1 day in Dubai – how to pass a long transfer time?
September 25, 2019
Dubai is the Mecca of the Middle East in terms of tourism, as this metropolis in the Persian Gulf has become a very popular travel destination in the recent years. The city, which is now a tourist attraction, not long was gaining its primary income from pearl fishing. Oil and natural gas exploitation began about 50 years ago.
Quite honestly, I never longed for Dubai. I thought there was nothing authentic about it, it was all about boast, extravagancy and lavishment, that is not my world at all. But many in my environment were very vocal about this city. Then it turned out that we were finally able to travel together with my boyfriend for a real vacation. For me, the destination was given, and my love only said that if possible, we should enroll a stop-over in Dubai for a few hours to experience what it feels like standing at the foot of the tallest building in the world and admire the giant from below. At the end I found the right flight tickets and so if fate had it, I thought I’d give Dubai a chance. After all Dubai is Dubai (Oh, how many times have I heard this from my aunt! It completely burned into my memory…).
Finally it turned out that we had a whole day at the city as our plane landed after 6 AM and only took off after midnight. It sounded really good because we were able to spend a full day. However, when we got off the plane, we realised that we had barely some rest during the night, and thus, it will be a bit tiring dragging ourselves all day in the 45 degree heat. Even though we had some in-door activities planned and as it is well known for Dubai, it is only warm outside, everywhere else they use AC like crazy so it is mandatory to carry a sweater even in the summer. I wonder when they come up with cooling down the streets…
But let’s just see how to spend a day in Dubai, what are the main programs to choose from…
1) Dubai Mall – the 2nd biggest shopping mall in the world
Now… I personally don’t like shopping malls. Seriously, if I don’t have to, I won’t put my foot in a big mall. But Dubai Mall is not just a single mall. Even for me it was a real experience to walk through it and look around, as it doesn’t only offer shopping opportunities, but also experiences and sights that you can’t see just about anywhere. Strolling around is really an event, because the whole complex is essentially a big “exhibition” – from dinosaur skeletons to life-size figures from Star Wars to a huge aquarium.
2) Dubai Aquarium – underwater wonderland in a shopping mall
Specifically, we did not enter the Aquarium (due to lack of time), but I can imagine how magical the underwater wonder-world is that was built inside the Dubai Mall. Groups of sharks, rays and other fish swim around not being bothered at all by the curious bystanders.
You can see part of the aquarium from the mall, or you can enter the underwater zoo by purchasing a ticket.
Tickets (from 35.00 EUR) can be purchased on the spot or can be booked online.
- The official site offers a variety of tickets; besides the regular one you can dive with sharks or pet rays. The possibilities are really limited only by the budget.
- Groupon’s site offers also combined tickets, for example except the entrance fee they include sightseeing. It’s worth scrolling through this site, but it’s important to read the terms and conditions before buying anything.
3) Dubai Fountain – the dancing water fountain
This program in Dubai is completely free. Of course, unless one wants to enjoy the 5-minute performance of the world’s largest fountain from a 300-meter promenade sat up in the huge fountain (tickets available at Groupon for approx. 4 EUR) or maybe sitting in a traditional boat on the “lake” (approx. 17 EUR).
TIP: the Dubai Mall’s Apple store (which is already worth a visit) has a huge terrace overviewing the fountain and you can watch the show from there for free and in premiere plan.
Unfortunately, due to our morning nap we missed the early afternoon show (Friday at 1:30 pm and 2:30 pm, on other days at 1:00 pm and 1:30 pm) and we didn’t have time to go back in the evening (from 6 pm to 11 pm every half hour there is the 5 minutes production) either. This is one of the two things I regret not having experienced in Dubai.
4) Burj Kalifa – the world’s tallest skyscraper
Many people may want to visit Dubai, this metropolis in the Middle East, because it is home to some of the world’s most impressive buildings. The world’s tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa, is covered here sometimes by clouds or possibly a small sandstorm (after we visited it, it was concretely covered by something that was a bizarre and interesting sight).
