Hop On Hop Off Dubai provided me with a complimentary bus ticket during my trip to Dubai to explore all that it had to offer in a short time. All opinions stated in this article are my own.
My first trip to Dubai was completely unintentional.
I got extremely lucky when I was able to score a flight to South Africa from New York City for under $400 due to a glitch fare on Etihad Airways. In addition to this amazing deal, my flight was scheduled to have long layovers in the cities of Manchester, England and Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Not having much knowledge about Abu Dhabi at the time that I found out I would be on a layover there, I decided that instead of staying in that city, that I would travel to nearby Dubai via the complimentary Etihad shuttle.
When planning what I would do during my layover in the city of Dubai, I devised a pretty ambitious itinerary. My list included: skydiving, sailing on a yacht, relaxing on the beach, dune bashing in the desert, shopping in the souks, visiting the Burj Khalifa, and eating delicious Emirati food.
Anyone who has ever visited Dubai before will not only tell you that my plans were overly ambitious, but that they could not be accomplished in 14 hours, let alone a single day.
The reasoning behind my extreme planning was that I pictured Dubai as a small and easily navigable city in which I could do everything within a short time frame. Upon arriving to the city, I realized that its magnitude far exceeded my expectations; In fact, if I had done more research prior to visiting, I would have learned that Dubai is more than three times the size of New York City!
Trying to see a significant part of any city within a short time frame can be a challenge, especially in a city as large as Dubai. I decided that the easiest way for me move around the city and see numerous famous sites would be to ride on a hop on hop off bus, so I opted to travel with Big Bus Tours.
Big Bus Dubai has three different routes that traverse throughout the city, four excursions, and a couple of boat rides. Since I was on a tight schedule, I was not able to enjoy all of the routes, excursions, or boat rides, but I was able to see quite a bit.
At over 12 million square feet, the Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world (it is Dubai after all, where everything is bigger and better). With over 1,200 retail stores, over 200 food options, and plenty of entertainment options, a visit to the Dubai Mall can keep you entertained for days.
Practical Information – Address: Jumeirah 3 – إمارة دبيّ – United Arab Emirates // Hours: See website for details // Cost: FREE (to walk around)
Practical Information -Location: Dubai Mall // Hours: Starts at 6 pm and plays every half hour until 11 pm // Cost: FREE
At the Top: Burj Khalifa
The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world, and can be seen all over the city. Visitors can travel up the 124th building of the floor to get a sweeping view of the city below.
I personally think it is better to visit in the daytime and towards sunset, as the pictures of all of the colors in the city are magnificent, especially the fountain outside of the Dubai Mall.
Practical Information – Location: Dubai Mall, Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard, Down Town Dubai – إمارة دبيّ – United Arab Emirates // Hours: 8:30 am – midnight // Cost: AED 125-200 (Children: Complimentary – AED 95)
The Dubai Marina was by far one of my favorite areas in Dubai. A miniature waterfront city within the city, the marina has towering skyscrapers, beautiful yachts, amazing restaurants, and a canal that stretches 3.5 kilometers from the marina into the Persian Gulf.
If you’re looking for something to do in the Dubai Marina area, check out this great list by Time Out Dubai.
Practical Information – Location: Located directly south of the Palm Jumeirah // Cost: FREE (to walk around)
Burj Al Arab
As the only 7-star hotel in the world (and the 3rd tallest hotel in the world), the Burj Al Arab, which looks like the sail of a ship that is about to set out to sea, is by far one of the most famous landmarks in Dubai. It is beautiful from every angle, which is why it is one of the most photographed buildings in the city.
It is not possible to explore the inside of the hotel without a room reservation or a reservation at one of its many restaurants. One popular, but expensive option for checking out the hotel and having a nice meal is by having afternoon tea in the hotel’s Skyview Bar. Check out a review of the Sky Tea by blogger Nate of Vagabonding Heights.
Practical Information – Address: Jumeirah 3 – إمارة دبيّ – United Arab Emirates // Hours & Cost: See website for details
If you have a layover longer than 14 hours, consider adding the following places to your itinerary…
The city of Dubai is all about grandeur, and making a statement. The Egyptian-themed WAFI Mall is no exception and is the most opulent mall that I have seen in my entire life. With over 300 stores and 30 restaurants, the WAFI Mall is beyond spectacular.
Practical Information – Address: Oud Metha Rd – إمارة دبيّ – Dubai // Hours: (Sat.-Wed.) 10:00 – 22:00 (Thur. & Fri.) 10:00 – 24:00 // Cost: FREE (to walk around)
Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding
Besides being one of the most photographed buildings in Dubai, the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding aims to provide those that are unfamiliar with Islam and the UAE with information about the local culture, customs, and religion of the United Arab Emirates. They have numerous program offerings including guided tours, Q&A discussions about Islam, and cultural meals.
Practical Information – Address: Al Musalla Rd. – Dubai // Hours: (Sun. – Thur.) 08:00 – 18:00 (Sat.) 09:00 – 13:00 ; CLOSED Fridays // Cost: Some programs are FREE, others are paid; See website for details.
If you are on a short layover in Dubai, the best way to get around to major points of interest is with a bus tour. (Note: If you have a one-day layover, it is impossible to see everything that the tour buses cover. There were so many other places that I wanted to see in the city that I was not able to.)
