Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is a popular travel destination in the Middle East and a great place to break a long-haul flight. So if you’re thinking of booking a flight to include a stop over in Dubai you’ll be spoilt for choice with fun things to do. Find out about, visas, where to stay, what to do, how to get around and more.
Is it worth stopping over in Dubai?
It’s definitely worth taking a stop over in Dubai. Even on a short stay you can take in the amazing view from the top of the world’s tallest building, shop at a traditional souk or at one of the largest shopping malls in the world, watch the famous Fountain Show at the Dubai Mall or escape the city on a desert safari.
Dubai thrives on tourism and attracts visitors all year round. It’s a wealthy city with a vibrant Arabic-Muslim culture. Dubai is known for luxury shopping, innovative modern buildings and artificial palm islands. There are beautiful beaches, super-fast cars, indoor ski slopes and a world-class aquarium. There’s no shortage of things to do during a stop over in Dubai.
Check with your local government for the latest information for travel to the UAE.
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Can you leave the airport on a stop over in Dubai?
To leave the airport on your Dubai layover, you will need a transit visa. If you’re transiting in Dubai you won’t need a visa unless you want to leave the airport.
Do you need a Visa for a stop over in Dubai?
Australian, New Zealand, UK, Canada, and USA passport holders (and some other nationalities) are eligible for a free 48-hour transit visa on arrival in the UAE. But, other passport holders will need to apply for their visas before leaving home.
NOTE: Visa regulations for the UAE frequently change so check the details before your trip.
Top Tips for a Stop Over in Dubai
Plan your stop over
Planning for your Dubai stop over will help you to maximise your time on a short stay. Book your hotels and tours before you arrive. Work out where you will go, what you’ll do and how you will get around. And, make sure you have appropriate clothes to wear to make your stay more comfortable.
Allow plenty of time in Dubai
There are so many many fun things to do on a Dubai stop over, you’ll want to have as much time as possible to explore this modern and exciting city.
Don’t forget to factor in the time needed to pass through airport security, customs and baggage check-in at the airport when you are arriving and leaving Dubai. You may want to collect your bag if you’re staying overnight and it’s best to arrive at the airport several hours before your departing flight. This will substantially reduce the time you have outside the airport.
Remember also that long flights are exhausting and you may feel jetlagged when you arrive. Allowing as much time as possible for your Dubai layover will help you to recover from your flight and feel less rushed.
Book in Advance
Book your hotel & and tours for your Dubai stopover before you leave home. Choosing a hotel near the airport will make getting your onward flight less stressful. Some hotels offer a shuttle service to and from the airport and the main tourist locations. Making use of hotel shuttle buses is convenient and may reduce the cost of getting around Dubai and you can always get a taxi if necessary.
TIP: Book your airport transfers for your Dubai stop over in advance to save time and reduce travel stress when you arrive.
Where to stay in Dubai
Mid-Range: I stayed at the Dubai Holiday Inn Express Hotel The location next to the airport was great for my stop over in Dubai and my early morning onward flight. This hotel is just 10km from the Dubai Mall and the city centre and has a free airport shuttle bus and hotel cafe.
The Time Grand Plaza is another good mid-range option near the airport
Luxury: If the cost is no concern Atlantis The Palm Dubai is a luxury hotel in Jumeirah that gets excellent reviews. It’s around 28 kilometres away from the airport and a shuttle service is available.
For the ultimate in luxury, the Burj Al Arab is the only 7-star hotel in the world, It gets exceptional reviews and is located near the beach in exclusive Jumeirah.
Budget: If you’re looking for a hostel try the Bombay Backpackers DXB near the beach and the marina. This hostel gets great reviews and is located 21km from the airport.
Stopover in Dubai with Emirates
Emirates and Etihad Airlines are the main carriers in the UAE. Emirates and Etihad fly to many destinations around the world in the Asia Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Middle East. Flights often include a layover in Dubai to refuel or change planes.
What is a Dubai connect stop over? If you’re flying to Dubai with Emirates, you may be eligible for the “Dubai Connect” service offered by the airline. Eligible customers can claim free hotel accommodation and a visa if they have 10-24 hours to wait for a connection to an onward flight. But there must be no better flight options available.
My Dubai stopover was on a flight from Sydney to Johannesburg and I chose a flight with a long Dubai layover time as I was curious to get a glimpse of the UAE and to see why Dubai is such a popular place to visit. Unfortunately, my flight didn’t qualify for the Emirates Dubai Connect service.
