Ultra-modern Dubai is an increasingly popular destination, not just for business travellers but also for travellers on leisurely stopovers and luxury holidays. The desert oasis is pulling out all the stops, including building a new international airport in time for the Expo 2020 Dubai when it hopes to attract 20 million travellers annually.

It’s easy to arrange a stopover in Dubai through airlines like Emirates (all of the air carrier’s flights originate and/or pass through Dubai). Leave the comfort of Dubai International Airport’s concourse and spend the day in Dubai. You’ll have to move quickly to make it through this must-see list, so get up and go!

0:00 Take the Dubai Metro to The Dubai Mall

The clean, efficient and fully automated Dubai Metro whisks travellers from Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 to The Dubai Mall. Take the red line to Burj Khalifa station. The ride takes approximately 20 minutes. On the way, map out which of the mall’s 1,200 shops you want to visit.

0:20 Speed shop at The Dubai Mall

The massive mall is the world’s largest shopping, leisure and entertainment complex. Part of the $20 billion downtown Burj Khalifa development, the mall is a marvel that opened in 2008. Shoppers have been delighted ever since, not only with the shopping but also the entertainment that is housed within. Options include an ice rink, cinema, Dubai Aquarium, The Emirates A380 Experience (a simulator where guests pilot an Emirates plane on a 30-minute flight) and the Dubai Fountain, your next stop.

2:00 Admire the tallest performing fountain in the world

In a city known for its superlatives, it’s fitting that adjacent to the world’s tallest building would be the world’s tallest performing fountain. The water, light and music spectacle in Burj Lake that is the Dubai Fountain has water nozzles that shoot water sprays up to the equivalent to a 45-story building, and a kaleidoscope of colour created from 6,600 lights and 25 colour projectors that combine to offer 1,000 different colourful hues timed to a range of music from classical to contemporary Arabic to world music. Depending on when you visit, you can time the sequence of shopping, seeing the Dubai Fountain, and the next stop – heading to the top of Burj Khalifa, accordingly. The fountain shows are at 1 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. daily (except on Fridays when the afternoon shows are at 1:30 p.m. and 2 p.m.) and every 30 minutes between 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. daily.

2:30 Dine in the world’s highest restaurant

At 2,716.5 feet, the 160-story Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building. No visit to Dubai is complete without soaring to the top. You have two options: visit the outdoor observation decks on the 148 and 125 floors via the Sky Experience and the At the Top experience (you can enter from the Lower Ground level of The Dubai Mall) or opt to indulge yourself while fueling up for more fun by dining at At.mosphere. Located on the 122nd floor, the restaurant holds the Guinness World Record for highest restaurant. Enter via the Armani Hotel Dubai lobby for lunch, afternoon tea or dinner you won’t soon forget. Guests can also enjoy cocktails and cigars in the lounge.

4:30 Head to Old Dubai

Descend the Burj Khalifa and walk to the subway via the Metro Link Walkway, an 820-meter climate-controlled bridge with moving walkways that connects The Dubai Mall with Burj Khalifa station. Take the red line to BurJuman station (also known as Khaled Bin Al Waleed station) and transfer to the green line. Take the green line to Al Fahidi station. Then, walk along Khalid Bin Al Waleed Street (known as “Computer Street” for all its computer shops) for 15 minutes until you reach the Dubai Museum and Al Fahidi Fort. Learn about the history of Dubai and its original heritage at the Dubai Museum. Housed within the Al Fahidi Fort near Dubai Creek, the fort was built in 1787. The fort was renovated by the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum and opened in 1971, the year the United Arab Emirates was formed. Exhibits include a look at Dubai prior to the discovery of oil, antiquities, artifacts and a variety of informative dioramas of the pre-oil era.

6:00 Take a water taxi

A whimsical (and efficient) ride in an abra (water taxi) is a must, ferrying locals and visitors to the spice and gold souks. Catch the water taxi from Abra Station and take it to Deira Station. Don’t miss the chance to try gelato made from camel’s milk along the way. In nearly every gift shop, travellers can find chocolate made with camel’s milk, but there is only one place where visitors can find gelato made from camel’s milk. As you step off the abra, be sure to stop at the Geewin Cafe for the extra rich and creamy treat.

6:30 Stroll the spice souk and gold souk

Continue your journey through the souks by stocking up on spices at the spice souk. Merchants are happy to let you sample from the colorful barrels and bins. On the way to the gold souk, stock up on trinkets like bejeweled camels and perfume bottles as well as miniatures of the iconic sailboat-shaped seven-star Burj Al Arab hotel and Burj Khalifa. If you’re feeling like a splurge, pick up a gold bangle or two at the gold souk, or just enjoy the window-shopping, which is priceless.

7:30 Dash back to Dubai International Airport

With just 30 minutes to spare, hop in a taxi back to the airport where you can stock up on last-minute trinkets or indulge in a spa treatment before takeoff.

About the author

Lauren MackLauren Mack has traveled to 40 countries on five continents, including Cuba, New Zealand, Peru and Tanzania. For many years, she called China, and then Taiwan, home. Countries at the beginning of the alphabet, particularly Antarctica, Argentina and Australia are on her travel bucket list. Lauren is a multimedia travel and food journalist and explorer based in New York City.

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