For an epic family adventure unlike any other, head to Dubai—the largest and most populous city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Fusing together glamour and culture through jaw-dropping architecture, extravagant theme parks and resorts, man-made islands and an abundance of markets and culinary delights, Dubai offers an array of memorable experiences for everyone. And with direct service to Dubai on Emirates, it’s easier than ever to experience this city and emirate in the Middle East. Read on for all you can expect to see, do and experience in Dubai!

Traveling to Dubai

Emirates offers direct flights to Dubai from 12 US gateways (Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York—JFK & EWR, Washington D.C., Boston, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Dallas and Chicago) making your trip there that much easier. Known for its abundance of family offerings, Emirates offers everything from a rewards program for kids, to special family check-in desks, complimentary strollers, early bag drop off (up to 24 hours in advance) and lounges with dedicated play spaces at the Dubai International Airport.

photo: Emirates

Even the youngest of travelers are given special treatment on Emirates with a range of baby meals on board, Lonely Planet Kids packs filled with educational books, crafts, colored pencils and travel journals and Emirates Fly With Me Animals. Additional perks include a kid’s menu, snack boxes and an in-flight entertainment system with a huge collection of Disney faves, TV shows and popular cartoons as well as more than 100 in-flight games, kid-sized headphones and access to Polaroid cameras to capture in-flight adventures.

If families choose to fly business or first class, Emirates will provide complimentary chauffer-drive service to and from the airport (say goodbye Uber and hello Emirates chauffer), access to Emirates’ network of over 40 lounges worldwide, seats that convert to fully flat beds (a huge perk for those long flights!), access to more than 4,000 in-flight channels and exclusive use of Emirates’ iconic Onboard Lounge (think: in-flight cocktail bars) on its A380s.

Immerse Yourself in the City’s Culture & History in Old Dubai

Dubai is known around the world for its iconic landmarks, pristine beaches, skyscraper-lined streets and glamorous social scene. But there’s another side to the emirate that is overwhelmingly different from its glitzy counterpart, and just as fascinating. Old Dubai is home to traditional markets, authentic meals and cultural experiences, and it’s where you can get a true reflection of the city and learn about the traditions of Dubai. Here’s what you must see and do on a Traditional Dubai City Tour:

Jumeirah Mosque
With the melodic call to prayer echoing through Dubai five times a day, paying a visit to the Jumeirah Mosque to further your understanding of Muslim culture is paramount. Located along “Beach Road,” Jumeirah Mosque is one of only two mosques in Dubai open to non-Muslims. Stop in and enjoy an authentic light breakfast with Arabic coffee or tea, learn about the cleaning process that takes place before prayers and explore the inside of the mosque where you can learn about the culture of Emirates and deepen your understanding of the world’s second-largest religion.

Crossing the Dubai Creek
Taking a motorized water taxi (an abra) across the Dubai Creek is a popular mode of transportation for residents and tourists alike, and a must-do when visiting Old Dubai. Offering the cheapest and quickest way to travel between Deira and Bur Dabai, a one-way ride will only set you back one AED (approximately 27 cents USD.) If the lines look long, don’t worry. During peak travel times, up to 150 boats work the routes and depart every couple of minutes. Once on board, grab a seat and take in the views of the Creek from the different viewpoints. The trip only takes a few minutes, but the experience is unforgettable.

Dubai Museum and Al Fahidi Fort
One of the best parts about international travel is introducing your kids to different cultures. And there is no better place to explore the rich heritage of Old Dubai than at the Dubai Museum. Built in 1787, and housed in the Al Fahidi Fort, the Museum is the oldest existing building in Dubai. Step inside the Museum’s courtyard and see displays of different types of boats used in Dubai’s pearl-fishing industry, along with cannons from the days when the British were involved in the region. From there, a path will lead you to the different galleries where you can catch a glimpse of everyday life before the discovery of oil through the recreation of historic local houses, mosques, souks, date farms and marine and desert life as well as view various artifacts and antiques.

