Top 10 Must-See Attractions for First-Timers in Glitzy Dubai
Dubai has transformed over the past few decades into one of the world’s premier luxury travel destinations. This glamorous city is known for its futuristic skyscrapers, world-class shopping, fine dining, and lively nightlife scene. Dubai attracts over 16 million international visitors annually, making it the 4th most visited city in the world in 2023. With so many incredible attractions and activities to choose from, planning what to see and do on your first visit to Dubai can feel overwhelming.
This post shares a complete Dubai itinerary featuring the top 10 must-see attractions and things to do to make the most out of your vacation. From architectural marvels and natural wonders to exciting cultural experiences, these are the essential sites and activities you won’t want to miss on your first trip to Dubai.
At an awe-inspiring height of 2,722 feet, Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world and a stunning architectural marvel. This iconic Dubai skyscraper has held the record for world’s tallest building since its completion in 2009. The distinctive building features a Y-shaped plan inspired by Islamic patterns and a spiral shape evoking the spiring leaves of a desert plant. Burj Khalifa has 163 floors and breaks several other records including tallest freestanding structure on land.
For jaw-dropping panoramic views over Dubai, visitors can go to the observation decks on the 124th and 148th floors. The views stretch out for miles across the futuristic Dubai skyline and Arabian desert. Advance booking is recommended to avoid long queues. Allow 1-2 hours to fully experience the observation decks and take in the views from Dubai’s famous landmark. An ideal time to visit is around sunset or after dark when you can see Dubai’s dazzling city lights.
The Dubai Fountains is the world’s largest choreographed fountain system located in the manmade Downtown Burj Khalifa Lake. The fountain itself spans the length of 30 acres and features shows every 30 minutes in the evenings. Thousands of LED lights illuminate the fountain’s water jets that shoot up over 500 feet into the air while Arabic, classical, and world music audio plays from speakers lining the 271-metre-long fountain. The Dubai Fountains offers free shows after dark accompanied by light and music with water shooting as high as 150 metres into the sky. The fountain’s choreographed water displays are set to a range of different songs from around the world and the fountain’s main arch features a giant projector screen that creates light images into the sky.
The Dubai Mall is one of the world’s largest shopping malls located in downtown Dubai next to the Burj Khalifa. At over 12 million square feet (equivalent in size to over 50 football fields), The Dubai Mall has a total internal floor area of 5.9 million square feet across more than 1200 shops, making it one of the largest malls in the world.
Inside the expansive Dubai Mall, visitors can explore the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo featuring a walkthrough tunnel showcasing over 400 species of marine animals. There is also an Olympic-sized ice rink, SEGA Republic indoor theme park, and a 22-screen Reel Cinemas for entertainment. With every shop imaginable from luxury fashion brands to souvenirs and electronics stores, along with cafes and restaurants overlooking the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Fountains, the Dubai Mall is a must-see on your first visit to Dubai. You can easily spend an entire day exploring everything it has to offer.
Burj Al Arab
The Burj Al Arab is one of Dubai’s most famous landmarks and a must-visit for first-time visitors. This stunning hotel is designed to resemble a billowing sail and stands tall at 1,053 feet, making it one of the tallest hotels in the world. Its unique shape and striking architecture have made the Burj Al Arab synonymous with over-the-top luxury in Dubai.
While only guests can access the lavish rooms and suites, visitors can still experience the Burj Al Arab by booking a restaurant reservation or afternoon tea. Dining in the Burj Al Arab offers incredible views of the Arabian Gulf from the floor-to-ceiling windows. First-timers should indulge in the luxurious ambiance with a meal or high tea at this iconic Dubai attraction.
Palm Jumeirah is one of the most iconic man-made attractions in Dubai. This artificial archipelago is shaped like a palm tree and contains a two-kilometer long trunk, seventeen fronds, and an surrounding crescent-shaped island that together form nearly 500 hectares of land jutting out into the Persian Gulf.
Located just off the Jumeirah coastal area, Palm Jumeirah is home to some of Dubai’s most luxurious hotels, like Atlantis, Anantara, and One&Only. There are also many upscale beach clubs, residential communities, waterparks, and aquatic adventure activities located on Palm Jumeirah.
Some highlights of visiting Palm Jumeirah include taking a monorail ride for panoramic views, enjoying thrilling waterslides at Aquaventure Waterpark, strolling the scenic beachfront Palm promenade, or chartering a yacht to cruise along Palm Jumeirah’s coast.
With so many amenities, attractions, and picture-perfect views, Palm Jumeirah is a must-visit destination that exemplifies the extravagance and innovation that Dubai is known for. No first trip to Dubai is complete without spending time admiring this engineering marvel.
