Spending 48 hours in Dubai certainly isn’t enough time, considering what a world-class city it is. But if that’s all the time you have, here’s a guide on how to make the most of your visit.
Dubai is a fascinating coastal city in the north of the United Arab Emirates, a country located on the eastern side of the Persian Gulf. When the UAE became its own country in 1971, Dubai had a population of less than 100,000. Nowadays, there are over 3 million Emirati and expats living in the city, and another million in the suburbs. The city has also expanded into the sea, just like Monaco. Palm Jumeirah Island was the first set of manmade islands to be completed, and three more are on the horizon. Each is built in a different pattern and they take years to form.
The Middle East is a unique region of the world to visit. Dubai is one of only two developed cities in the UAE which has paved roads. While they’ve been paved opulently, lifting one of the paving stones will expose bare desert sand.
It’s really interesting to see a culture where virtually everything is provided by the government, but not in a communistic way. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a family that doesn’t have several vehicles, at least one of which is valued at well over $100,000.
I made quite a few observations about the UAE in my two visits. Two salient facts stood out – the UAE is very safe, and the locals I talked to enjoyed their quality of life. There are a lot of rules and different customs to be aware of when you visit, and the penalties can be steep if you don’t follow them.
I really enjoy my visit and I look forward to going back someday. There were plenty of attractions I missed in my two days there, and new things are opening all the time.
Getting to Dubai
Emirates is the airline based in Dubai, so you might be flying with them. I flew with Eithad, which is based in Abu Dhabi. From there, I rented a car with my friend and we drove up to Dubai. The two cities are less than 60 miles apart, although the cities are quite spread out and it might take a couple hours to get to your final destination, depending on where you’re staying in Dubai. Our hotel was in the south of Dubai near the Palm Jumeirah and it took us a little over an hour to get there.
Driving in the UAE was really interesting when I went. The posted speed limit is mostly between 100 and 120 km/h – about 60-75 mph and there are speed cameras everywhere. However, when I went, you had a buffer of 20 km/h. So if the posted speed limit is 120, you could go 140 (87 mph). And believe me, nearly everyone on the freeway was doing 140! Sorry, I know most of my readers think in miles, but it’s easier to write with the measurements of the country. Recently, that buffer was eliminated, and they’re cracking down on people speeding.
While not as bad as Romania, the drivers in the UAE are quite aggressive. If you give them an inch of leeway to cut you off, chances are they will. I’m not saying that as a criticism or that they’re mean, but simply that you need to be bold and confident when you hit the streets, or you might be waiting forever to turn onto a busy street.
Where to Stay
There are well nearly 1,500 places listed to stay in Dubai on Agoda.com. Most of them average around $100-$150 a night. Apartments are the most common accommodations, and there are a (very) few hostels available for budget travelers. Unless you want the luxury of an expensive hotel or resort, you’ll find much nicer and cheaper options on Airbnb. We stayed at a hotel as my friend (who works in Abu Dhabi) got a great deal through her work.
Where you stay in Dubai should be taken into account to some degree. The public transportation is great for the center of town, but if you end up in an Airbnb in a remote suburb, you might have more difficulty. I would recommend either finding a place near the beach or close to Downtown Dubai where the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall are.
What to Eat
As an international city, you can find every cuisine, with one catch. As an Islamic country, pork is off the menu…mostly. There are a couple restaurants that have a license to serve pork, although there are strict rules about keeping it separate from the other food, and locals won’t go near it. Otherwise, there’s not really a limit to what’s available in the city. Also, since Dubai is an entrepreneur’s haven, you’ll find quite a few avant-garde dishes and restaurants.
On the recommendation of our bus tour guide, we found Halla Al Yamama Mandi, a restaurant in the Dubai Marina with authentic Arabic food. They’re very highly rated on Google, and their prices are great, especially compared to the tourist traps in town. Thankfully, my friend helped order our dishes – two types of flavored chicken and rice. The meal came with salad and soup, and we finished with an Arabic dessert called kanafeh – made with noodle-like pastry dough, sugar, cheese, almonds, and pistachios. It was reminiscent of Turkish baklava but served hot.
The chicken and rice dishes were fantastic. As is traditional for the region, the meat is slow-cooked and really tender. They use a lot of spices and flavors in their dishes, which is what makes them taste so good. If you’re looking for authentic Arabic cuisine, I second the guide’s recommendation.
Attractions in Dubai
There far more activities in the city than you could ever hope to squeeze into 48 hours in Dubai. However, some of the key attraction are just landmarks which you can get to within a single day, and then spend the second day enjoying some of the more unique activities.
The Burj Khalifa is and probably always will be the primary attraction of Dubai. When I first heard about this building shortly after the groundbreaking, it was called the Burj Dubai. At some point, their funding ran out and Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, president of the UAE, bailed them out on the condition that the building got renamed in his honor.
Rising a staggering 2,714 feet, it’s not only the tallest building in the world but will probably remain so for quite some time. It’s construction cost $1.5 billion and lasted 6 years. There are observation decks you can visit on floors 124, 125 and 148. Tickets cost about $40 to visit the Burj Khalifa SKY on the 148th floor, or $25 for just floors 124 and 125.
Personally, I think viewing the tower from below is epic enough. My first view of it from the tram literally left me speechless and giggling. There’s no way to accurately convey the feeling of seeing a structure rising so far into the heavens. For comparison, it’s over five times taller than the Seattle Space Needle, and nearly 3 times taller than the Eiffel Tower.
The Burj Khalifa was originally designed to be the centerpiece of a massive complex encompassing 19 other skyscrapers, 9 hotels and 30,000 homes. The plans changed over the years, and now the main attraction of Downtown Dubai, other than the Burj Khalifa, is the Dubai Mall. At the time of its opening, it covered more land than any other mall in the world. Only the New Century Global Center in Chengdu, China is bigger now.
