By Anuja De Silva
With the world’s only seven star hotel, largest mall and tallest building Dubai has catapulted as a major tourist destination. As a hub for its national carrier Emirates Airlines and an easy transfer point between East and West, Dubai has become very accessible for a quick visit between international flights.
On a recent trip from New York to Colombo, Sri Lanka, we decided to take an extended layover in Dubai for two nights. It was just the right amount of time to get a taste for Dubai’s luxurious and culturally rich lifestyle while sightseeing with our toddler. Here is a mini guide on how to experience Dubai on a short stay.
When to Visit: The best time to visit during the relatively cooler months between October and April. If you’re visiting over a weekend, bear in mind that Friday and Saturday comprise the weekend in Islamic countries, so expect most commercial areas to be closed or have limited hours especially on Friday which is a holy day.
Where to Stay: If you’re traveling from the West and here for a short stay, I recommend staying close to the airport. Kids will be tired after the long flight in and the faster you can get to the hotel the better. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Dubai Airport and it was convenient and comfortable.
How to get Around: The easiest way to sightsee in Dubai is by booking a private car with driver. This will allow you to cover more ground with the guidance of a local. Arabian Adventures and GetYourGuide are two car companies that are well reviewed for private tours. Another option is to tap into any friends based in Dubai who can connect you to a local driver.
What to see:
- Visit the Dubai Mall
If you can only see one spot in Dubai to get a sense for the city, it should be the Dubai Mall, the world’s largest mall by total area. It is an entertainment hub as much as a shopping complex with an interactive children’s center (KidZania), an Ice rink, Dubai Aquarium and Under Water Zoo.
If you only have a few hours like we did, I recommend walking through the mall’s highlights such as the waterfall, Dinosaur skeleton (known as Dubai Dinosaur), Gold souk (market) and Fashion Avenue with high end designer stores. These attractions are free for browsing and a fun way to keep the kids from getting bored walking through stores.
You can easily find every type of familiar food from many of the Western chain restaurants located throughout the mall. If you’re so inclined to stop at a store, the world’s largest sweet store, “Candylicious” or the toy store “Hamley’s” will certainly be a hit with the kids.
2. Watch the Dubai Fountain Show
Opposite Dubai Mall is the manmade Burj Khalifa Lake where the world’s largest choreographed fountain show takes place several times a day. Visiting in the evening and getting a spot on the lake promenade will give you a good view of the show in the backdrop of the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa.
3. Visit Gold Souk and Spice Souk
Visiting these traditional markets known as souks adjacent to each other featuring a variety of gold jewelry and spices will be an interesting cultural experience. The souk comprises of narrow lanes lined with store fronts and open area stalls.
The displays will give the kids an idea of the different kinds of spices, jewels and clothing items that are used in this part of the world. As no prices are listed, buying is done via haggling, which will also be a new encounter for kids.
4. Visit Al Fahidi Historic Neighborhood
This conservation area of restored buildings along the Dubai Creek provides a glimpse into historic Dubai. Built in the 19th century by Persian merchants, these structures are a stark contrast to the modern skyscrapers seen throughout Dubai.
The cluster of buildings consist of both public, private and religious areas. Walking along the narrow alley ways gives you an opportunity to admire the historic architecture. Look out for wind towers, an effective way of air conditioning in earlier times. If time permits you can visit the Dubai museum, art galleries and have a cup of Arabian tea at a café.
5. Walk by Dubai Marina
Built along the Persian Gulf Shoreline, the Dubai Marina is ideal for a leisurely walk with kids. With magnificent buildings as the backdrop, it is a great place to grab a bite while dining al fresco.
6. Ride the Palm Jumeirah monorail
The best way to get a good view of the manmade archipelago in the shape of a Palm tree is by riding the monorail that connects the Atlantis hotel located on the apex of Palm Jumeirah to the gateway towers at the foot of the island.
The Palm Atlantis is a resort themed on the myth of Atlantis and modeled after the original hotel in Bahamas. The highlights at the resort include the 12 slide Aquaventure water park and a Dolphin encounter. You can experience these attractions by obtaining a daypass to the resort.
7. Relax at the Dubai Beaches
Being located in the Middle East, Dubai is typically identified with the desert. But the beaches in Dubai are a must see attraction especially in the months with more moderate temperature conditions.
With reasonable entrance fees, bathroom facilities and cafes, Jumeirah Beach is a great spot for families. From this beach you can also get a good view of Burj Al Arab, the seven star hotel built in the shape of a sail.
Dubai is a fast growing, cosmopolitan city that is well worth a visit. There is a lot more you can experience during a longer stay such as desert adventure tours, sailing trips and road trips to other cities in the United Arab Emirates. Having just scratched the surface during our short trip, we’re eager to go back for longer.
Read more of Anuja’s Travel tips
More about Anuja
Anuja De Silva loves to inspire families to have new adventures through travel. Born and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka, she has been based in the US for over a decade since arriving here for college. She lives in Hudson Valley, New York with her husband and toddler son and works full time in technology development. She contributes as Cosmopolitan TravelingMom for the TravelingMom writer network. Follow Anuja @AnujaDeSilva and at: www.travelingmom.com/author/anuja/
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