It’s growing all the time, but it’s still possible to get a good feel for Dubai and to visit most of its major sites in just 2 days – although you’ll clock up quite a few miles on the way. It’s also fun to go on a dhow dinner cruise one evening – we suggest day two, but it’s very much a moveable feast.
Start in Deira in the old city, exploring the dazzling Gold Souk and fragrant Spice Souk and then wandering down to the Creek and taking a look at the venerable old wooden boats moored up at the time-warped Dhow Wharfage.
Next, jump aboard an abra for the exhilarating five-minute trip across to Bur Dubai. Walk along the side of the Creek out to historic Shindagha, visiting the Sheikh Saeed al Maktoum House for a glimpse inside one of the city’s most interesting traditional buildings.
Walk back down the Creek, through the Textile Souk, past the Grand Mosque and Dubai Museum (you may have time to visit – but you’ll need to have started early) then finish your morning by having a wander around Bastakiya, with lunch in either the Arabian Tea House Café or XVA Café (both of which are also good places for a coffee or juice).
After lunch, walk up to Al Fahidi metro station and ride the spectacular elevated railway line south down Sheikh Zayed Road to Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall station. Follow the air-conditioned walkway between the high-rises into the mall, and continue straight through it, having a look at the huge viewing tank of the Dubai Aquarium on the way.
Emerging at the back of the mall you’ll be confronted with Downtown Dubai in all its splendour: the Dubai Fountain in front of you, the Souk al Bahar off to your left and, of course, the jaw-dropping Burj Khalifa directly ahead. Finish your day by going up the Burj Khalifa (you’ll need to have booked in advance – hopefully you’ll be at the Burj approaching sunset, which is the best time to takes in the views).
There are loads of places for dinner in the area. Cheaps eats galore can be found throughout the Dubai Mall, or splurge on a meal at the sky-high At.mosphere in the Burj Khalifa, or at Thiptara, offering front-row views of the showstopping Dubai Fountain after dark.
You’ve seen Downtown Dubai – now have a look at the modern city’s other headline urban development, the Dubai Marina. Catch the metro to Jumeirah Lakes Towers station then walk over to Marina Mall and follow the Marina Walk around the water, with glassy highrises and millionaire yachts on all side.
Continue around to the Cayan Tower and then loop back towards the main stretch of Dubai Marina Beach, ambling along the attractive, pedestrian-friendly The Walk at JBR and having a browse around the chic minimalist The Beach at JBR complex.
Places for lunch or a drink are everywhere, although most are rather uninspiring chains – for excellent cheap Arabian fare, try Masaad on The Walk at JBR (about halfway between the Hilton and Sheraton hotels).
Catch a cab up to the Madinat Jumeirah, and spend some time getting lost in this extraordinary ersatz Arabian “city”, browsing the shops in the quaint Souk Madinat Jumeirah and strolling along the waterways (abra rides are also available).
Head over the road to the iconic Burj al Arab and splash out on a sumptuous afternoon tea (you’ll need to book in advance) either in the Sahn al Eddar lounge in the eye-boggling atrium or the vertiginous Skyview Bar at the very top of the building.
From here, you could either head back to the Madinat Jumeirah for another stroll and a sundowner at the gorgeous Bahri Bar in the Mina a’Salam hotel (or, alternatively, the equally attractive but less well-known Koubba in Al Qasr hotel). There are plenty of places to eat here too.
Another option is to head back to the old town for a dhow dinner cruise on the waters of the Creek – alternatively, if you’re staying in the south of the city, dinner cruises are also available at the Dubai Marina.
Al Ain in 1 Day … Explore the oases, mudbrick forts and markets of the UAE’s only major inland city
Discover Dubai’s Exotic Souks … Hunt for gold and frankincense in the labyrinthine Deira bazaars
Dubai for Kids … Ten of the best things to do with children in the city
Dubai in 1 Day … Superfast city tour to make the most of your stay
Dubai Skycrapers on Sheikh Zayed Road … Where signature skyscrapers reach for the clouds
Dubai Walking Tour … The oldest part of the city is Bur Dubai, great to explore on foot
Dubai’s Upmarket Jumeirah District … Suburban heaven, local style
Futuristic Dubai … Take in the iconic (and quirky) real estate on a showstopping, self-guided tour
Highlights of Old Dubai … Dive into the past in Dubai’s historic old city
Indulge in Downtown Dubai … Home of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa
Sharjah in 1 Day … A taste of the traditional Gulf
Shopping in Dubai: Souks and The City … Crunch your credit-rating in Dubai’s stupendous array of old-school souks and dazzling modern malls