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Dubai Stopover: What to See & Do in 6 Hours, 1, or 2 Days (+Planning Tips)

Dubai Stopover: What to See & Do in 6 Hours, 1, or 2 Days (+Planning Tips)

Are you traveling via Dubai and have a few hours to spare at the airport and are considering a Dubai layover? Or are you thinking of a somewhat longer stopover in Dubai for one or two days… but are not sure if it’s worth it and what to see and do on Dubai stopover? This article should answer all your questions!

In this post, you can learn more about what to see and do on a short stopover in Dubai – from just 6 hours to 1 or 2 days. We also include some practical tips that will help you make the most of your Dubai stopover or a short layover. At the bottom of this article, you can also find a few hotel suggestions for a short visit to Dubai. Find out!

From just a couple of hours to one or two days in Dubai- this guide will help you make the most of your Dubai stopover, so that you can see the very best of this bustling metropole.

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

READ ALSO: Best Dubai Tours

Stopover in Dubai - complete guide

Dubai stopover suggestions – overview

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

Good to know: Keep in mind that immigration can sometimes take a long time in Dubai and getting back through security and leaving the country will also require at least an hour, not counting the time to get to the airport, etc. So if you have less than 6 hours in Dubai, I’d probably just book airport premium lounge access and stay at the airport. It’s not worth the stress.

But if you have at least 6 hours to spare for a stopover in Dubai and want to get the most out of your time, I have two suggestions for how you could spend your time. These tips are based on our experience and the places we found to be most worthy to see in Dubai. See options 1 and 2 below.

OPTION 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 – here you can find more information about Dubai public transport. Alternatively, you can save time by booking a private airport transfer in advance.

Neither option is very expensive, but the metro might be faster, especially during 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. Booking a private transfer might be the least stressful option.

Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa - Dubai stopover
Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa is by far the best area to visit if you only have limited time in Dubai.

Here’s what you can see and do at the Dubai Mall on a short stopover in Dubai:

Dubai Fountains

Try to catch a (free) Dubai fountains music and light show. In the evenings, there are shows daily every half an hour starting at around 5.30 – 6 PM and until 11 PM. There is also a show at 1 PM (Fridays at 2 PM) and at 1.30 PM.

The show itself is free of charge, but in the evenings, you can also opt for a traditional boat ride on Burj Lake. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in Dubai, so you have to get your tickets in advance. You can book the Burj Lake Ride by Traditional Boat tickets here. We recently did this and really enjoyed it.

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.

Good to know: Burj Khalifa At the Top experience is very popular and often sold out. So if you want to visit it on a short Dubai stopover, you really have to book the Burj Khalifa tickets in advance. Also, keep in mind that even with timed entry slots, you will have long lines so count at least 1.5-2 hours for a visit here to be on the safe side.

PRO TIP: If your time is limited and you want to visit Burj Khalifa, get the tickets that include level 148. These tickets give you priority access to the elevators and security check (+ other benefits) and will save you a lot of time and stress.

Alternative tip: Instead of going to the top of Burj Khalifa, you can visit Dubai Sky Views Observatory, from where you can enjoy great views of Burj Khalifa. Sky Views is conveniently located very close to the metro exit at Dubai Mall station (just walk towards the Mall and you’ll see it), is cheaper, and takes less time to visit. Also here, be sure to get tickets in advance!

Dubai Fountain Show at night as seen from the top of Burj Khalifa
Dubai Fountain Show as seen from the top of Burj Khalifa

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.

TIP: If you are planning to visit several attractions, it’s often cheaper to get combo tickets. One of the most popular combinations in Dubai is the 2-in-1 ticket for Burj Khalifa and Dubai Aquarium. Quite frankly, the aquarium is way too expensive for what it is if you pay full price for it.

5 free things to do in Dubai that you absolutely shouldn't miss
Dubai Aquarium

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…

Depending on how long your Dubai stopover is and whether 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, kids playground KidZania, games and attractions of SEGA Republic, The Emirates A380 Experience, and much more.

Dubai Mall Waterfall Close-up
Dubai Mall Waterfall

OPTION 2: Join an organized Dubai layover sightseeing tour

If you have a 5-9 hours layover in Dubai, probably the best you can do is book a highly-rated private layover sightseeing tour.

This private tour with airport transfers brings you to some of the most famous places in Dubai, such as Burj Khalifa and Burj Al-Arab. It also already includes the Burj Khalifa ticket.

That way you don’t have to worry about any practical details – your guide will pick you up at the airport and show you the very best of the Emirate in a limited time. Since this is a private tour, the route can be customized to suit your interests.

