Dubai International Airport welcomed an incredible 83.6 million passengers in 2016. Of this number, many were transit passengers making use of Dubai’s strategic location between Africa, Asia and Europe. Some layovers are brief affairs, with passengers simply rushing from one gate to the next. Sometimes, however, the passengers get to spend a little more time when stopping over in Dubai. We’ve put together a guide on how to make the most of a short Dubai layover.
Things to know before leaving the airport during a short Dubai layover:
Before you make the decision to leave the airport, you should look into what your visa situation will be. The citizens of 48 countries, including Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, United States and Germany, can get visas on arrival, which will allow them to easily leave the airport during their layover. Furthermore, Indian passport holders with a valid American visa or Green Card are also eligible for a visa on arrival. To know more about visa and entry in Dubai, and to see the full list of which passports get visas on arrival, click here.
If you’re flying on Emirates, you can also look into their Dubai Connect Program, which helps accommodate passengers with long layovers in Dubai.
If you don’t want to lug your carry-on throughout the city, you should look into keeping it in short-term storage. Dubai International Airport offers this service in Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 (it is not available in Terminal 2). The short-term storage facility is open 24/7. It costs either AED 20 or AED 25 for every 12 hours, depending on the size of the bag.
The Dubai Airport is located close to the city, allowing for people to quickly leave the airport during a layover in Dubai.
There are two metro stations by the Dubai Airport – Airport Terminal 1 and Airport Terminal 3. Both of these terminals are connected to the Dubai Metro Red Line. You can check out our guide to travelling by Dubai Metro here. Kindly note that travelling by Dubai Metro involves certain luggage restrictions. Passengers are allowed to carry one large suitcase (< 81cm x 58 cm x 30cm) and one piece of hand baggage (<55cm x 38cm x 20cm).
You also have the option of leaving by taxi. The taxi service at the Dubai Airport is very well organized, with a fleet of taxis waiting 24/7. There is an AED 25 flag charge for a taxi leaving from the airport, and charge of AED 1.96 for each km traveled.
Things to do when visiting Dubai for one day
Below, we’ve suggested a brief one-day itinerary for tourists visiting Dubai for one day. We’ve chosen the below attractions based on their popularity and their relative proximity to the airport. You may have to adjust the itinerary below based on the length of your layover, and the date and timing of your arrival (for instance, some attractions in the Historical district run on reduced hours on Fridays).
Al Fahidi Historical District
If you’re in Dubai, we recommend checking out the historical district, known as Al Fahidi. The closest metro station is the Al Fahidi Metro Station, on the Green Line. If you are coming by Metro from Dubai Airport, you will need to transfer to the Green Line at Union Station.
When you’ve reached the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood, you can see the traditional Arabian architecture, interspersed with an impressive collection of public street art. There are many small museums in this area, which are either free or have a very low entrance fee.
We particularly like the free Coffee Museum – if you head up to the second floor, you can purchase a cup of traditional Arabic Coffee with dates. We also recommend checking out the Dubai Museum. It is located in Al Fahidi Fort, the oldest existing building in Dubai. The entrance fee in only AED 3, and it provides a great showcase of what life was like in the region prior to the discovery of oil.
Our Historical Dubai Tour will guide you throughout this area and provide you with interesting facts about the region’s heritage.
Dubai Traditional Souks
You can head over to the Souqs once your done with the Dubai Museum. The Textile Souk is only a few minutes away from the Dubai Museum, and offers pashminas, carpets, harem pants, embroidered purses and sequined slippers for sale.
Once finished, you can head across the Creek via the Dubai Abra (water taxi). It’s the quickest way to get from Bur Dubai to Deira and at AED 1 only, it’s incredibly cheap.
When you arrive on the Deira side, you will find yourself in the Spice Market, where you can purchase delicacies like saffron, vanilla & zaatar for amazingly low prices. Be ready to Bargain as haggling is expected. If you wander further along, you will see the glittering Dubai Gold Souk. Here, you’ll find an incredible selection of Eastern and Western jewelry. The pieces here are quite affordable, so if you’re looking for a new trinket, be sure to check it out.
In our Old Dubai Tour we will guide you through the different markets in this region and even take you inside the shops to showcase the variety of goods on offer. It is the prefect tour to take during a short layover in Dubai.
Down Town Dubai
When you’re done with shopping, head over to Downtown Dubai, to the famous Dubai Mall. The 12 million square feet edifice is one of Dubai’s most popular destinations for tourists and locals alike, with a combination of luxury and fast fashion stores. It also has a great collection of international cuisines, with both fancy restaurants and snack stalls represented.
There is plenty to do and see in Dubai Mall even if your not interested in shopping. The Dubai Aquarium, for instance, is spread out over several floors of Dubai Mall and is home to 140 species of sea life. You can purchase a ticket to enter or just admire the view from outside.
When you’ve had your fill of the mall, head over to the Lower Ground Level, where you’ll find the entrance of the Burj Khalifa. We’ve written a guide for getting to the top that that you can see here. Remember that tickets sell fast, and unless you are purchasing an immediate entry ticket, tickets have timed entry. Therefore, we recommend booking online, in advance, to avoid disappointment. Most people spend about 1 hour at the top of the Burj Khalifa.
When you exit the mall, you’ll be able to see the Dubai Fountain. The Dubai Fountain has a beautiful choreographed show that runs in the evenings from 6:00pm to 11:00pm, every 30 minutes. It also has select afternoon shows at 1:00pm and 1:30pm (except on Fridays, when the afternoon shows are at 1:30pm and 2:00pm). From this area, you can also take some great photos of the Burj Khalifa from the outside.
From there, you can cross the walkway to Souk Al Bahar, an stylish shopping and food center. Or, you can wander down the boulevard to look at the public artwork on display.
There’s tons to see and do during a layover in Dubai, so it can be difficult to narrow it down to only a few quick highlights. Nevertheless, we think the above one-day itinerary is a great option for someone looking to make the most of a layover in Dubai. If you have any questions on how to plan for your upcoming layover, leave us a comment and we’ll get back to you.