Dubai in a Day

I have a confession to make. I am an obsessive planner. For those of you who know me, this comes as no surprise. I have lists upon lists, 4 calendars, and written schedules for everything going on in our lives. So when the opportunity came up for us to spend a day in Dubai, I joyously threw myself into hyper-planning mode. But boy oh boy, what to choose? Where to begin?? This was going to be a challenge even for an A-type person like myself.

Just like many other places in the U.A.E., Dubai proudly boasts its wealth. There is constant competition as to who’s is the largest, tallest, or the most opulent. That makes for a pretty cool trip in and of itself. After all, it’s not every day you can boast you went up to the top of the world’s tallest building, through the world’s largest mall, and looked down upon the world’s largest fountain. No sirree! So if you are into big, glittery, and super fancy stuff, put a trip to Dubai on your list for sure.

Ok, let’s keep it real. We both know one day in Dubai is not long enough to truly experience the city in all its gold-studded splendor. However, it is long enough to hit the highlights. And hey, as long as you see the Burj Kalifa everything else is gravy.

Ok, are you ready? On your mark, get set, go!

Here are the things we did. I think we hit the most important sites but this is by no means an exhaustive list, so get your hourly calendar out and begin penciling in all the must-sees for your day.

How we did it

We were staying in Abu Dhabi for the week so decided it would be most convenient to hire a car for the day. He drove us to and from Abu Dhabi and was at our beckon call in Dubai. He totally smelled like b.o. and had absolutely no sense of direction, but we still managed to get where we were going and didn’t get too nauseous in the process. The drive from Abu Dhabi to Dubai is just under two hours so very doable either way.

What we did

1st stop
The Cocoa Room


Again, for those of you who know me you are not surprised at all to see that food was first on the agenda. But hey, one needs to have energy in order to get through a day like this, right? Cocoa Room instantly became one my favorite restaurants of all time. As far as I can remember, they did not accept reservations so try to arrive as soon as you can after they open. Also, and this is your most important piece of advice for the day, make sure you get their burnt marshmallow salted caramel hot chocolate. It will make you feel as if you have died and gone to sugar heaven!IMG_1640

Cocoa Room (becomes Slider Station after 11:30)
8-11:30 +971 600 544005
The Galleria, Al Safa (G Floor)
Al Wase Rd., Jumera 1

2nd stop
Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood

An interesting pedestrian-only area to wander. Sandstone houses tower above snake-like alleyways with many shops housing the bottom levels. Interesting fact: still standing in the neighborhood is the last remaining part of the gypsum and coral wall of old Dubai, which at one time was the city’s protection from attack. Go figure! Although I wrote this cool fact down in my meticulous notes, do you think we remembered it and saw the wall? Of course not (insert eye roll now).DSCF1553

AL Fahidi Historical Neighborhood
04-515 5000
Al Fahidi historical area – Bur Dubai

3rd stop
Gold, Perfume, and Spice Souks


There is nothing that screams Dubai more than these souks. Here all that glitters really is gold! Whether you can afford that 1.1 million dollar necklace or not, it’s fun to walk around and see some of the outrageous pieces of jewelry. We were not able to get to the perfume souks because I was wholly consumed by the spice souks. Arabic coffee, spiced nuts, dates, and of course spices are all things that I get totally geeked over. So I pretty much had to be dragged away in order to stick to that darn schedule I created.IMG_1707

Gold, Perfume and Spice Souks
54 Al Khor St
People typically spend 45 min to 2.5 hr here
can walk to all three
open at 4:00
One word of caution. You will be aggressively approached by street merchants trying to sell you everything from bags to belts. I live in China and deal with this kind of people all the time. This, however, was aggressive even for a seasoned pro such as myself.

4th stop
The Dubai Mall

If malls are your thing, you could spend a week here alone. The Dubai mall is massive. It even houses an indoor ski slope and aquarium! We barely scratched the surface of all the mall had to offer, looking in a few stores and grabbing a quick bite to eat. No rest for the weary!

5th stop
The Dubai Fountain

Attached to the Dubai Mall, this is the largest fountain in the world. It offers incredible views of the Burj Kalifa towering high above.

Dubai Fountain
Show Schedule
Afternoon shows (Fridays only)
1:30pm and 2:00pm
Evening shows, daily
6:00pm – 11:00pm, every 30 minutes
Free to see from various locations, but lake rides in the evening are 65 AED
The fountains are in Burj Khalifa Lake, right outside The Dubai Mall on Lower Ground Waterfront Promenade in the heart of Downtown Dubai.

6th stop

The Burj Kalifa.


A must-do if you are in Dubai. Don’t be afraid to shell out the big bucks and go to the top. You will be rewarded with one-of-a-kind views of the city and surrounding area. We went back and forth between going during the day or going at night. Both times come highly recommended so you really won’t lose by choosing either.IMG_1687

Burj Kalifa
1 Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Blvd
closes at 10:00
Pre-purchase tickets online. Make sure you splurge for the fast pass option called, At The Top Level 124. If not you will be waiting in line forever.
For a sunset visit, be sure to book your entry time approximately 90 minutes prior to sunset.

Thoughts and Things

What to wear

  • no need to have your head covered
  • wear closed-toe shoes
  • no revealing or tight clothing
  • wear pants or long skirt
  • no bare shoulders
  • always have knees covered
  • it is cold at night (80 day/50 night, a/c used heavily)


Things in Dubai are not cheap. Expect to spend a good amount of money, especially if you go shopping in the Gold Souk. 😉

Getting around

You will find very few actual street addresses. It is best to have a map printed with exactly where you want to go. I never did quite get this quirky fact being in a city this large.

Tipping Customs

  • Not compulsory-but common practice so “yes”
  • Most restaurants tack on a service charge which is considered the tip (usually 10%), PLUS there is a 6% Tourism Fee)
  • Taxi-round up to nearest DHS
  • Note: A tip added to credit card bill rarely gets to the person who provided the serviceDSCF1522

All in all, we did a lot during our day in Dubai. That being said, we practically killed ourselves in the process and fought to keep our eyes open on the drive back to Abu Dhabi. Still, as you can see it is do-able. I hope you will have the chance to go to this unique city, but perhaps allow yourself more than just a few mere hours. Take a few days to relax, shop, and see all the glittery sites Dubai has to offer. And while you’re at it, please don’t hesitate to buy some spices for me! 🙂

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