Dubai: A Perfect 2 Day Itinerary

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Dubai has never been high on my list of places to visit. My preconception was that it’s largely all for show, full of high rises and little soul. But last year I was away for my birthday in the freezing cold temperatures of Europe, and decided I needed sunshine this year instead. With only 5 days off work, I couldn’t go too far – so the Middle East beckoned and I ended up settling on Dubai due to an amazing flight deal.

It is a crazy city, like a mega metropolis plonked in the middle of the desert. It’s such a contrast – on the one hand you have traditional, reserved, Emirati culture (but local Emirati’s make up only 11% of the country’s population), and on the other you have mega corporations, glitz, glam and tourists galore (with ex-pats making up a whopping 88% of the population)!

I’ll be honest, it’s hard not to be drawn in by the glitz and glam, and it’s really awe inspiring seeing what’s been built here. It’s fun to see the skyscrapers, get lost in the most ridiculous mall, eat all the delicious food, and enjoy all the OTT madness. Equally, I do think some of that is quite surface level and so it’s also important to find glimpses of tradition, and to embrace some authentic Emirate culture, food and experiences too.

So my recommended itinerary for 2 days in this amazing city try to mix the two a bit. I hope you enjoy it!

Dubai views

  1. Contents
  2. Itinerary Day 1: Modern Dubai
    1. Dubai Mall
    2. Souk al Bahar
    3. Dubai Brunch
    4. Burj Khalifa & Park
    5. Dubai Fountain (6pm onwards)
    6. The View at 42 (Shangri-La Hotel)
    7. Optional: Souk Madinat Jumeirah & Burj Al Arab
  3. Itinerary Day 2: Traditional Dubai
    1. Grand Bur Dubai Mosque
    2. Al Fahidi Historic Neighbourhood
    3. Al Khayma Heritage Restaurant
    4. Dubai Creek
    5. Jumeirah Mosque
    6. Etihad Museum
    7. Optional: Deira and Dubai Gold Souk
  4. Have a little longer?
    1. Dubai Miracle Garden
    2. Aya Universe
    3. Dubai Desert
  5. Getting around in Dubai
  6. Where to stay in Dubai?

Full post: HERE

Where to even start. Dubai Mall is utterly INSANE. In what I can only describe as the most mega of all malls I’ve ever stepped foot in, be prepared to spend at least a few hours here. We actually spent 7 hours inside the mall, and there’s too much to cover here so I’ve written a full guide above.

As a brief overview, you can visit any of the 1,200 shops, go ice skating on a full size ice rink, visit an aquarium, enjoy a huge arcade, see a dinosaur skeleton, taste your way through the food court, visit China Town, drive an F1 car, fly an Emirates plane simulator, get scared in a haunted house, walk an art trail, immerse yourself in VR, and even see an indoor waterfall!

Crossing from the mall, through the park, brings you to a bridge across to Souk al Bahar. Home to shops which are more like very modern traditional souks (i.e. in a glam new building, but stock more traditional wears), you can get better deals and prices here but you need to haggle. I bought some fresh fruit, and haggling over my grapes was part of the fun.

After the mall, it’s time to embrace a modern Dubai tradition; brunch. Normally served from 12pm – 4pm, it’s like a way of life here and around every corner we were offered Vietnamese, Mexican, Italian, Lebanese and Indian brunches. We had a couple of brunches whilst in the city – including Vietnamese at Hoi An, and Chinese at New Shanghai. Both were delicious, and there are lots of options in and around the mall to save you travelling.

From within Dubai Mall, you can visit ‘At the Top’ which enables you to visit the top of Dubai’s iconic Burj Khalifa. If heights aren’t your thing then you can also view it from just outside the mall (follow the signs to the Dubai Fountain) where you get lovely views and can stroll around the parks outside.

To round off your day in and around the mall, head out of the Souk and towards Dubai Fountain in the evening. Every 30 minutes from 6pm – 11pm (also at 1pm during the day), the amazing light show goes. It’s different every time as well so even better if you get to see two sittings! It’s really stunning and we had an absolutely amazing time watching it, though it does get busy.

If you want an extra special treat, book an evening table at Amal by Armani Indian restaurant. Situated within the Burj Khalifa in the Armani Hotel is the most delicious Indian with a balcony overlooking the fountain so you can watch the lightshow without the crowds. This was my birthday treat and we had a 3 course awesome meal, plus saw 5 rounds of the light show.

