How to Spend One Day in Dubai

Dubai, a city in the United Arab Emirates, is known for its modern architecture, luxury shopping, and vibrant culture. Even just a day in Dubai was a whirlwind! If you have the chance for a layover in Dubai, you definitely should do it.

Even as the kind of person who couldn’t spend a whole week vacationing, here I am—the decadent lifestyle is just not me (or my budget). I had a great time with just one day in Dubai on my layover, and I am happy to share how you should spend a day, too!

Table of Contents

top of the burj khalifa in dubai

My Experience in Dubai

My flight on Emirates got in at 6 am from Zambia, which meant I had an overnight flight before my Dubai layover, which sounded fine at the time. Sleep on the plane, spend all day traveling, sleep on the plane again.

In reality, I was so tired the whole day—I pretty much wore my sunglasses in all my photos so you couldn’t see the circles under my eyes. Plus, I fell asleep multiple times on my morning tour!

OOPS. I felt a little bad for my tour guide, he was probably pretty annoyed talking to me as I was falling asleep… Also, Dubai is not cheap. I think spending a week in Dubai or more would be fun but probably too much for me! 

Everything was opulent and expensive so it was probably good quality, but I spent more than usual on a single day of vacation and would probably spend way too much if I was there for longer.

So, here is how I spent my one day in Dubai. I recommend pretty much everything I did except for the overnight flight, which was pretty miserable. If you are lucky enough not to have an overnight layover, here are some great options for the best area to stay in Dubai.

PS I’d highly recommend checking out the Go City Pass for your day in Dubai. It includes all of the attractions in this itinerary plus more!

burj khalifa dubai

Early Morning: Burj Khalifa with Coffee

I did a ton of research around visiting the Burj Khalifa, and I do have to say, it’s a MUST when visiting Dubai. The building itself is so unique and has such interesting architecture, but the view from the top is pretty much what takes the cake. It’s the highest observatory in the world, and you can see all of Dubai. It’s wonderful!

I found a Groupon for the Burj that included a skip-the-line pass plus a drink and snack at the cafe. This ended up being perfect. Hopefully, the Groupon is still around, so you can take advantage of this offer.

I also read about peak hours for the Burj—from 1 pm to 5 pm and 8 pm until closing. I decided not to go during these times for two reasons, one because the Groupon couldn’t be used at that time but also because I wanted to do it quickly! Going right at 8:30 am when it opened was the right choice.


coffee at the burj khalifa

Pro-tip: Go to the Burj at off-peak times for your visit! I didn’t wait in line at all (basically didn’t need the skip-the-line pass) and got some great photos because basically no one was there.


city tour in dubai

Late Morning: City tour — 3 hours, $45

I was lucky enough to find a tour that ended up being private for just $40 (it wasn’t supposed to be solo, but basically nobody visits Dubai in the summer and I understand why—the heat is no joke!). The tour was fine, and I definitely saw all the sites and had the chance to see different parts of Dubai, but as I said in the beginning, I’m not huge on opulence and was unimpressed with some of the things I saw. 

If I could do it again, I’d spend the morning going to the Dubai Museum and then see the butterfly and flower gardens, which look really cooler than seeing all the hotels and beaches. They were too hot to really enjoy anyway!


fancy hotels in dubai


Dubai has some of the most expensive and fancy hotels in the world. The architecture is definitely unique and interesting, too. 

beach in dubai


Pro tip: There are very nice beaches in Dubai that are open to tourists. We saw people wearing all different things at the beach, from bikinis to full-coverages. Dubai summer is way too hot to really enjoy the beach, though. 

The Dubai Museum

Dubai Museum

The Dubai Museum had all the information in English and was only a few US dollars. It is highly recommended if you want to understand the culture and history of this part of the world!

spice market dubai


Souks are markets, and there are a ton in Dubai. Dubai is known for its gold and spices. I obviously did not go shopping for gold, but I did buy a few spices! It was really cool to see all the different kinds there.

fountain in dubai mall

aquarium in dubai mall

view from mall in dubai

Afternoon: Dubai Mall — 1 – 2 hours, free

The Dubai Mall was crazy! Every store you could think of was there and there are lots of fancy things to see, including an aquarium, giant fountains, and great city views. By this time on my trip, I had gone without Western-style food for a few weeks (I was in Zambia before this). 

I jumped on the idea of having a burger and fries. I spent $22 on a burger and fries at Five Guys—told you Dubai is pricey! You can find tons of American chain restaurants there. 


Desert Safari dubai

Evening: Desert Safari — 6-7 hours, $55

This was by far my favorite part of the whole day. We did dune bashing, sandboarding, camel rides, a great traditional dinner, drinks, smoked hookah, got henna tattoos, and watched a show. The guide was great and everything in the itinerary was just as expected.

He even took me to the airport at the end of the tour (as I slept in the front seat!). I definitely recommend doing a desert tour and experiencing the Arabian Desert while in Dubai.

desert sand surfing dubai

camel in desert near dubai

The price felt like it was definitely worth it. They picked me up from the Dubai Mall right at 3:30 pm (although I had a really horrible time trying to find them and almost died from the heat). My guide dropped me off at the airport at 10 pm.

The only thing I was iffy about on this tour was the treatment of the camels. Some of them seemed way too skinny and unhappy. I did not personally ride one for this reason but did feed them and pet them.
Pro-tip: When choosing an outfit for a layover like this, find something you can wear no matter where you go. I had hoped to enter a mosque (it ended up being closed) and knew I was trying sandboarding, but I also knew it’d be really hot. I found an outfit that suited all these activities!
Also, here is a great resource about what to wear in Dubai if you are a woman! Check it out.
What can you do with one day in Dubai? A lot! Here are some ideas for things to do on your trip to Dubai for just a day.
What can you do with one day in Dubai? A lot! Here are some ideas for things to do on your trip to Dubai for just a day.

Ready to start booking your trip?

Here is a snapshot of some of my favorite tools!

As you can see, I was very busy on my one day in Dubai—a little history, a little culture, a little architecture, and a little adventure. If you have more time in Dubai, this Dubai travel guide can definitely come in handy!


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