A few days back one of my best travel buddies from Paris visited me here in Dubai and we had a full 3 days to discover and roam around this vibrant city. Surprisingly, after our trip (and after posting several photos on Instagram), a lot of my friends (and readers) were asking me suggestions of places to go to on a short term visit here in Dubai.
It was a good 3 days, me and my friend did a lot and were able to cover almost all the major sites to see in Dubai—> and also did a side trip to Abu Dhabi on our 2nd day.
If you are sharing the same passion for the old towns, local arts, (a bit) adventurous, doesn’t mind the heat, walk long distances, on a budget and on a short stay visit here in Dubai, this itinerary is tailor made for you.
Bastakiya (Historical District)+ Old Dubai Souk+ Gold Souk+ Dubai Mall+ At The Top (BurjKhalifa)+ Dubai Fountain
Day one will be full packed! This will be your crash course of all Dubai. Once you’ve finished with day one, the rest of your trips will just be add-ons and bonuses. Our first stop will be the Historical District of Dubai, The Bastakiya Quarter.
I love this place. We have chosen this as the first stop because you will see here the ‘OLD DUBAI’. The Dubai that you don’t normally see in Architectural and Business Magazines. The first time that I visited this place, I fell in love with it in an instant. As what my ‘Instagram’ friends said, this place is grammable. And it surely is. There are a lot of interesting things to see here.
Here are the top things to visit in Bastakiya. (Note: All of these are just walking distance to one another. Also in this trip, you should wear comfortable shoes.
Al Fahidi Fort – Oldest Building in Dubai
Bait Al Wakeel – First Office Building in Dubai
Dubai Museum – I still feel that there are a lot of things that they need to improve here but still a few minutes to go around is not too bad.
Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding – They offer Heritage Tours and Cultural Meals.
XVA Art Gallery – A very artsy gallery and cafe. A must visit for all art enthusiasts (and if you want a place to stop over and cool down).
Coffee Museum – If you love coffee, this is self explanatory ^^
OLD DUBAI SOUK
After a full cultural walk, time to visit the souk to look for potential souvenirs and gifts. Known as the Textile Souk or Burdubai Souk, this market place encapsulates the essence of a traditional souk. Although there are a lot of small stalls selling very touristy items, you can still find worthy keepsakes as a token of your visit.
Along the Heritage District is the Dubai Creek. This area was once the center of trading in Dubai which is still very evident with the presence of big wooden cargo boats across the creek. To really get a grasp of the ‘old school’ way of crossing the creek, hop on the Abra (a traditional small boat transport).
The Abra is still very functional and (as far as I know), open 24/7. It cost only AED1 per way (a true value for money). When riding the Abra from Burdubai, make sure you are sitting at the right side of the boat in order to get the best view of the whole Heritage Village from the creek.
SPICE AND GOLD SOUK
Once you’ve gone across the creek, you’ll find yourself in Deira another town in the Old Dubai. This will be the last stop for this part of the tour. Walk a little further and you will be able to visit the Spice Souk where you can purchase anything from tea leaves to the finest saffron from Iran.
Just a few blocks from the Spice Souk, you will find the Dubai Gold Souk. Perfect for all those looking for a 24 karat bling bling on a bargain.
WHERE TO EAT
What me and my friend planned out before starting our walk in Bastakiya is to first go for a big breakfast. When you start your trip early in the morning, the best thing to do is to visit the local cafes in Bastakiya. They are conveniently located at the corner of the quarter (along the main road).
Although more and more these traditional restaurants and cafes are becoming very touristy and commercial (we can’t stop them from doing business right?), I would still suggest that you should try them out, location wise. If you are looking for a more ‘day to day’ local eat and drink, try to walk towards Al Fahidi Metro Station and you can find small yet authentic Middle-Eastern and Indian Restaurants.
As for me and my friend, we tried the Local House which offers Camel Kebab and Burgers and also Camel Milkshake. Because we haven’t tried anything camel before, this is the reason why we have chosen this as our breakfast place.
The interiors are beautiful and relaxing, although we were not a bit sold out with the food. Because it is conveniently located, we were able to map out our plan for the day here.
If you are not curious with anything camel, I would highly suggest that you should try the Arabian Tea House and order their Arabic Breakfast Tray with blooming tea.
After a long early walk, time to cool down and head to the biggest shopping mall in Dubai. The Dubai Mall houses almost 1,200 retail shops and known as the largest shopping mall all over the world based on the total area. At this leg of the trip, you can relax around and do some retail therapy. There are a lot of shopping seasons in Dubai, so if your visit will be in time for one, you’re in luck.