Full review: HERE

We stayed at the Shangri-La, but whether you choose to stay there or not, you can finish off your modern Dubai day with a treat – one of the best views in the whole city! It’s a short taxi ride from the Mall area and well worth it to look out to the Burj Khalifa and all the sprawling roads laid out in front of it by night. Magic.

If you don’t think you’re going to need as much time as we did in the Dubai Mall area, then I recommend starting your day in the wonderful area of Souk Madinat and Burj Al Arab (around a 15 minute drive from the Mall). This area is really beautiful to stroll around with lots of little shops, pretty buildings and views. You could also choose to take an Abra boat ride on the water for something extra special.

I always think it’s important to understand more about what we don’t live every day, and it was important to me coming to Dubai to understand more about Islam. I’ve done mosque tours in the UK before, but also wanted to visit and learn more here too. We therefore went on the 9-10am tour at Grand Bur Mosque.

I was given an Abaya to wear, and we were given an ablution demonstration, a tour of the Mosque’s interior, a demonstration of the call to prayer and taken through the core beliefs of Islam. The mosque was beautiful inside, though of course I didn’t take any photos as that wasn’t appropriate.

At the mosque

This was one of my favourite parts about visiting Dubai. Just a short walk from the Mosque, and miles away from modern Dubai is the old town area, home to traditional cafes, tea rooms, art galleries and even a traditional Emirati house to visit. We happily spent 2 hours wandering around and going in all the little shops and winding mazes of lanes.

After a morning exploring, it was time to refuel, and where better than in a traditional Emirati restaurant. There are plenty in the area and we settled on Al Khayma, which was absolutely delicious! The food was insane. So insane it went straight in my mouth and I forgot to take any photos which is always the best compliment I can give a meal!

The creek forms a natural port, and actually stretches for around 15km, weaving through modern Dubai as a reminder of its past in the fishing and pearl industries. It’s hard to believe that just 50 years ago, barely any of the city we see today was here – rather it was mainly desert with smaller dwellings. Its change over the course of the last few decades has been incredible, and has to be admired. Today the creek is still busy, and offers boat tours across to Deira and its gold souks, or inland all the way to the Burj.

Views along the creek

From the creek we headed to the Etihad Museum, but first stopped at Jumierah Mosque (just a short walk from the museum) to see it from the outside. It’s truly beautiful.

Walking by Jumeirah Mosque

To round off our day of learning and experiencing something new, we headed to the Etihad Museum. Etihad in Arabic means ‘United’, which made me chuckle as it means Manchester City play in a shirt with ‘United’ written right across the front – how ironic.

The futuristic museum

Anyways, to the museum. The museum is underground, with a huge futuristic glass atrium on top. It is effectively paying homage to the 7 leaders of the various Emirates who came together in the 1970s, post the British colonial powers withdrawing from the area, to form one country. The same 7 Emirates still exist today, all with their own leaders – though unified with the ruler of Abu Dhabi as the main leader of the UAE. The museum was unsurprisingly very positive about its leaders and it felt a bit like a shrine, though we did learn quite a bit we hadn’t previously appreciated about this region’s rich and complex history.

If the mosque tour or museum aren’t for you in Day 2’s itinerary, then make sure that instead you cross Dubai Creek to visit Deira and the Gold Souk, as it’s another beautiful historic area in the city.

We’d planned to include this, and hop on a traditional Abra boat to cross the Creek to the gold souk but we actually ran out of time (not helped by my husband damaging his foot the day before so we were on a slow to hobbling pace).

If you have longer in Dubai, there are lots of other amazing things to do, and you could easily spend another few days in the city exploring.

Full Post: HERE

Dubai Miracle Garden is true madness. Open only during winter, it’s an amazing flower attraction, including everything from Disney castles to aeroplanes to Smurf villages. A visit will take around 2 – 3 hours.

Pretty installations

Full Post: HERE

Another unique Dubai experience is to visit Aya, an interactive light art installation which is a bit mind bogglingly fun.

In the exhibition

Dubai is a city literally built in the middle of the desert, and only a short 30-45 minutes drive out will find you amongst the sand dunes. We had a desert evening meal one night to watch the sunset and it was really beautiful. You could also go dune buggying, camel riding or sand boarding – take your pick!

Dinner set up in the desert

Dubai is not a walkable city. Google maps might say 1.4km but it’s normally along a 6 way highway. The roads and traffic are busy and I really don’t recommend walking anywhere unless places are literally next door.

The main attractions (e.g. Mall, Historic District, Miracle Garden, Jumeirah Beach etc) are nowhere near each other (like 40 minute drives in some cases), so you will be dependent on transport.

