Dubai is a complex Middle Eastern city rich with history, culture, and a stunning desert landscape — yet it is perhaps best known for its over-the-top opulence. Go big or go home is not a novel concept in Dubai, which boasts the tallest building in the world. With a desire to innovate, achieve, and bring in lots of tourism, much of the city has turned into a giant playground for adults and kids alike. You probably don't need more than three days to experience Dubai, but we only had two and didn't want to miss a bit of the fun and adventure. From surfing (yep), to water parks (mhmm), to indoor amusement parks (that's right), and indoor skiing (not joking), we decided to go big, make our childhood-selves proud, and fit in as many adventure activities as we could in one day! Read on for a few steps necessary for having the optimal jam-packed day of adventure in Dubai...
It will be HOT (we're talking 105°+), but if you want to experience as much as possible while also getting the best bang for your buck, going to Dubai in the off-season will be worth it. Prices are insanely low and crowds are minimal. We went in early August and were able to stay at the beautiful 5-star Palace Downtown Hotel directly across from the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall for only $190/night, compared to peak-season prices of around $500/night. There will also be few lines for attractions, allowing you to hit all the top spots in a much shorter amount of time. Because Dubai gets so hot, many of Dubai's activities are actually inside, rendering the outside temperature less relevant to your enjoyment.
Dubai has LOTS of tourist attractions and the most economical way to experience as many as possible is to get an attraction pass, which provides discounts to many of the most popular spots. There are a few options for passes, and we went with the iVenture Flexi pass. This pass allowed us to visit up to 7 top attractions for a flat fee. The cost is further discounted during low-season and was definitely worth it.
With so much to do and so little time, it's important to make a plan, set a schedule, then just go for it! We wanted to hit as many adrenalin-pumping attractions as possible, and we definitely achieved our goal. Here are the attractions we prioritized, and how to nail them when you're doing them for yourself:
After an early breakfast at the hotel, we headed to Jumeirah Beach to kick off the day with a quick surf session overlooking the iconic Burj Al Arab hotel. The waves are tiny and the water is toasty, but you can be one of the few people to surf the Persian Gulf! Rent a board from Surf House, an awesome local surf shop and cafe with a focus on bringing surfing and surf culture to Dubai.
Once we caught a few waves, we were primed for some more water activities, and eagerly made our way to Wild Wadi Waterpark, just a 13-minute drive away. Uber is readily available in Dubai, and we found it to be the easiest way to get around. With no lines and no wait, we got our wristbands, put our things in lockers, and took off for the rides! I truly relived my childhood as I excitedly ran (err quickly walked) barefoot on the hot concrete directly to the most popular ride. Climb the tower to the Jumeirah Sceirah slide, one of the tallest and fastest free-fall water slides in the world. Without a wait, you won't even have time to be nervous. The ride is both terrifying and amazing and you will not be disappointed! We had been worried that we'd get too hot being outside, but the water is kept at a great temperature and we were in it so often that we barely noticed the heat.
I'm a roller coaster fanatic through and through, and when I heard that Dubai is home to the world's largest indoor amusement park I knew I couldn't miss it. We quickly showered, got dressed, and headed to IMG Worlds of Adventure amusement park with 22 indoor rides inside a giant 1.5 million square foot space. It's a bit out of the way from other main attractions, about a 25-minute Uber ride, but again, because there were no crowds (the parking lot for thousands of cars was practically empty) we were able to save time running from ride to ride with no wait. It. Was. Awesome. Our favorite ride was the Velociraptor which we were able to ride three times!
Once our brains were sufficiently rattled, we decided there was only one obvious desert activity left to do... go skiing, duh! Yes, Dubai loves to be the biggest, best, and first, so back in 2005 it opened Ski Dubai, the first-ever ski resort in the desert and largest indoor ski resort in the world inside Mall of the Emirates. Rent your skis and snowboard from the counter, and since ski apparel is not generally needed in the desert, you'll also be provided with cozy ski bibs, gloves, socks, and helmets. Enter the 30° chamber, hop on the chair lift, and hit the 85-meter-high "mountain" topped with real snow and 5 slopes. We were pleasantly surprised with the runs and even discovered an adorable ski lodge in the middle of the slope serving hot chocolate. There's also a snowpark with sled runs, tubing, and snowball area. Although not quite Tahoe, this is definitely the coolest skiing you can imagine in the desert!
After an exhilarating (and exhausting) day of adventure, we returned to the hotel, grabbed a delicious dinner of falafel, shawarma, and hummus, and slept like babies.
Now there is no reason you need to do all of this in just one day, but we sure did have a lot of fun and some major laughs running from place to place to stay on schedule. If you spread your adventuring out and have the time, here are a few other Dubai must-dos:
Desert Safari - Leave the skyscrapers behind and enjoy dune-bashing, sandboarding, and an entertainment-filled dinner at a Bedouin camp in the desert. This is an attraction option with the iVenture pass.
Strolling the souks - When you've had your fill of touristy entertainment activities, take some time to explore some of the more authentic aspects of Dubai by strolling the traditional souks (or markets). Our favorites were the Old Souk and the Spice Souk.
Top of the Burj - You can't see the tallest building in the world and not go up it! This attraction option comes with the iVenture pass, but do note it won't get you to the tippy top (that's an extra fee), but we were totally happy only going up to floor 125!
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