Dubai. A city that has been created practically from nothing in the last couple of decades. Where there was once a desert, modern high buildings stand today, among them currently the tallest in the world. A city that somehow never attracted me, a city that always seemed too artificial, too instant, too modern, too impersonal, not enough cute or somehow without a soul. A city I successfully avoided visiting all these years because its story or concept simply did not convince me. Until now. This March I decided to finally fly to Dubai for our first mother & daughter trip with now 1 year old Mila. Because it is safe, developed, not too far away, the temperatures are pleasant in March, we can swim in the sea as well as in the pool, there is loads of interesting things for children as well as for parents. This very same place I was avoiding for so many years ended up surprising me in the best possible way! My expectations were low I admit, but still. Today I can only say, I’m sorry Dubai, I did you wrong. In fact, I find Dubai one of the best or at least one of the most special places in the world and I am really grateful for this week in which we quite successfully combined lazing on the beach and exploring the city. Quite unexpectedly, in the best possible company, as my friend decided to join us with her little girl, who is only four months older than Mila. Read all about why and how to go to Dubai (with children), what to see in a week, where to choose a hotel, how expensive it is, what we liked the most (and what we didn’t like) and more in this post.
How: Turkish Airlines from Ljubljana via Istanbul
Stayed in: Rove La Mer hotel
HOW TO TRAVEL TO DUBAI
You can of course FLY DIRECTLY to Dubai from many cities in Europe (Emirates & the low cost Flydubai probably have the best connections), but since Dubai is also a major airport hub there is a good chance of a STOPOVER if you are flying somewhere to Asia or Australia for example. We have a direct connection from Ljubljana to Dubai with Flydubai but we found better connection times and a slightly cheaper ticket with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul.
We left Ljubljana in the evening and arrived to Dubai at 7am local time, went to our hotel and relaxed at the hotel beach for our room to be ready. The departure was at 2:30am which allowed us to spend a whole day in the city before heading back to the airport. So we basically had 5 nights in the hotel but full 7 days in the city which was awesome. Our girls basically slept through the flights in both directions so it was really a win win situation for us. I think 5-7 days in Dubai are great, but even if you just have a shorter stopover you can, with some organization and quick pace, see some of the main attractions in just one day.
WHY VISIT DUBAI
As I said, I was one of those people who never thought of visiting Dubai, let alone for a whole week. Well, now that we’re back home, I’m totally excited and I’m persistently convincing my friends that Dubai is really cool. Maybe I can convince some of you too. The main reasons for this visit were, of course, strongly conditioned by the fact that my one-year-old is joining me and that we are going somewhere without daddy for the first time. We ended up going with my friend and her daughter but she only decided to join us pretty much last minute.
SO, I DECIDED FOR DUBAI BASED ON THE FOLLOWING FACTORS: affordable flight tickets, geographically not too far (first flight for 2 hours and the other for 4.5 hours, a quick transfer in between), only 3 hours time difference in our winter time (there was practically no jet lag), summer temperatures and the possibility of swimming in the sea and the pool (it really felt so good after a long winter back home), it is very safe, clean, comfortable and there is a lot to see. Basically, for me, it’s a really great destination for a quick escape with small children – in the case of a family visit, I really highly recommend a hotel by the sea or at least with a swimming pool. In any case, Dubai is really such a special city that is interesting to visit at least once in your life.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN DUBAI
You can probably come for a whole month, but you still won’t “see” or experience everything the city has to offer, but still, even in a week time you will be able to see and do a lot. From the TALLEST BUILDING IN THE WORLD to many different MUSEUMS, VIEWPOINTS, AMUSEMENT AND THEME PARKS, LUXURIOUS HOTELS, PARKS and PLAYGROUNDS, MARINAS, BEACHES, ADRENALINE ACTIVITIES, INDOOR SKI & ICE RINKS to the more traditional OLD PART OF THE CITY WITH ITS SOUKS, MARKETS and more. Read more about the areas of the city and individual attractions in the rest of the article.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Of course, Dubai is far from being the only interesting place in the UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. If you have enough time and you want to discover beyond Dubai, you can drive to ABU DHABI as part of a day trip, and visit its spectacular SHEIKH ZAYED GRAND MOSQUE, take a trip to the desert or enjoy a longer ROAD TRIP around the country with a rented car. A NIGHT IN THE DESERT is also a special experience and you can choose one of the more luxurious tents, but for the more adventurous souls there is good news – WILD CAMPING is tolerated in the UAE, so you can bring a small tent with you. You can also combine a visit to the UAE with a visit to neighboring OMAN, which I visited in 2013 and it remains one of my favorite destinations to this day.
