As one of the world’s busiest airports, Dubai makes a natural stopover destination when connecting from Europe to Australasia, Africa, or beyond.
With the growth of Emirates and FlyDubai, it’s never been easier to book a stopover in Dubai for your next holiday. Best of all, if you are flying with Emirates you can add a Dubai Stopover for no extra cost and they’ll assist you with booking tours, hotels, and even airport pick up! They will also help with visas if required.
Whether you are staying for a few hours or overnight, read this guide to plan your ultimate 48-hour stopover in Dubai.
TIP: Don’t spend your long Dubai layover sitting at the airport! Even if you only have half a day, you can still see some of the city. This guide can also be condensed and used to put together your perfect stopover in Dubai.
What to do with 48-Hours in Dubai:
1. Visit Burj Khalifa
No visit to Dubai is complete without visiting this incredible structure. The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world and is visible from almost anywhere in Dubai. On a clear day, you can see The Burj Khalifa from 95 km away!
With a total height of 829.8 meters, it has the world’s highest observation deck at a height of 555 meters. I highly recommend you buy a ticket to visit during sunrise or sunset. This way you will be able to experience the views during both day & night. The view from this marvellous wonder is instaworthy! From up there you will see how the incredible metropolis seems to rise from the desert dunes.
Once the sunsets, be sure to head to the fountains of Dubai Mall to get the best view of the Burj Khalifa light show. Each night a light show lights up the towers in an incredible array of artwork (and advertisements…) The tower hosts two themed LED shows daily from 7.45 pm to 10.45 pm – running every 30 minutes on weekends (Thursday – Saturday), and every hour on weekends.
Ticket price: From AED 109. Check the website for more prices or book tickets in advance to Skip the Line at the Burj Khalifa.
Open: Monday: Sunday: 8:30 am – 11.00 pm
2. Shop at Traditional Souks
When people think of what to do in Dubai, shopping is a common answer! Instead of the many malls, consider wandering through some of the more local souks and experience the atmosphere of traditional Arabian shops.
Locate on the Deira side of Dubai Creek, discover spice souks, gold souks and perfume souks where you get to shop to your heart’s content. Hone your bargaining skills before you visit souks as you can bargain and get the products at some really good prices.
3. Dubai Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour
One of my favourite ways to experience any new city is by taking a hop-on, hop-off but tour of Dubai. This is even more relevant when you are short on time, like when you are on a Dubai stopover.
Hop-on hop-off bus tours in Dubai gives you the opportunity to see Dubai’s top attractions at your own pace or customise an itinerary to your interests. All bus tours come with an audio guide (available in 14 languages) and discounts to some of the most popular attractions.
Book your Dubai Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour tickets here.
4. Go shopping at Dubai Mall
Spread over an area of 5.9 million sq. Ft., Dubai mall is the world’s largest and most-visited retail and entertainment mall in the world. With over 1300 retail outlets in different sections you will never run out of options.
It’s also a great place to have a meal. With over 200 restaurants, some overlooking the incredible Burj Khalifa, you are sure to find something to satisfy your taste buds.
While you are at the Dubai Mall, try some of these activities:
- See the Dubai Fountains – be sure to watch the Dubai fountains music and light show. This free show is at 1 pm and 1:30 pm daily (except Fridays) or 1:30 pm and 2 pm (Fridays only). There are also evening shows daily every half an hour between 6 pm and 11 pm.
While the show is free, one of the most popular ways to experience the show is to take a traditional boat ride in an abra on Burj Lake. It’s one of the most popular attractions so be sure to book your tickets in advance. You can book the Burj Lake Ride by Traditional Boat tickets here.
- Dubai Aquarium – located inside Dubai Mall, Dubai Aquarium is the world’s largest aquarium with a whopping 10 million litres of water. With more than 140 species, Dubai aquarium has over 30,000 aquatic animals and boasts the largest collection of sand tiger sharks and rays.
