the vast open wilderness. Just remember to bring plenty of water to beat the heat.

Outdoor adventures around Dubai

When outdoor adventures are mentioned, one of the last places you’d think of would be Dubai, however, there are over 50 exciting outdoor pursuits in the region. For a break from the malls and the city favourites, take an off-road approach and discover archery, sailing and even camel polo.

Hot air ballooning

Head to The Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, a 30-minute drive from the centre of Dubai, and you can enjoy a magical balloon ride over endless sand dunes and emerald oases.

From the sky, you’ll be able to spot native Arabian animals in their natural habitat, from wandering camels to gazelles and oryx, making this the perfect alternative to the bustle of the malls and skyscrapers.

Most flights last around one hour. For some seriously breathtaking views, take to the sky at dawn and watch the sunrise from behind the impressive Dubai skyline.

Desert Safari

With the desert on its doorstep, Dubai is the perfect base from which to explore the surrounding Arabian dunes. For the adrenaline-seekers, dune bashing will see you whipping across the desert in a 4×4 vehicle, plummeting down sheer drops as your experienced driver gives you the ride of your life. Camel trekking offers a slower pace of transport, while Arabic buffet dinners served in authentic Bedouin camps give visitors a glimpse into the country’s traditional lifestyle.

Other desert activities include sandboarding, quad biking and don’t miss the chance to simply watch the sunrise or set across the arid plains. From half day to overnight safaris available, you’re sure to find an excursion to meet your needs.


Paintballing enthusiasts will be in their element in Dubai. Scramble amid purpose built ruined outhouses as you take part in some original and exciting paintball games in the arena at Pursuit Games. Located in the south of the city, play classic games like capture the flag or practise your C.I.A. skills in ‘President’, escorting an unarmed team member across the make-believe war zone.

Over at Sharjah Paintball Centre, you’ll combat with your friends in the 5000-square-metre Jungle arena. You can catch your breath in a bunker, stake out behind an aeroplane or spot your enemy from the high towers that are all unique in the UAE. They also have an indoor replica London arena complete with Rolls Royce, black taxis and red telephone boxes – all of which have been imported from the UK.

Hiking and canyoning

Escape Dubai’s hectic city life and head for the spectacular mountains of the UAE, exploring ancient settlements, extensive terraced fields and fantastic hiking trails. A two-hour drive northeast of Dubai will land you in The Musandam Peninsula, home to a collection of canyons and fascinating traces of the past. For a gentle hike, climb the two secret staircases hand built into the cliff faces by Pakistani goat-herders at Khab Al Shamsi, and explore the tiny settlement at the top.

If you’re worried about being out in the heat, never fear as the air around the mountain range is at least 10C cooler than in the city. The whole area also benefits from a glorious breeze and shade at different times of the day. You’ll also find the site of the UAE’s highest waterfall in Wadi Warrayah, where you can take part in canyoning trips through cascading pools and narrow cliff faces.

Endless watersports

Whatever watersport you’re craving, Dubai has it. The endless stretches of white sand beaches provide all the usual suspects from water skiing to parasailing and banana boats, but as the watersports’ scene continues to expand you’ll find plenty of companies offering lessons in more unique activities.

Along the main coastal resorts, there are extensive watersports centres offering a huge range of adrenaline-fuelled pursuits. Both windsurfing and kiteboarding have gained popularity over recent years and there are an array of spectacular diving and snorkelling spots along Dubai’s coast.