Guide to Downtown Dubai

Downtown Dubai: a pulsating precinct that delivers a barrage of brilliance in equal doses

Everything that generated Dubai's reputation as a tourist mecca is palpable in this district. Downtown Dubai is the city’s epicenter and the epitome of what this wondrous emirate is all about - dining, discovery and iconic architecture.

Melinda HealyJournalist and travel writer
14 October 2022

This meticulously designed metropolis is literally Dubai’s center of attention. Lively and action-packed, Downtown Dubai is brimming with epic architecture, attracting tourists as much for its distinctive dining scene, meandering canal and retail repertoire as for its performing arts prowess, opera house and dancing fountain. Considered one of the emirate’s most pedestrian-friendly precincts, Downtown is home to the magnet that draws the visitors here: the Burj Khalifa. The world’s tallest tower looms large over the neighborhood, alongside the Dubai Mall, Dubai Opera and one of the city’s most popular green spaces, Burj Park. Buzzing with tourists year-round, you’re sure to fall under its spell from the outset, and like most, thrive on the constant commotion it projects when you get amongst it. There are plenty of hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars in this part of the city, most of them within walking distance of the main attractions.

Getting to Downtown Dubai

About 6.5 miles from Dubai International Airport (DXB), the best way to get there is by way of the metro or a taxi. The 25-minute metro journey will cost you between AED 5 and AED 8 and you can take two pieces of luggage per person.

The red line services both Terminal 1 & 2 and the most central arrival point is the Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall stop. If you’re not coming from the airport, it is best to see if you can catch the metro, as it’s more affordable than a taxi or rideshare.

What to see and do Downtown

Burj Khalifa

The giant of Dubai’s iconic skyline, this, the world’s tallest building, is as much about its design and engineering as the views it affords from the observation deck 125 floors up. Often referred to as the UAE’s ‘Vertical City’ this is one attraction you can’t miss.

Pre-book your visit

Depending on when you’re on vacation here, you can’t just expect you’ll walk up and get in, do think about pre-booking - that way you know you won’t be disappointed.

Not only does it demand attention from just about every vantage point and can be seen from up to 60 miles away, a trip to the top really is something else – that is unless of course you have an aversion to heights.

Accessible through the mall, this glistening structure has a restaurant, lounge, two dedicated viewing decks, and welcomes visitors from sunrise to sunset and beyond. It has a souvenir store and a photographer from whom you can purchase personalized ‘At The Top’ photos.

Dubai Mall

Dubai Mall is one of the largest in the world. With 1200 stores and a multitude of tourist attractions, it’s little wonder most tourist roads lead to this sprawling retail precinct.

Don't get lost

The mall is chaotic most of the time, so be sure to decide on a central meeting spot if you become separated. It’s always wise to take note of where you came in as this is one place you really can lose yourself in, literally. Taxi drop off and pick up areas are different - keep that in mind also.

Sizewise, it’s the equivalent of six soccer pitches, so you’ll need a decent chunk of time and some comfortable walking shoes to do the center justice. Bloomingdales, Versace, Burberry, Level Shoes and lots more – it’s all under one mammoth roof. You’ll find haute couture fashion along with everyday brands, and can choose from more than 200 cafes and restaurants, not to mention a cinema complex, and plenty of family-friendly activities including Kidzania.

The mall is the gateway to the Burj Khalifa and Dancing Fountain. Open from 10am daily, some attractions within the mall are open until 1am.

Burj Park


Make sure you have your camera at hand as there are plenty of great vantage points from which to snap some ‘larger than life’ holiday keepsakes.

Free to enjoy, this lovely pocket of green space between the Burj Khalifa and Burj Lake is popular with families. Pop-up markets, fashion shows and music events are often held here and it’s a great spot to take a picnic or enjoy takeaway food or coffee from the nearby mall or the multitude of eateries surrounding it.

Most pleasant during the cooler months, there are bikes to hire and abras to ride on the lake. It’s a great space for kids to let some of their energy out as you take in the magnitude of some of the city’s most recognizable buildings.

Dubai Ice Rink

No matter your age, gliding around an ice-skating rink is a fun, refreshing way to spend an hour or an afternoon (sessions are charged by the half-hour). Located on the ground floor of the Mall, the Olympic-sized rink allows you to join a groovy disco session or opt to free skate. Be realistic though, the wobbly boot takes a bit to shake off, so if you’re expecting to come away without a few bumps and bruises, you’ll likely be disappointed. Fun for anyone over the age of 3 guaranteed.

Open from 10am daily.

La Perle by Dragone

There is a reason this attraction has been likened to the world-famous Cirque Du Soleil – creator Franco Dragone was one of Cirque’s original masterminds.

La Perle is the only permanent show of its kind in the Emirates and has its own specially-curated performance space – an aqua stage on which as many as 65 acrobats stun the crowds in each of the 90-minute performances.

Influenced by Dubai’s futuristic, vibrant and cultural flair, and without giving too much away, there is diving from 25-meter heights, and a plenitude of mind-boggling aerial and water stunts. Every seat in the house is a good one, thanks to the customized 270-degree seating plan. The dress code is smart casual and tickets start from AED 400.

Dubai Canal

If the weather is cooperative, Dubai’s meandering 2-mile-long canal offers 4 miles of pathways ideal for walking, running or cycling along. This artificial waterway has five observation bridges from which to admire the city views and take those all-important family holiday snaps.

There is a ferry that you can catch which promises to take you on a journey from Dubai Water Canal Station to Al Ghubaiba in the Al Shindagha district of Old Dubai. It’s a great way to see the city from an entirely different vantage point, especially in the evening when the night lights are singing and the water reflecting.