The 28 meters glass tunnel allows you to see these majestic creatures swimming freely above you. With the collection of piranhas and other beautiful fishes, you will feel spellbound looking at the sight. Do not forget to visit & look at the majestic King Croc when here. Book tickets here.
- Emirates A380 Experience – this flight simulator experience gives you the change to take flight as the capital of an Emirates A380. Fly the aircraft around the city and past famous Dubai landmarks with a flight instructor. A must-do for aviation geeks!
- Ice Rinks – Need to cool down? Take to the ice for a beginner’s class, a refresher course, or just let loose in a public session with friends and family on this huge Olympic-sized ice rink. Adult tickets cost AED70 and children tickets (including a helmet) cost AED40.
5. Dubai Desert Safari
The highlight of my Dubai stopover was taking part in a Dubai Desert Safari with Platinum Heritage! It’s the perfect way to end your first day in Dubai, and experience life away from from the concrete metropolis of downtown Dubai and escape into the sand dunes with a Desert Safari in Dubai.
What makes this Dubai Desert Safari unique is that they take you through the dunes in 1950’s vintage Land Rovers – the largest fleet of these vehicles in the world! As your driver takes you through the sand dunes, spot wildlife like Arabian oryx who has been protected within the Dubai Desert Conversation Reserve. There’s also plenty of photo opportunities.
Just before sunset experience a falcon show and learn how these magnificent birds were used by the Bedouin for hunting. After watching sunset, you’ll be driven to a Bedouin camp to experience the rich culture and delicious array of Arabic food.
After eating, take part in some of the activities at the camp – taste Arabic coffee, try your hand at making the local bread, henna painting, camel rides, and traditional music and dance performances will be conducted around the camp; or sit back, chat, and enjoy shisha with fellow travellers and the guides!
Every booking receives an Adventure Pack including a souvenir bag, refillable stainless-steel water bottle for each guest to keep and a Sheila/Ghutra headscarf to wear and take home. Be sure to wear the Sheila/Ghutra because it will keep the sand out of your hair/ears!
The photos that the Platinum Heritage team take can be purchased for a reasonably priced additional fee.
Price: Adults – AED595, Children – AED495
Duration: 7-hours, including pick-up and drop-off.
Pick up is generally between 2.30 pm and 4.30 pm and you’ll be returned to the hotel between 9.30 pm and 11.30 pm, depending on how late you choose to stay.
Book your Dubai Desert Safari tickets here.
6. Experience Dubai Dhows
A beautiful way to end your day is by going on a dinner in a traditional cruise. These dhows are traditional Arabian styled ships that glide along the Dubai creek. Amazing music, glittering waters, and stunning views of the Dubai skyline at night will mesmerize you.
While onboard, pamper yourself with a lavish dinner spread inspired by Arabian cuisine under the night sky. This is a brilliant way to end any day in Dubai!
Location: Dhow Cruise Dubai can be boarded from Dubai Creek and Dubai Marina.
Book your tickets for the Dubai Dhow Dinner Cruise here.
If you have two days in Dubai, you shold spend the first day visiting some of the top sights in Dubai mentioned above and then add on a feature activity or two that will make your time in Dubai memorable. These are some of my favourite suggestions –
7. Wake-up in the desert
If you are spending at least one-night in Dubai, wake up to a sunrise camel trek. Ride through the dunes on camelback and enjoy sunrise views over the desert dunes and the cities skyscrapers rising in the distance.
These tours come with a delicious Arabic-style breakfast in a Bedouin camp and learning how to make the delicious Arabic coffee (‘Kahwa’), and also include pick up and drop off from hotels within the city limits.
Book your tickets to a Dubai Sunrise Camel Trek here.
8. Choose your own adventure
After enjoying a wonderful morning of exploring the desert or maybe lazing around your hotel pool, be sure to book in a great activity for the day. Here are some of my suggestions:
- Visit the Palm Jumeirah: Soak in the beauty of the turquoise waters and white sand beaches at the Palm Jumeirah. With so many activity options from water sports from jet skiing, to waterboarding, parasailing or going on a speed boat, you will be spoilt for choice.
