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Exactly How to Spend One Day in Dubai

With buildings that rise into the sky, aromatic markets, and the allure of the desert, (not to mention an airport hub) Dubai is the perfect place for an extended layover. Whether you have 12 hours or a 24-hour stopover in Dubai you have enough time to see the city highlights. Spending one day in Dubai, with its mix of old and new, is the perfect addition to your trip.

We spent almost exactly 24 hours in Dubai on our way back to the US from Thailand, and made the most of our time there by exploring the old part of the city, checking out the fountains and mall, and getting into the desert on a night tour and you can see more below for complete details on our Dubai 1 day itinerary and a few additional suggestions on things to do.

One Day in Dubai
One Day in Dubai

Snapshot of 3 Ways to Spend One Day in Dubai

Exactly how you spend your one day in Dubai depends on a few things. First, it depends on exactly when your arrival and departure times are to the city. If you arrive in the morning, you will likely need to adjust your Dubai itinerary back by a few hours. You can also break the 1-day itinerary up into an evening and a morning.

The 3 options for a Dubai one-day itinerary below can easily be adjusted, or you can substitute activities from the things to do in Dubai list below. You don’t need a full day to get out and enjoy the city, so even if you have a shorter layover, you can still enjoy Dubai. You may also want to consider purchasing a Dubai Go City Explorer Pass. Depending on the activities and tours you want to do, this can save you money and make your day much easier.

We arrived to Dubai Airport around 2 am so we did not plan an early morning activity. Our exact 1 day in Dubai Itinerary is listed first below. We’ve also included 2 other itinerary options that we also considered.

One Day in Dubai Itinerary 1

  • Morning: Tour Old Dubai and visit some Souks
  • Afternoon: Visit the Burj Khalifa, Dubai Fountain and Dubai Mall
  • Evening: Take a Desert Tour, sandboarding, camel ride and dinner in the desert

This is a great Dubai Itinerary if you want to see a little of the history, and modern architecture. You can also enjoy an evening in the desert.

One Day in Dubai Itinerary 2

Morning: Start the morning at the waterfront and visit the beach and Burj Al Arab
Afternoon: Head into the old part of town, tour Old Dubai and visit the Souks
Evening: Head to the Burj Khalifa, the fountain, and the Dubai Mall. Grab dinner.

This is a great itinerary if you want to spend some time on the water and you aren’t interested in the desert tour.

One Day in Dubai Itinerary 2

Morning: Start your morning with a 3-hour tour of the city
Afternoon: Visit the Aquarium or one of the water parks
Evening: Choose between a Desert Tour or take a river cruise

If you want to escape the heat, this itinerary spends the afternoon out of the heat or in the water. Choose your own adventure in the evening.

One Day in Dubai: Desert Camp
Our 24 Hours Dubai Itinerary

We traveled to Dubai on our way home from Thailand as a family of 5.  We arrived (pretty exhausted) at 2 am and after clearing customs went straight to our hotel.  Since we did sleep on our flight from Bangkok, we were able to get up by 9 am and headed straight for Old Dubai. We arranged to leave our bags at the hotel for the day, but checked out of our room. 

We spent the morning walking around the historic part of the city and exploring several Souks on both sides of the creek.  We enjoyed taking the boat across the river.

We grabbed lunch on the go and then took a taxi to Burj Khalifa.  We didn't have time to go up the tower, but we enjoyed the Dubai Fountain show and walking around the Dubai Mall for a few minutes.  We caught a taxi back to our hotel where our desert tour picked us up around 3:00.

The desert tour took us out of the city and we did some dune driving.  Half of us loved this activity and half of us found it terrifying and it made us feel car sick.  We did stop a few times to walk on the sand dunes and they got out some boards to try sandboarding (which was a blast).

After the drive, we ended at a desert camp.  There were several activities including camel rides and henna.  It was a bit touristy, but we chose to embrace it.  Dinner was a delicious buffet and there was music and dancing while we ate.

After dinner it was a shorter drive back to the city.  We were back at the hotel by 10 and collected out bags and took a taxi right to the airport to catch our late night flight.  The day was exhausting, esepcially for our 8 year old, but we felt satisfied that we made the most of our day in Dubai.
One Day in Dubai: Riding Camels
One Day in Dubai: Riding Camels

Printable PDF of Things to do in Dubai in One Day

  1. Burj Khalifa
  2. The Dubai Fountain
  3. The Dubai Frame
  4. Old Dubai
  5. Souks
  6. Burj Al Arab
  7. Dubai Mall
  8. Atlantis Hotel
  9. Dubai Marina
  10. Jumeirah Mosque
  11. Dubai Aquarium
  12. Jumeirah Public Beach
  13. Visit the Desert
  14. Mall of the Emirates / Ski Dubai
  15. Take Dinner Cruise

Details of Things to Do on you 1 day Dubai Itinerary

Burj Khalifa

This iconic building in Dubai is the tallest building in the world at 828 meters. You can visit the base and stare up at the Burj Khalifa, or if you are feeling adventurous, take the incredibly fast lift up to the 124th, 125th, or even the 148th floor. From here, you have views out across the city

During our visit, we waited until the clouds cleared enough to see the top of the building – this is a TALL building since we didn’t want to take the time to visit the top. If you do plan to visit the Burj Khalifa as part of your one-day in Dubai itinerary, you should plan to purchase Skip the Line Tickets to save time.

