What to see in and around Dubai

In this article, I’ll give you a few keys to making the most of your stay in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates without falling into the tourist traps.

In my first article, I explain why Dubai is one of the most fascinating cities of the 21st century for its dynamism, extravagance and excesses.

Travel is first and foremost a source of pleasure and escape. But it’s also an opportunity to reflect and take a step back on our World. The extraordinary development of Dubai and the United Arab Emirates, even more so than elsewhere, prompts us to ask questions.

For this reason alone, I think a trip to Dubai is a must.

If you’ve never been to Dubai, here are a few pointers to help you prepare for your trip in the best possible conditions.

The articles were illustrated with photos from my travels since the early 2000s. Some of these questions are already historical given how much the city has changed!

All texts in color coral indicate an internal or external link. There are plenty of them to give you a deeper insight into what I’ve been talking about in this article.

What to visit in Dubai?

Dubai is a sprawling city that was originally designed for car travel, with the Cheick Zayed road as its backbone.

In this section, I’ve listed the main tourist attractions by neighborhood. I’m deliberately not exhaustive, as my aim is to show you what I think is worth visiting on your first visit to Dubai.

Dubai’s main districts are

The map below will help you locate them. To give you an idea of the distances involved, Le Palm Jumeirah is 32 km from the airport.

All satellite views in this article come from Google Earth.

In the Practical Tips section, I’ll give you a few pointers on where to sleep and how to get around Dubai.

Dubai global view

The Creek and Deira: the origins of Dubai

A visit to Dubai has to start with The Creek. Originally an inlet around which Dubai was built.

Old Dubai

This is the heart of the historic city, which seems to have emerged from the 50s/60s and, surprisingly, has changed little. It’s messy, dense, and lively. It’s easy to imagine the town of yesteryear, whose wealth came from the harvest of pearls brought in by dhows along the quays of The Creek. We are in the Middle East of our imagination.

The walk begins in the narrow streets of Al Fahidi on the west bank. When it reopens, a visit to the Dubai Museum is a must to understand the city’s history. Next, wander through the souks to the heritage village with its restored old houses.

Numerous restaurants are located along the creek. Perfect for watching the incessant ballet of dhows and boats of all kinds on this inlet.

In the afternoon, or evening, I recommend taking an abra, one of the frequent and traditional public transport boats, to the east bank towards the Deira district. You’ll be transported back to the Dubai of the 1960s when the city was just a fishing port making a living from the pearl trade.


The Deira district is home to numerous souks dedicated to clothing, handicrafts, and, above all, gold. The district resembles Cairo more than 21st-century Dubai.

Gold souk
Souk atmosphere
Restaurant on the Creek
Boat in Dubai Creek
Boat in Dubai Creek
Dubai souk atmosphere
Restaurant on the Creek

Burj Khalifa and Downtown: spectacular Dubai

The Downtown district, as its name suggests, is the new center of Dubai. However, when I first visited the site in 2008, it was a vast construction site. Its emblematic tower, the Burj Khalifa, was far from complete, and only the pylons of the future metro were emerging from the ground.

Burj Khalifa and metro in 2008

Today, in 2023, the neighborhood is a great success story, worth spending time in during the day and in the evening.

At 829.8 meters high, the Burj Khalifa has been the world’s tallest tower since 2010, and is a magnificent architectural achievement. I find it very elegant, and it’s well worth seeing both day and night, as the lighting effects are particularly accomplished.

Burj Khalifa in 2023
Burj Khalifa by night

Of course, even if it’s expensive and best to book in advance, climbing the observation platforms is a must. Several formulas, with varying levels of luxury and exclusivity, are available.

Downtown Dubai

For the record, the skyscraper changed its name after the 2008 crisis brought Dubai to its economic knees. It was the Emir of Abu Dhabi, with his petrodollars, who came to the rescue of the neighboring emirate. As a strong symbol, the ambitious building, previously named Burj Dubai, has taken on the name Khalifa, which means leader! The leader of the Emirates is the Emir of Abu Dhabi.

At its foot, around a lake, lies an entire district of luxury apartment buildings, office towers, upscale hotels, and shopping malls. It’s Dubai’s new downtown, a successful blend of traditional and modern architecture.