One of Burj Khalifa’s great adventures is the elevator itself, which makes the 124 floors in only 60 seconds while the inside of the lift has a 360 degree projection so you don’t even notice and find yourself at 452 meters in just a blink of an eye.
At the top everyone can spend as much time as they wish. I cannot say that the view is super wonderful. For me, unfortunately, that was the place where it’s best visible what I didn’t like about the city: the scattered skyscrapers in small groups. Even though the whole city is designed with a ruler, it still feels like it’s lacking a complex plan, just some huge, luxurious buildings thrown down here and there, showing that money is really not a question at all. I am not an architect or city planner, I’m not an expert in such things, but I didn’t discover a unified, harmonious cityscape at all.
What really makes a beautiful sight, and what is well known to everyone, is the turquoise scenery of the lake below Burj Khalifa and the surrounding buildings.
Tickets can be purchased on site, but it is worth thinking ahead during the main season because long queues can develop and, of course, there is a certain capacity that cannot be crossed in terms of the number of visitors. As we visited at the end of August, the ticket office was almost empty.
- The official site offers several tickets. The basic entrance fee (from 40 EUR depending on the time of day) includes views from the 124th and 125th floors, but at more than double the price (from 97.00 EUR) the doors of the 148th floor are also open to viewers. And if you want to spend a few cozy minutes in the world’s highest laying lounge, sipping a tea, champagne or a cocktail, you have to pay more than 150.00 EUR.
- On Groupon’s website you can buy packages that contain eg. tea and pastries that can be picked up at the local buffet and you can skip the line too. It’s a good idea to check out this site, but make sure to keep an eye on the terms and conditions as tickets purchased here are not valid on Fridays and the times between 2pm and 7pm are also excluded.
5) Burj Al Arab – Dubai’s sail
Burj Al Arab is Dubai’s probably most well-known building to date, it is certainly the most iconic one. When it was designed, investors wanted to build something that clearly refers to Dubai and can be identified by a sketch drawn with 3-4 strokes only. Like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Petronas in Kuala Lumpur, the Empire State Building in New York, the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore or the Sydney Opera House in the Australian metropolis. That’s how the sail-like building was born, built on an artificial small island by the sea with a helipad on top. The building operates as a hotel and was promoted with a friendly game in 2005 by two world-renowned tennis players, Agassi and Federer, on a tennis court built up on the helipad.
We connected the “must sees” with the pleasant activities. Because we wanted to see the Burj Al Arab from close-up and dip in the sea, we went to Sunset Beach next to the iconic tower, which is a public beach. Now, I could say that it was superb and beautiful, but I won’t lie. It wasn’t. The coastline is surrounded on two sides by some kind of industrial area, with cargo ships floating in from the left and right. On one side there was construction (which is typical for the whole city) that didn’t help the view at all. On Friday (the only day off there) the beach and the water was full of people, and watching. And no, they were not locals, rather mainly guest workers from the Far East. Perhaps if we were there on a normal weekday, it would have been a bit more enjoyable.
We dipped in the foams to cool ourselves. but the sea was incredibly and very unpleasantly warm. Meanwhile, a smaller sandstorm was spreading too (which we kinda enjoyed).
TIP: Changing facilities, showers and toilets are provided and are free of charge. The ones further from Burj Al Arab are generally less busy.
6) Dubai Marina – the neighbourhood of the riches
In the evening we had a little time so we took a taxi to Dubai Marina, the richest neighborhood in the city. The promenade is lined with hip cafes and restaurants, sometimes a craft market pops up, but of course, there’s no shortage of luxury shopping either.
Along the sandy coast you will find leisure opportunities, from jet-ski to tandem. If, for example, someone who finds a helicopter ride too expensive can have a similar experience in a simulator.
