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Are you traveling via Dubai and have a few hours to spare at the airport and are considering a Dubai layover? If you’re flying between Asia and the Americas, you will likely be making a stop here. After flying for many years, Dubai has always been just a stopover for me but I’ve always only been familiar with the four walls of the airport. This time, I decided to venture out and extend my layover to a 2-night stay to finally explore the city! If you’re thinking of doing the same, this guide will help you plan out your Dubai layover!
In this guide, you’ll also find useful tips to help you get the most out of your stopover in this bustling metropolis. There are also some hotel suggestions for a short visit to Dubai at the end of this article.
- 1 Can you leave the Dubai airport during a layover?
- 2 Do you need a visa if you have a layover in Dubai?
- 3 Duration of the UAE Dubai Transit Visa
- 4 How to apply for a UAE Dubai transit visa
- 5 Dubai Layover Itinerary Options
- 6 Where to stay on your Dubai layover
- 7 Staying Connected with a Dubai SIM Card
- 8 Visiting Dubai Checklist
- 9 MY TOP TRAVEL TIPS & RESOURCES
Can you leave the Dubai airport during a layover?
The short answer is yes – there are plenty of things to do in the Dubai airport to keep you entertained. On the other hand, if you have a long stopover in Dubai then leaving the airport is absolutely fine, as long as you have the right visa. You don’t need a visa if you’re just transiting through Dubai airport.
Do you need a visa if you have a layover in Dubai?
If you’re considering a layover in the UAE, you might need to obtain a visa to exit the airport. The good news is that getting a UAE stopover visa is simple and straightforward!
You will need a UAE Dubai transit visa, if:
- You don’t have a passport of a country that is on the UAE visa on arrival or a visa-free entrance list. (You can visit the official website to check if you’re eligible for a visa on arrival or not).
- You are not a citizen of the countries (GCC region) exempted from that UAE Tourist Visas.
- Your onward flight is in the next 48 or 96 hours
Duration of the UAE Dubai Transit Visa
The UAE issues two types of single entry transit visas, visas issued for 48 and 96 hours. You have to apply for a visa prior to your arrival in the country. Note that both 48-hour AND 96-hour visas expire within 30 days of issue. Moreover, the 48-hour visa cannot be extended to 96 hours once it is issued.
How to apply for a UAE Dubai transit visa
Only the UAE based-airlines you are traveling through can arrange your transit visa prior to your journey. If your trip is through a travel agency, the agency can also help you get the visa, but all visas are routed through the airline.
So make sure to check with your airline or travel agency ahead of travel for your Dubai transit visa.
Dubai Layover Itinerary Options
6-12 hours layover in Dubai
Option 1 – Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa
This itinerary is perfect if you have at least 6 hours to spare in Dubai, so you can make the best of your time.
TIP: If you have less than 6 hours in Dubai, I would suggest booking premium lounge access at the airport, as immigration can sometimes take a long time in Dubai. Add in the time waiting for transport in and out of the airport, it’s just not worth the stress of leaving the airport and rushing back in time!
Dubai is all about that boujee living: Rolls Royces and Bentleys everywhere on the street, gold flakes on your coffee, and all that jazz. So where better to immerse yourself in all that luxe than in Dubai Mall – the world’s largest destination for shopping, entertainment, and leisure, and it’s right next to the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.
Dubai Mall is only 15 minutes from the airport by car, and you can easily hail a cab or take an Uber. I took an Uber everywhere during my trip, and it was easy and convenient. Alternatively, If you’d like to save the hassle, you can book a private airport transfer in advance.
Think Dubai and you’ll think of the Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world. Impressively standing at 830m tall (that’s more than half a mile!), admiring it from below feels so surreal. If you have time, I suggest also going to the top of the world’s tallest building for sweeping views of Dubai. Burj Khalifa At The Top is a very popular experience and often sold out, so I suggest booking the Burj Khalifa tickets in advance.
This is one of the best spots to admire the Burj Khalifa, and as if that wasn’t impressive enough, the Dubai Fountains light up every day with a music and light show. And since they’ve got the world’s largest mall, the world’s tallest building, why stop there? The Dubai Fountain is the world’s largest performing fountain! Best of all, it’s free.
Show schedule: Daily 6pm to 11pm (every 30 minutes); Seasonally, lunchtime performances may be added at 1:00 PM and 1:30 PM (1:30 PM & 2:00 PM weekends)
It’s nice to catch the first fountain show at dusk and then return for a nighttime show when you can also capture LED lighting displays on the Burj Khalifa from 7.45 PM.
