Ultimate Dubai stopover guide

Ultimate Dubai stopover guide

Got 24 hours to spare? This Middle Eastern power visit will stay with you long after the sand is out of your shoes

Dubai International Airport is among the world’s busiest.

With more than 55 million passengers a year either arriving or passing through, there’s a good chance your next international flight may see you touch down in the desert.

If you're looking to turn your transit into a 24-hour stopover, we bring you the definitive list of Dubai “must do's” for your next power visit.  

At the Top, Burj Khalifa

At the Top: A name so obvious it works. The best way to orient yourself before exploring the city is with a visit to At the Top, Burj Khalifa.

Yes, at 828 meters, it’s the world’s tallest building. Yes, the panorama is jaw dropping. And, yes, if you’re afraid of heights a visit probably isn't a good idea.

That's the obvious stuff.

But did you know that if you visit during Ramadan and decide to break your fast on the observation deck, you’ll have to wait three minutes longer than everyone on the ground? 

The world's largest free standing structure is so tall that Dubai’s Grand Mufti has issued a decree that those above the 80th floor must adjust their prayer times in accordance with when they can see the sun set (not when it’s scheduled on the clock).

Tip: Book online before you go and save 275 dirhams (US$74).

Adult price: Pre-booked cost is 125 dirhams per person, on arrival 400 dirhams. 
Children (4-12): Pre-booked is 95 dirhams, on arrival 400. 
Children under 3: Free 

1 Emaar Blvd., Downtown Dubai, Dubai, United Arab Emirates; +971 4 888 8888; www.burjkhalifa.ae

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Dubai Fountain 

Hang around till the end of the show and you'll see people applauding a fountain. Behold the world’s largest choreographed fountain, in the shadow of the world’s tallest building.

It’s also among the world’s most expensive, built to the tune of a staggering 800 million dirhams (US$217 million).

The daily light and water spectacle lasts about five minutes and is accompanied by an eclectic soundtrack that varies depending on the show timing.

Water blasts reach 125 meters (410 feet) skyward while pulsating light throbs in time to the music.

On windy evenings, place yourself away from the “splash zone,” unless you want to end up wet.

The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai; Closest metro station: Dubai Mall; free; +971 4 3627 500; www.thedubaimall.com

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Skydive Dubai

Skydiving. Perfect for those who feel life on the ground isn't terrifying enough. A monolithic formation of rock and sand, the Palm Jumeirah adds an additional 64 kilometers to Dubai’s coastline.

Ostentatiously carving up the ocean in the shape of an enormous palm tree, it's one of the few man-made structures that can be seen from space.

The best place to take in views of the Palm Jumeirah is Skydive Dubai, host of three consecutive World Parachuting Championships.

A tandem skydive gives you sweeping views over the city and desert as you plummet almost 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) toward the beach next to the Palm Jumeirah.

You’ll also be able to view The World, a cluster of man-made islands resembling a world map hidden off the coast of Dubai. Best catch them now before the ocean erodes this stalled development project.

Dubai Marina, Nakheel metro station; 1,750 dirhams/US$475 (including video and photos)
+971 5 0153 3222; Skydivedubai.ae

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Gold Souq

Even if you're not in the market for precious metal, Dubai's Gold Souq is a great place to check out the locals in action. At any given moment there are around 10 tons of gold in this 50-year-old souq. It’s a dazzling and chaotic spectacle; crowds push and swirl through the busy corridors searching among more than 300 traders for a bargain.

This is one of the cheapest places in the world to buy gold. Prices constantly fluctuate according to the market, with electronic signs throughout the souq updated to display the current rate.

Expect to pay market price for the gold and a manufacturing fee on top. While there’s no disputing the market price, it’s advised (and expected) that you haggle on any additional costs.

The Dubai Government stringently regulates the quality of the gold in the souq to ensure that everything is above board, conducting random inspections of shops to guarantee the quality.

Closest public transport: Gold Souq bus station, Dubai Old Souq marine station

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Spice Souq

Looks like you're going to need a bigger spice rack. The Spice Souq is a two-minute walk from the Gold Souq, and worth a visit if you’re in the area.

Almost every spice imaginable is on display as you wander the narrow alleys.

Thick, white frankincense smoke mixes with dried lime and ginger, creating a scent you'll wish was edible. Piles of colorful dried chilies sit beside sacks of lavender petals.

An exotic buy is fine Iranian saffron, worth more per gram than gold.

Closest public transport: Gold Souq bus station, Dubai Old Souq marine station

Al Fanar Restaurant

In the mood for Emirati? It can only be Al Fanar. After conducting an exhaustive search, we’re happy to confirm the veracity of Al Fanar’s claim to be “the first and only Emirati restaurant” in Dubai.

While other restaurants pepper their menus with a few cursory Emirati dishes, none have a comprehensive selection dedicated to local cuisine to rival this authentic and ambient establishment.

Recreating the atmosphere of a traditional 1960s Emirati house, with walls punctuated by photos depicting pre-oil Dubai, diners can choose from private rooms, outdoor areas and traditional floor seating in private thatched huts.

Traditional dishes such as machboos (a mountain of rice and meat cooked with Arabic spices), saloona (chunky lamb and vegetable stew) and harees (a thick wheat-based porridge mixed with shredded meat) are staples and a recommended way to calibrate your palate for an Emirati immersion.

Average cost for a meal for two: 250 dirhams (US$70).

Dubai Festival City; +971 4 232 9966www.alfanarrestaurant.com