5 days in Dubai & Abu Dhabi: a modern day fairy tale

When we were choosing our honeymoon destination(s), it was important for us to combine modern vibes, ancient feels and pristine beaches. Instead of just one, we opted for three different destinations that you will be able to read about in the following blog posts.

For the first part of our multi-city honeymoon we had chosen a five-day stay in Dubai with a day trip to Abu Dhabi.

We are not big fans of organised travel and travelling agencies, so we always organise the whole journey by ourselves. We have chosen to fly with Emirates, as it worked best for us both location-wise and money-wise (we bought the tickets directly from their website), and our flight itinerary was Venice – Dubai – Colombo – Malé – Dubai – Venice.

For Dubai, we booked a room in the Atana Hotel via booking.com, which started off as a horrendous experience (i.e. a proper hotel scam), yet it turned out to be a pretty decent accommodation and a good starting point for exploring the city (location: Tecom, metro station: n°34 on the Red Line – Dubai Internet City).

After a few hours’ sleep and some breakfast, we were ready to embark on our first Middle-Eastern adventure. Below you will find our itinerary and some (hopefully) useful tips & suggestions.

Getting around Dubai

Getting around Dubai is very easy and quite inexpensive. The best option for reaching most attractions is the Dubai Metro, which only has two lines (Red & Green) and a connection to Dubai Tram through the Red Line. I recommend buying the prepaid ticket known as the Silver Nol card, which you can buy at any Metro station.

Another possibility is the Dubai Taxi, which is very cheap and convenient for reaching locations that are not so close to Metro stations (e.g. the beach) or when going from/to the Airport. Take into consideration that the starting tariff is higher at the Airport.

 

day 1 – Burj Khalifa, Dubai Aquarium, Dubai Mall & Dubai Fountains

As the saying goes “go big or go home” and what can possibly be bigger than the world’s tallest building (that being just one of its records). Therefore, our first stop in Dubai was the breathtaking Burj Khalifa.

The entrance is located inside the Dubai Mall (you can take the metro n° 25 on the Red Line to the Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall station), which is also definitely worth visiting (girls, I have three words for you – Level Shoe District!)

At over 828 metres and more than 160 storeys this famous architectural achievement offers spectacular views over Dubai and its surroundings (a.k.a. the desert). As a tourist you can only visit the 124th, 125th and/or the 148th floor, the ticket for the latter being the most expensive. We chose a combined ticket for Level 124 (which includes access to Level 125) and the Dubai Aquarium, which we purchased through Tiqets for a mere EUR 91 for both of us.

Tip: I highly recommend buying the tickets for Burj Khalifa beforehand and online, as it is much cheaper than buying a ticket on site. Note that you must choose an exact date and time for your visit and the most popular times in the day are more expensive (e.g. around sunset) than others.

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Enjoy a ride in one of the world’s fastest elevators and let yourself be amazed by the 360° views over Dubai and the Arabian Gulf. Life is definitely better at the top!

After descending from the Burj Khalifa, we decided to let our inner child come out and play, meaning it was time to hit the Dubai Aquarium. If you are on a budget, you can skip the aquarium experience – however, you will miss out on seeing the whole Finding Nemo cast sharing a tank 😉 – and just observe the humongous 10-million litre aquarium tank (as goes for many things in Dubai, one of the world’s largest) located on the Ground Level of the Dubai Mall, which is home to a variety of sharks, rays and other species.

Tip: we paid an additional amount (approx. EUR 16, if I remember correctly) for the simulator inside the Aquarium and a ride on a glass floor boat, which is not worth it! (OK, maybe only if you have small children)

As I already mentioned, our whole itinerary for Day 1 was in the Dubai Mall area, which is quite an attraction by itself. It offers a variety of stores (almost every possible brand you can think of), food courts (try the Levantine Shawarma dish!), an aquarium tank, an ice rink – the list goes on and on. You can easily spend an entire day or so shopping or just strolling around the mall.