Lake at the foot of Burj Khalifa

The Dubai Mall is one of the world’s largest shopping malls.

It’s worth a visit not for the shopping, but for the architecture and the onlookers.

Inside, don’t miss the aquarium, skating rink, waterfalls, and luxury boutiques that make this a shopping center like no other.

To observe visitors to the Dubai Mall is to realize that the world has changed. Western tourists, whether from Europe or North America, are in the minority. In Dubai, the whole planet, of all races and religions, comes together.

The Saudi, Iranian, Russian, Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Israeli, and other New World bourgeoisie mingle in a convivial atmosphere. Conflicts, sometimes violent on the rest of the planet, are put aside in Dubai. Many tourists are couples or families. It’s striking to see that the similarities in behavior are stronger than the differences.

Dubai Mall and Hotel Address Downtown
Dubai Mall skating rink
Dubai Mall and Hotel Address Downtown
Shopping in Dubai mall
Dubai Mall Waterfalls
Vuitton at Dubai Mall

Every half-hour in the evening, a sound and light show springs from the fountains of the Burj Khalifa lake. The setting is majestic, with the Burj el Khalifa as a star attraction, the Dubai Mall, the stunning Address Hotel, the magnificent Souk al Bahar and countless skyscrapers in the background. It has become Dubai’s major attraction, and the crowds are getting bigger all the time.

Onlookers in front of the Dubai Fountains
Dubai Fountain

To round off your visit to Downtown, there’s nothing like a drink at the Neos bar on the 63rd floor of the Address Downtown hotel. The photo below is of the hotel.

The view of the Burj Khalifa is splendid. The atmosphere is very jet-set, but it’s a must-see!

Hotel Address Downtown

Finally, strolling around the Burj Khalifa lake in the evening, when night has fallen, is magical. A dinner at a restaurant in the souk al Bahar is a good idea.

Burj Khalifa lake
Souk al Bahar

Dubai’s seafront: a bike ride to remember

Dubai is a seaside city, and the widely accessible seafront is a great place for a ride, thanks to a beautiful cycle path that starts at the Etihad Museum and ends at the Burj al-Arab. For much of the way, it runs along the beach, away from traffic.

Dubai Waterfront

What’s more, there’s now a network of self-service electric bikes with stations all along the route.

Careem Bike

At the start of the walk, the Etihad Museum is especially worth seeing for its splendidarchitecture. The content, a little light, is there to celebrate the birth of the United Arab Emirates in 1971.

Ethiad museum

Afterward, I suggest you spend some time at a place called “La Mer “, which is a beach equipped with numerous restaurants, food trucks, and boutiques, all of which are quite successful.

The cycle path continues along the sea until you cross the new canal which links the sea to Business Bay via a large bridge. From here, it’s possible to take a detour, again by bike, to Downtown Dubai. In 2023, the canal was under development, but in the medium term, it’s sure to be a great ride.

Dubai Canal
Dubai Canal

I suggest you continue on to the Burj al Arab, stopping to enjoy the sea. The white sand is magnificent and the beaches are all guarded by lifeguards. Some are even lit up at night, which is a great advantage in the hot season when it’s impossible to go to the beach during the day.

You’d think the Emiratis would have privatized all the beaches to make even more money. Fortunately, this is not the case!

Observe the diversity of the public on the beaches, especially at weekends when the whole of Dubai comes to relax.

Women in bikinis, abayas, and saris rub shoulders in good humor and tolerance.

You’ll come across groups of young Indians and single expatriate workers taking a few hours’ rests after a grueling week on the city’s countless construction sites.

Joggers, more likely to be found in Miami Beach, maintain their impeccably sculpted bodies. A little further on, a beach is dedicated to kite-surfing.

You’ll pass through the residential areas of Umm Suqeim, with its imposing villas in a style that’s either flashy or discreet behind high walls.

The beach in Dubai
Beach lighting
Kite Beach
Family at the beach
The beach in Dubai
Women at the beach
Dubai Waterfront
Filming in Dubai

Far out in the sea, you’ll notice a group of islets: The World. It’s a long-standing program that was put on hold by the 2008 crisis. Ultimately, it will be a luxury residential complex with islands representing the countries of the world. Another extravagant project!

