There’s no shortage of fun things to do in Dubai, whether you’re preparing the ultimate bucket list, looking for the best free activities to get stuck into with kids, sending the littles off for adventures with dad, encountering animals or frantically seeking things to occupy your early risers with – we’ve done them all! And our latest roundup? 24 things to do over 24 hours in Dubai – don’t you just wish there were more hours in a day mamas – so much to do and so little time! Enjoy and get stuck in!
5am – Deira Fish Market
For a slightly smelly but very authentic experience go to see the fishermen and traders at work at Deira’s fish market. Lively, loud (and did we mention stinky) but utterly charming you can see everything from octopus to lobsters being weighed out and cleaned. There are a couple of very basic restaurants for a cup of tea and a drink. If you have experimental little eaters with you, then eat oysters on the spot from the stalls with a squeeze of lemon – delicious!
6am – Frolic With Flamingoes
With small kids come early mornings so pack up a picnic breakfast and get over to the flamingo roost at the Ras Al Khor Nature Reserve where super sassy pink flamingos strut their stuff against a spectacular downtown Dubai backdrop. This is a mega kid-friendly place to visit – there are so many different bird species that can be viewed through fantastically sharp binoculars and telescopes. Strict pathways lead to 3 hides deep in the mangroves, which literally offer you a birds-eye view of the wildlife – the middle hide is apparently the best. Visit at high-tide to see the birds up close.
Sassy Mama Tip: Ras Al Khor Nature Reserve is free to visit but you must register online first!
8am – Dip Your Toes In The Ocean
With huge stretches of golden sand and turquoise waters, you’ll definitely want to get onto the beach mamas – be it for a dip on a summer morning before the heat of the day kicks in or for some serious sandcastle structuring. Kite Beach (Umm Suqeim) has become the ultimate family destination complete with beachfront cafes, a popup SALT food truck offering the yummiest Wagyu burgers in town, kids playground, volleyball nets, trampolines, kayak and SUP rental and vast expanse of golden sand to frolic on (plus umbrellas and beds to rent now), there’s everything you need to have lots of fun. If you want the luxury version then check out our Best Beach Clubs Guide and splash out to splash about.
9am – Cheer on the camels
This one requires a bit of pre-planning, but if you keep an eye on the schedule at Al Marmoum Camel Racetrack then you’ll be able to watch the camels compete! Located on Al Ain Road, it’s certainly an experience to remember full of sights, smells and sounds unlike anything else.
10am – See a slice of garden paradise
It’s hard to imagine anything blooming in the desert, but Dubai Miracle Garden’s managed to go above and beyond. While the main garden is shut for now so they can begin prepping for the next season of blooms, the incredible Butterfly Garden is open all year round and absolutely worth going to. It’s part butterfly sanctuary and part Wonderland and we had the good fortune to head over with our kiddos who fell absolutely in love; see what Kaya and her kids got up to here.
11am – Feel On Top Of The World
Our Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world and you can’t really pass up a chance to see the view from the top. While you can’t go all the way up, you can go to the 124th floor via a super-speed elevator where they’ve set up an observation deck for visitors to watch Dubai glitter below. It’ll be great for the kiddos to see Dubai from a different angle – if they’re not afraid of heights, that is! They’ll love looking at the city through super sharp telescopes while your guides share fun facts (did you know that the concrete used for Burj Khalifa is equivalent to the weight of 100,000 elephants mamas?!).
Sassy Mama Tip…Buying your ticket online will cost you much less than if you buy at the ticket office and you’ll also avoid long lines.
12pm – Grab some traditional Arabic food
The food’s just too good to pass up here in the UAE and it’s worth getting lunch or dinner at one of our many restos. We personally love Zaroob for its vibrant interiors and amazing juices and the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding is always a good shout for newbies. If your family’s a little more adventurous, then consider a Middle Eastern food tour with Frying Pan Adventures.
1pm – Cruise the Marina old school style
The beautiful Dubai Marina is a charming pocket of water surrounded by some of the coolest building and restaurants in Dubai, and well worth taking a stroll along. If you want to go really traditional, you can grab an abra and take it all in from the water as well. Tip: grab a bite at The Scene – they have the coolest view of the Marina and the food’s amazing! Check out our review.
2pm – Explore Dubai Creek & The Al Fahidi Historic District
Find out what Dubai was like back in the day and spend a couple of hours exploring this sand coloured district with the kids. Full of museums and galleries in nooks and crannies, you’ll even be able to see the old wind-towers in all their glory. Got a few little sailors in the clan? Jump on a motorised abra (starting at 5am each morning) for a ride along the creek and see the city a different way – we’d take water over road traffic any day, mamas!
3pm – Cool off at a water park
In a city as sweltering as Dubai, it’s no surprise we’re all stocked up on water parks, splash pads and the like. They’re an awesome option for a family day out (though they might take up a chunk of your time if you’ve only got 24 hours), but absolutely worth it. Did we mention there’s an actual slide at Aquaventure that takes you through an aquarium? Yeah, the kids will go nuts for that one. Check out our guide to watery fun for more splashing ideas.
4pm – Shop Shop Shop!
If you like to shop then Dubai’s the place – and a visit to Dubai Mall (the largest in the world), Mall of The Emirates (complete with its own indoor ski slope) or some of the ‘smaller’ versions including our favourite Marina Mall, Mirdiff City Centre and Mercato Mall is a must. With fab dining options, entertainment and crazy cool attractions including aquariums, dancing fountains, ice-skating rinks, cinemas, a dinosaur skeleton and much more – not to mention every single shop you could ever want – a visit to Dubai would be incomplete without a little mall trawl.