In general, many of the tickets in Dubai are actually cheaper if you book a tour in advance compared to buying tickets at the ticket counter.

One Day in Dubai: Burj Khalifa
One Day in Dubai: Burj Khalifa

The Dubai Fountain

Located right at the base of the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Fountain is easy to visit and impressive. Our kids were impressed with the tall building but really enjoyed the fountain show. If you can, visiting both the Dubai Fountain and Burj Khalifa at night give you the best experience.

The fountain does the water show multiple times a day (usually every 30 minutes). You will want to get there early to scope out a spot to watch the show.

The Dubai Frame

One of the newest attractions in Dubai, this was still under construction when we last visited Dubai. The top of the frame is 150 meters in the air and you can get amazing views of the city and part of the floor is made of glass.

You can purchase tickets right on-site or book a tour that includes the Dubai Frame.

One Day in Dubai: Old Dubai
One Day in Dubai: Old Dubai

Old Dubai

To get a different taste of the city, wander through the streets of Old Dubai. You will find a few little gems hidden in the streets such as the XVA Art Gallery (contemporary Arabian works), and Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. This is the perfect place to wander on your own, but if you’re hoping to go a little deeper, you can also book a tour of the area.

During our day in Dubai, we started our morning here – we arrived by about 9 am and were still able to beat the crowds that started showing up by 10.


Dubai is well known for its markets of spices, golds, woven goods, and other items. You can visit Souks in many places including the Deira area or Bur Dubai. Most of the Souks and historic areas are located right on the Dubai Creek. To get across the creek, you can hop aboard an Abra (a small wooden boat) that will take you across for a small fee.

Visiting the creek, you can also see historic Dhows supplying the local Souks with goods and get a different perspective of the city.

Walking through a Souk is an experience on its own and we enjoyed haggling for a few purchases.

One Day in Dubai: Exploring a Souk
One Day in Dubai: Exploring a Souk

Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo

This is one of the larger aquariums in the world, and is located right near the Dubai Mall. The Aquarium features a massive tank with sharks and other species and then you can venture to the underwater zoo and see penguins, crabs and more.

While you can book a ticket to the aquarium, you will still need to wait in the same line as those buying tickets on the day of your trip.

Burj Al Arab

This is another iconic building in Dubai and is a top luxury resort. If you are heading to the beach, it’s worth checking out the building and even if you aren’t staying here, you can still book a meal if you want to get a sense of the hotel.

If you are just in Dubai for a night and want to splurge, you can also check out their luxury rooms.

Dubai Mall

This is a massive mall and one of the biggest in the world, and it located right next to the Dubai Fountain and Burj Khalifa. After we visited these two sites, we wandered inside for a bit before catching a taxi to our next destination. While malls aren’t our normal thing to do, we enjoyed the size of it. There is also an ice skating rink inside the mall.

Atlantis Hotel

The famous Atlantis, The Palm Hotel is an artificial island in the shape of a palm tree. Inspired by the myth of Atlantis, this luxury resort is worth the splurge if you want, or if you don’t want to stay here, you can still visit and enjoy several of the attractions including the waterpark.

Dubai Marina

The Dubai Marina is its own neighborhood with places to stay, cafes, the Beach (yes – that’s what the beach is called), luxury shopping and a marina filled with gorgeous and expensive yachts. This is a popular place to visit.

Jumeirah Mosque

The Jumeirah Mosque was built in 1976 in the Fatimid Style. This attraction is part of the ‘Open Doors. Open Minds.’ programs of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. You can visit this beautiful building and take a tour.

Jumeirah Public Beach

This is one of the few public beaches you can visit and simply relax. You also have excellent views of the Burj Al Arab. This makes a great stop and a break if you are planning a busy day of touring around Dubai.

One Day in Dubai: Exploring the Desert
One Day in Dubai: Exploring the Desert

Visit the Desert

With all the bustle in the city, taking a desert tour is the perfect way to explore a bit more of the area. There are many different desert tours to choose from. We spent the afternoon and evening on a desert safari ride and dinner in the desert. This was one of the highlights of our time in Dubai and should be at the top of your list of what to see in Dubai in one day.

You will see lots of different priced tours, and this will impact the quality of the tour. Pay attention to the tour length, the type of camp, and the number of people on the tour when selecting the best Dubai Desert Tour.

