When flying back to Europe from my backpacking trip around India with Emirates, I spend one day in Dubai. I had a one-day layover in Dubai and I had luckily enough time to leave the airport to spend the day in Dubai!
My plane landed around noon in Dubai International Airport (DXB). I left the airport with my hand luggage (my backpack got automatically checked through to my connection flight). Immigration was very quick and efficient and soon after arrival, I had my entry stamp and officially entered the United Arab Emirates. Coming from the airport, the city is easily accessible by metro, connecting the most important tourist attractions. No need for any expensive taxis! Since the whole process is very easy and quick, I’d recommend you use your one in Dubai to explore the city; as soon as you’ve got a few hours’ time until your connecting flight takes off. Just make sure to be back in time at the airport!
IMPORTANT: Internet access in the United Arab Emirates is limited – specifically the “VOIP” (= Voice over Internet Protocol) function, which includes voice- and video calls via WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, Facebook Messenger, Instagram and FaceTime. Therefore, you won’t be able to use these functions. If you’d like to bypass the blockage and use above mentioned apps without limitations, you need to download and install a VPN client in advance on your smartphone and laptop. This is easy and only costs you a couple of Euros. Find all information about it here!
Let me tell you what you can do if you’ve only got one day in Dubai and a backpacker’s budget
The highest building in the world is a must-see during your one day in Dubai (actually, it’s quite hard to miss it thanks to its size of 830 meters!).
• Getting there: The Burj al Khalifa is conveniently located right next to the famous Dubai Mall, another must-visit. You’ll get there by metro, the station is called Burj Khalifa / Dubai Mall
• What to do: This one is easy – get to the top! Tickets to the “at the top” observation desk are either 30$ (8 am – 5:30 pm and 7:30 pm – closing) or 45$ (5:30 pm – 7 pm), depending on the time of your visit. Since availability is limited, try to reserve your ticket online, via the official website, a day in advance. Although I had my reservation, I still had to queue up for some time before the elevator finally brought me to the top – well, almost to the top. The observation deck is actually at “only” 450 meters, on the 125th floor. If this isn’t high enough for you, you can buy an “at the top sky” premium ticket, which will give you, not only access to the normal observation desk, but also premium access to the 148th floor at 550 meters and complimentary snacks. Keep in mind that this will cost you 115€ during the day, and 80€ when it’s dark. I know, backpacking Dubai on a low budget is not that easy…
• Would I recommend it: Yes – although it’s not super cheap, it’s your chance to be on top of the highest building in the world, and that’s a chance you shouldn’t miss on your one day in Dubai!
I’m not a big fan of shopping malls (especially while traveling), but this one is different! The biggest mall in the world is a place you should visit on your one-day backpacking trip in Dubai.
• Getting there: The Dubai Mall is conveniently located right next to the Burj al Khalifa tower and therefore accessible by the same metro station (Burj Khalifa / Dubai Mall).
• What to do: Even if you’re not into shopping, it’s exciting to just walk around and see the crazy architecture. There’s even a waterfall with sculptures in it, as well as a giant aquarium. You’ll also find a big food court with cheapish meals.
• Would I recommend it: Yes – especially since it’s right next to the Burj Khalifa
This huge fountain system is right next to the Dubai Mall and Burj al Khalifa. Watch the beautiful water choreography with lights and music on your one day in Dubai.
• Getting there: Easily accessible by metro station Burj al Khalifa / Dubai Mall. There are two shows in the afternoon, and several shows every 30 minutes, starting at 6pm
• What to do: Visit the choreography and try to arrive early enough to get a nice view. Try to watch when the sun is setting, it’s the most beautiful time of the day
• Would I recommend it: Yes – it’s beautiful, although crowded
This is the expat area in Dubai, famous for its multiple shops, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.
• Getting there: There are two tram stations called “Jumeirah Beach”
• What to do: Stroll up and down the promenade, watch people. This is the Rodeo Drive of the Middle East and your chance to get an insight into the posh and rich lifestyle of Dubai’s elite
• Would I recommend it: Yes – if you’ve got time on your one day in Dubai and if you enjoy the high-end atmosphere
The Palms is the big artificial island formed as a palm leaf at the coast in Dubai, with the luxurious hotel Atlantis on top.
• Getting there: Getting to the Palms is easy, but takes some time since it’s a little bit outside of town. Take the metro from the airport and connect to the tram to reach the station Palm Jumeirah. From there, you need to connect (and pay extra) to the Monorail, which takes you across the Palm Island until you reach the Atlantis hotel
• What to do: You’ll have some nice views on the different “palm leaves” from the Monorail. Most of them contain either fancy apartments or are still in construction. You’ll also have a nice view of the famous “Burj al Arab” hotel. When you get off at the last stop, you’ll see the Atlantis hotel from outside but you can’t enter unless you’re a guest. There are also several attractions in and around the hotel, including an aquarium and a waterpark. But all of this is quite expensive to visit and not recommendable for backpacking Dubai, especially if you only got one day in Dubai. You can walk along the seaside, but unfortunately you can’t see that much and you can’t really walk around the hotel area since everything is guarded
• Would I recommend it: If you want to see the whole construction of this unreal Palm Island and if you’ve got some extra time on your one day in Dubai, yes. But keep in mind that you won’t be able to walk around a lot. Your best views will be from the monorail. The Palm looks super impressive on pictures taken from the air, but you obviously won’t have the famous bird-eye view when you’re actually on it. So don’t expect too much, and when you only have limited time on your backpacking Dubai adventure, I’d focus on other easier accessible areas in the city
• To get a more traditional Middle East experience, visit the old town with its souks (traditional markets). I skipped this, since I’ve already seen this in other countries and I’m actually not sure if markets can get truly traditional in a place like Dubai
• Take a tour into the desert. This might make sense if you’ve got more than time than one day in Dubai
• If you just want to relax, just get a beach day pass in Dubai and spend the day on a beach!
• Dubai is not very pedestrian-friendly and is difficult to access by foot. The metro system takes you to the main tourist sights, but you won’t be able to reach many other places. Consider taking a taxi if you’re running out of time.
• Most beaches are private and therefore not accessible.
• Prepare for some unbearable desert heat. Luckily, all places have AC.
• You can also read more about responsible tourism in Dubai here!
• Everything is very expensive!
• Make sure to plan enough time (also for immigration and security checks) to get to your connecting flight
• Got more time? Check out how to spend two days in Dubai as well as this itinerary for Dubai!
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