How to get around Dubai
On a stop over in Dubai, you’ll want to make the most of a short stay so I recommend taking a taxi to get around. It takes 20 – 30 minutes from the airport to the city and taxis are safe and affordable for women travelling alone. You can also take the metro or catch a tram to get around in Dubai if you have a bit more time.
If you’re lucky you may be able to hop on a hotel shuttle service to the main tourist attractions. I found it was a 2-hour wait for the next hotel shuttle bus so a taxi was the best option for me on my Dubai stop over.
Carry local currency
It’s a good idea to carry some cash while you are in Dubai and the local currency in the UAE is the Dirham. US dollars and credit cards are also widely accepted but credit card facilities are not always available. Taxi drivers do not usually accept credit cards in Dubai and you will probably need Dirham to pay for your taxi or buy food and other incidentals during a stop over in Dubai.
Consider changing your money at the airport before you leave home to save some time on your Dubai layover.
Pack carefully for your Dubai stop over
Pack your hand luggage carefully and make sure you have the things you’ll need if you cannot access your checked bag while you are in transit on a stopover in Dubai.
When you check in your large bags at the start of your flight, don’t forget to ask if you can collect your checked luggage in Dubai. Checked baggage may automatically be sent through to your final destination unless this is arranged beforehand.
What to wear in Dubai
Pack lightweight clothing as the weather can be very hot. Both men and women should dress modestly while visiting Dubai. As a general rule, women should cover their shoulders and knees and carry a headscarf to cover their hair when visiting a mosque or for any occasion where it’s culturally appropriate. Tight or revealing clothes should be avoided along with shorts, short skirts and sleeveless tops.
Fun things to do on a Dubai stop over
There are many fun things to do when you stop over in Dubai. You’ll be spoilt for choice and pushed for time so I suggest choosing one or two things that will fit your time frame. I had an afternoon and evening in Dubai and an early morning flight to catch the next day.
I went to my hotel first to check-in and change my clothes as the weather was so hot. From the hotel, I took a taxi to Jumeirah and Souk Madinat. My taxi dropped me off at the entrance to the Souk at the lovely Madinat Resort.
Souk Madinat is an Arabian Bazaar with around 75 shops, galleries and restaurants to discover and it’s fun to explore on a long Dubai layover. Dubai is well known for its traditional souks and Souk Madinat in Jumeirah is one of many markets where you can find luxury items and souvenirs. There are stalls selling beaded shoes and handbags, gorgeous silk scarves and clothing, aromatic spices, fragrances and beautifully packaged camel milk soap alongside other enticing Arabian products.
Souk Madinat feels a bit like an exotic shopping mall with traditional architecture. There’s air conditioning, glowing lanterns and even a digital Art Gallery next to the marketplace.
It’s traditional to haggle with the store owners before you make a purchase but I think you’re unlikely to find a bargain. Souk Madinat is fun to visit but it’s a bit expensive for those on a budget so be prepared to find yourself window shopping.
When you have finished shopping at the Souk, stop in at a restaurant and enjoy a meal or visit the art gallery. The Theatre of Digital Art tells the story of famous artworks and you may catch a live performance if you time your visit well.
I decided to explore the area around Souk Madinat and wandered around the waterways and canals of the Madinat Resort enjoying the lovely landscaped gardens and pathways. You can also take a ride in a traditional Abra boat and explore the waterways in style.
On the other side of Madinat Resort is Jumeirah Beach and the luxurious Burj Al Arab Hotel.
At Jumeirah Beach, you can hire a deck chair and relax in the sun on the golden sands, eat in one of many waterfront restaurants and walk to the end of the wharf. Behind the beach, there is a selection of hotels with pretty pathways and canals to explore. You can also admire the modern architecture of the Burj Al Arab, the most luxurious hotel in the world.
The Dubai Fountain & Light Show
From Jumeirah, I took a taxi to the Dubai Mall to watch the FREE Dubai Fountain & Light show. The impressive Dubai Fountain show takes place in front of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world and is accompanied by stirring music.
A choreographed display of coloured lights illuminates the fountains and surrounding buildings. Crowds of people gather to watch the show so get there early to grab the best spot. The shows start at 6 pm and are repeated every 30 minutes until 11 pm each evening.
TIP: For a special treat you can Watch the Fountain Show from the Burj Lake in a traditional Abra Boat
I packed a lot into my Dubai stop over but there are so many more fun things to do. Here a just a few suggestions:
One of the top places to visit on a Dubai stopover is the Burj Khalifa. The tallest tower in the world stands 828 metres high. Take the lift to the observation deck at the top of the building for sweeping views over Dubai.