Dancing Fountains

There is no avoiding this fabulous display that wows the crowds every half-hour from 6pm. Colorful jets of water burst out of the sprawling Dspraying and swaying to the joy of the crowd. With 1000 different water expressions, lit by as many as 6,600 lights and 50 color projectors, and with a diverse playlist that marries with the choreography seamlessly, expect to be mesmerized.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to capture every second of it, and as a result walk away with great memories and a sore hand from clicking away on your mobile phone camera, switching from video to photo mode. And while the waterside promenade in front of the Mall is perhaps the most popular vista to watch the water shoot 152m in the air, it is possible to ride out onto the lake and experience it from a traditional abra-style boat.

The 30-minute rides cost AED 65 per person.

Where to eat and drink Downtown

Whether you are looking for a front-row seat for the fanciful fountain, a gobsmacking gastronomy experience or a pre-dinner drink before an Opera performance, there are plenty of food and beverage options in this neck of the woods, prices ranging from the more affordable to the extravagant.

BiCE Mare is a notable establishment, as it overlooks the Dancing Fountain display and has a spacious terrace to enjoy on a nice evening. Open from 11am daily, prices are pretty good here and the food – we’re talking calamari, yellow fin tuna and so on – is as good as the views of some of the city’s biggest landmarks.

Belcanto Restaurant or Kohantei Japanese Wagyu Restaurant are great for those with tickets to Dubai Opera. The former holds court on the rooftop of the show-stopping performance space, while Kohantei is the only fine-dining establishment of its kind in the city and promises a traditional experience and five menus to choose from.

For a more casual bite, BlackTap Craft Burgers and Beer within the Mall will challenge you in more ways than one. The menu is as big as the stacked burgers themselves; they’re as tasty as they are messy, and perfect for feeding the Insta.

Caribbean-style eatery Ting Irie is also worth checking out. It’s got a super cool vibe, is full of Jamaican personality and the food is heavy on jerk-everything – risotto, fried rice, you name it. It definitely does not disappoint and is open from noon daily.

If you are looking for the best bars and nightlife, there are so many great places to choose from.

Ce La Vi on the 54th floor of the Address Sky Views hotel is a standout, especially at sunset due to its rooftop calling card. Distillery Dubai is great if you’re keen on a gastropub sesh. Choose to sit out in the beer garden and enjoy skyline views, or head inside and soak up the energy of this industrial chic-inspired establishment where the hipsters hang out.

Neos serves up quality cocktails and a cozy ambiance, and does so with sweeping views to admire while swilling from your pew on the 63rd floor of the Address Downtown hotel. Join happy hour from 5-8pm daily and you’ll have twice as much fun.

Shopping guide to Downtown Dubai

Dubai Mall, Dubai Mall and Dubai Mall … that’s about the speed of it here, or at least that’s what tourists come for. Name a store and it’s probably within this mammoth shopper’s paradise – French retail giant Galeries Lafayette leads the charge.

Besides the massive mall, there are some other shopping spots worth knowing about. Souk Al Bahar is an Arabic style retail space that has a number of rug/carpet, lifestyle and antique stores to peruse and purchase from. It’s just across the footbridge near Burj Lake.

For those with a penchant for art, Gallery One, Mozaiic Art Gallery and The MB&F M.A.D.Gallery should be sought out. There is so much creative talent throughout the Emirates, and there is nothing greater than showing your support by taking a piece with you as a reminder of that.

City Walk is an outdoor lifestyle destination that combines retail, food and an esplanade. It’s situated north-west of the central Downtown area in Al Safa (off Sheik Zayed Road) and can be accessed by taxi or bus. In good weather you can walk it in less than 30 minutes. Open from 10am daily, it’s a great entertainment area to explore.

Where to stay Downtown

Gosh, where to start? Downtown Dubai isn’t the most popular neighborhood for tourists for nothing. Whatever your price range, you should be able to find suitable digs here.

Rove Downtown is a great affordable option that’s just a short walk from the district’s epicenter. More low-key when it comes to its offerings, travelers can expect a comfortable, quirky stay not too far from the action.

The Sofitel Downtown Dubai is one of the best options, position-wise and in terms of price. Situated beside the Burj Metro Station, the hotel is about a 25-minute walk from City Walk and, depending on the room category you choose, should provide some great views.

Millennium Central Downtown may not be right on the doorstep of the big attractions, but it’s just a little over a mile away and doesn’t come with a hefty price tag. Not only that, this 242-room property has its own nightclub, poolside bar, sauna and steam room, as well as a terrace from which to take in the all-of-city views. There’s a buffet restaurant and informal cafe to enjoy after a long day on your feet too.

Of course, if you are all about splashing out and don’t mind paying top-dollar for an ultra-luxe stay, the four Address properties – Downtown, Sky Views, Dubai Mall and Boulevard – are exceptional in their own unique ways. Taj Dubai and the Armani Hotels are also great options, so check them out too.

Who should stay here?

Anyone who likes to be in the thick of the action. Couples looking for vacation va va voom, singles looking to mingle, and those travelers who simply want to feel the vibe day and night. It’s easy to get around in Downtown Dubai and it’s an accessible anchor point for all of the wonderful attractions this city has to offer.

About the author

Melinda HealyAlthough born in PNG, Mel is an Aussie-made journo who's always been more interested in passport stamps than possessions. A whiz with words, Mel spent a number of years living and working in the United Arab Emirates, it was here that she shared insight into Dubai and Abu Dhabi with the world. Mel believes travel is a privilege and an educator.