As the third busiest airport in the world, chances are you may have a flight at the Dubai International Airport at some point if you’re headed to Asia from the United States or Europe. On my flight from Seattle to India, I had to stop in Dubai twice. On the way back, I picked a flight with an extended layover so I could explore the city a bit. While I plan on going back in the future to explore much more, here’s how to spend a layover in Dubai no matter how long you’re there for.
What to Do at the Airport
Normally I’m eager to leave the airport when I get to a new city, but sometimes you don’t have enough time to do that. If you’re in Dubai for less than six hours on your layover, I recommend the following activities at the airport.
Calm down your little ones
There are plenty of people that travel with children. As a child, a layover in Dubai might feel like it’s a terrible thing. Thankfully, it’s not as bad as some children might perceive it. There’s a spot in the airport that’s called the Kid’s Zone. This has plenty of interactive games, as well as a climbing frame, and it’s a spot where kids go to be kids. Being there will make their Dubai layover a much easier one. There are plenty of things to do in Dubai with kids.
After flying for almost 15 hours straight, there was nothing I wanted to do more on my Dubai layover than move. For about 75 AED (or $20 USD), you have access to a gym with weights, cardio machines, and mats. It felt so good to stretch out my muscles after being on the plane. You also have access to their sauna and shower, which felt great to get freshened up before my next flight. They’re in the hotels at the airports in Terminals B and C, so just follow the signs for the hotels.
Rent a Sleep Pod
Sometimes you’re so tired after flying halfway across the world that nothing sounds better than sleep. That’s why sleep pods are the best invention I’ve seen. You don’t have to pay for a whole hotel room, but still get to rest. These are located in Terminal 3 and beats trying to sleep around hundreds of other people in the airport.
Visit the Zen Gardens
Spending a layover in Dubai can be stressful, that’s for sure. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to spend your time feeling fully gloomy and just wait till your next flight arrives. There are also many ways to visit Dubai on a budget, and this is a great option. If you want to have some peace and quiet time for yourself, consider visiting the Zen Gardens. They’re located near gates B7 and B27. Simply relaxing there will make your Dubai layover a lot easier. This place is guaranteed to make you feel calm as it’s been designed with that effect in mind.
Get a Massage
Getting a massage after flying for so long always feels good. You’re tight from sitting in the same position for hours and the last thing you want to do is get back on a plane. Treat yourself on your layover in Dubai and get a massage so you’ll feel better once you get to your destination.
Book a Hotel Room
Sometimes you’re so exhausted or at the end of a long trip and just need your own hotel room. You don’t even have to leave the airport, as there’s not one but two hotels here. The Dubai International Hotel is located in Terminals 1 and 3, so you can either book in advance or walk up to get a room for the day or the night.
The Dubai International Airport is a mecca for shopping. They have almost everything you can think of there. You can even buy a completely new wardrobe and an iPhone if you want/need one. It will be more expensive than buying the items at a regular store, but it is really convenient if you realized you forgot something last minute.
Dine in the lounge
You’ll inevitably feel hungry when you’re having a layover in Dubai. You’re in luck because the Merhaba lounge is entirely integrated into the airport. The lounge can be accessed on Terminals 1, 2, and 3, and you have plenty of great dining options here. One thing to note, though, is that the entry to it is free for those with a Business or First class ticket. If you’re flying economy, then you can still enter for a fee. The lounge comes complete with a children’s room, snooze room, and even buggy car transfer. This is a great way to make your Dubai layover end really fast.
Catch up with your favorite shows
One of the best things about the Emirates is the extremely fast internet. Luckily, the Wi-Fi over at the airport is just as fast as everywhere else. Generally, free Wi-Fi on most airports around the world isn’t great, but this one is actually reliable and you can use it as much as you need to. Bingeing on movies and shows is a very nice way to spend the time during a layover. Just make sure you remember you’re on a layover in Dubai and not at home lounging on a great reclining sofa. You’ll probably have a plane to catch soon.
What to Do Outside the Airport
If your layover is more than six hours, I highly encourage you to get out of the airport. There are plenty of things to do in Dubai, which is a fascinating city.