Gold, Spice & Textile Souks
Dubai is known for its historical souk districts which are located on either side of the Dubai Creek. On the Deira side of the Creek is where you will find the Gold Souk. Here, shop windows are filled to the brim with gold: bracelets, necklaces, rings and huge body pieces, and it’s where you can view the world’s largest gold ring worth more than three million dollars! Down the street, the Spice Souk is a feast for the senses with bins of colorful spices displayed alongside massive bags of spices that you would normally see in the supermarkets in tiny jars. If you’re looking for silk, cotton, cashmere or embroidered fabrics, you’ll find them at the Textile Souk located at the old trading center of Bur Dubai, on the opposite side of Dubai Creek.

Go on a Desert Safari

When it comes to must-do adventures in Dubai, a Desert Safari should definitely at the top of your list. Book a Sundown Dune Dinner Safari with Arabian Adventures and get ready for the ride of your life. Perfect for adventure enthusiasts of all ages, this memorable desert excursion will take you cruising er rollercoastering in a four-wheel drive Land Cruiser over the sand dunes in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. Explore the desert first-hand with a stop for photos at the top of a dune at sunset before continuing your adventure to a Bedouin-style camp where you can ride a camel, go mini sand-boarding (weather permitting) and get a henna hand painting. Then, relax on the large cushions and carpets and enjoy an Arabic style, three-course buffet while watching belly dancers and gazing at the stars in the desert night sky. It’s an adventure you and your kids will soon not forget!

Explore the Middle East’s Largest Leisure & Theme Parks

Located approximately 30 minutes from the Jumeirah district of Dubai is where you will find Dubai Parks and Resorts—the Middle East’s largest integrated leisure and theme park destination. Spread over 25 million square feet, this experience is like no other as it features more than 100 indoor and outdoor rides and attractions and consists of three theme parks: Motiongate Dubai, Bollywood Parks Dubai and LEGOLAND Dubai, and one water park: LEGOLAND Water Park.

LEGOLAND Dubai & LEGOLAND Water Park
At LEGOLAND Dubai, let your kids’ imaginations soar in the six themed areas that cover everything from medieval dragons to underwater adventures. Gawk at ah-mazing landmarks and international attractions made completely out of LEGO bricks in MINILAND and experience over 40 LEGO-inspired rides, shows and attractions. Then, finish off your visit with a trip to the LEGOLAND Water Park where you can take on the Joker Soaker, build your very own LEGO raft, go on a splash safari or slip and slide your way down 20 different water slides and attractions.

Bollywood Parks Dubai
Styled like a Bollywood set, Bollywood Parks Dubai is the first theme park of its kind in the world. Here, you can experience a celebration of Mumbai’s legendary film industry in five different zones, each inspired by Bollywood blockbusters. Enjoy live entertainment, stunt shows, stage performances and colorful cinematic rides and attractions. The park has something for everyone—action, adventure, romance, comedy, music and dance!

Motiongate Dubai 
Showcasing five creative themed areas and attractions based on DreamWorks Animation, Columbia Pictures, Lionsgate and the Smurfs, Motiongate Dubai is the cherry on the top of your theme park adventure. Acclaimed as the Middle East’s largest Hollywood-inspired theme park, Motiongate Dubai is where you can go behind-the-scenes and discover the illusion of filmmaking and enjoy host of action-packed rides and attractions, multimedia theater shows and interactive play zones.

Insider Tip: Six Flags Dubai will be the fourth theme park addition to Dubai Parks and Resorts and will open its doors in late 2019 with an additional 27 rides and attractions and record-breaking roller coasters.

Ride to the Top of World’s Tallest Building

No visit to Dubai would be complete without visiting the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa! With a view of the city like no other, the Burj Khalifa stands at over 2,716 feet which is more than 160 stories (if you’re counting, that’s 58 floors taller than the Empire State Building). Take a one-minute ride to the observation decks on the 124th and 125th floors and explore the jaw-dropping 360 degree views. Psst…level 125 serves as a tribute to Arab arts and culture while level 124 offers access to an exhilarating outdoor terrace. The architectural phenomenon of the Burj Khalifa can be seen from almost everywhere in Dubai and the experience from entering, to reaching the lookout deck is one for the books!