AT THE TOP IN BURJ KHALIFA
A trip in Dubai will never be complete if you haven’t been to the viewing deck of the Burj Khalifa. It is a bit pricey but worth the bragging rights. The entrance of the climb is conveniently located inside the Dubai Mall. If you are planning to climb, make sure that you will make your advance booking online ( as it will be cheaper compared to a walk-in purchase.
There is no time limit in staying at the viewing deck, you can stay there and enjoy the view a long as you want. Once done, and most probably, it will be night time (basing from the time frame of this itinerary), you can head on the Dubai Fountain to watch the Dancing Fountain Show. Apart from the Burj Khalifa, this show is highly visited by tourists and Dubai residents and I must say, every time I watch a show, I always get mesmerized. The best part of it, it is FREE. You can buy an ice cold drink from any of the cafes in the food court and sit down along the steps at the foot of the Burj Khalifa and watch (sometimes, you can sing a long too)!
WHERE TO EAT
Well, at this time, you will be in Dubai Mall and there are a lot of restaurants inside the mall. If you want a fancy Middle Eastern Cuisine, you can try Wafi Gourmet at the ground floor which has a direct access to the Dubai Fountain. But if you are starting to miss some European selections, you can try Madeleine Boulangerie and Cafe which offers an overlooking view of the fountain.
More restaurants can also be found across the mall in Souk Al Bahar. These are a bit of the more expensive option if you fancy for one.
For me and my friend, we walked out of Dubai Mall towards The Address Downtown Hotel and went to a seafood place called Aprons and Hammers. It is a casual urban restaurant outside Dubai Mall meaning, it will be not too noisy and crowded. I’ve been here several times with my Dubai friends and aside from the very colorful interiors, we enjoyed their gigantic servings of Paella. This option was perfect after a very long day. We were able to take our time eating and chatting about what we’ve seen throughout the day. (Visiting a coffee shop after the meal is optional — although recommended).
Casual Brunch + Driving Around The City (optional) + Side Trip To Abu Dhabi
After a long first day, we started the second day of our trip with an early morning chill in a local coffee shop. This is a glimpse of the expatriate culture in Dubai. Housing a large number of expats, Dubai has been a hub of different and diverse nationalities and as a result, several establishments catering to the international community can be seen around the metro.
For this trip, we’ve visited the newly opened, The Sum of Us located at the back of Sheraton Hotel along Dubai Sheikh Zayed Road. The servings are good and the menu is very continental. Good food, good interiors and a good cup of coffee is the best way to start your day.
SIDE TRIP TO ABU DHABI
Abu Dhabi is roughly an hour and a half to two hours travel from Dubai. If you dont have any other plans for the rest of the day, going to Abu Dhabi on a side trip is worth the shot.
You can take the bus that will drive you straight to Abu Dhabi for AED15 one way cost, or you can get a rent a car and experience a short cross country drive from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. For me and my friend, we’ve decided to get a rent a car so we can also have a quick drive around Dubai before heading to the country’s capital.
We went to AVIS Car Rental and took the cheapest car which is a Nissan Micra. I costs AED 100 for a day (full tank refilling of AED 60 for the petrol we consumed for the day).
The main attraction that everyone should go to when visiting Abu Dhabi is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. For me, more than the stunning exterior I fell in love more of its richly ornamented interior decor. As an added tip, to understand more about this magnificent architectural piece, grab a free audio guide before entering the main mosque.
Because you are already in Abu Dhabi, it will be a shame not to get a glimpse of the nation’s capital. After your tour in the Grand Mosque, drive your way to the Corniche and see the Emirates Palace and the Etihad Towers.
WHERE TO EAT
To be honest, we are not really experts on where to eat in Abu Dhabi, good thing we can consult our trusty Zomato. We came across several restaurants offering local cuisines but the reviews were kinda mixed. When we saw Najd Palace in the app and all their patrons claimed that you can find the best Mandi ( rice and meat dish with a lot of middle eastern spices) in Abu Dhabi here, we didn’t think twice and pointed our google map search to this restaurant.
You can choose if you want to sit on the floor or have a normal table setting, we of course have chosen the not so conventional option and sat on the floor. We ordered Grilled Chicken Mandi and the Camel Stew Mandi. Both were really good. I prefer the chicken one but the camel dish is a close second (only downside was you can feel that it is too fatty). For desserts, we have chosen the Knafeh ( a Levantine cheese pastry soaked in sweet sugar-based syrup) which I have been craving for weeks now.
After our king size meal, we headed back to Dubai.
