How to spend one, two or three days in Dubai

Make the Most of Your Dubai Stopover

In Asia & Middle East, Dubai (UAE) by JurgaThis post may contain affiliate links, which means that we may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. More info: Disclosure.

Transiting through Dubai and have some time to spare? Learn all you need to know about what to see and do on a short stopover in Dubai. From just 6 hours to one or two days – this guide will help you make the most of the time you have in Dubai, so that you can see the very best of this bustling metropole.

Don’t spend your Dubai layover sitting at the airport. Even if you only have half a day, you can see some of the city. If you still have to book your flights through Dubai, see if you can squeeze at least one night in UAE in your itinerary. It will be worth it!

Dubai stopover itinerary overview

Short stopover in Dubai – see the best in just a few hours

If you have at least 6 hours to spare for a stopover in Dubai and want to get the most of your time, I have two suggestions, based on our experience and the places we found to be most worthy to see in Dubai. Just keep in mind that immigration can sometimes take a long time in Dubai!

1. Visit Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa

One of the best options for those with limited time to explore Dubai would be to head to Dubai Mall. You can take a taxi or a metro from the airport – you can find more information about Dubai public transport here. Neither option is very expensive, but metro might be faster especially during the rush hours. On the other hand, metro stations in Dubai (especially the one at the Dubai Mall) are often very far from the actual place, so you have to do lots of walking.

What to see and do at the Dubai Mall:

Dubai Fountains

Try to catch a (free) Dubai fountains music and light show. Show Schedule : 1 PM and 1:30 PM daily (except Fridays). 1:30 PM and 2 PM (Fridays only). Evening shows daily every half an hour between 6 PM and 11 PM.

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world – is equally impressive from below as from the top. If you have time, I suggest you go to the top for the amazing views over Dubai.

Burj Khalifa At the Top experience is very popular and often sold-out, so if you want to do it, better book your Burj Khalifa tickets in advance.

Dubai fountain show as seen from At the Top Burj Khalifa at night

Dubai fountain show as seen from Burj Khalifa at night


Dubai Aquarium

Dubai Aquarium is located inside the Dubai Mall. You can see the big aquarium from the mall itself (no need to purchase a ticket). If you decide to pay a visit to the aquarium itself, count at least an hour for the visit.

The same as with most other attractions in Dubai, it’s best to book your tickets in advance – the ticket queue at Dubai Aquarium can get extremely long at certain times. On top of that, it’s cheaper if booked in advance. You can book your Dubai Aquarium tickets here.

free Dubai activities that are family-friendly

Dubai Aquarium


More to see and do at the Dubai Mall

Dubai Mall is one of the biggest shopping malls in the world. You could easily spend a week there and still not see everything. If you still have some time left after you saw the fountains, the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Aquarium, you can do some shopping or explore further. Don’t miss the impressive waterfall inside the mall. There is also an ice rink, dino museum, cinema’s, kids playground KidZania, games and attractions of SEGA Republic, The Emirates A380 Experience and much more.

2. Go on an organised Dubai layover sightseeing tour

If you have at least 6 hours layover in Dubai, probably the best you can do is book a private Dubai layover sightseeing tour. That way you don’t have to worry about any practical details – your guide will pick you up at the airport, show you the very best of the emirate in a limited time, and will drop you off at the terminal again.

This 4.5 hour private tour with airport transfers brings you to the most famous places in Dubai, such as Burj Khalifa and Burj Al-Arab. You also visit the Old Dubai with traditional Souks (markets) and the Dubai Museum. We really liked visiting the old town of Dubai – it gives you a glimpse into the city’s past – very different from the rest of this super modern town. This tour shows you both sides of the city, albeit in a very short time.

Dubai downtown and traditional water taxi Abra as seen from the Dubai Creek

Downtown as seen from Dubai Creek


One full day stopover in Dubai

If you have at least one night or one full day in Dubai, you can combine the tour of the city with the visit to the Dubai Mall.

Half-day tours to consider for your Dubai layover

Dubai City Half-Day Sightseeing Tour

See Dubai’s top landmarks including the famous Jumeirah Mosque, old Dubai, water-taxi over Dubai Creek, and shop at the famous traditional markets – Spice Souq and Deira Gold Souq. You can book this popular Dubai city tour here. Duration 4-5 hrs during the day.

Burj Al Arab hotel as seen from Jumeirah Beach

Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach


Dubai Marina Dhow Cruise with Dinner

There are many companies offering Marina dinner cruises with traditional Tanouri dance performance and they are all pretty much the same. We took the Alexandra Dhow Cruise as it was the best price-quality tour, certainly for families with children, and we were not disappointed.

Even if you don’t take the cruise, Dubai Marina is not to be missed. It’s especially lively in the evening.

Dubai Marina at night

Dubai Marina at night


Big Bus Dubai Hop-On Hop-Off Tour

Take Dubai’s best hop-on hop-off tour and see the top attractions on your own terms.

