If I could sum up my week in Dubai using just one word to describe it, it would have to be “WOW”. From the moment I stepped off the plane at the Dubai Airport to the time we packed up to go home, that was the word that came out of my mouth most often (unless of course I was completely speechless).
Dubai is a city that, admittedly, I knew very little about before arriving, except for the knowledge of it being next-level futuristic. Much to my surprise, however, from day one I got to see so many different sides of the city that I never knew existed, beyond just the glitz and glamour. A lot of people have the preconception that Dubai is for the wealthy, but what you don’t realize is how accommodating it is to people of all backgrounds, budgets, and desires. If you want to live like a king or queen, you can. If you want to visit Dubai on a budget and not blow through your bank account, you can do that too. During my week in Dubai I got to experience many different sides of Dubai, and let me tell you first hand: I was blown away!
To make your life easier when it comes to planning your own week in Dubai, I've listed my favourite things below!
Top things to do in Dubai
If there’s one thing you have to do when visiting Dubai, it’s taking a trip out to the desert. We went on an evening safari with Arabian Adventures, and it’s hard to put into words just how exhilarating it actually was! Our hilarious driver, Abdul, took us on a 4WD ride of our lives over the sand dunes )which was an adventure in itself), and ended up at a bedouin camp in the middle of the desert for a night of festivities! We pet some gorgeous camels, got henna painted on, and had a barbecue of traditional food all while watching performances like belly-dancing and light dances.
Dubai is famously known for its biggest, tallest, and most extravagant architecture, and the Burj Khalifa is no exception. Standing at 829m tall, it’s the tallest building in the world, so it’s safe to say it’s something you MUST experience when visiting Dubai. Hint: splurge on the VIP pass to get you to level 148. You will bypass the lines and be able to escape the crowds on a totally different floor. You’ll then be able to get some incredible photos of the city below and they’ll even give you some snacks. Snacks always win me over.
We spent our first day in Dubai exploring the sights of the old town, and it was easily one of my favourite days. Our wonderful Arabian Adventures guide Rhiannon first brought us to the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood, which felt like we were transported back in time. In this neighborhood you can walk around the alleyways to see the traditional style buildings, and even take a look inside them which have been transformed into cute little boutique shops. I also would recommend crossing the Dubai Creek to see the spice and gold souks. The markets are bustling with activity and the energy there is unmatched. I was amazed by the endless spices, perfumes, tea, fabrics and jewelry that we walked by, and my only regret was not bringing a second bag to stuff full with souvenirs!
Hero Dubai was another thing that hugely surprised me. Dom and I got to be the captains of our own boat for the day as we set out along the coast to see the city from a totally new perspective - the water. We had an awesome guide with us the entire morning who took us past sights like the Burj Al Arab, the palm, and all the way out to Atlantis. Pro tip: Don’t forget the GoPro! You’ll be sure to get some crazy shots while you’re whipping around the waves.
Dubai has it all - a crazy futuristic city, desert as far as the eye can see, and much to my surprise, it even has an amazing beachfront area. I don’t know about you, but when I picture Dubai, I never envisioned powdery sand, colourful beach huts, and a trendy boardwalk, but low and behold, La Mer has just that. We spent the morning wandering among the boutique shops, snapping photos of all the colourful wall murals, and watching the waves roll in. A little tip: they do not allow professional cameras there unless you get permission, so i’d recommend leaving the DSLR’s behind and opting for some good old iPhone shots!
One of the experiences that knocked my (metaphorical) socks off was paying a visit to the Dubai Frame. This place only opened in January 2018, but after taking a ride to the top it’s pretty clear why it’s so popular. Upon entering the frame, you walk through a representation of old Dubai and then travel up in the glass-window elevator to the very top which represents present-day Dubai. When looking to the right you will see Old Dubai, and to the left you can see the city which represents new Dubai. It’s pretty darn neat, and what makes it even more amazing (if that’s even possible), is the fact that a section of the floor is completely glass! For someone who’s afraid of heights like me it can be a tad bit scary, but such an exhilarating thing to experience at the same time. After gawking at the views, you travel back down the frame and experience “future Dubai”, which I don’t want to spoil for you, but let me just say, Dubai truly has some amazing things planned and I personally can’t wait to see where it is in 10 years.