If your Dubai layover is shorter, then you may want to opt for this 3-hr private Dubai transit tour instead. This tour will pick you up and drop you off at the airport and show you some of the most iconic places in Dubai. Needless to say, you won’t have much time to visit any of the attractions, but it’s a good way to see what Dubai is about and a good alternative to sitting at the airport half a day…

Important to know: Traffic in Dubai can be really busy and unpredictable. So only book city tours if your layover is not in the middle of the day (afternoon traffic is the worst) and you have plenty of time. Otherwise, see our option 1 above – it will be more relaxing.

Burj Al Arab hotel as seen from Jumeirah Beach
Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach

One full day stopover in Dubai

If you have at least one night or one full day on your Dubai stopover, you can combine the visit to the Dubai Mall & Burj Khalifa with a short tour of the city.

I already mentioned all the best things to do in and around the Dubai Mall. Half a day is enough for the main highlights there. So in addition to that, I advise joining one of the short tours that show you a bit more of Dubai in a short time. Below you can find a selection of some of the best options to consider. Take a look!

Best half-day tours for your Dubai stopover

Here are some of the best short tours that you could do on your Dubai stopover:

  • Old Dubai & Markets. This Dubai city half-day sightseeing tour brings you to Dubai’s famous traditional markets – Spice Souq and Deira Gold Souq. It also includes a visit to Al Khayma Heritage House and Blue Mosque.
  • Dubai Marina. There are many companies offering Marina dinner cruises with traditional Tanouri dance performances 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. If you prefer a less ‘traditional’ cruise, there are plenty of other Marina cruises – with or without food. And even if you don’t take the cruise, Dubai Marina is not to be missed. It’s especially lively in the evening.
  • Dubai Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour allows you to see Dubai’s top attractions at your own pace. This is a great option if you have one full day for your Dubai stopover. This is the best-rated hop-on hop-off tour in Dubai.
  • Morning or evening desert tour. The sunrise balloon flight is a nice option if you have a morning in Dubai and can’t find much interesting to do in the city early in the morning. This Camel riding tour is a wonderful way to experience the Dubai desert in the late afternoon/evening. We recently did this tour when we had a late-night flight out of Dubai and it was a great way to fill the evening, and a really enjoyable experience too!
Dubai Marina Dhow dinner cruise
Dinner cruise views of Dubai Marina

Two-day Dubai stopover

If you have two days on your Dubai stopover, you should spend one day visiting the best of Dubai attractions mentioned above.

For your second day, I recommend choosing one of the three options mentioned below – that will make your short visit to Dubai even more memorable. Take a look!

OPTION 1: Spend a day at the water park in Dubai

If your Dubai stopover is in the summer when it’s very hot in the UAE, simply consider spending a day at a waterpark. It’s also a great option for families traveling via Dubai with children.

There are two major water parks in Dubai: Atlantis Aquaventure and Wild Wadi Water Park. Wild Wadi has more attractions for smaller kids, whereas Aquaventure has more for all ages.

TIP: Entrance tickets for the Dubai water parks are much cheaper if booked online and at least a week in advance.

LEARN MORE: Tips & Tricks for Atlantis Aquaventure

Dubai stopover - spend a day at a waterpark
Atlantis Aquaventure – a great way to spend a day in Dubai, especially if you are on a stopover with kids or traveling in the summer.

OPTION 2: Take a day tour to Abu Dhabi

If you rather go sightseeing and want to get the very most out of your short Dubai stopover, visit Abu Dhabi. It has so much to offer!

With a full day to spare, don’t look any further and take this highly-rated full-day tour. It brings you to the top landmarks and is a wonderful way to see the best of Abu Dhabi in a day. We did this tour recently and I can highly recommend it (but only if you have a full day for it!).

If you are short on time and only want to see the famous Sheikh Zayed Mosque, then consider this popular half-day tour instead. It takes about 5-6 hours.

LEARN MORE: Best Abu Dhabi Tour from Dubai

Sheikh Zayed Mosque - Dubai stopover
Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi is well worth seeing, even if you are only visiting the UAE for a few days!

OPTION 3: Go on a Dubai desert safari

There are many companies that organize Dubai desert tours. Below are two of the best options.

We did both of these tours – on different trips to Dubai – and really enjoyed them both. Since I get car sick rather quickly, I preferred the camel tour a bit more than dune bashing in a 4×4, but the rest of the family found both tours equally fun.

