Must-see in Dubai

Things you can’t leave Dubai without witnessing

Big, bold, historic and futuristic: the UAE’s popular emirate has it all. You’ll leave in awe of its cultural and architectural wonders - not to mention all the opportunities for pure fun!

Melinda HealyJournalist and travel writer
15 September 2022

As dazzling as it is diverse, Dubai marries a rich history with a lens that is focused on the future. Often referred to as the “Las Vegas of the Middle East,” the city can lay claim to having the world’s tallest, deepest and most elaborate attractions - it’s these attributes that make it the ultimate tourist destination and the heartbeat of the UAE.

Burj Khalifa

An icon of the Dubai skyline, the world’s tallest building offers tourists two viewing platforms from which to take in the sprawling city below. At 828 meters, visitors are able to admire this impressive Downtown Dubai tower from the shadows or take in the city views from several of the building’s vantage points: the Atmosphere bar and lounge on level 122; At The Top, a viewing area on level 124; or from The Lounge, the tallest lounge on the planet (floors 152-154).

Whether you head up early in the morning, midday, at sunset, or later in the evening, you won’t regret it (unless you’re afraid of heights). Tickets cost from AED 114 and are best purchased online. Aim to arrive 30 minutes early, and be prepared for the peak crowds, usually duing sunset hours with 17-19 being the busiest period.

Dubai Fountain

One of the emirate’s greatest spectacles, this incredible dancing water display is the world’s tallest choreographed fountain. Responsible for drawing some of the city’s biggest crowds, the Dubai Fountain wows every time as it dances on the Burj Lake in the shadows of the Burj Khalifa. Take in the free show from the sidelines – the boardwalk or a restaurant with a terrace are best, or you can hop on to a traditional Abra boat on the lake (from AED 45). The displays are held every half-hour from 6pm, my suggestion is to get there early and find a prime position.

Etihad Museum

This heritage museum in Dubai’s Historic District is a lesson in how the United Arab Emirates came to be and what it has become. Old photos, documents and interactive displays/films guide visitors through the period from 1968 to 1974. This 25,000 sqm museum features exhibitions, learning programmes and various events. Perhaps most significant is the section where the rulers of the Emirates signed a declaration that marked the country’s independence in 1971 at Union House.

It’s surreal standing in this space, knowing its significance to a relatively young country that has come so far. The story of the UAE is told here within a structure that was designed to reflect a manuscript – a nod to the Unification Agreement itself.

Tickets cost from around AED 10 and can be booked online.

Kite Beach

Lapping the Arabian sea, Kite Beach is one of the best spots to take in a Middle Eastern sunset. Emirati families, residents and tourists frequent the beach, particularly during the cooler months (October-February). Not only does it have an 8-mile jogging track, there are also beach volleyball courts and fitness areas, kids’ activity areas, kite surfing and even a beach library.

For the ultimate beach day out, this is the go-to spot – you can rent umbrellas and access beach loungers, shower/toilet/baby-change facilities, and even free Wi-Fi. Food outlets are open from 10am to 10pm daily (midnight on weekends). If you’re driving, parking is AED 10 an hour.

Weekends are the busiest time here, so if you’re on holiday, a weekday visit is probably best to avoid the crowds.

The Dubai Frame

Towering 150m above Zabeel Park – one of the largest green spaces in the emirate – this Dubai landmark ‘frames the Old and the New’ and was designed to connect the past with the present. Whether from inside panoramic glass lifts or at the very top, the views simply can’t be ignored. You’ll ride 48 floors in 75 seconds and be presented by three different ‘galleries’: Future Dubai, Present Dubai and Old Dubai. The attraction also boasts a garden, souvenir shop, and you can explore Zabeel Park afterwards. Tickets start from AED 20 and can be purchased online.

Legoland Water Park

A must for visiting families, this is a Lego lover’s paradise. Interactive rides like the Lego Driving School, spectacular brick displays, souvenirs, and even a tour of the brick-making factory all make for a great day out.

MINILAND is a very cool place to start: the indoor area is a sight to behold with its elaborate miniature replicas of famous buildings like the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Airport, as well as famous landmarks like Petra, and others in Egypt and Kuwait. You’ll no doubt have to drag the kids away from the largest Lego toy store in the Middle East and whatever you do, don’t miss the brick factory tour and the special souvenir inside.

