June 19, 2019

What to Do On Your Dubai Layover


If you’re flying Emirates, there’s a good chance you’ll have a layover in Dubai. The owners of the world-famous airline company are the same owners of Dubai World, so they’ve got a big interest in getting lots of tourists to visit. For layovers longer than a few hours, you’ve got enough time to explore this ultra-modern city and get a taste for what it has to offer. Here are 5 activities to fill your layover in Dubai!

Visit the Top of the Burj Khalifa

Dubai Burj Khalifa

This one may sound obvious but it’s arguably the most essential stop for a short visit to Dubai. How often do you get the chance to be at the top of the world’s tallest building? The incredible height lets you tower over 50-story buildings and get a panoramic view of the entire city from over 800m in the air. The distinction between the top floor and the next-highest level is negligible so don’t worry about missing out on the best view. No need to rush if you’re on a short layover either, it’s only a 15-minute ride from the airport. Avoid if you’re afraid of heights!

Ride a Dune Buggy in the Red Dunes

I never thought I liked the desert until I had the chance to ride a buggy through rolling dunes in Huacachina. Believe me when I say that riding dune buggies is even more thrilling than riding a roller coaster. Sadly we didn’t get to do this on our layover, but it’s the #1 thing on my list for my next visit! Just search “Dubai Desert” on Pinterest to see what I’m talking about.

Drive to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The capital of the UAE is less than an hour and a half drive from Dubai and happens to have one of the most majestic Mosques in the entire Islamic World. I’d devote at least 1-2 hours to exploring the grounds because every detail is meticulous and gorgeous. This place gets 41,000 visitors per day but it doesn’t start filling up midday so try to get there as early as possible for the best photos! I’d save this for an 8-10 hour layover at the least, you definitely don’t want to be caught with any problems while over 100km away from the airport.

See the Show at the Dubai Fountain

Burj Khalifa

If you’ve ever seen the fountain show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, there’s no chance you won’t be impressed by the Dubai Fountain. The world’s largest choreographed fountain system is at the base of the Burj Khalifa, so it’s easy to group seeing both if you have a short amount of time. The shows start at 6:00 PM and continue every half hour until 11:00 PM so don’t worry about missing it. Crowds gather for this, so make sure to get there early for a good vantage point if you want to capture it on photo or video.

Our Dubai Experience

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Our first time in Dubai was on 18-hour layover from Nairobi to Cairo. When choosing the flight, we intentionally selected the flight with the longest layover available so we could have a full day to see as much of Dubai as possible. We did some research about the do’s and don’ts before we left and were eager to spend a day in this world-famous city before heading to our next destination.

We landed early in the morning and started our day by renting a car to drive to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. We got there as it opened so we had the mosque virtually to ourselves for the first hour, then spent the rest of the morning exploring the grounds as tourists poured in. We headed back to Dubai and ate lunch at the mall, where we were able to buy tickets and visit the top of Burj Khalifa. Because we still had the car, we drove around the entire city, stopping to see the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah and driving through the Palm Islands. On our way out from dinner, we stopped by the Dubai Fountain to see the show just before sunset. We intended to find a rooftop view of the Burj Khalifa at sunset but as our flight drew closer, we decided to head back to the airport to return the car and check in for our flight.

Final Thoughts

Dubai is definitely a unique place. It’s lavish, ostentatious, and a spectacle to see. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for a rich cultural experience, mostly because it’s such a new place, as opposed to countries like Morocco or Egypt. I still absolutely recommend seeing Dubai if you have the chance, and a long layover is a perfect opportunity. Hopefully, your time in Dubai leads you to want to take an even longer trip to see more of what this extraordinary city has to offer!


meet the writer

I'm Donna Irene.


A photographer, writer, and educator with a passion for helping people quit the hustle and live filled with purpose. When I picked up
a camera over 10 years ago, I had no idea it would take me around the world getting to photograph for everything from fortune 500
companies, brands, and people like you.

And now that I've been to 40+ countries and counting, I want to
use my talents to inspire others to use their creativity to make the world better. Follow along for resources on authentic travel experiences, sustainability, and building a business with intention.



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  1. Jasa says:

    I would recommend you visit other GCC countries or even other cities in the UAE. They would provide a more authentic Arabic experience in the gulf. Morocco and Egypt are also very different from the GCC. Having lived in Oman and Kuwait, there are truly amazing cities near Dubai. Expats in our region simply go to Dubai for a good time and alcohol to be honest.

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Photographer, educator, environmentalist, and dog mom. I've turned a passion for photography into my dream job and I want to
teach you how you can do the same!

Hi! I'm Donna.