Dubai is one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, a futuristic vision surrounded by miles of untouched desert landscapes and bound by a combination of ancient and profound traditions. The small Emirate is well known for its endless ambition, its ability to turn dreamlike sites and structures with near-impossible designs into reality, and for the lure it holds over tourists and fortune-seekers alike. What was once a tiny, unremarkable fishing village on the edge of civilization has birthed some of the world’s tallest and most audacious skyscrapers, a lightning-fast Hyperloop train straight from science fiction, and an army of robocops and watchful drones. The city fearlessly embraces the future, with an ever-increasing number of grand projects in the works, from the World Expo 2021 to flying taxis.
Discover the best of Dubai with our expert guide to spending a weekend in the golden Emirate. Indulge in Dubai’s excesses over 48 hours; enjoy the year-round sunshine and the sandy beaches, crane your neck looking up at some of the world’s tallest buildings, and spend like no one is watching in a dizzying variety of souks, malls, and outlet stores.
Day 1 | Morning
Purchase a gold card and take the Dubai Metro to the Burj Khalifa. Regardless of your starting point, you’ll find yourself following the path of the 16-lane Sheikh Zayed Road, which forms the spinal column of the city. Disembark at the Dubai Mall Station and make your way through the world’s largest shopping center. Morning tickets for the At The Top observation deck should be purchased in advance, but entry to At.mosphere, a couple of floors below, can be arranged at the last minute as long as you’re prepared to spend AED 200 or more on breakfast.
After drinking coffee amongst the clouds, head to The Dubai Museum on Al Fahidi Street to explore the Emirate’s past and learn about the harsh realities of the pearl diving trade. Experience Dubai’s early history from the inside of an old desert fort, view the impressive photography displays from the pre-oil days and glimpse at the skeletal remains of Dubai’s ancestors, which date back to 1500 BC. If you have time to spare, cover the ‘Old Dubai’ essentials with a quick trip to the Spice and Textile Souks, followed by a trip across Dubai Creek in an abra.
Day 1 | Afternoon
Stop in at the Lime Tree Cafe on Sheikh Zayed Road for a slice of Dubai’s best carrot cake, and then walk off your calorie-laden lunch with a sedate stroll through the Dubai Miracle Garden. With its 150 million artfully arranged flowers, presented as a maze of colorful arches and patterns, there are photo opportunities at every turn. The garden is a surreal kaleidoscope of color blooming within the desert backdrop, open every year between mid-November and mid-May.
If you’re visiting outside of the tourist season, avoid the heat inside the Museum of Illusions. There are 80 mind-bending illusions and exhibits, filled with highly Instagrammable optical trickery. For a sky-high number of Instagram likes, post your best pictures from the ‘Head on a Platter Room’ and the ‘Upside Down Room,’ where the floor seems to move under your feet.
Next, circumnavigate to the Dubai Frame in Zabeel Park, which is open year-round, to see the contrasting cityscapes of ‘Old Dubai’ in one direction and ‘New Dubai’ in the other. Purchase your tickets in advance if you want to step on the Frame’s famous glass floor footbridge, which seems to hover 150 meters above the ground, or visit the Future Dubai Gallery on the mezzanine floor for a glimpse of the future.
Day 1 | Evening
Head to The Beach, Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR), to refuel at one of the many restaurants along the shore. As night falls, you can wander through the market stalls, pick-up customized t-shirts, or have your hands decorated with henna. The restaurants at the beach don’t serve alcohol unless they’re attached to a hotel complex, but if you fancy a tipple, we recommend Trader Vics at the Hilton. Enjoy a little escapism with live Cuban bands and Happy Hour cocktails between 5pm and 8pm daily.
Day 2 | Morning
Return to the JBR via the Dubai Metro, exiting at the Damac Properties Metro Station, to take in the sights at the Dubai Marina. Fitness enthusiasts can get a quick workout in at The Beach, JBR, which is punctuated with outdoor gym stations, while brunch fans can stop in at the Ritz Carlton for the supersized spread at the London Social brunch at Caravan. If you’ve got kids in tow, opt for the Bateel Cafe instead, to experience gourmet Arabian hospitality at its finest, plus an exceptional array of child-friendly breakfast specialties such as homemade Belgian waffles, eggs benedict, freshly baked croissants, Danish pastries, and muffins.
When the temperature starts to rise, dive into the Marina Mall for a quick pitstop. You’ll find everything from Adidas to Tommy Hilfiger at this waterfront shopping destination, while ferries and dhow tours depart from the wharf outside, every hour.
Day 2 | Afternoon
Set your heart racing at one of the supersized amusement parks just outside of the city bounds. From the Indian inspired Bollywood Park to Legoland and the Legoland Waterpark, Dubai Parks and Resorts has your afternoon covered. If you’re mad about amusement parks, consider checking in to the Polynesian-themed Lapita Hotel, to receive multi-park access and complimentary Q-fast to Motiongate.
Tip! The themed dining and retail destination, Riverland Dubai, acts as the gateway to Dubai Parks and Resorts. You can access Riverland Dubai without a ticket, and take a stroll along the river, through the French Village, Boardwalk, India Gate, and Peninsula Zones, which each represent a different period in time. View things in this gold-dipped, ultra-modern city come free of charge, making Riverland Dubai an enjoyable exception.
Day 2 | Evening
The dancing Dubai Fountain, by the Dubai Mall, is best viewed by night when the background music is accompanied by laser and light shows. Take a seat at any of the restaurants near the Fountain, and watch the water show erupt from the comfort of your seat with a mocktail in-hand. The Dubai Fountain shows start at 1pm and 1.30pm, Saturday to Thursday; 1pm and 2pm on Friday, and then run every half hour from 6pm to 11pm daily, with a soundtrack that oscillates between Arab and Western pop hits to classical music.
Conclude your trip with a different type of garden experience, made entirely of light bulbs, at the Dubai Glow Garden in Zabeel Park. It’s a ten minute Uber ride from the Dubai Fountain (wait for your driver at the foot of the Burj Khalifa), and the ticket price includes access to the next door Dinosaur Park and nearby Ice Park. Visitors can explore the Park’s glowing tunnels and enjoy highlights such as the Talking Tree, the Happy Forest, Happiness Street, the photogenic ‘My Dubai’ spot, before heading back to their hotel.
How to Get to Dubai
The Dubai International Airport (DXB) is the primary airport serving Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It is the world’s busiest airport in terms of international passengers, serving over 89 million passengers in 2018. If you’re flying from Australia, there are non-stop flights from Sydney Airport and Melbourne Airport. Discount rates are available on parking at both airports via Flyparks, a comparison and booking site for airport parking.