A word of warning, it can be extremely hot here in summer, so consider hitting the Lego water park afterwards: it’s a welcome way to cool down. Height restrictions apply, so check the website beforehand. Purchase tickets online – there are often special deals too, so make sure you look out for them.

Jumeirah Mosque

This religious site is a great place to learn about the Islamic culture thanks to its ‘Open Doors Open Minds’ policy. Although free to explore on your own, interested visitors are able to join 75-minute guided tours six days a week at 10am and 2pm daily (excluding Fridays) for AED 25, hosted by the team from the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding.

Constructed in 1979 and brandishing two twin minarets atop a circular dome, Jumeirah Mosque can hold up to 1,200 worshippers, and is busiest on Fridays. Those intrigued by the Emirati way of life will learn about Ramadan (the month of fasting) and gain a better understanding of Islam. Visitors are advised to dress conservatively, and photos and questions are encouraged. Women need to cover their hair, and shoes must be removed.

Dubai Opera

This cultural haven is one of the jewels of Downtown Dubai’s Opera District. It offers everything from ballet to jazz, Irish dance performances and musicals, and boasts an eclectic schedule that combines Middle Eastern artists with international acts. There are 2,000 seats within the glamorous 60,000 sqm structure that’s shaped like Dhow – an Arab lateen-rigged boat – as a nod to Dubai’s maritime history, and sits proudly alongside Burj Park.

Apart from the performances, guests can dine or enjoy a drink at the site’s rooftop establishment, Belcanto. There’s a tailor-made pre-show dining experience to enjoy, or head to The Lounge. Formal dress is advised and a full schedule and ticket details can be found online.

Mohammed bin Rashid Library

Considered the largest cultural center in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region, this library overlooking Dubai Creek is home to 600,000 book titles. A vision of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and in honour of the Year of Reading (2016), visitors/members can join reading clubs, listen to panel discussions, and it’s even a dedicated space for film and documentary production.

The building, one of the emirate’s newest, was built to reflect the traditional wooden book rest used to hold the Quran. There are 10 main collections to explore: general, young adult, children’s, an information center, map and atlas, media and arts, business, the cities history, periodicals, and a special collections section.

Visit for free, but do pre-book online. If traveling by metro, get off at Creek Station.

Museum of the Future

This remarkable 78 m tall structure is an unmissable addition to the Dubai landscape. The museum is in the city’s Financial District and is as impressive inside as it is out. The ‘windows’ within the eye-shaped steel façade spell out a poem in Arabic calligraphy. It’s about the city’s vision for the future and penned by Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

This ‘living museum’ is a visual treat, all seven levels exploring everything from space travel to technological advancement to climate change. Likened to an extension of Expo 2022, at times you’ll feel like you’re in a dream, as whales float overhead. Buy tickets online, kids under 3 and disabled guests can enter free.

Deep Dive Dubai

Whether an amateur or fully certified, Deep Dive Dubai is uncharted territory for many of the world’s underwater enthusiasts. Not only is it the world’s largest and deepest attraction with 14 million litres of water and a depth of 60m, Deep Dive Dubai also provides thrillseekers the chance to acknowledge the UAE’s pearl-diving past.

Newcomer discovery dives, free-diving, and workshops/courses – they’re all available here at the Nas Sports Complex 15 minutes from Downtown Dubai.

Be wowed by this underwater city that has shopping carts, pool tables, billboards, and even cash machines. There’s a furnished apartment, a workshop with cars, motorcycles, and a whole lot more.

Tickets start at 400 and can be booked online. A word of warning, afterwards, for safety reasons, it’s advised you don’t increase your elevation to any extremes for at least 24-48 hours.

Sky Views Dubai

Ascend 52 floors in an open-glass lift and take in some of the most incredible views from the cantilevered glass-bottom Observatory bridge. Instagrammers will be in their element here as they document every moment leading up to sliding down the panoramic glass tunnel from floor 53-52. If that’s not enough, harness up and navigate the outer edge of the 220m high tower in Downtown Dubai.

Entry is AED 55 and Edge Walk tickets cost AED 699 and are best booked online. If you need some fuel after the adrenaline-inducing fun, the Sky52 restaurant is a great spot to unwind and soak up the views.


Leap of Faith, Aquaconda and Trident Tower are just some of the attractions offered at this expansive splash park. With more than 100 slides, a beach and wave pool across the 17-hectare attraction, visitors are spoiled for choice. Whether you’re a reluctant waterbabe or more of a daredevil with an adventurous spirit, there is something to suit all tastes.