5pm – See a Guinness World Record Breaking Aquarium
Yeah, we find every opportunity to drop that into conversation with non-Dubai residents. The Dubai Underwater Zoo and Aquarium at The Dubai Mall is home to hundreds of fish, amphibians and mammals that call the massive tank their home. If you’re not feeling up to paying the entrance fee for the whole family, their world record breaking viewing panel (it’s the largest in the world!) allows you to see into one of their largest exhibits from the mall itself for free. Mind the sharks!
6pm – Watch the Dancing Fountains
Located again over at The Dubai Mall, at 6pm these beautiful fountains leap into action for a gorgeous water dance complete with over 6000 lights and showmanship to spare. It’s all choreographed by the same team behind the iconic Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas to the sounds of classic Arabic music as well as a few western favourites – Andrea Bocelli, anybody? Shop The Malls (open until 10pm Sunday – Weds and 12 midnight Thursday –Saturday)
7pm -Watch Movies Under The Stars
Every Sunday during the winter months head to the Rooftop Gardens at the Wafi Pyramids to catch a free movie while lounging on beanbags, munching on popcorn and hot dogs and sipping on a cool drink. (movies start around 8pm).
Or if you’re after a Tuesday night show then the big screen at The Reform Social & Grill offers alfresco movies with comfy seating, waitress service and homemade snacks. And during the hot months? Float about in the pool at the Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club and enjoy an aquatic movie experience every Thursday & Friday at 7pm.
8pm – Dubai By Night City Tour
Hop aboard a sightseeing bus at Souk Madinat and tour the city by night. From Dubai’s downtown streets to the Palm Jumeirah, soak up the magic of the desert city at dark and finish with the Wafi light and sound show (also included in the tour!).
9pm – Cocktails with a view
Get a babysitter booked and head out on the town for cocktails with a view. The Mercury Lounge at the Four Seasons in Jumeirah, Iris at The Oberoi, Atelier M at Pier7 in the Marina, The Uptown Bar at Jumeirah Beach Hotel and 40 Kong at the H Hotel all offer incredible views of the city from all angles.
10pm – Eat freshly barbecued fish on the beach at Bu Qtair
Mamas in the know refer to this seaside gem as ‘the fish shack’ – literally a porter cabin perched on a bit of sand near the Umm Suqeim Fishing Harbour. There’s no extensive menu here, just the local catch of the day served with paratha bread, rice and a few bits of salady stuff on the side. Perch on plastic chairs and expect to share your leftovers with some of the neighborhoods hungry cats!
Bu Qtair, 4d Street, Umm Suqeim, Dubai
11pm – Get A Foot Rub
Inspired by the ancient Chinese practice of reflexology, Mary Foot Spa in Wasl Square specialises in feet, feet and more feet (with a couple of shoulder and back options too) and offers a variety of treatments to relax, restore and rejuvenate. A tiny little space, the magic happens in a dimly lit room just where therapists soothe tired tootsies while you drift off to soft spa music in big comfy chairs. Heaven. You choose your preferred time span — 30 minutes, 60 minutes etc — then lie back and chill.
12pm – Late Night Munchies
Is there anything more satisfying than gooey cheese bread when you have the midnight munchies? Well let us tell you, there isn’t mamas – we’ve been known to trek across town at all hours just to get our hands on one of the Al Reef Lebanese Bakeries amazing freshly baked breads (we used to blame it on pregnancy cravings, now it’s just pure greed!).
Al Reef Lebanese Bakeries, near Safa Park, Al Wasl Road, Dubai, www.facebook.com/pages/Al-Reef-Lebanese-Bakery, (also in Al Karama)
1am – Cirque Le Soir
Dust off your highest heels and slip them onto your dancing feet – the music at this circus themed club at the Fairmont SZR is so good that even the most tired mamas will feel the groove. There’s also eye-boggling entertainment all around (think clowns, fire-eaters and the tallest man you’ll ever see). And we love the free popcorn and jelly-beans (yes we’re easily won over!).
Psst…make sure to book a table in advance to avoid mega long queues. Closed Weds, Sat and Sun.
Cirque Le Soir, Fairmont Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai,
(+971) (0)50 995 5400, www.cirquelesoir.com
2am – Try a traditional Arabic Shisha Pipe
Smoking shisha isn’t just a bad habit mamas – it’s a cultural norm in Dubai and a great way to socialize with friends so why not give it a go – when in Rome and all that? The city’s latest shisha bar, Smoky Beach on JBR has a menu of flavours to enjoy with a Moroccan mint tea on the sand.
3am – Go Stargazing In The Desert
The desert is pretty spectacular at sunrise and sunset – and we love an afternoon picnic on a winters day or a night under canvas. Pack up your tent and get the 4×4 loaded up with all the gear (water essential and a big old shovel for digging yourselves out if you get stuck in the sand). Then get a campfire going, toast some marshmallows, get the kiddos to bed and stay up stargazing until the early hours. Download a stargazing app that’ll let you know just what you’re looking at.
4am – Shake The Fam Awake For A Sunrise Hot Air Balloon Ride Over The Desert
Suitable for the over 5’s, this isn’t cheap but then riding over giant red sand dunes and spotting gazelles and wandering camels from up high while glimpsing the Dubai skyline in the distance is a one-off experience worth digging into the pockets for don’t you think?
So there you have it mamas – a fun-filled 24 hours in our beautiful city…