Looking for the best things to see in Dubai in one day? In this guide, we get insider recommendations on how to spend a perfect day in Dubai and tips for a visit to this modern, bustling Middle East city.
Dubai has been on my travel list for quite some time now.
It first caught my attention as a winter sun destination years ago and then became unexpectedly familiar when one of my closest friends move there for work.
Since her arrival, (over 5 years ago) she has filled me in with impressions about the city, echoes of sunsets and skylines.
Photo after photo, though after thought, Dubai has taken shape in my imagination becoming a firm bucket list city for me.
So today I harnessed her experience and got her to design a one day in Dubai itinerary.
This is her resident’s guide to one day in Dubai. By Laura B.
Top tip! Make sure you stay appropriate, comfortable (and stylish!) while sightseeing Dubai with our tips for what to pack for Dubai and Dubai packing list
How to spend one day in Dubai
Dubai is a hub and most people experience it a as a layover destination while travelling from Europe to Asia or the Southern Hemisphere.
Indeed, when it comes to a layover in Dubai, you cannot go wrong.
The city has much to offer to visitors and because it is quite compact in size, you can cover a lot of ground even with just 24 hours or less.
The best time to visit is between September and May: the weather is glorious during these months and the city is at its very best, perfect for sightseeing.
Dubai one day itinerary: how to use this itinerary
This itinerary foresees a full day in Dubai (2 nights).
It includes some of Dubai must see attractions but also some lesser known places that you may not see without the tips of a resident.
At the end of this post, I have also included additional things to do in Dubai you may like and easy links to buy tickets when appropriate.
Please note: this post contains affiliate links and, should you make a purchase through them, we might make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
24 hours in Dubai itinerary: morning
I recommend you start your morning away from the crowds, in the lovely area of Al Quoz.
This is a great introduction to Dubai and a fantastic place to have breakfast: it used to be the city’s industrial area but, over the course of the years, it has gone though a transformation and now hosts a plethora of cafes and art galleries.
My favorite cafe here is Tom&Serg, a little gem of a place with a great local feel.
Stop here first and then explore nearby Alserkal Avuenue, an art and culture space where you find design, retail and creative shops.
As an alternative, you can spend your morning exploring Dubai Marina and the nearby JBR. You can go for a walk on the hip beach front and have breakfast while looking at the sea.
There are a lot of restaurants and cafes you can choose from, like Paul or the local Café Bateel.
Lunch and early Afternoon
In the afternoon, I recommend exploring the area of Jumeirah, in particular the part around kite beach.
The new Jumeirah Corniche has a 14km long track starting from the Burj Al Arab that allows to enjoy the beautiful beachfront scenery.
You can then continue to the nearby Jumeirah Madinat Souk for a late lunch, where you have a vast choice of restaurants (Belgian Café, The Meat Co., Pai Thai, just to name a few) as well as many shops.
For a small fee, you can take a relaxing abra tour (ed. note: an abra is a traditional wooden boat) on the canals that surrounds the Madinat Jumeirah Resort.
Late afternoon and dinner: Dubai Mall, Burj Khalifa, Dubai Fountains
As the day starts to fade, head Downtown and explore the famous Dubai Mall.
This is one of the most popular attractions in Dubai and is home to several of the most famous Dubai landmarks: the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Aquarium and the famous Dubai dancing fountains (this is one of the best sights in Dubai for kids too – free and exciting !)
Dubai Mall is one the biggest shopping centre in the world and and you can easily spend a full afternoon here.
Start with a walk around the shops, then climb to the top of Burj Khalifa.
This is the tallest building in the world and the best time to visit is at sunset: from the 148th floor, the panoramic view over the city of Dubai is breathtaking.
Make sure you book your tickets in advance: the queue can be insane!
Again in the Dubai mall you find the famous Dubai fountains, another local favorite.
The dancing fountains are on show at several times of the day but the evening shows are the best.
They run every 30 minutes between 6pm and 11pm and there are several ways to enjoy from dinners with a view to lake cruises: you can find top suggestions on the best places to see the Dubai Fountains show here.
The fountains are one of the best places to go in Dubai at night and are quite popular to you may want plan where to see them from in advance to make sure you get a good viewing spot a little in advance.
