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5 Things to Do During a Layover in Dubai

Feb. 18, 2017
7 min read
Burj Khalifa
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Emirates is now one of the world's largest international airlines, covering more than 153 destinations across six continents. With nearly 52 million passengers flying the airline last year alone — and many of them with stops in Dubai International Airport (DXB) — it’s no surprise that missed connections and delays cause quite a lot of unexpected, long layovers in the city.

My friends and I encountered this first-hand on a recent trip from Nice, France, to Melbourne, Australia. They were heading back home for their wedding (with their one-year-old daughter in tow), and not only did Emirates delay their first flight, which caused them to miss the second, the airline also lost all four of their bags. So it wasn’t all that surprising when I flew the opposite route with Emirates the day after their wedding and also got stuck in Dubai thanks to a three-hour delay in Melbourne — after landing at DXB and being rushed to a different terminal, we were told at the gate that the flight had already taken off for Nice. Three hours and many complaints later, I was being bused over to a nearby airport hotel for the night — sans free Wi-Fi — and bumped to a flight the following day.

Luckily, I’d visited the Emirate a number of times and didn’t let this setback dampen my day. If you're faced with the same situation, instead of sticking to a sad-looking airport hotel room, set off and make the most of your time in Dubai. Here are five of my favorite ways to see the city in just 24 hours.

1. Hit the Shops    

The Dubai Mall is one of the largest in the world and not only houses more than 80 luxury brands along its Fashion Avenue wing, it's also home to an aquarium and underwater zoo (with over 33,000 animals); a 155 million-year-old dinosaur skeleton (pictured below); ice skating rink; and an Arabian souk with more than 40 boutiques selling pashminas and gold. One of my favorite places to grab a quick bite to eat in style is at Dubai’s largest department store, the France-based Galeries Lafayette, which features a food hall with 11 gourmet kitchens serving up everything from Asian noodles and dim sum to Moroccan braised lamb shank tagine.

In the Souk Dome at the Dubai Mall you'll find an 80-foot-tall dinosaur skeleton. Image courtesy of The Dubai Mall's Facebook page.

2. Stroll the Souks

If you want to visit an authentic bazaar and see why Dubai is called "The City of Gold," make your way over to the Gold Souk in Deira, the older part of Dubai near the Al Ras Metro Station. I took a taxi from the Copthorne Hotel Dubai by the airport for a 20-minute ride (during 5:00pm rush hour) to the souk, where I spent some time exploring shop after shop that sold gold of all styles and karats. Nearby, the vibrant Spice Souk sells every type of dried fruit and spice you can think of, with options flowing from stands and sacks sitting along the street. Here's where you’ll find small souvenirs like camel leather slippers and silk scarves to take home. Keep in mind that the actual souk may be open until 10:00pm, but many of its shops tend to shut down between 1:00pm and 4:00pm.

Dubai's Spice Souk in Deira, the old part of the city, a treat for the senses. Image courtesy of McKay Savage via Flickr.

3. See the City — From 148 Floors up

Travelers looking to check a few landmarks off their list should make their way to one of Dubai’s most famous: the Burj Khalifa. At the Top is the world’s highest outdoor observatory, spread across levels 148 and 125 of the tower, with the premium top level “SKY” serving as more of a lounge with passed drinks and hors d’oeuvres. To save time, opt for the “Fast Track” ticket (~$82) to skip the long elevator line.

Make your way up to the lounge-like observation deck on the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa. Image courtesy of Burj Khalifa's Facebook page.

4. Dine in Style

When it comes to food options, Dubai is like a scene from Aladdin where almost any wish can be granted, whether you’d like to dine on a wooden dhow (traditional boat) along the Dubai Deira Creek or would rather eat underwater at the award-winning seafood spot Ossiano at Atlantis The Palm, Dubai. Two of my favorite spots in the DIFC (Dubai International Financial Centre) are izakaya-style Zuma, which also has outposts in London and Miami, and the French Riviera-inspired La Petite Maison. Both have a happening bar scene — making it easy for both solo travelers (like myself) and groups to grab drinks and dinner without waiting on a table — as well as cuisine that’s worth the raised price points. The miso-marinated black cod at Zuma was one of the best dishes I’ve ever had.

Mix haute cuisine with views just as stunning at Scape on the Burj Al Arab Terrace, which extends over the Gulf and serves up a menu of “casual gourmet” fare in the form of line-caught sea bass, king crab and prawn sliders, and Korean spiced lamb chops. If you’re after more authentic Emirati cuisine, try the laid-back Al Jalboot in the Souq at Fishing Harbour, where you can dine outdoors along the marina and sample specialties like Nashef Nagar, a spiced cuttlefish dish.

Linger over craft cocktails and Japanese fare at Zuma Dubai. Image courtesy of Zuma Dubai's Facebook page.

5. Bask at a Beach Club

You may be in the desert, but Dubai's beach clubs are just as hot as its Miami Beach counterparts. Nikki Beach opened its first Middle Eastern resort last year on the waterfront of Pearl Jumeirah, complete with 117 rooms, its signature beach club and VIP cabanas looking out at the Gulf. Near Jumeirah Beach Residence, Zero Gravity recently opened its beach bar and restaurant with a sweet scene that seamlessly transitions from day to night. If you plan on spending the day here, book a VIP day pass for access to the beach loungers and pool for about $41 per person.

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What better way to spend an unexpected day in Dubai than lounging by the beach? Image courtesy of Nikki Beach Dubai's Facebook page.

Have you ever had a long layover in Dubai? What are some of your tips for passing the time? Let us know, below.