- Hot Air Ballooning in Dubai: Glide over an amazing desert away from all the glamour and glitz and experience the peace and excitement of riding a hot air balloon. Marvel at the attractions of Dubai deserts from a vantage point. I highly recommend this Dubai Hot Air Balloon tour which includes breakfast and falconry demonstration!
- Visit a water park in Dubai: There are two major water parks in Dubai: Atlantis Aquaventure Water Park and Wild Wadi Water Park. Be sure to book in advance to save 20%+ on tickets!
- Take a day tour to Abu Dhabi: the United Arab Emirates is made up of seven Emirates (States). One of the closest is Abu Dhabi. Experience the stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the opulent Emirates Palace, and the Etihad Towers; and more! This is also a great option if you are flying with Etihad or from Abu Dhabi International Airport. Book your day trip to Abu Dhabi from Dubai here.
Where to stay on a Dubai Stopover
With so much to see and do, you’ll be spoilt for choice when choosing where you book your stay in Dubai!
The best hotel near Dubai International Airport (DXB)… Grand Mercure Dubai Airport Hotel
This upscale hotel just 2 minutes away from Dubai International Airport, and next to GGICO metro, is the perfect place to spend a night if you have an early flight or want to be situated close to Dubai’s Airport.
The Grand Mercure Dubai Airport Hotel celebrates the Emirates cultural heritage in its design aesthetics and at its on-site Emirati restaurant and Arabian Spa.
Spacious rooms are fitted with King or Twin beds. Guests have access to complimentary WiFi. For families travelling to Dubai, there are one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments available. There’s also an on-site kids’ club for the littlest travellers.
Be sure to utilise the airport shuttle to get from the airport to hotel for free!
The best hotels near Dubai World Central – Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC)…. Aloft Dubai South
This modern and affordable 4-star hotel located 4-minutes from Al Maktoum International Airport is the perfect spot to rest your head on a Dubai stopover. Each of Aloft Dubai South‘s chic rooms is equipped with Aloft’s signature platform bed, a 49” LED TV with Chromecast, an ergonomic workstation, a large bathroom with walk-in shower and other amenities.. Guests also have access to free WiFi, on-site pool and gym!
The best hotel with views of the Burj Kalifa… Sofitel Dubai Downtown
If you want to really elevate your Dubai stopover, look no further than a stay at the Sofitel Dubai Downtown. Emirati culture melded with European sophistication at this hotel. Large, spacious rooms are fitted out with the Sofitel’s signature comfortable bedding. Rooms come with a flat-screen TV with satellite channels and some with an extra sitting room area. Be sure to take advantage of the infinity pool and fitness centre during your stay.
The real drawcards of this property are rooms with views of the Burj Kalifa, plus the proximity to the Burj and the Dubai Mall. It also offers shuttle bus service to Kite Beach, La Mer Beach, The Mall of the Emirates and other destinations.
For those wanting to take advantage of Dubai’s world-class shopping, the Sofitel Dubai Downtown is the only hotel connected to Dubai Mall by an air conditioned walkway. Ahh, bliss!
How to get from Dubai Airport to the city?
Dubai International is conveniently located in the centre of the city. Generally, it takes anywhere from 15 to 35 minutes to get to most places in the city, depending on where you’re going. A trip to Downtown Dubai is usually around 15 minutes in a car, while Dubai Marina is around 30 minutes from the airport. Old Dubai is around 15 minutes in a taxi.
You can also hop onto the Dubai Metro directly from the airport. Trains run approximately every 10 minutes direct from Terminal 1 and 3, from 5 am to midnight (timings vary on weekends). Fares start at AED2 and smart public transport cards known as Nol, can be purchased at the stations. Most metro stations are connected to the public bus network as well.
Travelling to Dubai? Read these next –
Flight Review: Emirates First Class 777
Flight Review: FlyDubai (KBL – DXB)
First time in Dubai? 7 Must-See Sites
The Best Hotels near Dubai International Airport (DXB)
The Best Hotels near Dubai World Central (DWC)