7) Dubai Souk -the bazaar
Unfortunately, due to lack of time, we were unable to visit the Souk and frankly I am a bit regretful that we did not choose it instead of the Marina. Maybe next time…
The Souk is located in the old part of Dubai, which is essentially a traditional Arabic bazaar with different markets. In the Souk you can get a perfect glimpse of how trade was done in one of the most important ports in the region.
The most famous part of the Souk is the Gold Souk, where you can get the most beautiful gold jewelry at a fair price. The spice, perfume and textile bazaars are also very popular. If you are not looking for anything specific to shop, it is still worth a visit. The historic narrow streets of the Souk will take you years back in history.
+ 1 TIP: Relaxing in a hotel
As we landed almost at dawn, we had in plan to rest in the morning. Before the trip I got a tip for a coupon site (groupon.ae) and took advantage of the opportunities to buy a buffet breakfast at the hotel with a pool (I paid 22.00 EUR for 2). We could have guessed here already that in Dubai is not everything gold that shines (or yes?)… In the promo, the rooftop pool offered a panoramic view of the downtown area, but instead we only found a “sauna” surrounded by half-finished buildings. The concrete around the pool was spitting up heat like the hotplate of my grandmother’s stove. We knew right away that we could not rest on the roof by the pool, so we decided to book an air-conditioned room for a few hours.
+ 2 TIP: Use the Groupon.ae site
There are many different vouchers (coupons) available on Groupon and you can have a great selection of discounted services. It is important to read the terms and conditions of the coupons at all times!
Some like to get around by public transport, some hire rental cars, others use the taxi service or Uber.
We originally wanted to rent a car for the whole day (parking is free on Fridays in most places), but because we don’t own a credit card we either couldn’t rent or only under terms & conditions we were unwilling to accept (deposit of 2000 EUR released after 45 days, etc.). So we decided to take a taxi, and one time we used the metro.
Cars are lined up at the airport waiting for passengers. There is a separate exit for those who would like to use the taxi service, you have to queue up and hop in a car. The departure fare from the airport is much higher (25 AED = 7 EUR) than in the city (5 AED = 1,50 EUR).
In the city you just have to hail a cab. They accept cash or cards.
By the way, taxis in Dubai are worth their price, especially if you don’t have much time to explore the city. Distances are long (T3 terminal is 40 km away from the Marina) and taxis are relatively inexpensive, so – especially if you only have 1 day – it’s worth it. We spent less than 50 EUR on cabs in a day and only used the subway once (from the Marina to T3 Terminal).
We didn’t use Uber, but I’ve read in several forums that taxis here are cheaper than Uber or Careem (similar service to Uber).
TIP: In the Dubai Mall there is one specific place you can take a cab from. They try to “seduce” unsuspecting tourists and “lure” them into private cars that cost twice as much as a regular taxi. Don’t let them fool you by this service!
The city currently has 2 metro lines (it will expand to 3 by the time of the 2020 Expo), connecting the airport with the city’s main points all the way to the Marina.
Subways run from 5-5: 30am to midnight on weekdays (Saturday-Wednesday), Thursday to 1am, and Friday from 10am to 1am.
Prices depend on two factors. One is the zone and the other is the class. The city is divided into zones in terms of public transport (including buses and trams). The more zones we touch, the more we pay. In case of the metro, the train is divided into first and second class wagons which also determines the price (first class is twice the price of the regular one). In order to use public transport you need to buy a RED (this is for tourists & visitors) NOL card (2 AED = 0,60 EUR) and top it up.
TIP: The metro runs over ground and if you want to admire the view it is worth taking the 1st class at least once. These cars usually have less travelers, and they are the first or last wagons (depending on the direction) so they provide truly great views.
Unfortunately, my reservations about Dubai have come true, I didn’t fall in love with the city. I might want to visit it again during a transfer & give it another chance, but I wouldn’t explicitly choose it as a destination, certainly not in the near future. There is a saying that you either fall in love with Dubai or you don’t. Experience it on your own skin and decide which category you fall into.