A Dubai Layover?
This is a post I never thought I’d write. I’ve been to Dubai three times and, honestly, I’m not a fan of the city. I’m not into shopping, and I really like experiencing true culture when I travel, and Dubai unfortunately is all about shopping and not about culture.
But after my last visit, I realized that as much as I’ve actively avoided Dubai the past few years, it’s actually a great place for a layover for a few days. I wouldn’t make it a primary vacation destination, but I’d highly recommend a visit. Here’s why:
Flights to Dubai on Emirates
You can fly Emirates from virtually anywhere in the world to Dubai and then continue on to your destination. It’s one of the world’s best airlines and fares are often competitive with, if not cheaper than, other carriers. I’ve flown Emirates twice and was extremely impressed. From a family-travel perspective, I’ve never seen an airline with such cool kid amenities, and it’s the only airline I know of with a frequent flier program specifically for kids. Contrast that with United which just sent my nine-year-old five coupons for alcoholic beverages with his (one-size-fits-all) Premier Platinum membership materials. And the taxi ride from the airport into town is typically less than half an hour.
If you want to stay in a luxury hotel for a reasonable price, Dubai’s the place. Much of the year you can book a five-star hotel on the beach with an amazing pool for under $300/night. Last year my 10-year-old and I stayed at the Four Seasons Jumeirah Beach for $250/night on our around-the-world trip. I’ve now stayed at the Sheraton Dubai Creek, the Ritz-Carlton and the Four Seasons, and liked the Four Seasons the best. If you have a favorite Dubai hotel, please let me know in the comments.
As I said, Dubai is utterly culture-less, but it’s fun to see it at least once. It’s similar to how sci-fi movies the past couple decades depicted futuristic cities, minus the flying cars – a clean, modern, safe city filled with shopping, endless skyscrapers (who’s going to live in all of them?) and crazy, unique things like indoor ski areas, the world’s tallest building (for now) and an enormous man-made island. I highly recommend spending an evening either taking a dinner cruise out of Dubai Marina or dining on Jumeirah Beach staring out at the Burj al Arab.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi
The world’s eighth-largest mosque isn’t actually in Dubai, but it’s only an hour and a half away and is amazing to see. We left Dubai a little after 7am, stopped for 15 minutes along the way and arrived before it opened at 9am. Definitely go early – we had the mosque largely to ourselves for half an hour, but by 10:30am there looked to be at least 100 buses in the parking lot and the mosque was teeming with tourists. Be sure to check out the bathrooms – probably the nicest I’ve seen anywhere in the world!
The Desert (and Dubai Desert Safaris)
Once you’ve seen Dubai, head out into the desert. There are numerous day trip options from Dubai where you can have dinner in the desert and/or go dune bashing and camel riding. Or stay in the desert for a couple of nights. Al Maha Desert Resort is one of my favorite resorts in the world – it’s less than an hour from the Dubai airport, but you have no idea you’re close to a major city as you’re staring out from your private plunge pool at gazelles, oryxes and sand dunes. Falconry at sunrise and desert safaris in the evening are highlights. FYI, it’s a lot less expensive in the summer than in the winter, but that’s true for most things in Dubai. Al Maha doesn’t accept kids under ten, although I was told that they’re willing to bend that policy slightly for well-behaved eight or nine-year-olds.
Have you done a layover in Dubai? What was your favorite thing to do? Or do you avoid Dubai?
Mark Prior says
On hotels in Dubai you need to stay at the Burj al Arab once. Yes it’s expensive, yes it has a massive reputation, yes it’s over the top, but it is also wonderful. If that’s not enough indulgence then also organise a heli-tour of Dubai to/from the Burj al Arab where your butler will escort you up the private elevator to the helipad where Roger Federer and Andre Agassi played tennis. The afternoon tea is quite nice so if you want to get past the guard post and don’t want to stay then make a reservation for afternoon tea.
If you are planning on a short stop-over with weird arrival and departure times then the 24 hour room rate at the Palace Downtown Dubai can be helpful. I flew in late into Abu Dhabi (I prefer Etihad over Emirates) and after the blast up the highway I was at the hotel around midnight. This meant my check out was the following midnight, which was handy since it meant I had a full day in Dubai, could have a dinner at one of the restaurants around the Burj Khalifa Lake and freshen up before blasting back to Abu Dhabi airport for the continuation of my trip.
Eric Stoen says
Thanks Mark – both of those are great suggestions.
Mark Framness says
DXB is such a cosmopolitan city the flavor is just a bland mish-mash. I lived for six years in Al-Ain, which had less of the cosmo flair than DXB. There were no BBQ joints in Al-Ain.
Eric Stoen says
Thanks for the comment. I’ve only spent one day in Al-Ain so I don’t have a good feel for the city yet.
Omo and Eulanda says
This was a beautiful read. Loved the photos especially. Agree that Dubai is culture-less but they’ve done a great job distracting visitors from that fact with everything else. We’ve done a layover in Dubai for a few days and enjoyed sunset yoga at the Madinat Jumeirah hotel beach with a view of the Burj al Arab for company.
Eric Stoen says
Thanks Omo and Eulanda! Sunset yoga sounds great – well, more for my daughter than for me. But I would enjoy a glass of wine while she’s doing yoga! Thanks for the suggestion!
Tamason Gamble says
Wow, that mosque looks amazing and is most definitely a reason to visit in my opinion. I love finding buildings, religious or otherwise, like this to wander around. We recently flew to Thailand via Dubai but didn’t have time to stop on this occasion and with all the mixed reviews on the city I wasn’t overly interested in it to be truthful but perhaps I need to rethink this.
Eric Stoen says
I actually go out of my way to do layovers in Bangkok (for the Peninsula Hotel) and Hong Kong (for everything). I don’t know that Dubai will replace those, but it’s worth doing once.
We’ve been avoiding Dubai for a long time, mainly because of the lack of culture, but recently from talking to others its tempting us to go. I love your suggestions for the things to do and it does sounds like a good place to take kids, lots of fun activities, its built up so it should be easy to get around. I’ve heard the food is amazing too. When its too hot out, are there good indoor activities for kids?
Eric Stoen says
Yes and no. I think I’d get frustrated being an expat with kids there in the summer, since a lot of the more interesting things are outside – beach, desert, Dubai Creek, gardens/parks – but visiting for a few days there’s plenty to keep your kids occupied. From what I’ve heard the water parks are fun even in the summer. Otherwise there’s indoor skiing, skating, flying, interactive crafts/activities and aquariums, and of course once you get into the late afternoon you can still head out into the desert.
Cheryl Faillace says
Love following you. We have three days in Dubai on our way to Mongolia. Kids are 13,11 and 10. It will be terribly hot. Suggestions for where to stay? Four seasons looks great but I read there is construction nearby.
Eric Stoen says
Hi Cheryl. I apologize for the delay! Too much travel.
Yep, Dubai is often too hot, but basing out of a nice hotel makes it easier. I can’t speak to any construction near the Four Seasons. Are you just stopping for a night or for a couple nights? Do you care about the shopping and tall buildings of Dubai? You may want to look at Al Maha out in the desert. Your kids are old enough to stay there, and we loved it.
Nigel & Jane says
Just saw your post having transited through Dubai en route to Colombo from the UK yesterday. Have to say, we share your initial reservations. When friends who love holidaying in Dubai said the best thing about it is that some flunky cleans your sunglasses twice an hour when you’re by the pool, we agreed to be even more determined about avoiding it! Your post has done a little to redress the balance.