From splashing in the waterparks to venturing deep into the desert, Dubai’s big-ticket experiences await
The number one attraction on everyone’s list, Burj Khalifa will draw you like a magnet to view its irresistibly shiny structure. If you’ve got a head for heights, take the lift to the At the Top observation decks for a bird’s eye view of the skyline. If that’s not enough of a head rush, you can ascend higher still thanks to the At the Top, Burj Khalifa SKY experience, which challenges you to step out onto the outdoor terrace of the world’s highest observation deck (it’s 555 metres high). Go at sunset for the best views.
Another high-rise hot ticket experience is the 150-metre-tall Dubai Frame with a glass bridge observation deck that’s definitely not for the faint-hearted, but the reward is a bird’s eye view of old and new Dubai. In Jumeirah, Skyview Bar at Burj Al Arab is a grown-ups playground, soaring 200 metres above sea level. Just bear in mind that there’s a minimum spend, and you’ll need to book in advance (for ages 21 and over).
There are plenty more ways to keep your head in the clouds. A popular choice is the 45-minute Seawings Signature Tour that’ll whizz you up and over the skyscraper-laden skyline, between Palm Jumeirah and Burj Khalifa, in a classic seaplane. Or, you can tick off a bucket-list dream by booking yourself in at Skydive Dubai for a tandem jump over Palm Jumeirah (sign up for the video footage, as a permanent record of your bravery).
For those more comfortable with two feet on the ground, we recommend jumping on a City Sightseeing bus, which operates daily tours of the city across several routes, with hop-on, hop-off opportunities at all the major sights and shopping hotspots. An easy breezy way to see the city from the water is Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority’s new Dubai Ferry service, which links The Dubai Mall and Dubai Marina Mall – two of the most popular retail spots – with a 90-minute scenic journey. (Tickets can be purchased from At the Top, Burj Khalifa).
Those seeking a curated itinerary need look no further than Arabian Adventures, which has a stellar line-up of tours, including its always-popular desert safaris that’ll zip you over the dunes in a four-wheel drive to a Bedouin-style camp complete with traditional entertainment. (Check the website for the latest itineraries).
One of the emirate’s most novel draws is indoor ski resort Ski Dubai at the Mall of the Emirates, where snowboarding, skiing and a fun snow park, home to king and gentoo penguins, makes it as fun for adults as it is for kids.
With its perennially sunny weather, it may come as no surprise that waterparks are hugely popular here. The original splash and soak day out, Wild Wadi Waterpark, has over 30 rides and attractions to get to grips with. From kid-friendly slides and the relaxing lazy river to the terrifying Jumeirah Sceirah (which propels you to speeds of 80 km/h), it’s wet and wild all the way.
“Meet exotic animals in the recreated rainforest at The Green Planet”
On Palm Jumeirah, Atlantis, The Palm is home to Aquaventure Waterpark with 17 hectares of attractions, including slides that’ll shoot you though shark-filled lagoons. Another contender on the scene is Laguna Waterpark at La Mer, which has all manner of hair-raising rides to hurl yourself down, as well as a lazy river and the awesome WaveOz 180 Florider – the first of its kind in the region – where you can tackle the competition-level wave on a body board or stand-up board.
Nature meets playtime with high wire action at Aventura at Mushrif Park, where you can zip-line through a natural ghaf tree forest. At Kite Beach you’ll find XPark Jr., which blends desert and forest influences to create a fun, natural playscape. Kids get to splash in streams, climb trees and hang out in treehouses, as well as explore meandering paths, cascading fountains and the on-site petting zoo. With a mud kitchen also part of the outdoor fun, don’t forget to pack a change of clothes.
Exotic animals with a penchant for the tropics are found in the recreated rainforest at The Green Planet in City Walk, while Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo at The Dubai Mall houses 140 different marine species and (weighing in at 750 kilograms and measuring over five metres in length) the terrifying King Croc.
Be sure to keep an entire day free for a trip to Dubai Parks and Resorts, the Middle East’s largest multi-themed leisure and entertainment destination. With three awesome theme parks (as well as Legoland Waterpark) in one location, you can’t go wrong. Perfect for those with kids aged two to 12, Legoland Dubai has more than 40 interactive rides, shows and attractions as well as 15,000 Lego model structures, including a replica of Burj Khalifa made out of 439,000 Lego blocks. Motiongate Dubai combines three legendary film studios in one park, with a stellar cast of rollercoasters, multi-media rides, interactive labs and shows with a Hollywood theme. Or, look to the East at Bollywood Parks Dubai, which takes on the movie magic of Hindi cinema.
“The Dubai Fountain Lake Ride will steer you almost within soaking distance”
It’s great at any time of year but, when the heat is on, indoor amusement park IMG Worlds of Adventure is your go-to. Thrill-seekers can get their air-conditioned theme park kicks at its four zones: Cartoon Network, Marvel, Lost Valley-Dinosaur Adventure and IMG Boulevard. It’s an animation superhero love fest with more than 20 rides and attractions, including a first-of-its-kind Hulk 3D ride with 18 IMAX projectors and a bone-chilling Haunted Hotel.
Exhausted by the non-stop action? End your trip in a more relaxing fashion at Burj Khalifa Lake, where the spectacular micro robot-controlled jets of The Dubai Fountain shoot giant plumes of water high into the air with displays set to music. Performances take place at 1pm, 1.30pm and 2pm Saturday to Thursday (and 1.30pm, 2pm, and 2.30pm on Fridays), with evening shows every 30 minutes from 6pm-1pm. You can watch it for free from the promenade, but if you want to edge closer, get a ticket for the The Dubai Fountain Lake Ride, which will steer you almost within soaking distance on an abra. There’s also a floating boardwalk to stroll along, which is just nine metres from the fountains at its closest point.
In addition, later this year, a new choreographed fountain will be unveiled at Palm Jumeirah foodie hotspot The Pointe.
Main image: Wild Wadi Park.