There are several tour bus companies in Dubai, and I rode with Big Bus Tours, which offers a variety of features in addition to the bus ride including free boat rides, a desert safari, free tickets to attractions, and unlimited bottled water.Tickets come in 24 hr. and 48 hr. segments and start at €58,22, which I believe to be an excellent value for a number of things included.
It is great – I definitely want to go back soon Nate 😀
Thank you Shikha! If I have another layover in the UAE, I will check out Abu Dhabi as I heard it is very beautiful too 😀
Sounds delightful. I hadn’t a clue that Dubai was so packed with things to do. Very nice indeed Chanel!
Thanks Victoria and yes, there are many more places that I did not even get to, I will have to go back and explore more! 😀
Thats amazing, I love taking advantage of long layovers and that is a great deal but you must have been traveling forever.
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Yes Falasha! The flight between the UAE and the US alone was 13 hours!
We’re headed to the UAE in December. I missed the glitch fare but got a BOGO deal on Emirates. We’ll only be there for 5 days, but I feel like it’s not enough time. In planning, I’ve also realized that the city is very spread out so we’re splitting our hotel reservations between Deira and around the marina area. We’re definitely checking out the cultural center. Can’t wait – thanks for this great overview! Looks like you still managed to squeeze a lot in.
Hi Dana! I also had no idea how spread out things were until I got there and I wish I had more time to spend there 🙂 Have a good trip!
Alex, it was a fun trip, even though it was only a short 14 hours!
Yes, how could I say no to a ticket at that price?
Yes, the water was very beautiful. I want to go back soon Kandice! 😀
I didn’t know either Jennifer. I will definitely have to make a longer trip when I visit Dubai next time 😀
I would love to see Qatar too Norah. Next time you have a long journey, see if there are any options for an extended layover. They are a great way to see a new place!
It was very beautiful Clarissa! 😀
Haha exactly Megan. I was too ambitious thinking I could see the entire thing on a layover 😀
Me too Mena & Taty! I hope one day that I find another similar glitch and give Dubai at least 4 days!
Riding on the bus definitely helped me to get to a lot of places in a short time frame. Unfortunately I did not see any of Abu Dhabi, but that is on my list for my next trip Camile! 😀
It is very cool Liz, and maybe next time I will build up the courage to go skydiving!
I would love to stay there too, although I would need to save up quite a lot to be able to afford that level of luxury! 😀
Me too let’s get about 10 people together to split a room ?
That would definitely make it more affordable! 😀
Thanks Nikki! I am a huge fan of exploring during long layovers. I had considered sleeping in the pod actually, but then I thought I might have been disappointed with myself later for not exploring Dubai 😀
Oh my gosh yes to the mall. I could write a whole post alone on the mall, but I think I will save that for my next trip 😀
It definitely is Franc! If you layover is shorter and you land in Abu Dhabi, I recommend visitors explore that city instead! 😀
Stefany, there is SOOOO much more I need to see of Dubai on the next go round 😀 I cannot wait to go back!
I got very lucky Jennifer! The Dubai mall is huge, I want to go back 😀
Thanks so much Ashley. The next time I go back, I want to try to go inside of it – I might have to shell up some cash for their afternoon tea 😀
Haha very ambitious – this destination definitely deserves a lot more time!
I definitely tried to squeeze a lot in Penny!
It is a very unique and modern city – it is amazing to think not very long ago it was just desert! 😀
If I knew I could leave the airport in Dubai I would have gone wild LOL….next time xo
Yes you definitely can! I traveled from the Abu Dhabi airport to Dubai on a daytrip and it was great – I cannot wait to get back! 😀
Loved your post! I am about to have a 22 hour layover in Dubai. Quick question, since the Burj Khalifa tickets are time specific, did the bus tour stop there with enough time for you to get to the top?? I have never done a bus tour but am seriously considering it
Hello Samantha, thank you for the wonderful comment and I hopped off of the bus and spent some time in both the mall and going up to the Burj Khalifa. You can hop on and off at your leisure and they run pretty frequently 😀
Hi Chanel! Thank you so much for this post, it’s so helpful! I’m traveling to South Africa via Dubai in September and have planned to do a 15 hour layover in Dubai! I plan on bringing two backpacks (one larger carry on size backpack and a second smaller backpack). I was wondering what the locker situation is at the airport and if you think it’s convenient enough to carry the smaller backpack around with me while gallivanting through Dubai? Thanks again!
Hi Beck! I am glad that you found this post helpful 😀 I flew into Abu Dhabi so I left my luggage at the left luggage center (http://www.abudhabiairport.ae/english/media/airport-service-centre_tcm13-4159.pdf). If you are flying into Dubai, there is short-term storage at Terminals 1&3 (http://www.dubaiairports.ae/before-you-fly/baggage/baggage-services). I hope that info is helpful!
Thank you for sharing! I have a few quick questions. As a 20 year old, would you say it is safe to be a solo woman traveling in dubai? Also do you remember how you got form the airport to the center?
I’ll be going in june with a 14hr layover just like you and cannot wait to see the pictures you posted in real life!
Hello Niki, I would definitely say that you would be safe traveling there. I traveled there solo on my layover and I was perfectly fine! For more reading, check out this post – http://www.whileimyoung.com/single-female-travel-in-dubai-solo-is-it-safe/. I took the bus directly from the airport and around the city. Have a great time!