Just because it’s not the biggest anymore doesn’t mean it isn’t spectacular. Aside from its 1500+ stores, the Dubai Mall contains an indoor ice skating rink, an aquarium and underwater zoo (the second-largest indoor aquarium in the world), an indoor Sega theme park, and a haunted house…among other attractions.
Burj Al Arab
The Burj Al Arab is one of the tallest and most expensive hotels in the world. It opened in 1999, back when the construction of Dubai was in its infancy, and five years before the groundbreaking of the Burj Khalifa. Its commonly referred to as a 7-star hotel, but they insist that the hotel had no part in that claim.
If you want to stay at the Burj Al Arab, suites start around $1000 a night. The most expensive – the Royal Suite – goes for about $28,000 a night. One of the options to visit the Burj Al Arab on a budget (at least cheaper than spending a night there) is to go for afternoon tea. Prices start at $140 per person (for non-alcoholic drinks at the Sahn Eddar Restaurant on the first floor). Afternoon tea at the Sky Bar is more expensive.
Palm Jumeirah Island
In 2001, Dubai started the construction of four man-made island clusters. As of this time of writing, only Palm Jumeirah Island has been completed. It’s now home to over 10,000 people and dozens of hotels. The highlight of the island is Atlantis The Palm, complete with the Aquaventure water park and the Lost Chambers aquarium. Again, this is the kind of place you stay if you have a lot of money – the Royal Bridge Suite runs about $23,000 a night.
Mall of the Emirates
If Dubai Mall wasn’t big enough for you, make sure to head south to the Mall of the Emirates. While not as big as the Dubai Mall, it’s just as opulent, and it’s home to the world’s largest indoor snow park. The five slopes are 280 feet high, a quarter of a mile long, and one classifies as a black diamond. It’s a rather interesting activity to be doing in the Middle East, but unusual activities are what Dubai is full of.
Other than the snow park, there’s nothing particularly special about this mall, other than how fancy everything is. I accidentally stumbled upon the private, luxury car park. I’m guessing the guard wasn’t sure if she should keep me out or show off the cars. I doubt any of them was worth less than $100,000.
Dhow Evening Cruise on Dubai Creek
Speaking of fun activities, my friend had a special surprise waiting for me on our last night in Dubai – a dhow cruise on Dubai Creek. The cruise comes with a buffet dinner and a dancing show. The food is a mixture of Arabic, Italian and Indian dishes, although nothing special – it is a buffet after all. Unfortunately, we arrived on Mawlid – the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday – when all revelry and alcoholic drinks are forbidden. As such, our cruise was simply a ride up and down the creek – the dancing show was canceled. Perhaps nothing to write home about, but it was still special as a surprise from my friend.
Dubai Bus Tour
Dubai is a rather large city and not easily walkable. As such, you’ll probably be using public transportation or renting a car to get around. Another option is to jump on a bus tour. Our tour was particularly good as it took us to all the other interesting spots around town and none of the key attractions listed above. Our stops included the Dubai Museum (built under an ancient fortress), Jumeirah Mosque, Jumeirah Beach, Madinat Jumeirah Souk (infinitely more opulent than those in Marrakech), and the Dubai Marina. Best of all, we had the guide to give us the information and history of all the places we visited.
Finally, I have to strongly recommend taking a Dubai desert safari. Very similar to an African desert safari, you’ll be taken into the desert just outside the city. The first activity will be riding around in a super-converted 4×4, pushing the limits of the vehicles as you fly over the sand dunes. At the camp, you’ll have options to ride camels or go quad biking (on a small, controlled race track). After that will be a large buffet dinner (almost entirely Arabic food this time) and finally a long show. Our show was in three stages – a belly dancer, a tanoura dancer, and a fire dancer. After the show, you’ll be brought back to the city center, unless you’ve picked an overnight package.
That was the schedule of our desert safari. Just like in Morocco, there are dozens of safaris hidden around the sand dunes outside Dubai, and their activities and quality vary. Most of the activities are inclusive, except for the quad biking and camels. You’ll also have to pay extra for alcoholic drinks if they’re serving them on the day you go. You could also rent a hookah after your meal (something I’ve never tried myself).
48 Hours in Dubai Itinerary
Squeezing in all the above activities is definitely possible within 48 hours. We accomplished it, after all. As soon as we arrived on Friday afternoon, we went straight to the Dubai Mall to walk around and see the Burj Khalifa. That evening, we enjoyed the desert safari.
On Saturday morning, we were up at 6:30 a.m. for breakfast at the hotel and then to catch the bus tour at 9 a.m. After the tour, we explored the Dubai Marina and Palm Jumeirah Island before making our way to the north end of the city for the dhow cruise on Dubai Creek.
Before we went back to Abu Dhabi on Sunday, we returned to see the Burj Khalifa and watch the spectacular water and LED show. The entire building is covered with over 1 million LED lights! Granted, this was a really fast-paced weekend, but that’s what you’ll have to do if you want to cover the main attractions in 48 hours.
Don’t forget, choosing where your accommodations in town will be will also affect your travel time around the city and how much you can get done.
Click to Pin It
- The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is Too Damn Big, and the Burj Al Arab is Too Expensive
- How I Partook in the Arabian Culture at a Desert Safari
- Some of the Observations I Made About the UAE
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.
- 5 Steps to Book Cheap Flights
- Hostels: To Book or Not to Book
- Is Workaway Worth it for the Traveler?
- Click here to claim your $25 credit with AirB&B
This post may contain affiliate links. These links help give me the wherewithal to continue traveling at no additional cost to you. For more information, click here.