If the fact that Aquaventure is within one of the city’s most luxurious hotels – Atlantis, The Palm – isn’t enough, you’ll be ecstatic to find out that the newest additions include shark safaris, shark snorkelling encounters and a Youth Marine Explorer Programme.

If visiting during summer, Aquaventure provides aqua socks to protect your feet from the heat. Height restrictions apply and kids under 13 must be accompanied by an adult. Tickets cost from AED 299 and can be bought online.

Skydive Dubai

Skydiving over the world-famous Palm Jumeirah Islands is a rite of passage in these parts. That’s why this world-beating emirate is brimming with adrenaline junkies from all over the world who thrive on throwing themselves out of a plane from 13,000 feet up. If you prefer the full desert experience you can take the leap of faith over the rolling sand dunes at the desert dropzone.

Skydive Dubai is ‘all about making people’s dreams come true’, whether diving or opting for a gyrocopter joy flight. If you’re an experienced skydiver, consider joining the desert flight school where you can learn formation skydiving, freefly, canopy and wingsuit coaching. For more details check their official website.

Al Shindagha Perfume Museum

Whether celebrating a young Emirati’s completion of the Holy Quran, preparing for Friday prayers, or welcoming guests into a local residence, perfume is as important to Emirati culture today as it was when the incense trade reached its peak in the Middle East centuries ago.

Emiratis, along with their neighbours in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, and Qatar, are the biggest spenders per capita on luxury perfume in the world, and this museum is a nod to its cultural importance.

The museum is housed within the former home of the late Sheikha Sheikha Bint Saeed bin Maktoum Al Maktoum – a perfume connoisseur and aunt of Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Sheikha Sheikha made perfume in her bedroom, buried it in the private courtyard of her family’s traditional stone creekside abode so it could ferment, and then preserved it under her bed.

With more than 60 archaeological and historic relics on show – many of Sheikha’s own, others sourced from local Emirati families – you’re in for a real sensory journey here from AED 15.

Alserkal Avenue

The shining light of the Al Quoz district, Alserkal Avenue is the cultural heart of Dubai – a place where tourists can admire the breadth of the city’s developing talent. Once a standalone gallery, today the industrial area has 40 converted warehouses that act as galleries, dance studios, performance spaces, and upcycled cafes.

This truly is one of the coolest destinations, especially if you value art/culture and are keen on appreciating some of the UAE’s best creatives. It’s a space that’s really come into its own since 2008. Cinema Akil is another highlight, drawing plenty of interest from Indie fans. If the kids are restless afterwards, there’s a cool soft play area nearby that’ll reinvigorate them.

For more on Alserkal Avenue check out the website here.

Ski Dubai

One of, if not, the best place in the emirate to ‘chill’ out, Ski Dubai has been a tourist go-to since it opened in 2005. Kept at a balmy 24.8 Fahrenheit, the snow lover’s paradise offers challenging runs and rides, a ski school, snow play zones, a chairlift, indoor zip-line, and you can even take in a movie at the snow cinema.

Considered one of the world’s best indoor ski facilities, there are even resident penguins to get up close and personal with. No matter your age, it’s quite novel to get all rugged up and clip the boots and skis on, especially when surrounded by the UAE desert where it nudges 122 Fahrenheit at the height of summer. Ski Dubai caters for beginners right up to those who ski regularly. Tickets start from AED 250 and can be purchased online.

Desert safari

You can’t experience Dubai properly without getting some sand between your toes. Organised desert safaris are a great way to do this, they pick up and drop off and provide the ‘full’ experience, and by that I mean dune-bashing, camel rides, henna tattoos, shisha, dancing and, of course, traditional food.

Afternoon/evenings are best: the uninterrupted night sky over the desert is something to behold.

You’ll be driven through the dunes in a four-wheel-drive to a desert camp site with Arabian-style tents and Middle Eastern music. It’s quite majestical and makes you feel like you could take a ride to another world. Tours run at various times and there are plenty of tour options, all of them recommendable.

My advice is that afternoon/evenings are best – the uninterrupted night sky over the desert is something to behold and it’s just more enchanting. I will warn you though, if you get squeamish in the car, take a sickness tablet beforehand: the dune-bashing is next-level and could upset your stomach. My tip, don’t eat too much beforehand!

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.