DOWNTOWN DUBAI | the heart of Dubai with its world-known atractions
One of the largest LUXURY SHOPPING MALLS in the world, currently the WORLD’S HIGHEST BUILDING, the famous DUBAI FOUNTAIN, the OPERA, ICE RINK, LUXURIOUS HOTELS and RESTAURANTS, OBSERVATION DECKS and more – in this modern urban center of Dubai we can find a whole lot of unique attractions, most of which might leave you speechless. If you have limited time to visit Dubai, you should definitely visit the DOWNTOWN area first, and even during a multi-day visit to the city, I recommend this area for your first day of sightseeing.
Our plane from Istanbul landed in the early hours of the morning, so we spent the first day relaxing at the beach leisurely, by the pool and in the nearby La Mer neighborhood, but we started the second day full of energy by visiting the following attractions.
DUBAI MALL | one of the largest shopping malls in the world
I don’t know how accurate this information is, but Dubai Mall is said to be the most visited lifestyle destination in the world. Judging by the crowds of visitors we witnessed during our two times in the mall, I would agree with this statistic. Over 1,200 shops, 200 international restaurants, cinemas, playgrounds and other attractions, of which the AQUARIUM is probably the most famous attraction, can easily distract you for the whole day.
For all shopping enthusiasts and those who just like window shopping, I recommend a visit to the so-called FASHION AVENUE where there are around 150 LUXURY BOUTIQUES of the most recognized prestigious brands. And yes, also for babies and children!
And if the most luxurious stores are on the upper floors, the most affordable ones are on the lowest. Here we also find a huge WAITROSE SUPERMARKET, where you can get really everything, from Swiss cheeses to more local and affordable Arabic delicacies. There is also a warm kitchen inside the supermarket, where we had a quick lunch twice – really cheap and tasty. Not far away, we discovered a couple of small shops with Arabic delicacies and snacks too. The CULINARY OFFER in Dubai Mall is overall pretty amazing, we ended up trying some of the most delicious dates I’ve ever had, accompanied by a traditional coffee at CAFE BATEEL with a view on the famous HUMAN WATERFALL.
The Dubai Mall certainly does not lack special OFFERS FOR CHILDREN. For many, the AQUARIUM will be the most interesting, but otherwise you can take them to KIDZANIA, where they learn about different professions and activities, to the virtual theme park PLAY DXB, to EKART ZABEEL go-karts, to TRAMPO EXTREME trampoline park, to REEL CINEMA which is a dine-in cinema, or for example, an indoor playground in KIDS PLAY.
For a nice view of BURJ PARK with the famous BURJ KHALIFA building, be sure to visit the APPLE STORE in Dubai Mall, which has a wonderful OUTDOOR TERRACE. If I’m not mistaken, the latter is closed for security reasons during the operation of the water fountain, at least in the evening hours, but the view is equally interesting even when the fountain is not operating.
DUBAI MALL AQUARIUM | underwater Zoo and aquarium
One of the largest aquariums in the world is certainly the number one attraction for many visitors to Dubai, especially the younger ones. I admit, I made an exception this time, because I usually avoid zoos and similar parks everywhere we go. The massive, 10 MILLION LITRES RESERVOIR is home to the world’s largest collection of tiger sharks and tens of thousands of other aquatic animals. Probably the most impressive is the OUTSIDE WALL OF THE AQUARIUM, through which you can admire the animal world, (even if you don’t buy a ticket), and of course the famous, approximately 50m long TUNNEL, through which we walk as soon as we enter the interior of the aquarium. Otherwise, I have to say that everything looks much bigger in the pictures than it seemed to me in reality.