Insider Tip: The Dubai Fountain, the world’s largest musical dancing fountain, is set on Burj Khalifa Lake. Performances are held daily and last up to five minutes. Evening shows begin at 6 p.m. and take place every half hour until 11 p.m. There are also two daytime performances: 1 p.m. & 1:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m. & 2 p.m. on Fridays). Plan your visit during one of the shows and take your experience at the top of the world to the next level.

Hit the (Indoor) Ski Slopes

If it’s a particularly hot day in Dubai and you want to cool off sans water, head to Ski Dubai. This epic 22,500 square foot indoor ski resort is part of the Mall of the Emirates (one of the largest shopping malls in the world) and boasts a chair lift and an array of indoor snow activities: skiing, snowboarding, bobsledding, tubing, tobogganing, wall climbing and zorbing. Ski Dubai is also home to its very own colony of King and Gentoo penguins which are available for meet and greets. Psst…a basic ticket entry comes with all the snow clothing needed (snow suit, socks, snow boots), but not gloves. You can purchase a pair for a small fee at the gift shop or pack a pair in your suitcase.

Where to Stay

Located on Jumeira Beach, on the coast of the Persian Gulf and approximately 20 minutes from the Dubai International Airport, is where you will find Jumeirah Hotels and Resorts’ six beachfront properties: Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Jumeirah Al Naseem, Jumeirah Al Qasr, Jumeirah Mina A`SalamJumeirah Dar Al Masyaf and the iconic Burj Al Arab Jumeirah. In addition to being extremely family-friendly, each property boasts exceptional service, impeccable accommodations, an ah-mazing beach experience, gorgeous pools and access to 50 world-class restaurants—which can all be easily accessed by taking the complimentary water taxis that run along the canal in front of the resorts. Guestrooms each offer spacious accommodations that are decorated in traditional Arabian style, and many offer stunning views of the Persian Gulf and the resort’s lavish surroundings. The best part? Guests who stay at the Jumeirah Hotels and Resorts’ beachfront properties receive complimentary access to the Wild Wadi Waterpark, an awesome water park that offers 30 rides and attractions and is located right in front of the Burj Al Arab.

Insider Tip: If you’re not able to visit the souks in Old Dubai, plan to visit the Souk Madinat Jumeirah which is part the Jumeirah resort. Here, you’ll find a traditional Middle Eastern shopping culture of stands, barrows and stalls mixed in with boutique brands, souvenir gift shops, fashion and jewelry. The Souk Madinat Jumeirah also boasts more than 25 different restaurants and offers cuisines from all over the globe.

Insider Travel Tips:

  • There are no hard and fast restrictive dress rules around Dubai, but the United Arab Emirates is a modest country. If you’re heading to the mall, a restaurant, market or really, any public place, show respect by not wearing very short shorts and skirts, crop tops or strappy tops. Cover up from shoulders to knees and all will be good. Men should also show similar respect.
  • Nearly all the drinking water in Dubai comes from desalination. The government states that it is safe to drink when it leaves the processing plants, but we found that most locals choose not to drink it because of its bad taste and the pipes that carry it. Bottled water is easily accessible and can be found in the hotels, restaurants and attractions.
  • Dubai has one of the world’s lowest crime rates, and in 2018 was ranked the eighth-safest city in the world. Since theft is not a big worry, many tourists feel much safer in Dubai than they do in other parts of the globe.
  • Arabic is the national and official language of the UAE. However, English is used as a second language and is the most widely spoken language in Dubai.
  • In the summer, the weather in Dubai is very hot, dry and humid with temperatures reaching between 113 and 120 degrees. Travel is ideal during Dubai’s cooler season which runs between October and April.
  • The official currency of Dubai is the United Arab Emirates dirham (abbreviated to AED). To easily convert US currency to dirham, use this calculator.
  • The UAE has a strict drug policy. However, we had no trouble bringing in over-the-counter pain relievers and prescriptions accompanied by a doctor’s note. For more info about the UAE’s laws, click here.
  • Dubai Expo 2020 will take place Oct. 20, 2020—April 10, 2021 and will feature 190 country pavilions, one-of-a-kind attractions, ground-breaking architecture, food and beverage outlets from all over the world, art installations and so much more.

—Kristina Moy (all photos courtesy of the author unless otherwise noted)

This trip was paid for by Emirates, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.

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