Take note that the fountains can get incredibly crowded, especially during show times. There are a few other ways you can enjoy the music and light show:
- Take a fountain lake ride on a traditional abra around Burj Lake
- Walk on to the Dubai Fountain Boardwalk
- Dine at one of the nearby restaurants with outdoor seating over the lake
- From the top of Burj Khalifa!
It’s best to be in position around 15 minutes before the show to get a good spot.
Dubai Mall restaurants with fountain views
- On the lower ground level try; Social House – casual international dining, Carluccios – Italian, Wafi Gourmet – Lebanese. For some quick bites, look out for Nandos, Pizza Hut, KFC.
- Level 1 – OFK (Open Flame Kitchen) – upscale international
- Level 2 – TGI Fridays – American dining, Tribes – casual African
Souk Al Bahar restaurants with fountain views
- Bice Mare – Italian Seafood
- Serafina – Italian
- Karma Kafe – Pan Asian
- For smaller bites, you can grab from Deluca Café and Baker & Spice
Dubai Aquarium is located inside the Dubai Mall itself. You can see the gigantic aquarium from the mall (and it’s free!). You can also visit the actual aquarium itself by purchasing tickets here. As with all other attractions in Dubai, I advise booking your tickets in advance as the queue can get really long at certain times, and you wouldn’t want to spend your precious time in a queue. Plus, advanced tickets are cheaper! Book your Dubai Aquarium tickets here.
TIP: If you’re planning to visit the Burj Khalifa and the Aquarium, consider purchasing this 2-in-1 ticket for Burj Khalifa and Dubai Aquarium which is much cheaper than buying them individually! Book your tickets now.
And if you’re a shopaholic like me, shopping in the world’s largest shopping mall is sort of like a pilgrimage! Don’t forget to put on your walking shoes though because this mall is seriously huge. You could easily spend a week here and still not see everything.
Option 2 – Sightseeing tour
Alternatively, if you want to have everything taken care of for you, this Dubai Layover Tour was specially designed for short layovers. You’ll be greeted at the airport by your guide and be whisked away to the land of old gold and spice souks. This private tour also includes tickets to the Top of the Burj. All you have to do is relax in your air-conditioned vehicle and see the best that Dubai has to offer, all in just 4.5 hours!
One-day Dubai layover itinerary
If you have at least one night or one full day on your Dubai layover, you can combine the visit to the Dubai Mall with one of these activities:
- Visit the Souqs. With all the glitz and glam of Dubai, sometimes it can be easy to forget how rich the old culture of Dubai is. A visit to Dubai’s famous traditional markets is a must – Spice Souq and Deira Gold Souq. Seeing all that glittering gold was definitely a huge eye-opener! I hadn’t seen such huge pieces of gold jewelry before!
- Take a walk down the manmade beach. Jumeriah Beach is a manmade beach on the coast of Dubai where most of the uber-luxurious hotels are located. It’s definitely worth a visit to sink your feet into the soft, white sand and admire the Burj Al-Arab, the world’s only 7-star hotel often touted as the eighth wonder of the world. If you’re ready for a splurge, a one-night stay here starts from $2,000!
- Palm Jumeirah. Just close by is the world-famous Palm Jumeirah, an archipelago of artificial islands. You’ve definitely seen aerial shots of this palm tree-shaped island! It’s certainly an experience driving through one of the spines of this island and imagining what it’s like to live like the rich and famous. If you have the budget, I highly recommend booking a night in one of the hotels here, as it is truly a unique experience.
- Dubai Marina. Dubai Marina is an upscale residential area, known for The Beach at JBR. This leisure complex offers outdoor dining and a relaxing sandy beach. The waterfront of Dubai Marina Walk is lined with hip cafés and pop-up craft markets, while the Dubai Marina Mall is lined with chain stores and high-end fashion brands. Luxury yachts cruise a man-made marina, where activities such as jet skiing and skydiving are available. It’s especially lively in the evening, and taking a sunset dinner cruise for spectacular views is the best way to enjoy the marina.
Learn from my mistake! My Dubai trip was a rather spontaneous one, so I did not book a private driver for the day which I highly recommend! The sights in Dubai are so sprawled out so getting from point A to point B can be quite a distance. I found it quite hard to get an Uber at times, especially when walking around Jumeirah Beach. Also, taking numerous Ubers from point to point did add up the cost. So if I could do things differently, I would definitely hire a driver for the day who could take us around and of course, tell us more about these sights! You can hire a private chauffeur here.