The World and Water Front Dubai in 2014

The Burj al Arab and its audacious 321 m-high architecture will be the highlight and end of this bike ride. The view is spectacular and a must-see for tourists taking selfies.

Unfortunately, two buildings were under construction in 2023. They are rather aesthetic, but they will hide the Burj al-Arab. This is the problem with Dubai, which always tries to do a little too much.

Burj al Arab in 2013

Burj Al Arab in 2023

Madinat Jumeirah souk: tales of a thousand and one nights

The Madinat Jumeirah souk is right next door to the Burj Al Arab. It’s one of my favorite places in Dubai. The place is simply stunning, with a real souk atmosphere. Numerous restaurants line a canal with views of the traditional Arab architecture of the Jumeirah al-Qasr hotel and the Burj al-Arab in the background.

Souk Madinat Jumeirah and Burj al Arab

If you want to enjoy one of Dubai’s most superb hotels, you have to go to the Jumeirah al-Qasr. It’s ideally located by the beach, with beautiful gardens. Of course, you have to pay the price, but it’s always possible to have breakfast at the French Riviera Beach and then relax on the private beach with the “beach day pass“.

Souk Madinat Jumeirah
Souk Madinat Jumeirah
Souk Madinat Jumeirah
Jumeirah al Qsar
Souk Madinat Jumeirah
Jumeirah al Qsar

Dubai Marina: a city out of the desert

The first time I went there, in 2005, it was just a huge building site.

Dubai Marina in 2005

So it’s quite fascinating to see that, today, it’s one of Dubai’s liveliest neighborhoods and the one most frequented by foreigners.

The main attraction is strolling along the marina docks and waterfront, which is my favorite spot.

With its many skyscrapers and traffic jams, it’s like being in a North American city. There’s even a tramway.

Although the whole complex was built around the same time, there is no architectural unity. The best, such as the twisted Cayan Tower, stands side by side with very plain buildings. Despite this, or because of it, the lack of harmony gives this part of Dubai a lively feel that I like.

The end of the day is the best time to visit, as there are plenty of restaurants and bars.

Dubai Marina waterfront
Dubai Marina
Souk Madinat Jumeirah
Dubai Marina
Traffic jams at Dubai Marina
Dubai Marina
Dubai Marina
Dubai Marina and Cayan Tower

The Palm Jumeirah: a peninsula reclaimed from the sea

We stay on the incredible with a visit to the Palm Jumeirah. It is part of a group of three artificial peninsulas, all in the shape of a palm tree.This will give Dubai over 500 km of additional coastline. Today, only the Palm Jumeirah has been completed.

The Palm Jumeirah

It’s hard to know what the ecological impact of reclaiming so much land from the sea will be, as the Emiratis are very good at controlling information.

To visit the Palm Jumeirah, it’s best to take the monorail, as the views are spectacular. Aside from the astonishing direction, it’s not a place that appealed to me, because it’s too fake. The enormous Atlantis Hotel is a little too flashy for Disney fans.

Hotel Atlantis

Its main attraction is the gigantic aquarium it houses.

Aquarium hotel Atlantis
Aquarium Atlantis hotel

Right next door is one of the world’s largest water parks: Aquaventure.

The Palm is mostly villas crammed together without much charm.

The latest development on the Palm is the Atlantis The Royal hotel, whose architecture is of questionable taste and can be seen from a great distance, as Karl‘s photo shows.

Hotel Atlantis The Royal

Dubai: a city in perpetual motion

Every time I’ve returned to Dubai, I’ve discovered something new. The cranes are still very active, and neighborhoods are springing up out of the desert.

Don’t hesitate to think outside the box. For example, visiting a supermarket where you can buy pork in a separate area, is a bit like buying sex toys!

Dubai's new districts

On my last trip, I visited the Queen Elisabeth 2, a transatlantic liner from Cunard’s heyday, now converted into a hotel.

Queen Elizabeth 2

I also went to the site of the former Dubai World Expo, which has preserved some of its iconic buildings, which I found interesting to visit.