We finished the day (at least the “official” part :)) with a Dubai Fountain show (evening shows take place every 30 minutes between 6 PM and 11 PM), which is by far one of the best things you can do in Dubai (plus it is totally free!). We visited the musical fountains again during our layover in Dubai on the journey home and every time the show is absolutely mesmerising.

Tip: Try watching the fountain shows from different standing points.

“Fun” fact: apparently, it is not the best idea in the world to order ice cream inside the Dubai Mall (or anywhere in Dubai for that matter) without checking the price first – you can end up paying AED 55 for two scoops of gelato! 🙂

1 AED = approx. EUR 0,24 or $0,27 (the easiest and quickest way is to just calculate 1/4 of the AED amount)

 

day 2 – beach day & Deira

We decided to start Day 2 with basking in the sun and taking a dip in the Arabian Gulf. Our choice for the day was Kite Beach – one of the most popular beaches in Dubai, which offers a nice view over the Burj-al-Arab. Unfortunately, we did not encounter any of the signature kite surfers, but it was a splendid day nevertheless. You can also grab a meal at the beach.

Dubai is very modern and progressive, so the expected dress code is not as strict as in the other parts of the UAE and you can catch a tan without any fuss.

After lunch it was time to cross the Dubai Creek and visit Deira, which is one of the oldest parts of Dubai. First, we took the metro to the Al Ghubaiba station (no° 25 on the Green Line) and then crossed the Creek on an Abra boat – the ride costs only 1 AED pp !.

Deira is a mixture of markets (souks) and (very!) loud vendors. Take a stroll around and slowly take in all the colours and smells of the Spice Souk and the Gold Souk. This is also your chance (and my personal nightmare, dare I say) to put your bargaining skills on a test.

Fun fact: Dubai only started experiencing rapid development in the last twenty years and the “new” part used to be covered in desert not so long ago!

Tip: Plan to return from Old Dubai just before sundown to enjoy the sunset while riding on the Abra boat.

 

day 3 – Abu Dhabi & Dubai Marina

First, let me start by saying that I absolutely loved Abu Dhabi. L O V E D ! It is quite different from the hype vibe of Dubai and has a more traditional and conservative feel. Should I get another chance to travel to UAE, I will most definitely spend some more time in Abu Dhabi (which is by the way considered the capital of the Emirates).

Getting there is very simple. The bus departs from the previously mentioned Al Ghubaiba station or from the Ibn Battuta station (n°39 on the Red Line). Choose the one that is closer – for us it was the latter (on our stopover in Dubai we visited also the famous Ibn Battuta Mall located at this station, which I’ll describe below). You can also opt for a taxi.

After arriving to Abu Dhabi, we took a taxi (even cheaper than in Dubai) to the famous Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which was by the way voted by TripAdvisor as the world’s second favourite landmark two years running.  There is no entrance fee, but you must respect the dress code, i.e. modest, conservative, loose fitting clothing, long sleeves, long skirts and trousers, etc. All women are given a traditional robe (abaya) and headscarf (shayla) before entering the mosque regardless of their own clothing, while men are only required to wear a robe if they are not dressed according to the dress code.

Immediately after catching the first glance of the Mosque I was at a loss for words. It is truly breathtaking and it reminds you of a scene from One thousand and one nights. As a result, two hours and a gazillion pictures later, my husband had to literally drag me away.

Fun fact: the traditional toilets inside the Mosque are not just a necessity (at least if you stay as long as we did) but also an eye-catcher!

After the Grand Mosque, we made a stop at the Heritage Village. This was a fun experience, as it shows the old and traditional way of life, but most importantly it offers  a m a z i n g  views of the Abu Dhabi skyline. From there we also got a chance to watch the training for the next day’s Red Bull Air Race (to my husband’s sorrow we were not aware of this event beforehand, so we did not plan our trip to Abu Dhabi for the next day instead accordingly).

Tip: Respect the local culture and customs and dress appropriately, especially when visiting Abu Dhabi and other Emirates, but also in Dubai. Also, no excessive PDA, particularly in places of worship! 