You can also opt for certain extra activities, such as a ride on a glass-bottomed boat, snorkeling in a cage or diving in the largest water tank, etc. In addition to the aquarium, you can also visit the UNDERWATER ZOO, with over 100 animal species, from jellyfish, penguins, crocodiles to tropical fish, turtles, starfish and more.
DUBAI FOUNTAIN SHOW | spectacular show on the lake in Burj park
One of the more interesting and SPECTACULAR FREE ATTRACTIONS is definitely the FOUNTAIN SHOW, which is held several times a day ON THE BURJ KHALIFA LAKE, between BURJ KHALIFA and the Dubai Mall. We watched the show in the evening.
The first DAILY SHOW currently starts at 1:00 PM, and the second one is half an hour later. The first NIGHT PERFORMANCE is at 6:00 p.m., repeats are every half hour until 10 or 11 (on weekends) in the evening. The evening show is joined by a LIGHT and MUSIC SHOW and the whole thing is really interesting to see. For the best view, you have to be in the front row well in advance, preferably standing at the SOUK AL BAHAR BRIDGE.
SOUK AL BAHAR | modern market in Burj park
In the older neighborhoods of Dubai, there are many markets or souks, as they are called here, but I will still mention this one, which, due to its convenient central location and proximity to some of Dubai’s biggest attractions, is more luxurious and a good choice to visit if you are limited by time. A labyrinth of corridors made of natural stone with many SHOPS in Arabic decor as well as RESTAURANTS in a more modern style are located here. Also worth a visit is the brand new TIME OUT MARKET, which offers some of the best CULINARY EXPERIENCES in the city, including outdoor terraces with views of the Promenade and Burj Park.
BURJ KHALIFA | the tallest building in the world
At the moment, the most recognizable building in Dubai, is with its 828m, also the HIGHEST BUILDING IN THE WORLD. This architectural wonder is definitely worth a look from different points in Burj Park.
You can also go up to one of the OBSERVATION DECKS, namely AT THE TOP on the 124th and 125th floor and AT THE TOP SKY on the 148th floor. In addition to this, you can pamper your taste buds in one of the RESTAURANTS on the 122nd, 152nd, 153rd or 154th floor. There is a fee to visit the observation decks (depending on which floor you choose) and online booking in advance is advisable.
SKY VIEWS DUBAI | amazing observation deck
Instead of visiting one of the observation decks at the Burj Khalifa, we decided to check out SKY VIEWS DUBAI, on top of the Address Sky View Hotel. A PANORAMIC GLASS ELEVATOR took us to the 52nd floor, where we entered the OBSERVATION DECK WITH A GLASS BOTTOM at about 220m above the ground. Besides the excellent views of Burj Park, Burj Khalifa and other architectural wonders in the area, you can also enjoy going down a GLASS SLIDE located on the outside part of the building’s glass facade or take an adrenaline walk outside known as the EDGE WALK.
Really impressive and definitely worth a visit, even with kids. Our girls had their own fun running on the glass panels. In the end, we stopped at a bar that, in addition to expensive drinks, also offered an excellent view of the Burj Park.
MUSEUM OF THE FUTURE
The MUSEUM OF THE FUTURE is another one of the most famous recent attractions in Dubai, it was only opened in 2022. In the so-called “living museum”, we immerse ourselves in dreams about the unlimited possibilities of technological and scientific development in the coming decades, artificial intelligence, the future of space travel, changes in ecosystems and much more. The museum is already included in the lists of the most beautiful museums in the world, and its asymmetrical architectural design provides an interesting visual attraction even at first glance from the outside. If you don’t have time to enter the museum, you can at least take a quick look at it from the outside and you won’t regret it.
DUBAI DEIRA | the charming old part of Dubai with souks and affordable restaurants & hotels
For a real contrast to the modern Downtown area of the city, don’t miss a visit to the more traditional part of the city in the DEIRA area, also known as OLD DUBAI. Narrow streets, many MARKETS, among which the most famous are the GOLD SOUK, SPICE SOUK, PERFUME SOUK, SOUK AL MARFA, NAIF SOUK, DEIRA WATERFRONT MARKET (fish market) and the first shopping center AL GHURAIR CENTER, DUBAI CREEK canal waterways with wooden ABRA TAXI BOATS (taking one of these across the creek is a great and a really cheap adventure by the way) and traditional Arab DHOW SHIPS take you back decades. You can treat yourself to an evening PANORAMIC CRUISE or a delicious traditional feast on one of the old ships that today host FLOATING RESTAURANTS. In this area you can also find more affordable restaurants and hotels.
