What is the best way to spend a long layover? Visiting the country’s best attractions not too far from the airport without spending a lot of money! If you organize ahead to prepare for jet lag and set up an itinerary that maximizes your time, sightseeing should not be a problem. My sisters and I have had several stopover tours, but the most impressive was in Dubai.
Dubai has the busiest airport in the world, and it connects many long flights from one continent to another. Therefore, it’s a common stopping point for long-haul flights and most major airlines. Since Dubai’s area is not very big (1,588 sq mi), each attraction is very close. A tour guide took us to visit most of the sites in Dubai in 22 hours, including Abu Dhabi, which is half an hour from Dubai. It sounds impossible, but we made it! Our brief tour may have given us only a passing glance of Dubai, but at least we have a taste of what this extravagant city looks like. Still, there were a lot of world record attractions that we have not visited. We would do it again if we have a chance to come back.
Contrary to popular belief, Dubai is not a country or a capital. It is one of the seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East. In recent years, this city has become a fast-growing miracle, from a fishing village in the desert to a record-breaking metropolitan area.
How can a desert city attract the world’s attention? The secret is in world records. Dubai keeps setting records each year to attract tourists and investors, such as the world’s largest mall, artificial island, hotel, flower garden, fountain, aquarium, and indoor ski slope. Dubai also hosts the world’s tallest building, most inclined building, most expensive license plate, highest ranked hotel, and many other biggest and best of attractions.
In less than a day, we managed to hit 13 major attractions and activities to get a sense of what Dubai has to offer.
We arrived at 4:30 a.m. Because the average summer temperature in Dubai is 105˚F, we went on a desert safari and dune surfing trip first to avoid the deadly heat of high noon.
Before the dune driving, the driver deflated the tires to cope with the surface of the desert. Still, the ride was very bumpy and violent, and it was like riding on “Ghost Rider” at Knott’s Berry Farm. Although there were many sharp turns and stomach lurches, it was very thrilling and fun at the same time. We also stepped out onto the dunes and let the sand blanket our toes. Then, we then slid down the dunes, “dune surfing” as the locals call it.
Dune surfing is harder than snowboarding, and it was an enjoyable, unique experience because you are doing an activity that is common on a different terrain.
*Burj Al Arab (the most luxurious hotel in the world)
This is the highest rated hotel in the world, at seven stars. On top of the hotel, there is a circular tennis court with a hidden surprise: it is also a helipad. The sail-shaped Burj Al Arab was built on an artificial island just off the coast of Jumeirah beach, but if you want to visit, you have to stay or dine in.
Because we were dying to see the inside, we made a reservation for afternoon tea. It costs $150 USD per person, so we decided to make the most of this lavish experience because the high price would only allow one visit. The snacking experience was peaceful, and they offer high-end cuisine such as paté. Inside, the walls and ceiling are an eye-catching kaleidoscope of colors. From the top-level, the hotel provides a gorgeous view of the Gulf and the islands.
*Jumeirah Public Beach. You can see or take pictures of the Burj Al Arab from the outside if you do not want to spend money to go inside. There are not many public beaches in Dubai, and this is a great place to see the sail-shaped hotel. It is the easiest and most economical way to do so.
*Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world)
Standing at 2,722 feet, the Burj Khalifa needs no fanfare to make itself noticeable. As the tallest building in the world, its needle peeks into the clouds and the structure can be seen from all around Dubai. It certainly adds to the futuristic look of the city. It was featured in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” so fans have another reason to visit — you can look at the same attraction that Tom Cruise walked on.
Plan ahead: Internet bookings are far cheaper than walk-ins.
*Hyatt Capital Gate
More oblique than the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy by four times, the Hyatt Capital Gate is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most inclined tower. This glass masterpiece is worth stopping by.
* Dubai Dancing Fountain (the greatest dancing fountain in the world)
It is the largest fountain system in the world, and it mesmerizes spectators from the very beginning with incredible choreography and timing. If you can, visit at night, when it’s even better, as the lighting makes the fountain look truly angelic, with no distractions to pull the dancing water out of the spotlight. The Dubai Dancing Fountain is like an earthbound and aquatic version of a stunning fireworks show.
*Dubai Mall (the largest mall in the world)
There are 1,200 shops, which means there is a lot of exploring to do. In addition to shops, there are also an ice rink, an aquarium, some cinemas, and a fun program called “KidZania,” where kid visitors mimic professionals and do “jobs.” Do not be surprised if you find yourself lost in time and in the mall!
*Ski Dubai (the largest indoor ski resort)
Tourists from tropical countries engage in winter activities throughout the year. A city on the equator has an attraction that gives relief to the visitors from the scorching atmosphere.
* Madinat Jumeirah
You’ll find Arabic architecture with a modern twist in this massive resort, designed to evoke a historic Arabian town. The Jumeirah Group hopes to reconstruct past lifestyles and reinterpret “Old Arabia” with the addition of thoroughly modern luxury.
*Palm Jumeirah Island (the world’s largest man-made island)
We unfortunately did not have the time to dwell on the island; we only passed through.
On our side trip to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, we visited even more luxurious and stunning sites.
*Ferrari World Theme Park (the largest indoor amusement park in the world)
Among many attractions, you can ride the world’s fastest roller coaster here.
*Sheikh Zayed Mosque (the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates)
This complex of white and majestic buildings is magnificently impressive and it is a luxurious place to experience the atmosphere and history of Islam. The minarets are gold and dazzle with sparkles in the desert sun.
*Emirates Palace (7-star hotel)
You will have to make reservation to get in. We ordered a $16 cappuccino with golden flakes and you will find that gold is a bit of a theme at the Emirates Palace. The halls are all gold and bling throughout, and there is a unique ATM that dispenses gold bars and coins!
After such a packed day trip, we were really exhausted, and took a nap in a hotel near the airport before catching our flight.
The world is so big and beautiful, with diverse scenic landscapes, countries, and cultures. Fully exploring the world in one lifetime isn’t easy, so you should grasp any opportunity to adventure in different places if you are a lover of travel. Layover trips are an underutilized way to experience the world. Some airports offer free tours, which is advantageous. Whether for three hours or 22, hopping from landmark to landmark instead of sitting in an airport will make time fly and leave you with more stories to tell.