Dubai and Abu Dhabi – 10 experiences you must have!

Since we’ve been to Dubai, almost every person I’ve met who asked me about our trip tips their head slightly and says “huh, I’ve never thought of going there. Not for any particular reason it just didn’t appeal”. We were honestly the same, but after a few transits through the airport on the way to New Zealand, and spotting a full-size camel in amongst the duty free shelves of perfume my curiosity was piqued (a fake camel that is!).

(Sidenote: this breaking up of travel posts over a series of weekends makes it feel like they’ll never end, but has certainly brought some winter sun reminiscing to my dreary January/February/March.)

10 experiences you have to have in Dubai & Abu Dhabi Adventures of a London Kiwi

We enjoyed our tourist version of the two UAE city states we visited, much to our surprise. Dubai seems to be very much a love it or hate it destination – and having gone without any expectations in the middle of the UAE winter, we were pleasantly surprised. In fact, we loved it.

People tend to dress conservatively – shoulders, chests and knees covered – but you’ll see tourists in the malls getting gawked
at cause they’re in hot pants… but you can wear whatever you want in
your hotel and poolside. If you go into the mosque cover from head to toe
(at the Abu Dhabi mosque you will be lent a black hooded dress in
exchange for holding your drivers license.)

Based on personal recommendations, research and the limited time we had in Dubai, there are a few experiences that I have been recommending to every one of my friends who have been since…

1/ Go up the Burj Khalifa

It is the tallest building in the world – you can either book ahead & pay just to go to the viewing deck or for around the same spend you can reserve a table in the Atmosphere cocktail lounge a floor below (where there is a minimum spend of £50ish per person for a 2 hour table.) We went at sunset and it was GLORIOUS (make sure you book at least 2 days ahead.)

  Dubai Must do Burj Khalifa worlds tallest building


2/ Meander through the Dubai Mall 

Admire the two waterfalls, the plethora of international shops and linger in one of the best people watching spots we have ever been in. (We also ate
burgers for dinner from New Zealand – this may have been one of my intentions even
before entering the country, and I’m not ashamed).

3/ Watch the Dubai Mall fountains dance 

You can see it for free from the mall but we found the less busy view was from the Armani hotel (at the bottom of the Burj Khalifa) with a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – the hotel plays the music the fountains are choreographed to in the hotel bar.

What to do in Dubai Mall Fountains

4/ Venture into the sand dunes. 

I wrote about our overnight in the Dubai desert in a Sheikh’s summer home/desert conserve (we went in luxury with Platinum Heritage who had offered us a media rate and we loved & would have paid full price for) but if short on time there are dinner experiences where you will be collected from your hotel & driven to and from the desert. 

Overnight in the Dubai Desert like a Bedouin

5/ Explore Dubai with an expat guide. 

We did a day tour with Barti – he took us on a private highlights tour of Dubai which was fascinating. He took us through the history of the sandy city, shared his experiences of Dubai changing over the last 15 years and shared a few special gems with us (including a cute shop where we bought a Christmas Tree decoration, ironic I know). 

City Guide Dubai essentials

6/ Cross the infamous Dubai Creek in a water taxi.

City Guide Dubai essentials Dubai Creek water taxi

7/ Barter in the spice and gold souks. 

Try camel milk chocolate if you’re brave enough it is really rich.

City Guide Dubai essentials Gold Souks

City Guide Dubai essentials

8/ Take in a Friday Brunch 

They are rather legendary and sadly the only experience we missed due to time constraints (aka. spending too much time in the rooftop hotel pool).

9/ Day trip to Abu Dhabi 

It’s about an hour & a half drive from Dubai the taxi we caught cost about £40 each way or there are organised day trips from Dubai. Whilst there, definitely have a sandwich & coffee (or afternoon tea) at the Jumeirah @ Emirates Towers. You pay to enter, but the entry fee is redeemable against food purchased in the restaurant.

Abu Dhabi city guide UAE must do

10/ Visit the Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque

ABSOLUTE MUST DO. The mosque also runs free tours & the sunset one we took was utterly breathtaking.

Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque city guide UAE must do

So, convinced yet?

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City guide to Dubai and Abu Dhabi

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