Middle East was not initially on our sabbatical year agenda. But since Dubai is an important airlines hub between Europe and Asia, you can always find great deals passing it. We caught a very cheap flight from Orlando to Dubai, via Stockholm, with Norwegian Air. It was a very long trip, especially for our toddler, but it worked out much better than expected. We got to Dubai after a 24 hours journey, so we decided to spend one week in Dubai. Even if we’ve been here before, this time we wanted to rest a bit and get used with the considerable time difference. And good that we did!
We rented an apartment in Dubai Marina, our favourite area in Dubai. It is a very convenient location, very close to Metro and Jumeirah beach, with shops, restaurants, walking areas and kids playgrounds. We spent part of our time just at the pool or relaxing on the beach. But still we managed to visit some places. Actually we managed to do more than expected during our one week in Dubai with a toddler.
Burj Khalifa is the most iconic image of Dubai, the highest building in the world: 829.8 m. This means it also attracts lots of visitors and it is a must for any first timer in Dubai.
Make sure you book online your trip up to Burj Khalifa! This way you will avoid the crowds and you’ll be sure to be able to visit during your desired time frame. Very popular time slots can be sold out a few days in advance, so I would recommend to book at least 48 hours before the planned visit. Sunset time is quite popular and can be more crowded, and I preferred the morning views anyway. You can go up to 456 or 555 meters, but I don’t think the second one is worth the price difference.
After Burj Khalifa, you can spend some time at Dubai Mall, which is gigantic. You will find here stores and restaurants, for all tastes and budgets, but also a skating ring and an aquarium. Don’t miss Dubai Fountain, the world largest performing fountain. The amazing water and music show is scheduled every 30 minutes in the evenings. Just expect to be extremely crowded, during weekends or holidays. We got here (by mistake) during UAE national days and you can’t even imagine how many people were in the area. Definitely not a moment to visit with young kids!
Another iconic landmark for Dubai, the artificial palm shaped island is totally worth a tour. To get to the Palm you need to take the monorail that offers awesome views to the island. It is not linked to the metro system, just to the tram Palm station. We took the tram from Dubai Marina, where you have connections with Metro as well, if you come from a different location. The best time for the Palm monorail ride is early afternoon, while there is enough light to enjoy the panorama, but you can also catch the sunset there.
The price for one ticket is 20 AED, or 30 AED for the return trip. Just beware, we were not able to pay by credit card here, they only accept cash, which is quite strange for Dubai.
At the end of the monorail ride you will find the luxurious Atlantis Hotel. It hosts Atlantis Lost Chambers, a spectacular aquarium. Unfortunately we skipped it this time, as it was not the best moment for Eric to be patient for the visit. But we’ll be back here and won’t miss it next time!
Miracle Garden was the best surprise for us in Dubai. You just don’t expect to see such a beautiful and green space, full of blooming flowers, in the middle of the desert. We visited Miracle Garden for 2-3 hours, but you can easily spend half a day here. There are several places to relax with lounges or hammocks and kiosks to buy refreshments or food.
There is a bus option to get to Miracle Garden, but at 12$ a taxi ride from Dubai Marina, we chose this more convenient option.
Old Dubai and the souk
Dubai is a fascinating modern world. But you should not skip a visit to the old town, to see where it all started. The creek used to be the center of Dubai’s economy before oil-era, when pearl diving was the main activity here. Now you can take an abra to cross the creek between Bur Dubai and Deira.
Don’t miss a stroll around the gold souk. You will be blown away by the amount of golden products, for all tastes, styles and budgets. Don’t expect to get incredibly low prices, unless you have amazing negotiation skills. But you will find great jewellery artisans here. If you ever wanted some unique jewellery custom made for you, this is the place to have it! Even if you are not looking to buy anything, the gold souk is an experience not to be missed.
In Dubai old town you can do all your souvenir shopping and buy also some great stuff for yourself. We enjoyed a lot the Spice Souk, full of colours and aromas. Eric asked to smell each condiment, asking what it is and what it is used for, so it was a very educative visit too. In the end we just bought some tea, pistachio and dates, as we can’t carry too much stuff with us. But I would have bought much more if I was to go home!
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi
I usually appreciate old religious buildings more than the modern ones, but I think I can make an exception here. Abu Dhabi’s grand mosque was opened in 2007, designed as a mix between the Islam’s cultural diversity and history and modern art and architecture. It is an imposing structure, with lots of features being “the largest” or “the best” in the world. Opulent and simple at the same time, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque just gives you the feeling that everything was designed to be perfect, to the smallest details.
We took the bus from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. In Abu Dhabi, the local bus station is right outside the bus terminal. Just beware you’ll need local dirhams to purchase the tickets, as you cannot pay by card and there is no ATM nearby. You need to take bus number 94 and the ride takes about 30 minutes to get to the mosque. For us, it was a long and exhausting day, so if it is to go again, we would chose taking a taxi straight from Dubai.
You need to have proper outfit when entering the mosque. All women need to wear an Abaya that is provided at the entrance, so no need to worry about your clothing. Also, be prepared to be barefoot for most of the visit. Make sure you take your sunglasses; the Arabian sun and white marble will make you feel blind without some eye protection.
There is much more to do in Dubai, from skiing on an artificial slope at Mall of the Emirates, to taking a trip to the desert, visit the new Dubai frame, spend one day in one of Dubai waterparks or go eat at Global Village. Dubai is a destination where you can’t get bored, maybe just by the extreme heat or too much air conditioning. It is actually one of the few destinations that we’ve visited a few times and where we would love return again.
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