Built during the late noughties, the vast Downtown Dubai development is one of modern Dubai’s most spectacular developments, constructed at a reputed cost of $20 billion. Pride of place is taken by the cloud-capped Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, which rises out of the centre of the area, needle-thin and impossibly high, while ringing the Burj Khalifa are a string of other record-breaking attractions, including the vast new Dubai Mall, the extravagant Dubai Fountain and the chintzy “Old Town” development, designed in quasi-Arabian style and home to the low-key Souk al Bahar and the opulent The Palace hotel.
This following itinerary can easily be connected with the tour of Sheikh Zayed Road. It’s best to visit during the afternoon and finishing by going up the Burj Khalifa towards dusk means in order to see the view at its best. Remember that you’ll need to book your tickets for the Burj Khalifa in advance unless you don’t mind paying an extortionate surcharge.
Start at the main entrance to the massive Dubai Mall. The absolute mother of all malls, this is the world’s largest retail complex and a place which makes every other shopping destination in the city look slightly undernourished. There are over 1200 shops here, with themed areas including “Fashion Avenue”, home to the biggest collection of upmarket designer outlets in the city and a self-contained Gold Souk (home to another hundred-odd shops).
You can spend a happy afternoon here, either indulging in some serious shopping, visiting the in-house Dubai Aquarium or going for a refreshing spin at the Dubai Ice Rink, while younger visitors will enjoy the entertaining KidsZania and Sega Republic.
Exit the rear of the Dubai Mall for front-seat views of the mighty Burj Khalifa and then head over the bridge directly ahead to enter the quaint little Arabian-styled Souk al Bahar, with yet more shops to browse, and pleasantly intimate and uncrowded after the Dubai Mall. The back end of the Souk al Bahar, merges almost seamlesly into the kitsch but cute faux-Arabian “Old Town” development, offering superbly surreal views of the futuristic Burj Khalifa rising behind the ersatz mudbrick architecture.
Wander back to the Burj Khalifa around the Dubai Fountain, yet another of the area’s record breaking attractions, which fires up into life during the later afternoon, performing carefully choreographed watery flourishes in time to a variety of song soundtracks. Now head into the Burj Khalifa and make your way up to the At the Top observation deck (pre-booking strongly recommended). Set aside a couple of hours to get up and down, and to enjoy the view and take in the various displays. Dusk usually falls around 6pm so booking a ticket to go up at around 5pm gives you the chance to see the sun setting and the lights coming on.
There are innumerable cafés and restaurants either in the Dubai Mall itself or spread out around the lake at the back for a drink or evening meal, although you’ll need to arrive early to grab one of the coveted Burj-facing outdoor seats. Neos, atop The Address hotel, offers superb views, while if you’ve cash to burn, Thiptara at the gorgeous faux-Arabian The Palace hotel offers good Thai food and a privileged perch from which to enjoy both Burj and fountain.
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 in 2 Days … Seeing it all (nearly!) on the ultimate city tour
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
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