Poleg naštetega vas tu čaka še kopica MUZEJEV, kot na primer DUBAI MUSEUM, NAIF MUSEUM, AL BOOM TOURIST VILLAGE, AL AHMADIYA HERITAGE HOUSE in WOMEN’S MUSEUM.
AL SEEF | traditional Arabic neighborhood and souk
On the other side of Dubai Creek, there are two other TRADITIONAL NEIGHBORHOODS that also belong in the “old Dubai” – AL SEEF and AL FAHIDI (more on this one later on).
Soooo many things to look at! From antique artifacts, to clothes with Arabic flair, jewellery, toys, souvenirs, home decore, textiles and much more.
Visiting the Al Seef area in the morning hours was a real treat, because everything was still quite calm, it wasn’t too hot and the girls were carelessly running between the many shops in the PEDESTRIAN ZONE right next to the water channel. We really liked it here and I totally recommend it to everyone visiting Dubai with children. Also, I am not a fan of Starbucks, but isn’t this one just the cutes ever?
AL FAHIDI | historical neighborhood also known under the name Al Bastakiya
This interesting HISTORICAL NEIGHBORHOOD, also known as AL BASTAKIYA, is located very close to the Al Seef area and offers a unique experience of the CULTURAL – ARCHITECTURAL HERITAGE of Dubai. Traditional TOWERS made of sandstone and wood, mysterious alleys, many MUSEUMS (some of them are completely free to enter), cultural activities, mosques, galleries, excellent cafes and restaurants, REMAINS OF THE FIRST WALLS and on and on. Wonderful place.
Here we also had an excellent TRADITIONAL ARABIAN LUNCH at the famous ARABIAN TEA HOUSE restaurant, which did not disappoint. Lovely decor and tasty food, also very child friendly.
DUBAI CREEK | charming parts of Dubai along the water channels
DEIRA, as well as AL SEEF and AL FAHIDI are located on the banks of the DUBAI CREEK water channel, but if we head a little further south of the mentioned neighborhoods, we can find many other interesting places and areas, such as DUBAI CREEK MARINA, DUBAI CREEK HARBOR, the modern DUBAI FESTIVAL CITY, and on the other side of the creek there is a larger green CREEK PARK. Here we find children’s playgrounds, as well as a larger indoor playground for kids called the CHILDREN’S CITY. I should also mention the wonderful green reserve RAS AL KHOR WILDLIFE SANCTUARY, home to a good number of flamingos and various birds.
JUMEIRAH | one of the most iconic parts of the city
One of the more elegant areas of the city in terms of hotel location and beaches is spread along Dubai’s coastline and offers plenty of leisure options. Luxurious resorts and hotels, boutiques, cafes and restaurants, prestigious villas, water activities, famous beaches and more – we also chose our hotel right here and we don’t regret it.
LA MER CENTRAL | hip neighborhood with unique vibe
In the immediate vicinity of our HOTEL (more about it at the very end of this post), we discovered this HIP NEIGHBORHOOD with the French-sounding name La Mer, the first evening upon arrival.
In addition to enjoying La Mer beach, La Mer offers unique architecture in Dubai – it is a kind of URBAN BEACH with wooden walkways, graffiti and murals, driftwood art, vintage vehicles, rope decorations, hammocks and attractively decorated streets with an artistic touch at every turn. I recommend visiting at sunset, when many lights are lit and it’s really nice to walk around.
MADINAT JUMEIRAH | modern mini city built in traditional Arabic style
One morning we decided to visit this interesting MODERN CITY WITHIN A CITY where we admired luxurious 5-star HOTELS, walked all around SOUK MADINAT JUMEIRAH market and passed numerous RESTAURANTS on the PROMENADE along the artificial WATER CHANNELS within the 5km long river system. Lovely architecture in Arabic style and the overall great atmosphere impressed us.