Take a helicopter tour above Dubai
Not every Dubai layover needs to feel dull and boring. Having fun in the air while you’re waiting for your next flight is a great way to spend the time. One thing that most people note about helicopter tours in Dubai is that the operators are almost always further away from the airport. Even if you only have a couple of hours until your layover in Dubai is over, you’ll still have time for a helicopter tour. It’s one of the best activities in Dubai, so make sure not to miss out on it if you can.
Visit Downtown Dubai
Grab an Uber or take the Metro for a short ride to the downtown area of Dubai. Here you can see the famous Burj Khalifa and take a ride up to the observation deck for a view of the city. It’s also fun to walk around and admire all the restaurants and buildings on the water.
Explore Old Dubai
Most people have an idea of Dubai that mostly consists of enormous skyscrapers and every modern thing imaginable. However, Dubai’s history is very colorful and interesting. It has humble roots, and that’s very apparent when you’re walking down the streets of Old Dubai. It’ll probably take you more than a couple of hours, so don’t try going there unless you have a bit more time. If you’re a fan of history, then this will definitely be one of your favorite activities in Dubai. Make sure to stock on some unique spices.
Shop at the Dubai Mall
The Dubai Mall is by far the biggest mall I’ve ever been to and one of the largest in the world. In addition to having over 1,200 shops, it has an aquarium, an underwater zoo, an Emirates flight simulator, and a SEGA-themed indoor park. There are also unique decorations all over, such as this umbrella ceiling. I don’t recommend trying to go there if you only have a couple of hours because you might not make it in time. However, if you have 10 hours or more, then you can find some of the best activities in Dubai mall. It has an ice rink, cinemas, kids’ zones, and a lot of great eateries and dining options. It’s one of those activities in Dubai that stick with you because it’s so massive.
Check out Al Diyafa Road
Sometimes you just want to have a good, but modest, time. While Dubai is definitely a destination that’s all about grandeur and shine, there are a lot of spots that feel the opposite. Al Diyafa Road feels much more modest with its many eateries and affordable shops. Once you’re there, make sure to try the unique Arabian cuisine. The cheesy bread is one item I recommend, but you’ll find plenty of other unique things to eat there as well.
Watch the Show at the Dubai Fountain
If you’ve seen the fountain show in Las Vegas at the Bellagio, you’ll love how much more extravagant the show is at the Dubai Fountain. Make sure to go early to get a spot so you can see it, as each show gets packed. Shows are every half hour from 6 PM to 11 PM.
Visit the Gold and Spice Souqs
If you’re in the market to buy gold, this is one of the cheapest places in the world to get it. If that’s not quite in your budget, come here to just stare in awe at more gold than you’ve ever seen before. After that, head over to the Spice Souq to pick up some spices for your trip home. Pick up some saffron while you’re there.
Hang on the Beach by the Burj Al Arab
It’s fun to see the busy city, but I also loved getting away from that and relaxing on the beach. It’ll be hot in Dubai no matter what time of year you go, so spend at least half a day on the beach. The ones by the Burj Al Arab give you a great view, plus there are plenty of restaurants to go to afterward.
Catch a ride on an abra
An abra is an old-timey, traditional type of boat. It’s used to transport people across Dubai Creek, and it has a real timeless feel. Arabian culture is known for its exotic nature, and it’d be a shame to miss out on something entirely unique once you’re in Dubai. What’s even better is that the abra will take you over to the souqs. You’ll be able to see even more of the city that way during your layover in Dubai.
Hotels Near Dubai International Airport
If you need a hotel near Dubai Airport, here are a few I recommend.
You’ll love this hotel because it’s at one of the best locations in the city. It’s very close to the airport, too. It even has a metro station within walking distance. It’s a very stylish hotel with plenty of amenities.
This is an upscale hotel that has a very charming and relaxing ambiance. Here you’ll find all of the amenities you might need – from spas to pools, and even restaurants and bars. It has a great location and its rooms are very elegant and refined.
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