Big bus hop-on hop-off tour in Dubai

Big bus hop-on hop-off is a good way to see the best of Dubai in a short time


Two-day Dubai stopover

If you have one full day to spare after seeing the best of Dubai in a limited time (see above), you could make your visit even more memorable with one of the following activities.

Spend a day at the water park in Dubai

There are two major water parks in Dubai: Atlantis Aquaventure Water Park and Wild Wadi Water Park. I cannot compare the two since we only visited Aquaventure at Atlantis, but it was just great.

Note that the entrance tickets for the Dubai water parks are much (20-40%) cheaper if booked in advance.

Go on a Dubai desert safari

There are many companies that organise Dubai desert tours. Here are the two best options I found (we did the first one in combination with the city tour described before).

1. 4×4 Dubai Desert Safari. This 6 hour tour is a short introduction into all things Emirati : Dune Bashing, Sand boarding, Camel Riding (5 minutes max) and BBQ Dinner.

2. Luxury Desert Experience: Camel Safari with Dinner and Traditional Emirati Activities. This tour is a bit longer (7 hours) and is a bit more luxurious. It also includes a 45-minute camel ride in the desert.

Group of 4x4 vehicles driving in a desert in Dubai

4×4 desert safari in Dubai


Take a day tour to Abu Dhabi

If you rather go sightseeing than dune bashing or swimming and want to get the very most out of your visit to the Emirates, you could consider a full day tour to Abu Dhabi.

Where to stay for Dubai stopover

Now that you know that you won’t get bored in Dubai, you need a place to stay for a night or two, right?

I really recommend you stay in Dubai at least one night. Immigration can be hectic and it will be very stressful if you only have a couple of hours between the flights.

So here is a small selection of Dubai hotels that are well located for a short stopover in the Emirates.

If you are visiting Dubai for a longer time, I’d recommend staying in the area called the Jumeirah Beach Residence. But for just a night or two, you are probably better off either staying close to the airport or close to the Dubai Mall as this is one part of the city you really don’t want to miss if you only have limited time in Dubai.

Staying close to the airport is cheaper than staying in the centre, but staying close to the Dubai Mall gives you more flexibility and more time to explore.

Good price-quality hotels at Dubai Airport:

Holiday Inn Express Dubai Airport
Le Méridien Dubai Hotel & Conference Centre
Al Bustan Rotana – Dubai

Good price-quality hotels close to Dubai Mall:

Rove Downtown Dubai
Radisson Blu Dubai Downtown

Mid-range hotels close to Dubai Mall:

Sofitel Dubai Downtown (conveniently located close to the Dubai Mall metro station)
Steigenberger Hotel – Business Bay

Luxury hotels close to Dubai Mall:

The Palace Downtown Dubai (rooms with a view of Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Fountain are possible)
The Address, Dubai Mall Hotel (rooms with a view of Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Fountain are possible)
Armani Hotel Dubai (inside the Burj Khalifa building, amazing views over the Dubai fountain)

Hope you found this guide on how to get the most of your stopover in Dubai useful. Don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments below and please share this post.

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All you need to know for a short layover in Dubai. Get the most out of your short time in Dubai with these tips. Check it out!


All you need to know for a short stopover in Dubai. Things to see and do from just 6 hours to one or two days. Pin for future reference!

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  1. We are flying to Australia next week and our travel agent convinced us to do a stopover in Dubai. We have less than 24 hours (1 night) in the city and were wondering what to see, so this is very helpful. I now regret we didn’t book 2 nights.

    1. Author

      Don’t worry about it, just make the best of the time you have in Dubai, Dierdre. The city really comes to life in the evening so it’s nice to spend a night there. Lots to see and do and everything stays open very late as well.

  2. I’ve spent long hours in layovers at Dubai airport – I didn’t know that you could do so much in such a short space of time. Do you not need a visa though?

  3. I live in Dubai and have done for over a year now! There is so so much to do here i love it. People certainly should get out of the airport if they have chance to, i think sometimes people worry about Dubai and there really is no need to, it’s a beautiful place!

    1. Author

      Indeed, there’s so much to do in Dubai that everyone can definitely find something for them! The difficulty is to choose where to go if you only have very little time. 🙂

  4. This is exactly what I needed! Thank you so much. Truly informative and relevant information that I will definitely use. A lot of the flights I’ve been looking at do stop over in Dubai – and I’m all about making the most of a trip! So thanks again!

    1. Author

      Glad you found this post useful, Suzannah. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment – appreciate it!

  5. Valuable suggestions and a comprehensive list of sights! Specially interesting are the desert trip and the old town.

    1. Author

      Indeed, Punita – the Old Town of Dubai is worth a visit and we truly enjoyed the desert trip as well. But I also think that no visit to Dubai would be complete without seeing Burj Khalifa, wouldn’t you agree?

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