Two-day Dubai layover
If you have two days on your Dubai layover just like we did, I suggest spending one day doing the activities I suggested above, and for your second day, venturing a little further out of the city for more fun experiences!
Go on a Dubai desert safari
Going on a Dubai desert safari was definitely the highlight of my Dubai trip! You get picked up after lunchtime in a 4×4 and are transported to the sand dunes of Dubai, where you’ll get to experience some exhilarating dune bashing! If you’re a thrill seeker, I suggest taking the front seat to see all the plunges down the sand dunes!
You’ll also get to try some sandboarding! In the evening, you’ll take a camel ride into the sunset. As it gets dark, you’ll proceed to the Bedouin campsite where you can sip some Arabic coffee and munch on sweet dates. You’ll be entertained by spectacular belly dancing and tanoura dancing performances as well as an awesome fire show. I thought they would be very touristy, but they actually put on a really fun show! There was also a huge BBQ dinner, and I was impressed by the quality of the food. You’ll also get to try sheesha smoking and Henna painting.
And of course, cap off this wonderful evening by gazing at the star-spangled sky.
I highly recommend including this in your itinerary for an unforgettable experience. Book your Dubai desert safari here!
Take a day trip to Abu Dhabi
If I had another day in Dubai, I would definitely have loved to visit Abu Dhabi. It’s only a 1.5 hour drive away so it’s easily done in a day. Admire the immense opulence of the iconic Grand Sheikh Zayed Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world and visit the Heritage Village and get a glimpse into the traditional Bedouin way of life. The easiest way is to book a full-day tour where you’ll get picked up right at your hotel, and dropped back after – completely hassle-free!
Where to stay on your Dubai layover
Dubai is an expensive city, and hotels are no different, but there are still affordable options for your Dubai layover. I recommend staying close to the Dubai Mall so you’re close to food and entertainment options on your short layover. We stayed at an Airbnb close enough for us to walk to Dubai Mall. Here are some options for your stay:
- DAMAC Maison Dubai Mall Street (4⭐)
- Ramada Downtown Dubai (4⭐)
- The Dubai EDITION (6⭐)
- Address Boulevard (5⭐)
- Address Dubai Mall (5⭐)
Dubai is a city to splurge in, so if you’re prepared for that, here are some luxurious hotels to spoil yourself in:
- Burj Al Arab (7⭐) – The Burj al Arab Hotel or “Tower of the Arabs,” is said to be the world’s only 7-star hotel (!), and is presently the third tallest hotel in the world. Prices start from $1,524 per night
- Jumeirah Al Qasr (5⭐) Prices start from $515 per night
- Marriott Resort Palm Jumeirah (5⭐) Prices start from $301 per night
- Atlantis, The Palm (5⭐) You’ve probably seen these unique hotel rooms at the Atlantis which feature immense floor-to-ceiling windows into a 65,000 marine animal aquarium, so you’ll wake up with the stunning views of the aquarium right from your bed. Prices start from $834 per night (for normal rooms) and $7,000 per night for the underwater suites (wowza!)
And if you’re a fashionista, I highly recommend staying in these hotels designed by some of the world’s biggest luxury fashion houses.
- Palazzo Versace Dubai (5⭐) – Every single piece of furniture and fabric that adorns the hotel’s 215 hotel rooms and suites, and 169 residences, is designed and tailor-made by the House of Versace exclusively for the Palazzo Versace Hotel in Dubai. Prices start from $260 per night
- Bulgari Resort Dubai (5⭐) – Situated on the manmade Jumeira Bay, an island carved into the shape of a seahorse and adjoined by a 300 m bridge to central Dubai coastline, Bulgari Hotel & Resorts, Dubai comprises a private Marina featuring 50 boat berths and the first world’s Bulgari Yacht Club with peerless views over the sea. Prices start from $1,225 per night
- Armani Hotel Dubai (5⭐) – Envisioned by fashion icon Giorgio Armani, this hotel has a private entrance and occupies 11 floors of Dubai’s iconic skyscraper, Burj Khalifa. It has a deluxe spa and direct access to Dubai Mall. Prices start from $579 per night
Staying Connected with a Dubai SIM Card
These days, it’s unheard of to be without a data connection when out and about. And what’s better than a FREE SIM card? Luckily in Dubai, you get a SIM card for free! You can collect your free SIM card at Dubai Airport’s passport control. Once you get your passport stamped, you will get your passport back along with a free Du Dubai SIM card. Just pop it into your phone and enjoy 1 GB of free data for 24 hours.
