There are many ways to get to know a city and booking a tour with a local guide is one of the best. Whether travellers to Dubai are looking for an overview of the emirate or a more in-depth take on the city’s culinary scene, there is a tour for it.
These are some of the most popular options that are absolutely worth it:
Desert safaris and dune bashing
Who to go wild with? Arabian Adventures
Arabian Adventures offers dozens of tours around Dubai and the rest of the Emirates, but it is arguably most famous for its organised excursions into the desert. There are all sorts of safari adventures to choose from, with prices starting at AED285 (€70). These take visitors to various areas of the desert at different times of day – from sunrise to sunset – and with a selection of activities included, such as dune and wildlife drives to barbecues at a Bedouin-style camp. This is a particularly great option for first-timers to the UAE.
Who to eat with? Frying Pan Adventures
The best thing about booking a tour with the team at Frying Pan Adventures is you know you’re in good hands, as all of the guides adore food and know Dubai extremely well. There are three tours to choose from: one that takes you through the souqs, with Arabian, India and Iranian culinary treats; the signature tour that offers ten Arabian and Iranian food tastings; and the Little India on a Plate tour, where you can sample delicious dishes in Dubai’s oldest and most vibrant Indian neighbourhood. Prices on average are AED395 (€97) per person.
Alternative street tours
Who to explore with? Street Life
This is a relatively new company. It offers an app through which you can book both virtual and real-life tours. These are curated and led by experts in their field, from fashion designers to DJs and music entrepreneurs. The guided tours offer a glimpse into an alternative side of life in Dubai. Options include the cultural tour through the city’s oldest neighbourhood; the alternative nightlife tour, which takes guests through an overlooked but very fun club scene; and the Instagram tour, which explores some of the emirate’s most picturesque venues. Prices start from about AED175 (€43) per person, but there are also a bunch of free, self-guided tours to explore on the app.
Who to fly with? Seawings
Spend 45 minutes flying at 1,500 feet over Dubai’s skyscrapers in a seaplane with Seawings. There are a few tours to book: the signature tour soars in a Cessna 208 aircraft over the city’s biggest attractions, including the Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab and Palm Jumeirah. There’s also the heritage tour, which flies over cultural landmarks, as well as one that takes you to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, home to the world’s fastest roller coaster, Ferrari Rossa. A 20-minute abridged version is also available for almost half the price. The signature tour costs AED1,780 (€437) per adult.
Who to sail with? Tour Dubai
A dhow is a traditional wooden sailing vessel from the region, used by traders and formerly pearl divers. The boats can be seen today sailing up and down the Dubai Creek and there are dozens of operators offering dhow and dinner cruises around Dubai from a variety of locations. Through Tour Dubai, visitors can book a dinner cruise from Dubai Marina or the Creek. The former offers a more modern experience, while the latter is a lovely way to see the older side of the emirate. The packages usually include a feast, alcohol and music to set the tone, as guests sail through some of the city’s most recognisable areas. There are cruises in Abu Dhabi, too, so visitors can explore the UAE’s capital in a unique way.
An introduction to the city
Who to help you get around? Big Bus Dubai Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
Anywhere in the world, one of the best and quickest ways to get an overview of a city is with a hop-on, hop-off bus tour – and Dubai is no different. Big Bus Tours Dubai offers a number of packages, spanning from one to five days, with three routes. The red line takes visitors from The Dubai Mall and through older and more historic parts of the city; the blue line traverses through the Dubai Marina and on to Palm Jumeirah; while the green line drives past major landmarks along the shore, including Burj Al Arab and Souk Madinat. The tours feature pre-recorded commentary that’s available in 12 languages and tickets start from $57.20 (€52) for adults and $38.60 (€35) for children when bought online.
A taste of heritage
Who to get cultured with? Sheikh Mohammed Cultural Centre for Understanding
For those unfamiliar with Emirati culture and heritage, a visit to the non-profit Sheikh Mohammed Culture Centre for Understanding (SMCCU) is a must. At its centre in Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, members of the public can drop in to join a guided walking tour of the area’s narrow sikkas (alleyways) and coral-hued wind tower residences to learn about the city’s history and culture. This tour also takes guests inside a nearby mosque, and includes a Q&A session with local presenters over coffee and dates. Another tour also takes guests to the textile souq and across Dubai Creek in an abra (water taxi) to Deira’s gold and spice souqs, before heading back to SMCCU house for tea, dates and a Q&A session. Elsewhere, a tour of Jumeirah Mosque, one of only two mosques in the city that are open to non-Muslims, sees a guide introduce guests to Islamic practices and traditions. This one costs Dh25 (€6) per person.