Dubai is a city of superlatives, its glittering skyline overlooking the Persian Gulf and backed by the undulating dunes of the Arabian desert. Home to the world’s tallest building, biggest mall and largest indoor theme park, it’s a city that loves to be the biggest and best – it even has its own outpost of the Guinness Book of Records! Don’t miss out on any of the highlights, thanks to our essential local guide to 48 hours in Dubai.
Day one: morning
Spend the morning appreciating some of Dubai’s most celebrated sights in the Downtown district. Get a bird’s-eye-view of the entire city from the observation deck on the 124th floor of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Once you’ve soaked up the views, head back down to hit the Dubai Mall, the world’s largest mall. There are attractions galore here – besides the shops (all 1200 of them), restaurants and cafés, you’ll find a spectacular aquarium and underwater zoo and an Olympic-size ice-skating rink.
Day one: afternoon
Leave the glossy skyscrapers behind and get a feel for traditional Emirati life by getting a water taxi (a wooden abra boat) across the Dubai Creek to the Deira neighbourhood. You’ll be able to enjoy some fabulous views of the city as you cross the fast-moving waters. Stroll through the narrow passages of the enticing Spice Souk, where the air is perfumed with every imaginable herb and spice. After stocking up on your favourites, continue your stroll to the Gold Souk to admire the glittering displays. In the evening, you might fancy a dinner cruise on one of the beautiful old dhow boats, or want to hit one of the fancy cocktail bars on the upper floors of the luxury hotels.
Day two: morning
Take a trip back to the past, before the skyscrapers and the shopping malls, and visit the Al-Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. This area preserves some of the city’s oldest buildings, including some of the few remaining barajeel (‘wind tower’) houses. These ingenious towers were designed to release the hot air at the top, and direct cooler air through the house. The district has become a centre for arts and culture, with a host of workshops, galleries, and cultural centres. The 18th-century fort is now a fascinating museum, which offers insight into Dubai’s early history before the oil boom.
Day two: afternoon
You can’t leave Dubai without visiting the Arabian Desert. There are lots of different tours that you can do, but one of the most popular includes dune-bashing – a thrilling ride over the dunes in a Jeep – followed by a camel ride, an authentic Bedouin dinner and some traditional dancing. If dune-bashing is not for you, there are some wonderful wildlife tours, including nocturnal safaris which include some unforgettable desert star-gazing.