Visit the Palm Islands & Atlantis
You can’t visit Dubai without venturing out to the Palm Islands. I remember learning about the Palm in 6th grade and being absolutely mesmerized over it. Like, how cool is it that someone thought, “let’s make a few islands and shape them to look like a palm tree.” That person is an absolute legend. Anyways, back to the guide. One one of the sandier days (because it’s not the rain that keeps you indoors in Dubai - it’s the sand), we headed out to visit the Lost Chambers Aquarium at Atlantis, and boy was that a day for the books. The aquarium is beyond fascinating with its giant glass panes, and we spent a good hour (or three) just mesmerized by the manta rays, fish, and sharks that swam by. Definitely a must-visit spot!
“I’m not like a regular mall. I’m a cool mall.” should be Dubai’s motto. It puts all other malls to shame, because this place has everything you could ever want. Budget fashion, check. Luxury fashion, check. Aquarium, check. Ice rink, check. Restaurants, check. Awesome view, check check check! We visited in the afternoon and made it just in time to see one of the fountain shows, which I can’t recommend more highly when in downtown Dubai. The evening shows are also pretty fab and run every half-hour starting from 6pm and ending at 11pm.
Dubai Miracle Garden
This gorgeous attraction has over 50 million flowers and 250 million plants, so it’s every nature-lovers dream. I’ll let the photos do the talking for me, but in all honesty, they can’t even do it justice because the Dubai Miracle Garden is seriously phenomenal.
Ok ok so I know I've already given you quite a few must-do’s for your trip to Dubai, but please do me a favour and put La Perle at the top of your list. I kid you not, this was THE most spectacular show i’ve ever seen. I don’t want to give you too many spoilers, but it included incredible aerial acrobatics (and some insane dives), a pool in the middle of the stage, FIVE motorcycles riding around a tiny globe, and will have your jaw on the floor for 99.9% of the show.
If you want epic photos combined with the best lunch, then the Palace Downtown needs to be on your Dubai bucket list. If the entrance itself doesn’t impress you, then wait til you see the view from their Argentinian restaurant, Asado. It has the best view of the Burj Khalifa and their outdoor restaurant gives you a perfect view of the fountain show.
Where we stayed?
For our 6 nights in Dubai we stayed at the Palazzo Versace, a beautiful five-star hotel located near the DXB airport, that was hands down the most luxurious place i’ve ever stayed. I literally felt like Princess Jasmine the entire length of our stay, as it was such a contrast from everything i’m used to when it comes to accommodation. Fine dining, magnificent rooms, butlers, and high tea are just a few of the perks we got to enjoy during our stay, and it truly was the most memorable hotel.
The Palazzo has three gorgeous pools, the most impressive and truly grand interior, and is surrounded by palm trees which made it feel like an oasis! Not to mention it has both city views and a Dubai Creek view which makes for some epic sunrises and sunsets. Now I know a lot of you are budget travelers (like I am 99% of the time), but if you want to give yourself a luxurious Dubai experience, the Palazzo Versace is definitely the place to stay. You’ll be treated like royalty, and the staff are some of the friendliest people i’ve ever encountered. Shoutout to Ken and the valet guys for giving us a good belly-laugh on the daily!
We also ate at 3 of Palazzo Versace’s unbelievable restaurants:
Enigma: For my first time eating at an Iranian restaurant, I was floored by both the menu and service. With a romantic atmosphere, it was the perfect date-night spot, and the chef even came out at the end of our meal to prepare traditional ice cream in front of us.
Vanitas: An Italian restaurant with amazing ambiance and an even more amazing menu. This was one of our favourite places to dine, as the food was exceptional and we enjoyed the best Italian food we’ve ever had. To top it all off we ended each meal with some drool-worthy desserts, and we almost had to be rolled out of there!
Giardino: The best brunch buffet of my life. Giardino was what I like to envision heaven to be - endless choices of desserts and every type of food you can possibly desire. They even have a donut bar, so yeah, it’s safe to say their brunch trumps all other brunch spots.
And without further ado, I have saved my personal favourite dining option for last, because on our final night in Dubai, we went to food heaven at a place called Umi Shio at Summersalt Beach Club. If the prime view of the Burj Al Arab isn’t enough to convince you that this place is worth a visit, then let me tell you about the food. This Japanese-Argentinian restaurant truly has some of the best food i’ve ever tasted. I’m not exaggerating one bit either.
Now, i’ll be the first to admit i’m a little picky when it comes to food, so when our waiter suggested having us try a tasting of the menu, I was a bit hesitant. But I kid you not, EVERY. SINGLE. DISH just got better and better. Do your taste buds a favour and visit this restaurant, and then send me pics of your food so I can live vicariously through you.