Dubai Miracle Garden
The Dubai Miracle Garden is one of the city’s most Instagrammable attractions. Spread over 72,000 square meters, it is the world’s largest natural flower garden filled with over 50 million blooms and whimsical floral sculptures.
Nicknamed the ‘flower paradise of Dubai’, the Miracle Garden features winding paths through flowerbeds and topiaries in the shape of hearts, stars, igloos, and pyramids. Some of the most popular photo spots include the vibrant flower castle, life-sized airplane covered in petals, and the clock tower made entirely of flowers.
The vibrant colors and sheer scale of the Dubai Miracle Garden make it a must-see attraction. The best time to visit is during the cooler months between November and April when the flowers are in full bloom. With more than 45 million annual visitors, the Miracle Garden is one of the most visited spots in Dubai.
Plan to spend 1-2 hours wandering through the fragrant flower displays. It’s the perfect place to snap Instagram-worthy photos and take in Dubai’s horticultural wonders.
Dubai Desert Safari
For a thrill-seeking adventure in the Dubai desert, a desert safari is an absolute must-do. Experience the excitement of dune bashing in a 4x4 vehicle as you ride up and down the enormous sand dunes. Many tours offer adrenaline-pumping activities like sandboarding down the steep dunes or quad biking through the desert landscape.
After working up an appetite, settle in for a barbecue dinner under the stars at a Bedouin-style camp. Sit back on plush carpets, cushions, and low tables as you feast on Arabic meats, stews, salads, and sweets. Wash it down with shisha as you enjoy live entertainment like Tanoura dancing or belly dancing shows. Some companies also offer add-on activities like camel rides, falconry, henna tattoos, and more.
Desert safaris run in the late afternoon through the evening, typically picking up from hotels between 2:30pm-4pm and lasting 4-6 hours. All transportation, food, and activities are arranged by the tour company. For an unforgettable Arabian night, dune bashing and stargazing in the Dubai desert is a must.
The Dubai Marina is one of the most popular areas for visitors, known for its lively atmosphere and glamorous waterfront lined with glittering high-rise towers. Located along an artificial canal city, Dubai Marina is where you’ll find many of the city’s most famous skyscrapers like the curving Cayan Tower and Marina 101, currently the world’s 5th tallest residential building at 1,394 feet tall. Wandering along the Dubai Marina Promenade, you can gaze up at the dazzling skyline while the luxury yachts and boats cruise by.
Beyond admiring the architecture, the Dubai Marina offers plenty of activities and amenities. Spend an afternoon shopping in the waterfront malls or dining al fresco along the marina at trendy restaurants and cafes. As the sun goes down, the area comes alive with people enjoying Dubai’s famous nightlife. Bars like Buddha Bar and nightclubs like Pier 7 keep the party going late. With so much see and do, visiting Dubai Marina is an absolute must on any Dubai itinerary.
Dubai Gold Souk
The Dubai Gold Souk is a must-visit attraction located in the oldest part of Dubai, Deira. This lively traditional marketplace consists of a labyrinth of covered streets lined with hundreds of jewelry and gold vendors. Bargaining is expected as you browse through the dazzling displays of gold, diamonds, pearls, and precious gems.
As one of the largest gold markets in the world, the choices at the Gold Souk are endless. You’ll find ornate gold jewelry in every design imaginable, as well as traditional souvenirs like pashminas and rugs. It’s quite a sight to behold the sheer quantity of gold on display across the crowded market streets. Most shops open from 10am to 10pm daily.
The Gold Souk has been an important trading destination in Dubai since the early 1900s when the first retailers set up in Deira. This vibrant market gives visitors a taste of traditional Dubai before the ultra-modern metropolis emerged. Bargaining is expected, so brush up on your negotiation skills before visiting. It’s easy to get lost wandering the bustling lanes, but getting lost is part of the experience!
The Dubai Frame is one of the city’s most iconic modern structures, offering stunning panoramic views across Dubai. Shaped like a massive picture frame, the attraction features a 150-metre tall rectangular frame built right in the middle of Zabeel Park. The Dubai Frame was constructed in 2013 and has become a popular spot for visitors looking for unique views and photo opportunities.
Visitors can walk across the 150-metre sky bridge that connects the two sides of the frame. The bridge offers incredible views looking out over historic Dubai landmarks juxtaposed against the dazzling modern skyline. Afterwards, head up to the panoramic viewing platforms on the top floors of each side.
See views of contemporary Dubai landmarks like the Burj Khalifa to the one side and older districts like Deira, Umm Hurair, and Karama on the opposite side. With its central location, futuristic design, and breathtaking views, the Dubai Frame is a great way to visually understand Dubai’s incredible growth and development.