For an even more special experience, you can treat yourself to a ride on the canals with one of the wooden boats, otherwise I recommend a visit to CAFÉ COSTA (excellent pastries at slightly higher prices), as their terrace offers a wonderful view of the famous BURJ AL ARAB HOTEL. The hotel can also be seen from the platform in front of the cafe, which is accessible to everyone.
DUBAI BURJ AL ARAB | iconic 7 star hotel
At the end of the last millennium, the most recognizable trademark of Dubai had to be the BURJ AL ARAB HOTEL. It is built in a shape of a sail and it sits on its own little island. While Dubai might have gotten a few other iconic buildings since that time, this hotel is still something special to see, even if from afar.
It can be seen from some of the area’s beach clubs, which have an entrance fee, as well as some open public beaches and, as mentioned above, from some points in the Madinat Jumeirah area. Even if you don’t stay overnight in this 7 STARS LUXURY HOTEL, you can visit one of the hotel’s RESTAURANTS – they are all in high ranks though, both in terms of prices and offer.
PALM JUMEIRAH | artificial islands forming a shape of a palm tree
Who hasn’t heard of these artificial islands that create the image of a palm tree from the air, where many world known celebrities have bought their homes? TOP HOTELS, TRENDY RESTAURANTS, BEACHES, WALKING PATHS, SHOPPING CENTERS, NIGHT CLUBS, THEME PARKS and VIEWPOINTS – you will definitely not be bored here either. You can get here by the famous MONORAIL, and visit AQUAVENTURE WATER PARK, THE LOST CHAMBERS AQUARIUM, THE PALM FOUNTAIN, THE ICONIC ATLANTIS HOTEL, walk along the PALM JUMEIRAH BOARDWALK and more. We did not visit The Palm this time, but definitely on the list for our next trip to Dubai.
DUBAI MARINA | another one of the modern exclusive neighborhoods of Dubai
A walk along the 7 kilometer long so-called DUBAI MARINA WALK promenade is another thing that should not be missed in Dubai. Luxury yachts, futuristic SKYSCRAPERS, RESTAURANTS and bars, well-kept PARKS, markets and sports areas, BEACHES (with JBR BEACH being the most iconic), WATER SPORTS, YACHTS or BOATS EXCURSIONS, DUBAI MARINA MALL shopping center, various outdoor EVENTS – there is something for everyone around here.
We didn’t visit it this time, but I should mention it anyway – the BLUEWATERS ISLAND, which lies opposite the Dubai Marina. It is home to the huge AIN DUBAI FERRIS WHEEL , hotels, clubs, restaurants, shops and more luxurious residential neighborhoods. In general, we liked the marina quite a lot, not just for the views but also because it is ideal for WALKING (also with a stroller if you have babies or toddlers on board), which may be more of a challenge in some other parts of the city.
OTHER ATTRACTIONS IN DUBAI | parks, gardens, viewpoints, mosques, shopping centers and more
There is also whole series of attractions in Dubai that I haven’t mentioned so far, so I’m adding them here. We did not visit the following attractions this time, but maybe you decide to do so, so here they are: DUBAI MIRACLE GARDENS for all botany and flowering installations enthusiasts, the huge DUBAI FRAME, many other shopping centers such as the MALL OF EMIRATES (where there is also an indoor ski slope SKI DUBAI), THE GLOBAL VILLAGE THEME PARK, JUMEIRAH MOSQUE, IMG WORLDS OF ADVENTURE, LEGOLAND, MOHAMMED BIN RASHID LIBRARY, AURA SKY POOL, INDUSTRIAL ALSERKAL AVENUE, EXPO CITY DUBAI, many wonderful PARKS and PLAYGROUNDS, and there is surely something I forgot to mention.
FREE THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN DUBAI
And since one of the most frequently asked questions so far has also been how expensive Dubai really is, I decided to publish one post on this topic first. The post is already online and you can read it on the link below. Fact is, it is possible to survive a whole week in Dubai with surprisingly less money than i initially thought, as there are a lot of INTERESTING FREE AND AFFORDABLE ACTIVITIES AND EXPERIENCES available. I myself am always a fan of a combination of cheap or free things and those that are a little more expensive, because oh well you only live once and we have to enjoy here and there too. However, there really is something for every budget in Dubai.