Dubai Expo
Dubai Expo
Dubai Expo
Dubai Expo

To get there, we took the automatic metro, a superb achievement. What’s more, the two metro lines are very practical, serving many tourist attractions.

Metro Dubai
Dubai metro train

From Downtown, the route is attractive, as it first runs along Cheick Zayed Road, the city’s main artery. Despite its 14 lanes, this highway is often congested. The Emiratis are thinking of doubling it by covering it. Extravagance and Dubai go hand in hand!

Cheick Zayed Road

As the metro is built on stilts, the views of the various districts through which it passes are excellent.

Before arriving at the expo site, you can see Dubai’s industrial and port areas in the distance, well hidden from the tourist areas.

I would have liked to visit the new Museum of the Future with its magnificent architecture, but I would have had to book a month in advance to get a slot.

What to see around Dubai?

Dubai is part of the United Arab Emirates. It would be a shame not to take advantage of a trip to Dubai to visit other places in the region. I propose three excursions that can be carried out over one or two days:

United Arab Emirates

Abu Dhabi, the capital of the Emirates

If Dubai is the New York of the Middle East, Abu Dhabi would be the Washington DC. The city is more sober, less crazy, but not uninteresting. The best way to get there is to rent a car and take the 120 km long freeway, taking care to avoid heavy traffic and the many Porsche, Ferrari, and Land Rover owners who want to unleash their horses!

Abu Dhabi

The Great Mosque of Sheikh Zayed

If there’s only one building to visit in Abu Dhabi, it’s the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.. It’s a magnificent structure entirely made of Carrara white marble, inaugurated in 2007. It is open to non-Muslims. The architecture is highly successful, and one should also observe the numerous artistically executed details. It’s a truly moving experience!

Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi
Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi
Interior Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi
Detail of Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque
Lighting Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi
Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi
Zayed Mosque Abu Dhabi

Qasr Al Watan

In the center, the Qasr Al Watan is a must-see. This is the presidential palace of the Emirates. The building’s dimensions are gigantic and its decoration worthy of a thousand and one nights. It’s clear that the government wanted this palace to impress its visitors, much as Louis XIV had done with the Château de Versailles. I think they’ve achieved their goal!

Qasr Al Watan
The Great Hall Qasr Al Watan
The Great Hall Qasr Al Watan
Qasr Al Watan Library
Al Barza Qasr Al Watan Hall

Downtown Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi itself may not have much charm, but a stroll along the corniche and marina is well worth it.

Abu Dhabi Corniche

A visit to the Emirates heritage village will show you how Emiratis used to live.

Heritage village Abu Dhabi

As long as you’re wearing long pants for men, you can enjoy a drink at the Emirates Palace, a hotel that combines superlatives!

Saadiyat Island

Finally, a visit to Abu Dhabi would not be complete without a trip to Saadiyat Island. Today, you can visit a branch of the Louvre, housed in an elegant complex designed by architect Jean Nouvel. Just avoid doing what I did, visiting on a Monday, the day when the museum is closed! As a result, I was only able to see the outside, which is already a thing of beauty.

But I’ll be back, because the Zayed National Museum, which will retrace the history of the Emirates, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Performing Arts Center are all under construction.

Until now, a one-day visit to Abu Dhabi was enough, but now with all the current developments, two or three days will certainly soon be necessary. I was rather seduced by the Saadiyat island waterfront with its magnificent white-sand beach and well-appointed corniche.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi
Saadiyat Corniche
Zayed National Museum
Saadiyat Beach

Oman’s Musandam Peninsula

To the north of Dubai, some 200 km from an excellent road, lies a little-known gem: the Musandam peninsula. What makes it special is that an Omani enclave in one of the world’s most strategic locations: the Strait of Hormuz, which controls all sea traffic in and out of the Arabian Gulf.


While most of the Emirates is flat and sandy, the peninsula is mountainous, with breathtaking views. Curiously, there are few hotels and tourism is still very reasonable.

To get there, you’ll need to hire a car, make sure you have an exit permit from the rental company and buy an Omani entry visa. Plan to spend one or two nights on the peninsula to get the most out of it.

Local agencies offer a day trip on a dhow, which allows you to enjoy the desert fjord landscapes and snorkel the magnificent coral reefs.