After 24 hours, you will have to top up to use the sim card, but at least that’s better than nothing! Especially if you’re only traveling for less than 24 hours.
Note: If you go through the automated passport scanner at customs, you won’t be handed a free SIM card! You will have to go to a booth with an officer to get your free Dubai SIM card.
Alternatively, if you don’t want the hassle of changing SIM cards, you can download the Airalo app, purchase a package, and get connected instantly! This is my favorite way to stay connected as it saves all the hassle of buying a SIM card and messing about with these tiny SIMs. PLUS, you can purchase the package in advance and get connected instantly even when you’re still on the plane! Find out more about Airalo.
So there you have it! I hope you’ve found some ideas for the best things to do on your short layover in Dubai. If you have any more suggestions or things I’ve missed out, please let me know in the comments below! Enjoy your trip!
Visiting Dubai Checklist
⇢ Compare accommodation options and prices on Booking.com
⇢ Book tours in advance on Klook or Viator
⇢ Get your data roaming sorted before you arrive with Airalo!
⇢ Spend abroad without hidden fees. Sign up for a Wise travel credit card!
⇢ Don’t forget travel insurance! Travel insurance is the most overlooked purchase when traveling, but one of the most essential. Anything can happen when you’re on holiday and you’d want to be covered in the case of travel mishaps such as flight delays, personal accidents, or theft. Choose World Nomads Travel Insurance, designed by travelers for travelers.
⇢ Don’t leave home without a power bank!
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MY TOP TRAVEL TIPS & RESOURCES
Here are my top travel tips and resources to help you save money and plan your trips effectively! If you're looking for more tips, head over to my travel tips resource page or my comprehensive guide on trip planning.
- Booking Flights: When it comes to finding great flight deals, I always start my search on Google Flights or Skyscanner. To save some cash, consider flying mid-week or on the weekends, opt for carry-on only with budget airlines, and be open to red-eye or early morning flights. Check out my in-depth guide on how I find the cheapest flights.
- Accommodations: I'm a stickler for finding the absolute best deals on my stays, so I will obsessively oscillate between a few booking sites: Booking.com (in general) and Agoda (for Asian destinations). When it comes to vacation rentals, there's Airbnb or VRBO.
- Travel Insurance: It's always a wise decision to purchase travel insurance for international trips. I can't stress this enough - it's highly recommended! For international travel insurance, I suggest considering World Nomads or SafetyWing. SafetyWing, in particular, stands out as one of the few policies that cover Covid-19. They also offer excellent monthly policies that are perfect for digital nomads and long-term travelers!
- Travel Credit Card: My go-to travel credit card for booking trips is the Wise travel card. I love that there are no foreign transaction fees, so I can pay like a local and never get any surprises at the end of my trip. You can also withdraw cash from the ATMs wherever you are. With Wise, you are always guaranteed the best exchange rate, and I have saved sooo much money just by using this card. Most of the time, I get charged the exchange rate I see on Google, plus or minus a few cents.
- Tours: Most times, I prefer traveling independently but sometimes, getting a guide and a local's perspective makes the experience all the more enriching. When it comes to tour bookings, I trust Viator and GetYourGuide to provide me with excellent options. In Asia, I choose Klook as they are the biggest provider in the region. Plus, you can often get entrance tickets and discounted prices!
- Transportation: To navigate through public transit options and plan my journeys from one place to another, I rely on Rome2Rio. When it comes to rental cars, I compare rental companies and find the best deals through DiscoverCars.
- Connection: It's essential to me to have seamless connectivity wherever I go. I need it to navigate to new places, Google what's around me, and keep in touch with my loved ones. But fumbling around with multiple SIMs has always been a nightmare, which is why I choose Airalo when I travel. No more switching SIMs, just purchase a plan on your phone, on the go, anywhere, and stay connected.
- Luggage Storage: Whenever I need to check out early or take advantage of a long layover, I securely store my luggage with LuggageHero. It's a reliable service that allows me to roam around freely. As a bonus, you can use this link to enjoy your first hour of FREE luggage storage on me!
- What to Pack: I always have packing anxiety once I've left home—you know the phantom feeling that you've forgotten something even though you've checked 372836 times. So I made my own packing list and use it religiously before every trip, and by religious I mean I tick off that list at least 7 times before I zip up my bag. Check out my in-depth packing list here.