Skip the queues and book your Burj Khalifa entry tickets ahead of time. You can also enjoy a meal at the top of the Burj Khalifa tower.
Next door to the Burj Khalifa is the Dubai Mall. It’s a shopper’s paradise and one of the largest shopping Malls in the world so you could spend hours or even days here. There’s shopping, dining, cinemas, an aquarium, and even indoor skiing to keep you entertained on a stopover in Dubai.
Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo
Located at the Dubai Mall, the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo is fun to visit on a Dubai layover. The Aquarium is home to thousands of marine animals. It has one of the most diverse collections of marine creatures in the world with over 400 sharks and rays in its huge tanks. There’s a 48-metre-long tunnel to walk through as you explore the underwater world and marvel at the marine creatures and their ecosystems.
Skip the queues and book your Dubai Aquarium tickets in advance for your Dubai stop over.
Or get a combination ticket for the Dubai Aquarium and the Burj Khalifa and see the famous view from the top of the tallest building in the world as well.
Souk Al Bahar in the Old Town
Head downtown to Souk Al Bahar for more shopping and fine dining on your Dubai stop over. Souk Al Bahar is an Arabic shopping Mall on Old Town Island that sells luxury handicrafts, jewellery, and carpets. It’s the place to go to dine in style in a waterfront restaurant in Dubai.
More fun things to do on a Dubai stop over
Some other popular activities for a stop over in Dubai include:
For a spectacular introduction to Dubai, take a Helicopter Flight from The Palm to the Burj Khalifa and discover Dubai from the air.
Eat at The Hamptons Café & Restaurant, famous for its sophisticated and elegant style and especially for its breakfasts. Also, open for lunch and dinner, Hampton’s Café can be found on Jumeirah Beach Road and Islands.
Book ahead and skip the queue for the Global Village and the Miracle Garden and see more than 45 million flowers in a desert garden on a day out in Dubai. The Global Village is a massive entertainment venue that combines activities, shows, and street food, from over 90 different cultures. There are fun activities at Global Village to entertain the whole family on a Dubai stop over.
Popular Tour options for a stop over in Dubai
Take a half-day Dubai city tour to see the best of Dubai’s Old Town and the newer parts of the city.
Book a half-day Desert Safari, ride a camel and a quad bike and discover some desert adventure sports like dune bashing and sandboarding.
If you have a bit more time you can escape Dubai on an unforgettable desert safari across Red Dunes full-day tour.
Or book a day trip to visit the stunning Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi on a full-day sightseeing tour
Friday is a religious day
The UAE is a Muslim country and Friday is a religious day. Expect mosques to be busy with prayer services and closed to tourists on Fridays. The weekend in the UAE falls on Friday and Saturday so plan your Dubai stop over accordingly.
Safety in Dubai
You’ll be pleased to hear that Dubai is one of the top ten safest cities in the world. But make sure you take the usual safety precautions and be careful when you’re out and about alone, especially at night on your Dubai stop over.
What NOT to do on a stop over in Dubai
Dubai is an exciting city to visit but there are some things you need to be aware of while you’re there. The UAE is a Muslim country with strict religious values.
- Don’t wear tight or revealing clothes, shorts, short skirts or sleeveless tops. Both men and women should dress modestly while travelling in the UAE to avoid causing offence.
- Sex outside marriage is illegal in the UAE and it’s against the law to share a hotel room with your partner if you’re not married. Public displays of affection are also unwelcome and you could be arrested for kissing in public.
- Gay sex is illegal in the UAE and same-sex marriage is not recognized. You may also be arrested for cross-dressing.
- If you’re under 18 you must stay with a legal guardian. It’s illegal in Dubai to stay in a hotel without supervision if you are underage.
- Don’t get drunk or take drugs. You risk being arrested if you are drunk in a public place and there’s a death penalty for drug charges in the UAE.
Travel Insurance is essential for peace of mind while you’re visiting Dubai. I always use travel insurance so I can concentrate on enjoying my trip without worrying about something going wrong.
I really enjoyed my Dubai stop over. It was a short visit but also a great opportunity to get a taste of the UAE, explore some popular places in Dubai and get a feel for this modern and exotic Middle Eastern city. But I found my Dubai layover pretty exhausting and would recommend taking a bit more time in Dubai if possible and taking a couple of easy days at the other end of your trip to recover from the jetlag.
Next time I have an opportunity for a stop over in Dubai I’ll book a desert safari and explore a bit further afield if I can.