1. 4×4 Dubai Desert Safari. This 4-7-hour tour is a short introduction to all things Emirati: dune bashing, sandboarding, camel riding (5 minutes max), and BBQ dinner.

2. Sunset Camel Trek with Shows & BBQ. This tour is a bit longer and is a bit more luxurious. It also includes a longer (30-45min) camel ride in the desert.

Best tours excursions and day trips in Dubai
4WD desert safari

Where to stay on your Dubai stopover

Now that you know that Dubai stopover is well worth it and you won’t get bored in the city, you need a place to stay for 1 or 2 nights. Below is a small selection of Dubai hotels that are well located for a short stopover in Dubai.

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

If you are visiting Dubai for just a night or two, it’s best to stay 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 on a short stopover in Dubai.

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

Here are some of the best-rated hotels at Dubai Airport:

Here are some of the best choices close to Dubai Mall:


So, this is our guide for a short stopover in Dubai. I hope you found some ideas for the best things to do for Dubai stopover or a short layover.

There is just so much to see and do in the city that it’s difficult to suggest one stopover itinerary that fits everyone. But I’m confident that any of the options listed above will be a great choice for your Dubai stopover. Enjoy your trip!

READ ALSO: What to wear in Dubai

More tips for visiting Dubai:

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What to do on a short layover or stopover in Dubai
Dubai stopover - what to see and do and where to stay

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Tuesday 19th of December 2023

Hi , i have 9 hour transit in Dubai this coming Jan 2024. Can you help to recommend something for me to do? Perhaps a tour in Dubai. I never been to Dubai before. Please help. Thanks


Wednesday 20th of December 2023

Hi Shahid, all our recommendations are already in the article above. Have a great trip!

Michael Kessissoglou

Tuesday 24th of October 2023

Hi Jurga Found your ideas very helpful. I’ve got 5.5 hr transit and I read you don’t suggest leaving the airport for less than 6. In your opinion is 5.5 still doable? I’ll have my 18yo daughter with me and would love to show her a quick glimpse of Dubai given its so spectacular. We arrive at 5.30am so is there anything we could do other than stay in the airport for all that time (even if I got a premium lounge access pass)? I was thinking about catching a cab into town to do a brief sightseeing tour and maybe stop at the Burj K? I’m interested in your thoughts/ideas. Many thanks. Michael.

Michael Kessissoglou

Thursday 2nd of November 2023

@Jurga, thanks for getting back to me…much appreciated. 😉


Wednesday 25th of October 2023

Hi Michael, if your flight arrives on time and you can get through the immigration fast enough, you might be able to quickly see the city. It's hard for me to say, only you can decide if it's worth the stress. But yes, I guess it could work. Otherwise, you can just wait to decide until you get there and if everything goes smooth, go and see Burj Khalifa. Whether you can actually visit it inside, that's another story (also because of the early hours of your layover), but it's impressive enough to just walk around the Dubai Mall area. Don't forget to get back to the airport on time! Have a great trip!

Rudolph Furtado

Wednesday 22nd of September 2021

Very simple , detailed and informative to the common traveller.Thanks.


Friday 24th of September 2021

Glad you found it useful, Rudolph. Enjoy Dubai!

George Tsakiroglou

Monday 21st of December 2020

Will i need to be tested for Covid-19 during my brief 12 hour stop over in Dubai, will i be allowed to board my next flight without a PCR test, and if PCR is necessary then how to make sure the test results be available in time for boarding ?


Tuesday 29th of June 2021

@Jurga, I was wondering the same thing. I'm travelling from USA to Cairo and I have a layover for 7 hours in Dubai and wanted to visit Downtown Area. I was wondering if my PCR test taken in the USA will be good to get back in my Dubai to Cairo flight?


Thursday 24th of December 2020

Sorry, but I really cannot help you with the advice in regards to this. The rules and requirements can change rapidly anywhere in the world these days. The last thing I heard of Dubai is that you had to do the test at home, before you leave, and be able to show a negative test upon arrival. But I don't know if it's still the case today and probably nobody can tell you how it will be in a month or two. So you have to check the official sources for the most up to date information in time for your trip. Good luck!

Mumtaz Shabbir khatau

Sunday 6th of December 2020

I m going to karachi ,from Bahrain and stop in Dubai is for 2 hrs can I change and take stop over for a day without any penalty?and can i have a free hotel


Monday 7th of December 2020

Hi, I'm afraid this is not something I can help you with. You have to ask your airline if you can change your ticket. As for the hotel, you can only get free accommodation when there are flight cancelations or significant delays and it's not something that you should count on. :)

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