There is a metro but it runs to limited stops, though the Mall is one (assuming your hotel is anywhere near). Unfortunately it means taxis are the way forward in Dubai – we used Uber during our stay with no issues. They are fairly good value, safe and reliable here.

We stayed in the absolutely amazing Shangri-La Dubai (post coming soon). It was a full on dose of mega-metropolis sensory overload with everything on offer from Vietnamese Brunch to floating breakfasts and epic rooftop views across the city.

If you want something more traditional, Al Seef Heritage Hotel looks amazing. If you’re all about the beach you might prefer to base yourself at Jumeirah in a hotel like the Mandarin Oriental, and if you want ultimate bragging rights for the most luxurious postcode in town you could stay on The Palm Jumeirah and splash on somewhere like Atlantis The Palm (you could even get your own underwater suite in an aquarium for a mere £5k a night -ha!). Finally, if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city completely, you could stay in the Dubai Desert – the epitome of luxury is Al Maha, or you could go for the (only slightly) less pricy option Bab Al Shams.

So, what do you think of Dubai? Thanks so much for reading and I hope you enjoyed it – stay safe and happy travelling!

33 responses to “Dubai: A Perfect 2 Day Itinerary”

  1. Dubai (and, in general, the UAE and its neighboring country Qatar) have fascinated me for years. I really do want to go and see its incredible modernity, especially that it’s transformed tremendously over the past few decades (before, it was all desert)! However, I hesitate to, as the UAE and Qatar have a history of human rights issue, e.g. workers exploitation from third-world countries, so I don’t know if I’ll head there anytime soon. We’ll have to see! Thanks for sharing your adventures there, Han– it looks like a fun time!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really is a city that absolutely is so impressive with what it’s done in such a short space of time, but I agree on your point around how and at what cost. It’s a country of contrasts and I understand your view – I think it’s true for many of us that a lot of countries we’ve travelled to have far from squeaky clean human rights records. I remember reading the latest Human Rights Watch Report and many tourist hotspots, from Vietnam to Argentina, to Thailand and Turkey, all scored very low. From memory I think Egypt shocked me with how low it was and I haven’t returned!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a splendid itinerary Hannah. I’ve changed planes several times in Dubai when flying Emirates but am yet to stay there. It’s not been high on my ‘to visit’ list but after reading your post I’ll probably go there at some point. I’ve stopped over in Doha a couple of times and really enjoyed being there as it’s not so glitzy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Marion – I agree, it wasn’t ‘top’ of my ever growing list either, but I’m glad to say I’ve been! I’d like to return to Doha one day as I’ve only visited on a stop over.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great Post! Thank you for the advice!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Like you, Dubai is not near the top of my bucket list. And since my husband has been there on business, it’s unlikely we’ll ever visit. However, if I did, I would certainly follow your itinerary as it looks fantastic. Thanks Hannah, for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much – I doubt we will go back, but I am really glad to have been 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Such wonderful cityscape views you’ve presented from your visit to Dubai, Hannah. A mix of traditional architectural elements within mega, modern structures, your images are lovely, indeed. What a birthday! It’s always a pleasure to read about your travel adventures, my friend ~ thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Phil, I really appreciate your kind words as always 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. As someone who doesn’t live all that far from the Mall of America (and I’ve been to Canada’s largest mall as well), I’m not sure if Dubai’s would wow me. Then again, this post sent me on a bit of a google search to see exactly where the MN mall ranks. I thought it was biggest in the world, but not at all. It’s like 12th or something. Maybe it used to be when it was first built? Anyway, all these “biggests” get out-bigged at one point or another. It must be exhausting to constantly try to outdo each other.
    Anyway, Dubai looks interesting, if overwhelming. A bit like Vegas on steroids. The desert dinner would be a nice break from all the overstimulation. You’re so lucky to live in Europe where Dubai is doable with just 5 days off. Even doing Portugal over spring break was a bit of a stretch, time-wise. I don’t think I’d go to Dubai as an end-point destination (though, weirdly, I’m interested in going to Singapore), but as a stop on the way to somewhere I would definitely do it, though it sounds like two weeks is what’s needed – haha! Thanks for the tour.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can only imagine you would definitely not be impressed in the way I was – bearing in mind my comparison was the now defunct Shires shopping centre in Leicester in the 1990s (it’s now been ripped down and modernised)….needless to say that is not a comparator for Dubai!
      Well…I have a confession….Singapore is my favourite country in the world (well, maybe challenged by Germany) but I LOVE it. We’ve been 5 times now between us and we want to go again. It’s so full of culture, despite being modern, the food is incredible and it’s such a tourist friendly place. I wouldn’t even compare it to Dubai as I’d take Singapore 10x over. It’s a truly wonderful place, I really hope you get to go. I’ve actually got a fair few guides for it coming up and an update to my itinerary post too! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, yay! I’ll be on the lookout for those.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Such a great itinerary and I love the picture with the balloons! You ddi a great job of mixing new and old/cultural. I can see how it would be easy to be overwhelmed by all the opulence and new things. I wonder why they didn’t put in a good public transport system, they seem to have the resources and sophistication to do something convenient.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw thank you so much Lyssy – and I agree on the public transport point, so odd!!!