Dinner with a view over the fountains is perfect end to a perfect day in Dubai, an experience you won’t forget.
As an alternative, take a lake cruise for a close up experience
Other things to do with one day in Dubai
Depending on the location of your hotel and the level of tiredness if visiting Dubai on a quick stopover only, you may want to hit other Dubai attractions.
These are some to check out.
Visit Old Dubai (best for morning)
If you are interested in discovering the origins of Dubai, spend your morning in Bur Dubai and explore Bastakiya, Dubai’s oldest residential district and then Deira.
Bastakiya is Dubai’s oldest standing residential area and it was first established in the 19th century by merchants from from Bastak, Iran (hence the name).
Very different form the super modern Dubai that graces so many travel magazines, this area is made of small alleys with desert colored buildings.
Take a moment to look up not to skyscrapers but to wind towers, the traditional cooling systems of houses in the middle east.
This is an area full of cafes and art galleries and a great place to explore a different an maybe unexpected side of Dubai.
After Bastikiya, take the short boat trip across the creek from Bur Dubai and explore the Spice and Gold Souk.
The latter especially makes quite an impression and should not be missed! While in this area, make sure you also take the time to visit the Mosque, off the main tourist track and worth a stop.
Have brunch (Late morning/ lunch)
Can brunch be a travel experience? Not usually, unless you are in Dubai, where brunch is serious business!
To do it like the locals, go for a lavish brunch in one of the luxurious hotels scattered around the city.
One of my favorite is the Imperium brunch at the Jumeirah Zabel Saray on the Palm.
If you happen to be in town on a Friday, which is equivalent to our Saturday, head there for a true culinary indulgent experience.
Take a Hop on hop off bus tour of Dubai (all day)
If you are only in Dubai for few hours and do not want the stress of finding your way around the city, a great option is to take the open deck hop on hop off bus tour of the city.
A Bus Hop On Hop Off Tour such as this one will show you famous landmarks like the Burj Khalifa, Atlantis The Palm, the Dubai Fountains, and more.
A guide explaining the main facts about each stop make this a no stress, informative way to see Dubai in just one afternoon and an easy to enjoy city tour.
This is one of the best things to do in Dubai with kids too!
Dubai cruise (best for evening)
With only one day in Dubai you want to put every minute to good use and a great way to fit in more sightseeing is hopping onto a boat and see the Dubai skyline lit up at night.
Several providers offer cruises to suit different budgets. You can find the one that fits your plans at best here
Practical tips for visiting Dubai in one day
How to get around Dubai: taxi, metro and tram
If you only have one day in Dubai, the best way to get around the city is by taxi.
This is the fastest and easiest way for visitors to get around and the one that will allow you to cover the most ground.
Taxi stands are fairly accessible from the city’s famous landmarks, such as Dubai Mall, Burj Khalifa, Mall of the Emirates, Palm Jumeirah, and many hotels.
Be aware that, maybe unexpectedly for such a futuristic looking city, they only accept cash.
A more budget friendly option to get around Dubai are the metro and the tram. The Dubai metro lines serves the main tourists area and the tram has stops in areas such as commercial areas of Dubai Marina, Palm Jumeirah, and Dubai Media City.
How to dress in Dubai for sightseeing
Dubai is a very international city with both a traditional and modern heart and this is visible in the variety of styles you see around the city.
In the most tourist areas you may be surprised to see people wearing Burkas beside tourists in shorts and vests!
Despite this, it is important to be aware of the local costumes and religion and dressing modestly is a sign of respect for your hosts.
Your best best for visiting anywhere is Dubai is to dress covering your knees and shoulders.
Maxi dresses and knee length skirts for women are perfect and so are nice tops and shirts. Avoid strappy tops or tops that leave the shoulders bare or bring a cardigan to cover up in public spaces (this includes malls and restaurants although how much this is enforced varies).
If you are visiting the souks, the mosque and more local areas, then it is a good idea to cover up a little more and opt for longer sleeves and skirts.
Mosques and religious buildings open to visitors usually do offer adequate clothing on entering.
For a long day of sightseeing, keep in mind that you will need good walking shoes and that it will be most likely pretty hot: opt for good quality breathable fabrics to beat the heath.
I hope you enjoyed this guest post about all you can do in Dubai in one day. Safe travels!