Beach + Red Dune Desert Safari
The last day of your trip. We are calling it as a chill day. Fresh from our long drive to and from Abu Dhabi, it is fitting to start your day on a relaxing morning by the beach. Dubai, although perceived as a warm desert region is surrounded by beautiful beaches (although nothing in comparison from those in South East Asia). For this itinerary, you can choose between two beaches and both have their strong points, meaning you can’t go wrong with either of them.
The first option to get your tan is by the Sunset Beach. This is a famous beach for locals and residents specially during the surfing season. Aside from the clear blue sea you’ll get a postcard view of the Burj Al Arab ( known as the world’s only 7 star hotel). This beach can be very peaceful or can be too crowded, depending really on the season.
The second option is along/opposite JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residences) simply called The Beach. Compared to Sunset Beach, it is more commercialized as it is really a beach front along a full shopping and retail complex. Most of the time this beach is crowded with tourists and expatriates, you’ll feel like you are somewhere in Miami (specially on a fine weather). This beach can easily be accessed by Dubai Metro and Tram unlike Sunset Beach which you need to drive to (or hire a cab).
WHERE TO EAT
If you have chosen the Sunset Beach, there are a lot of food options along Jumeirah Road, from pizza to burgers or even a fancy biryani. The closest and shabbiest food joint/cafe will be the Surf House. Aside from filling up your stomach, you can also rent surfboards and paddle boards here.
For The Beach, as this is a full commercial complex, you’ll have a lot of accessible food options here. You can find Aprons and Hammers (same where we ate dinner on the first day), Cheesecake Factory, Magnolia Bakery and Shake Shack. We have chosen to grab a Shack Stack Burger in Shake Shack and a freezing lemonade to compliment it.
RED DUNE DESERT SAFARI
After our early out and about, we waited for the pick up for our Desert Safari. Desert Safari’s normally start at 3pm (pick-up time at your hotel/residence). For this trip, we have chosen the Red Dune Safari. Known as the Big Red, this is one of the most popular places to go dune bashing in Dubai. It stands 300 feet high creating a thrilling 4×4 experience.
Aside from the ride itself, you’ll get a chance to stop over and grasp the beauty and serene view of the desert. Truly the best way to end a 3 day trip around the sand pit.
There are several tour companies who are offering this trip. We’ve contacted Avangarde Tourism (Info@avantgardetourism.com) to help us in finding the best Red Dune Safari. They were very helpful even for last minute changes ( we’ve requested a change in the location of our pick-up and they were very helpful). The cost of this safari is: AED 175, but for summer, they are offering it at AED 140.
What to expect on a Desert Safari
Pick up from your Hotel – Location – Residence in Dubai & Sharjah
Pick by: 4×4 SUV Land Cruisers for the Adventure Safari & Camp
Dune Bashing and drive to reach the high Dune (with photo stop)
20-30 Minutes Dune Bashing
At the Camp:
Traditional welcome at camp with Arabic Tea, Coffee
Arabic Sweets & Fresh Fruits
Arabic Dress Photography
Buffet Dinner and Barbeque
Belly Dance Show
Tanura Dance Entertainment
As most itineraries, you can freely choose which one you want to do or which one you want to remove on your Dubai Trip. Also, feel free to explore the city. Dubai is a small enough city which can be easily accessible. There are a lot of things going on in very corner (aside from shopping malls).
Here are other things you can do:
Visiting Karama to find a diverse set of restaurants and try out some traditional menus from different countries. I don’t normally suggest this to short term visitors (mostly for residents and long term ones), but if you are feeling adventurous and want to try local cuisines from Indonesia, Philippines, India, Sri Lanka and Singapore, Karama is the place for you.
Riding the monorail or driving across the Palm Jumeirah Island. This island is famous world wide. A man made palm-shaped island offering high-end hospitality and retail. A monorail costs AED 25 for a back and forth ride and AED 15 for one way.
Be mesmerized with the modern structures along Dubai Marina. If you love tall and modern (and crazy) architecture, this place is a must visit. You’ll find the tallest residential tower in the world and also (not sure if this is the only one) a twisted building straight from the pages of inception. There are a lot of retail outlets here as well and cafe’s for you to chill and people watch. If you fancy to do some boating, this is also a place for you to hire a yacht and cruise along the gulf.
I am hoping that this blog will help you decide on where to go whenever you are planning on the short trip here in Dubai or if you are having a guest and you want to show them a quick round trip tour of this magnificent city. If you have other suggestions or questions just hit the comment space below and I’ll make sure to get in touch with you.