  8. We’ve been to Dubai three times … but only to change flights to a next destination. I think watching the fountain light show while you have delicious food in front of you can be a wonderful birthday present. We’re not big on malls – in fact, if we can avoid them, we do! But I think it would be nice to explore the historic neighborhood with its traditional cafes and definitely a trip to the desert. We will probably never visit Dubai (although, never say never) … so it was nice to experience Dubai through your eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We are the same with malls, and just people in general to be honest (!) but it was nice to immerse ourselves in it for a few days – I agree though the traditional side is much more enjoyable. I’m glad you enjoyed the quick visit 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. What an incredible place to spend your birthday! I can see where it would be a little overwhelming at first, but once there easy to get caught up in the glitzy metropolis vibe of it all. Looking forward to your coming posts in this series 🙂 Happiest of birthdays- I hope you have an amazing year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Meg – we had a great trip, and I’m really glad to have done it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Anonymous

    Oh my gosh, I don’t even know what to think. It’s… a lot. The Burj Khalifa is just so tall and everything seems so excessive and bright and flashy. But then you have the beautiful mosques and the old town area. What a contrast! I feel like it’s the kind of place that deserves a visit just because it’s unlike anywhere else. Happy (belated) birthday!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely agree – it’s worth going to see it, but I’m not sure I’d go back. And thank you for the birthday wishes 🙂


  11. I enjoyed a few days in Dubai on my way to Europe, and enjoyed the experience. Pure madness in part, which was fun. I loved “dinner in the desert” after a wild hour or so of dune bashing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more – that’s exactly how I felt too!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. You weren’t kidding when you said the Dubai Mall is insane. And here I thought malls were just for shopping! Apparently not. Love the views from your hotel. The Dubai Miracle Garden looks stunning!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Literal madness! I couldn’t believe it. The hotel was special and the Miracle Garden was a lot of fun – posts on those coming soon 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  13. You certainly treated yourself to a memorable birthday with this amazing trip, the city looks barely recognisable from the place I once spent four days in way back in 2001. You have done a good job of showcasing that dizzying mix of the traditional and uber modern, while dinner in the desert is surely one of those fabulous experiences we should all have one day. I once took a cruise across Dubai Creek, it seems like a lifetime ago.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can only imagine the changes in the last c25 years Leighton, it must have completely transformed. I really enjoyed it, but doubt I will return. I look forward to exploring more of the Middle East over the coming years as I do find it a fascinating place full of beauty.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. Dubai has never been on my travel bucket list – as someone who prefers to spend time in the great outdoors, I wouldn’t last long in a place made of glass and steel. Neverthless. I always read other travellers’ blog posts about it with great interest. It’s incredible how only a few decades ago when Dubai was just a sleepy fishing village on the edge of the Arabian Gulf, few people could have imagined it would become home to one of the world’s tallest buildings. Thanks for sharing, and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 2 people

  15. It’s never been on my list either, so I’m happy to see it through your eyes. The desert evening meal looks wonderful, and I love that photo.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Ruth – it was never on my list either, but there’s always something interesting to find in a new country 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  16. […] Never have I been to a mall like this. In fact, rarely would I even choose to go to a Mall – not my thing. I never thought in a million years I’d manage to spend 7 entire hours in a mall. And yet, I did, and could have spent longer. It could only be Dubai. […]


  17. […] week’s scheduled post takes us to Aya Universe – one of Dubai’s hottest new experiences. Opened in December 2022, it promises to be ‘a trip to a beautiful […]


  18. […] researching things to do in Dubai, I found the Miracle Garden – the largest flower display on planet earth – and knew I […]


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About the author

Hi! My name is Hannah, I’m a travel blogger from the UK who fits travel around a full time (and full on) job. In this blog I share my adventures around the world and hopefully help you to find some inspiration for destinations, things to do or places to stay. Thanks for stopping by – stay safe and happy travelling.

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