Dubai is well known for its over-the-top opulence and seven-star hotels. And while it can be a fabulous holiday destination for glitz and glamour, there are a wealth of activities and a rich culture underneath the shiny surface that can provide the perfect one-week Dubai vacation for travelers who want to go beyond the emirate’s razzle-dazzle.
The variety that a vacation in Dubai can offer means that you can choose to enjoy some R&R or be as active as possible all within one destination.
Dubai can appear to be vast; however, with the city’s well-connected transport network and affordable private car options — such as the Careem app — it is easy to explore. From taking in sand dunes on a desert safari to admiring panoramic views atop the Jebel Jais mountains in neighboring Ras al Khaimah, you can get a real feel for all the United Arab Emirates has to offer in just one week.
Our suggested itinerary offers a mix of the sublime, the relaxed, and the historical to ensure you get the very best out of your one week in Dubai.
Day one: Desert sunrise and sunset over the creek
Start your week in Dubai with an experience of a lifetime by taking a hot air balloon trip out over the desert landscape and witnessing the surreal calm of a sunrise at 4,000 feet in the air. Balloon Adventures offer a package with pick-up from your hotel or a designated landmark in Dubai, your hot air balloon journey, and breakfast. Packages range from 1250 UAE Dirhams (approximately $340) and can be upgraded for an additional 100 Dirhams ($27) to include a wildlife safari experience. The balloon trip itself can be a chilly experience even in a hot, arid Dubai summer, so be sure to dress appropriately. Enjoy the tranquility, watch the sunrise, and after landing, jump aboard a Land Rover and ride through the dunes to a heritage camp for a delicious breakfast of eggs Benedict, fresh fruits, traditional Arabic coffee, and more. Once at the camp you’ll also have the chance to see local wildlife such as oryx, falcons, and camels.
Next on the agenda is a trip to the traditional Al Bastakiya area of Dubai. This area, which is known as Old Town or Old Dubai, offers insight into the once sleepy fishing port that was a hub for pearl diving and gives you a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of modern-day Dubai. A short walk through the neighborhood will allow you to witness the world’s first version of air conditioning atop the buildings or visit the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Cultural Understanding to learn more about the history of the region and meet talented traditional weavers and other craftspeople. When you’re done strolling the beautiful streets of this special neighborhood, take a traditional abra boat journey down the Creek for 1 Dirham (around 27 cents). The boat will take you to a traditional Emirati market where you can purchase spices, coffee, souvenirs, and gold.
Day two: A trip to Lebanon and the Palm
Catch a small boat to the wonderful World Islands — a human-made archipelago shaped like a world map. Lebanon Island offers day access from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM for 300 Dirhams (about $82). Join the boat, which leaves every hour from Jumeirah Fishing Port, and enjoy the fantastic beaches, beach club, or volleyball court for a secluded day in the sunshine. From the shore, the views of the soaring skyscrapers are spectacular, but we recommend you take out a kayak to take in the full splendor of the views of Dubai’s cityscape.
In the evening make your way to another human-made island: Palm Jumeirah. The palm is host to one of Dubai’s most elaborate fountain displays — it even won the Guinness Book of World Records award for the world’s largest fountain. The show is amazing and can be watched from the Pointe Dubai, a venue on the shores of the Palm with views out to the famous Atlantis Hotel and Resort. The Pointe is home to a range of shops and dining options, some of which are blessed with spectacular fountain views.
Day three: Lamborghinis and Ladies Day
If the third day of your week in Dubai happens to fall on a Tuesday, then get ready to experience the glamour that this rich city is renowned for. Choose one of the famous pools, such as Bla Bla or Missippi’s, to unwind with drinks and poolside bites by day, then head to Ce La Vie for cocktails and unrivaled views of the world’s tallest tower — the Burj Khalifa. A snap on the swing here is an Instagram must-do, but the restaurant and bar deserve all of the hype — the food and ambiance are terrific. People watch or Lamborghini spot as you gaze out at Dubai’s cityscape. Dubai has a male-to-female ratio of 2.3, therefore on a Tuesday, the deals are all for the ladies. Ladies pay 150 Dirhams ($40) for pool access, towels, unlimited drinks, and food from a selected menu at Blah Blah. Men pay 199 Dirhams ($54) for pool access, towels, and four beers, spirits, or soft drinks.
Day four: A mix of thrill and relaxation
Start your morning right by cycling around the picturesque Dubai Marina on an electrified bicycle hired from your Careem app. These bright green bikes are located around the marina so you can pedal the eight-kilometer loop around the waterfront. After your cycle, stop at Pier 7 for breakfast with a view at The Scene by Simon Rimmer. This gastropub experience allows you to enjoy the full aspect of the yacht-dotted waterfront.
Spend the afternoon at the theme park Motiongate for thrills. Zombieland blast-off and the Swinging Viking should keep your adrenaline pumping. After your theme park fun, head to Kite Beach for a sunset paddleboard experience on the Persian Gulf with views of the Burj Al Arab. You can hire a paddleboard locally at Kite N’Surf. Kite Beach is free to use and has great street vendors and food options to suit all palates. SALT is perfect if a day of activities has built up an appetite — choose one of their fantastic sliders and milkshake combos.
Day five: Beyond the Burj
Escape Dubai for one day and head to the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. There, you’ll explore the Jebel Jais mountain range where you can undertake the world’s longest zip line at the Toroverde Adventure Park. A pass for one adult costs 300 Dirhams ($81). Transport via RTA Taxi or Careem car is relatively cheap in Dubai, but with the luxury hotel options available in Ras Al Khaimah, an overnight stay is a treat. Book in for a five-star stay at the Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert for a room with your own private pool. With bicycles included with your accommodation, you can travel around the acres of this beautiful site or take in a stargazing lecture on the viewing platform in the evening.
Day six: Love Lakes
Head back to Dubai for a relaxing day by the pool. Kick back and enjoy the sumptuous surroundings at the Bab Al Shams resort. This beautiful hotel has desert views, a great spa, and is perfect for access to the Love Lakes at Al Qudra — your next stop. Pay your driver to wait at the Love Lakes at Al Qudra. The lakes are heart-shaped and centered in a nature conservation area where you are bound to spot some wildlife — including some phenomenal Koi Carp donated by the Sheikh. This is an Instagram or TikTok lover’s dream with photo opportunities built into the landscape, and it’s an amazing way to round off your day.
Day seven: Go big before you go home
No week in Dubai is complete without a trip to one of the world’s most visited lifestyle attractions — the Dubai Mall. Explore the Aquarium, visit the VR Park, cart at Ekart Zabeel, or just take a walk and wonder at the sights and sounds — the Pearl Diver waterfall is breathtaking. Have your camera ready for the fountain display at the Burj Khalifa, which runs from 6:00 PM to 11:00 PM and starts every 30 minutes. Enjoy dinner at one of the many fountain-view dining options in the area — Thiptara at the stunning Palace Downtown for Thai cuisine or Serafina for Italian fare. For something a little different, head to the fabulous Time Out Market in Souk al Bahar, which offers a pop-up range of some of Dubai’s finest dining options under one roof. Enjoy duck bao from the BB Social stall while you mull over how you managed to squeeze so much out of the city-state of Dubai in one week.