There’s so much to see and do in Dubai that you wouldn't get through it all in one week, let alone one day. But, if you’ve got less than 24 hours to make your way through the city’s biggest and best attractions, this is how to make it count.
Start your day with a morning drive in the desert. Half-day tours are available from Arabian Adventures. These take a drive through the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve, where you’ll get the chance to spot some wildlife, ride on a camel, have some light snacks and even try sandboarding. For this attraction, make sure to look up the schedule beforehand as it varies slightly depending on the time of year you go.
Head straight to the Arabian Tea House in Bur Dubai for a spot of Emirati food for lunch. The quaint little café, located in a traditional wind tower house at the heart of the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, has been around since the late ‘90s. It takes you back in time, to before Dubai’s development boom, introducing you to the emirate’s rich cultural heritage and delicious cuisine.
It’s time to wander around Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood (formerly known as Al Bastakiya), to explore a maze of coral coloured houses. In the 1800s, this was a trading hub for textile and pearl merchants. Many of the picturesque art galleries, museums and souvenir shops are a buildings were once the homes of workers in the area.
Head straight to the Coffee Museum, for a little pick-me-up; here you can sit and enjoy the aromas of freshly roasted beans while you sip on a traditional gahwa (Arabic for coffee) and view all the artefacts dotted around the small museum.
Then pop over to the XVA Gallery at the boutique XVA Art Hotel. Step inside the shaded courtyard and explore the offshoot gallery spaces, which feature regular rolling showcases of work by local or international artists.
If you have more time, head to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding afterwards. Here, the team runs 90-minute sessions at breakfast, lunch and dinner, which include an Emirati feast, a discussion on the nation’s heritage and traditions, and a walk through the sikkas (alleyways) of Al Fahidi, and a nearby mosque.
Walk away from Al Fahidi and towards the Bur Dubai souq. Along the way, pass by the Al Fahidi Fort and Dubai Museum – it costs just Dh3 to enter and will take you about one hour to make your way around. Alternatively, go straight to the marketplace, where you can haggle with hawkers selling their wares, ranging from pashmina shawls and mosaicked lamps to Persian rugs and a plethora of spices. Hidden in a tiny nearby alleyway is a Hindu temple – wander down it to pick up some beautiful-smelling jasmine and admire small artworks of Hindu gods.
Make your way to the Dubai Creek, where traders plough up and down on dhows. Here you can grab an abra (water taxi) for just Dh2, and sail across to the other side, where you’ll find the Deira souq. Wander around and explore the area. There, you’ll find spice and gold markets, as well as hand-woven fabrics, lavish jewellery, plenty of perfumes and a whole host of great souvenirs.
After a quick freshen-up, it’s time to head to Downtown Dubai, to the iconic Dubai Opera. Enjoy a dinner at The Loft at Dubai Opera, overlooking the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building). The Loft offers a beautiful setting both inside and on the large outdoor terrace. If you’re there to see a show, book a pre-theatre dinner experience. You’ll get two or three courses, with prices starting from Dh185. The menu encompasses plenty of fresh seafood (lobster, crab, oysters, etc.), hand-made pastas, meaty grills and delectable desserts, including chocolate fondant and rose cheesecake with pistachio.
Check out Dubai Opera’s website to see a list of what’s on so you can time your visit with a show. If your trip doesn’t coincide, then stroll over to The Dubai Mall instead. The mall prides itself on being one of the largest in the world. It sits next to the Burj Khalifa and the dancing Dubai Fountains, which perform their own well-choreographed show every 30 minutes. Enjoy a walk around the area before popping in to Souk Al Bahar, which is on the other side of the fountains to Dubai Mall, and have a cocktail on the fabulous terrace at trendy pan-Asian eatery and lounge, Karma Kafe.
Now it’s time to party. Dubai’s nightlife scene is world-renowned and while there are many bars and clubs to explore, one of the city’s most popular venues is Soho Garden. Among the plethora of lively late-night experiences is Drai’s Dubai, a brand that hails from Las Vegas. This city hosts all manners of world-class DJs and performers – from Wiz Khalifa to French Montana – spinning today’s top R&B and hip-hop tunes.