ROVE LA MER HOTEL DUBAI | excellent choice of hotel in Dubai
Finally, I simply have to add a paragraph or two about ROVE LA MER HOTEL, which was our home during our visit to Dubai. I discovered it online even before I bought the flights and was immediately intrigued. The following three things convinced me: 1) the hotel is next to the beach and has a (heated) swimming pool, 2) the hotel offers a free shuttle to the center of Dubai Mall and 3) positive comments and reviews on online platforms for accommodation reservations. Let me add here that this is not a collaboration or a sponsored post, I just liked the hotel so much that it deserves a little praise and my recommendation to everyone looking for accommodation in Dubai.
There are a couple of other hotels from the same Rove group in Dubai, but I liked this one the most, which is located in the LA MER area. I booked a standard double room, but upon arrival, both my friend and I were upgraded to rooms with a sea view for free. HOTEL ROOMS are modern but still equally personal, with really thoughtful accessories and unique decor. Among other things, we also had a small refrigerator in the rooms, in which we stored snacks and drinks after our first visit to the supermarket. In addition to the reception with many sofas and comfortable chairs, the hotel also has a CONFERENCE ROOM, FITNESS, LUGGAGE STORAGE, GAME ROOM, TABLES WITH ELECTRICAL CONNECTIONS FOR LAPTOPS, LAUNDRY and also its RESTAURANT in the ground floor. The restaurant has both indoor and outdoor area on a spacious TERRACE, and serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and, of course, many snacks and drinks. The culinary offer is also available in the lower BEACH BAR, which is easier to access from the beach, and ROOM SERVICE is also possible (both for food and drinks, without additional payment).
The hotel has a large enough area on the otherwise PUBLIC BEACH, where all hotel guests can use free SUNCHAIRS and UMBRELLAS, TOWELS and unlimited amounts of bottled DRINKING WATER. There is also a TOILET and a DRINKING WATER MACHINE on the beach, where you can refill your bottles as many times as you want.
Another one of those extra little things that make a huge difference is, for example, FREE RENTAL OF TOYS for children, BALLS AND RACKETS and similar, and FREE ICE CREAM once a day for everyone. A LIFEGUARD is also present.
The beach is clean, the sea is also ideal for small children, in addition to classic beach chairs, there are also folding deckchairs and bags for sitting. They serve delicious snacks and meals at the BEACH BAR where you can also enjoy watching sports matches on a huge outdoor screen.
The POOL, around which deck chairs and tables are arranged, is heated and thus suitable for swimming all year round. One part is less deep and therefore also ideal for small children, in the immediate vicinity there are SHOWERS and TOILETS with free TOWELS, soap and shampoo.
In addition to the hotel restaurant mentioned above, there is also a special ICE CREAM TRUCK, where they have really excellent 100% natural ice creams (albeit for a rather high price). The best time for us at the pool was at the end of the day, when there was absolutely no crowd, and the sea was a little too cold towards the evenings in March.
The HOTEL LOCATION itself is also excellent, about 4 km from the city center (Downtown), where the free HOTEL SHUTTLE BUS (approx. 20 minutes) will take you several times a day. You can of course always grab a taxi, they are very affordable in Dubai. A short walk along the beach and you are already in the center of the action in LA MER CENTRAL, where a bunch of restaurants and shops are located. The hotel is also not far from the airport and other interesting parts of the city, but still far enough to have just enough amount of peace. But the best thing of them all though has to be the above-average friendly and helpful HOTEL STAFF. I don’t know when was the last time I said to myself “oh, I’d love to go to this hotel again sometime”, but that’s definitely what I was thinking when we left.
So much for Dubai from me, for now. I feel like I will definitely come back again one day, because the image of the city continues to change at a high speed, and I have no doubt that in about 5 years (or even sooner) there will be a lot of new things. Besides, there are still many places that we left out visiting this time. And you, have you already visited Dubai?