Mall of the Emirates / Ski Dubai

The novelty of skiing in Dubai might be too hard to resist. The Mall of the Emirates has a ski hill right inside the mall. You can enjoy the mall and simply watch the skiers, or book a ticket for a few hours or the day.

Take Dinner Cruise

If you aren’t planning on visiting the desert during the evening of your one-day Dubai itinerary, another excellent option is to take a dinner cruise on the water. There are several options, but you can see one tour that gets good reviews here.

Looking for more ideas? Check out 12 Things to do in Dubai.

Map of Things to do in Dubai

What to Expect When Visiting Dubai in One Day

General Travel Details

Dubai is one of the most visited places on earth. Partly for it’s unique sites and partly since it is the perfect hub for getting to many different places. Here are a few important things to keep in mind whether you’re spending a 12-hour layover in Dubai or a week.

  • Dress modestly in public areas – this generally means mostly covered legs and shoulders. If you are staying in one of the luxury hotels, this rule generally does not apply.
  • Dubai is very hot at times and can reach 113 degrees! Be prepared!
  • There is a vibrant bar scene in Dubai (mostly found in the luxury hotels)
  • Dubai is incredibly safe due to strict laws. Do be aware of pickpockets in crowded touristy areas
  • Weekends are Friday and Saturday
  • Avoid PDA in public as this is not accepted
  • The currenty in Dubai is the dirham. The US dollar is equal to 3.67 dirham.
One Day in Dubai: Taking in Dubai Creek
One Day in Dubai: Taking in Dubai Creek

Getting to Town from the Airport

There is a train that takes you directly from the airport to Burk Khalifa. If you have a short stopover – this is a great way to get into town and back out again. The ride takes about 25 minutes. Since we had a late arrival, we took a taxi directly to our hotel – this was still reasonable, especially for our family. Uber is another good option for getting around Dubai.

How to Get Around Dubai

We found the easiest way to get around town for a short visit was via taxi. These are easy to find and are generally inexpensive. Most taxi drivers speak English, so it is easy to get around. Another option of course is to take a tour and you will likely be picked up in a van or car. Another option in Dubai is to take an Uber – when we travel as a family of 5 we often find this offers larger cars.

How much time do you need on a Dubai Stopover?

In general, 6 hours is the minimum time you will need for a layover in Dubai to get out and see something of the city. This will give you about 3 hours to work with. With 3 hours, you can choose one site to visit and you cann either take a taxi or book a guided tour. Remember that the airport is quite large and clearing customs can take some time.

One Day in Dubai: Sandboarding in the Desert
One Day in Dubai: Sandboarding in the Desert

Dubai Stopover Tours

If you’re looking to explore Dubai in one day you should also consider one of the Dubai stopover tours to take the work out of planning your own trip. If you are flying Emirates, you should also look into the Stopover Program.

Dubai Stopover Tours for One Day in Dubai

Planning your one day in Dubai itinerary can often feel overwhelming, especially if you are already planning another leg of your vacation. One option is to book one of the guided tours that pick you up directly from the airport. This saves the fee of getting into the city and leaves all the planning up to your guide. This tour offers to pick up you up directly from the airport:

Dubai Transit City Tour With Burj Khalifa Ticket: This tour gets excellent reviews and takes you around town to see the Burj Al Arab, and several Souks, and take a trip up Burj Kahlifa. This tour is another great option if you just have 3 hours.

One Day in Dubai: Taking a boat across Dubai Creek

Emirates Stopover Tours and Offer

Another important thing to mention that we did not know about when we visited Dubai was the special layover program that is offered through Emirates. Basically, if you have a layover in Dubai for over 8 hours and there is no option for a shorter layover, Emirates Airlines will give you a voucher for a free hotel room, transportation and dinner and breakfast. This is an amazing deal!

To redeem this deal, you must visit the Emirates Website and select the link for the Emirates Stopover Program Voucher. You should make sure you do this before you arrive in Dubai. We did not know about this until after we got to Dubai so weren’t able to take advantage of this offer.

One Day in Dubai: Exploring Old Dubai
One Day in Dubai: Exploring Old Dubai

Best Places to Stay on your One Day Dubai Stopover

There are so many amazing places to stay in Dubai and not everything is luxury (although you can definintely stay in some of the top resports if you choose to). If you only have 24 hours in Dubai and you want to stay in a luxury resort, you will want to cut down on your itinerary and spend more time enjoying the resort.

Since all 3 Dubai Itineraries described above are action packed, you won’t actually spend much time in your hotel, but it is helpful to stay somewhere either centrally located or near one of the attraction you want to see. Here are a few options of places to stay in Dubai at a range of price points.

JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai – this is a large and medium priced hotel.

Burj Al Arab Jumeirah: a classic and luxury resport on the water

Grand Cosmopolitan Hotel: This lower priced hotel is still a great option with pools.

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