On the way back from Musandam, it’s worth passing through the emirate of Fujairah on the east coast, which is also mountainous and very provincial compared with Dubai.

Buttress in Musandam
Dhow captain in Musandam
Fjord in Musandam
Fjord in Musandam
Inland Musandam

The Emirate of Sharjah

From Dubai, a day trip to Sharjah will give you a better idea of the diversity of the different Emirates.

Sharjah has remained more conservative and Muslim than its neighbor.

A stroll along the Corniche and the port is quite fascinating, with dhows from another age. The historic district, with its Heritage Village, is quite well preserved.

Corniche in Sharjah
Mosque in Sharjah
Port of Sharjah
Buttress in Sharjah
Mosque in Sharjah
Heritage village Sharjah

Dubai: Each one to build their journey.

Dubai and the United Arab Emirates are a land of opportunity. This is true for expatriates, entrepreneurs, and artists, but also for tourists and travelers.

For example, Dubai is very well suited for exploration with elderly people.

Visiting Dubai with elderly parents

We went on a trip to Dubai, in 2014, with our 80+ year old parents. It was an excellent choice, as Emirati culture has a deep respect for the elderly. We were always made to feel very welcome, and everyone went out of their way to make life easier for us.

What’s more, it’s easy to find large apartments that offer comfortable family accommodation. We had rented a large sedan to make it easier for us to get around.

Apartment Dubai
Author with his mother

A city for the curious!

Traveling to Dubai is very easy. If you’re curious about our world and its evolution, you’re bound to be interested in this city, which is a phenomenon of our century.

Depending on your tastes and desires, you may or may not like this city, but I can guarantee that it won’t leave you indifferent .

United Arab Emirates Flag

Practical tips for your trip to Dubai and the United Arab Emirates

When and how long to stay in Dubai?

The peak tourist season runs from November to April during the cooler months. Temperatures are ideal for sightseeing and swimming all year round.

Summer is incredibly hot and humid. During the day, we live in air-conditioned bubbles, and everyone goes out in the evening to enjoy the relative cool. The upside is that Dubai, emptied of tourists, becomes more authentic. A bit like Montreal, whose soul is revealed more in the depths of winter than in summer.

Including a visit to Abu Dhabi and the Musandam Peninsula, ten days seem to me the minimum. As everywhere, the longer you stay, the more receptive you’ll be to what the country has to offer.

The weather in Dubai

Of course, the sun is pretty much guaranteed all year round. The surprise comes from the higher-than-expected humidity, especially in summer, and the sometimes violent sand winds in all seasons. Visibility then becomes very poor.

Sand Wind Dubai

Rains are rare, but when they do occur, they can be heavy and the city comes to a standstill like Paris under a snowstorm.


Where to stay in Dubai?

Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of hotels and apartments to choose from, at all price levels. Not all tourists are wealthy, and middle-class Indians who flock to Dubai must be able to find affordable accommodation.

Downtown and the Marina are the two neighborhoods with the most to offer. They have the advantage of being well-served. The first is more central, the second closer to the sea. If you’re on a tight budget, the best deals are to be found in Deira.

It’s difficult to give you precise addresses, as prices and availability vary greatly throughout the year. Spend a little time investigating on the Internet.



Getting to Dubai from Europe

Air services to Dubai are extensive and it is now one of the best served cities in the world.

From Paris, Emirates offers three daily flights and Air France two.

No visa is required for French tourists.



Getting around Dubai and the Emirates?

Dubai is a city designed for getting around by car, with numerous freeways and wide avenues. However, I’d advise you to use the relatively inexpensive cab and the metro, which is a model of its kind.

Car rental is only justified for trips to other Emirates or Oman. Don’t forget that there’s no tolerance for drinking and driving, and that speed and red-light cameras are highly effective.

The abra, on the creek, river shuttles, the tramway, and the monorail are means of transport that you can use on an occasional basis.

Thanks to a growing network of cycle paths and numerous self-service electric bike stations, cycling is becoming an increasingly attractive option.

Before you leave, download the Careem app onto your smartphone. It makes paying for cabs and bicycles easy.

Dubai Metro


Bike paths Dubai

احظى برحلة جيدة

Bon voyage!



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