Dubai travel guide: How to spend the perfect 24 hours in the Arabian Desert

By Nicole Moraleda

Enjoy the view from Burj Khalifa, ride a camel on a sand dune and meet a penguin in the Mall of Emirates, all on the same day

By Nicole Moraleda |

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It’s hard to believe that you can squeeze in a trip to the Middle East over the weekend, but it’s totally doable. From pictures of Dubai, the city’s skyline might remind you of home, but once you’re there, you’ll feel a world away from the 852.

Before you fly off on your Arabian adventure, make sure you book a desert tour, such as the half-day outing offered by Royal Desert Tourism. Then you can use the other half of your time in Dubai to explore the city.


Start your day on a literal high note at the world’s tallest building. Though Dubai boasts many impressive modern high-rises, Burj Khalifa stands out at 828 metres. The structure is a sight to behold from the ground, but the view is even more spectacular from the observation deck above. Travel up its many storeys – on the world’s fastest escalator, no less – until you reach the 125th floor, where you can take in a 360-degree view of Dubai’s expansive and ever-growing skyline.

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Once you have come back down to Earth, you can add a bit of extra flavour to your morning by wandering through the aromatic Spice Souk, a traditional market. As you make your way past the fragrant stalls stacked with colourful bags of herbs, spices and nuts, you can pick up some dates for breakfast and souvenirs for your friends.


Don’t worry if you didn’t get your fill at the spice market because the next stop is Al Ustad Special Kebab near Al Fahidi Metro Station. It has gained a good reputation not only for its mouth-watering plates of chargrilled meats, but also the friendly waitstaff. As you can see from the walls covered in photos, the Iranian restaurant has attracted a number of big-name customers, ranging from celebrities to royalty, in the 40-plus years it’s been open.

The Arabian Desert hides many wonders.
Photo: Shutterstock

It’s also apparent from the pictures that the restaurant’s current owner, Majeed Al Ustad, has become something of a celebrity, too. You’re likely to see him in person at the restaurant, and he’d be more than happy to pose for a selfie with you on your way out.

Make sure you get back to your hotel by 3pm, when the shuttle service will pick you up for your next activity. We hope you didn’t go overboard at lunch because you’re in for a bumpy ride on the dunes of the Arabian Desert. There will also be an opportunity for you to ride a board down the sandy slopes.

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Your four-wheel adventure will end at a sort of campsite where giant tents are set up. To one side, there are camels that you can ride, and in the centre of it all, is a big stage surrounded by chairs and tables. After the sun sets, belly dancers, tanoura dancers (tanoura is a kind of Egyptian folk dance), and fire spinners take to the stage while you enjoy your buffet dinner.

If it’s too hot during your visit, you always have the option of swapping the sand dunes for snowy hills. Bet you never imagined you’d be able to ski in a city surrounded by desert! But you can do exactly that at the Mall of Emirates, which boasts a 22,500-square-metre indoor ski resort. You can even get up close and personal with some adorable penguins while you’re there.

Edited by M. J. Premaratne