Even though we originally planned on doing a few more stops in Abu Dhabi (other highlights include the Emirates Palace, Ferrari World, Yas Island etc.), we were so tired that we decided to slowly head back to Dubai instead.

Tip: Another suggestion for a (half) day trip is the Al Ain Desert Safari – we prioritised and decided to skip this trip due to time limitations (and we already experienced the Safari in Egypt).

In the evening we opted for a long walk up and down the Dubai Marina, which is built along a 3 km stretch of the Persian Gulf shoreline. You can take the metro to the Dubai Marina station (n°36 on the Red Line) and start the walk from there, or continue on the Tram. In short, the Marina can best be described by luxury yachts and never-ending skyscrapers (see proof below). Depending on your interests, you can also spend some time in the Dubai Marina Mall.

Tip: enjoy a walk beside the canal and stop for drinks along the way 

 

day 4 – beach day n°2, Ski Dubai & Palm Jumeirah

Time to hit the beach again! On Day 4 we opted for the Umm Suqeim 2 Beach, which gives you an even better (closer) view on the Burj al Arab and is a perfectly nice, clean, public, sandy beach. Again, our choice of transport to and from the beach was to take a taxi. The average sea temperature in February is around 20°C/70°F.

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One of the most unusual attractions in Dubai is definitely Ski Dubai – unless you by any chance consider it common to go skiing in the middle of the desert, with the average winter air temp of 25°C.

Although we are not skiers, this was something we did not want to miss seeing. Ski Dubai is located inside the Mall of Emirates (one of the many malls in Dubai, as you might have figured), which was only two metro stations from our hotel (no° 32 – Mall of Emirates). We did not spend a lot of time there, but the Mall itself is nice as well.

Next stop was the famous Palm Jumeirah, an artificial archipelago and the first out of three planned palm islands in Dubai. Again, you can take a taxi, however, we chose the Palm Monorail. As it is not linked to Dubai Metro, you can reach the station by taxi (for us this was the easiest option) or by Tram and you also have to buy an individual ticket (AED 15 single trip and AED 25 round trip). The rail takes you from the far end of the island to the main part of Dubai and/or vice versa and gives you a good overview of the whole island.

At the end of the Palm we visited the Atlantis Hotel, where you can take a walk around the gallery area, which comprises shops, restaurants, cafes, aquarium tanks (apparently that’s a thing), etc. Also, we went for a walk on the promenade.

Fun fact: an ice-cream shop inside the Atlantis Hotel (again, there is no such thing as cheap ice-cream in Dubai) has a unique way of serving the ice-cream by juggling with the scoops and literally throwing them around 🙂

On day 5 we only had a couple of hours after breakfast, which we spent (re)packing and enjoying a coffee and then already it was time to go to the Airport for a flight to destination n°2.

 

Stopover in Dubai – Ibn Battuta Mall, souvenir shopping & Dubai Fountains

Upon returning home from our honeymoon we had a stopover in Dubai. We chose to stay in the Best Western Premier Deira Hotel, which we would definitely recommend for shorter stays. The hotel was clean, the room was nice and spacious and the staff was really friendly, but the location (quite near the Airport) is not very convenient for a longer stay and it can also get very noisy.

During our stopover we visited the largest themed mall in the world. Ibn Battuta Mall is named after the Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta and consists of six huge courts based on some of his travel destinations (Persia, India, China, Andalusia, Egypt and Tunisia). The Mall is definitely worth visiting and the decor is simply stunning.

“Traveling – it leaves you speachless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

We completed our stay with some last minute souvenir shopping in Dubai Mall and watching the Dubai Fountain show again (a couple of times in a row).

Tip: If you are only in Dubai for a stopover and this is your first time in the city, I would highlight visiting Burj Khalifa, taking a walk through the Dubai Mall and past the aquarium tank (maybe grabbing a meal in one of the food courts), souvenir shopping at the souks and having a couple of drinks in the Dubai Marina.

All in all, we enjoyed experiencing some of the highlights that Dubai has to offer!

 

To read about our Sri Lankan adventures, check out the next post! 🙂

 

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