Dubai is the United Arab Emirates’ holiday hot spot. This city of high-rises and shopping malls has transformed itself from a desert outpost to a destination du-jour, where tourists flock for sales bargains, sunshine, and family fun.

Dubai is famous for contemporary sightseeing attractions such as the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building) and shopping malls that come complete with mammoth aquariums and indoor ski slopes. But this city has many cultural highlights and things to do, as well as all the glamorous modern add-ons.

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Shoot to the Top of Burj Khalifa

Dubai’s landmark building and major tourist attraction is the Burj Khalifa, which at 829.8 meters is the tallest building in the world and the most famous of the city’s points of interest.

For most visitors, a trip to the observation deck on the 124th floor here is a must-do while in the city. The views across the city skyline from this bird’s-eye perspective are simply staggering.

The slick observation deck experience includes a multimedia presentation on both Dubai and the building of the Burj Khalifa (completed in 2010) before a high-speed elevator whizzes you up to the observation deck for those 360-degree views out across the skyscrapers to the desert on one side and the ocean on the other.


Sneak in Some Shopping at Dubai Mall

Dubai Mall is the city’s premier mall and one of the city’s best places to visit for a day of shopping and indoor activities to keep the kids busy. It provides entry to the Burj Khalifa as well as the Dubai Aquarium.

There is also an ice-skating rink, gaming zone, and cinema complex if you’re looking for more entertainment options.

The shopping and eating is endless, and there are nearly always special events such as live music and fashion shows within the mall. The most famous of these are the annual Dubai Shopping Festival in January and February and the Dubai Summer Surprises Festival in July and August.


Visit an Underwater World at Dubai Aquarium

One of the city’s top tourist attractions, the Dubai Aquarium houses 140 species of sea life in the huge suspended tank on the ground floor of the Dubai Mall.

Although there is free viewing from the mall, the highlight of a visit here is entering the Underwater Zoo, with its three-story high, 270-degree views along the length of the glass-panel tunnels.

As well as viewing the vast amount of marine life, the Dubai Aquarium offers plenty of aquatic experiences and things to do for visitors who want a close-up encounter with some of the aquarium’s inhabitants, from hand-feeding eagle rays to diving with reef and tiger sharks.


Cool Off at Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark

Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark, based at Atlantis, The Palm on the Palm Jumeirah—Dubai’s famous man-made island development—is a great place to cool off after a few days of hectic shopping and sightseeing.

The waterslide action here is excellent and world-class, with the Aquaconda, the world’s longest water slide; a nine-story-tall slide, aptly named the Leap of Faith; and water coaster rides.


Head out into the Desert

You don’t have to travel far from Dubai’s coastal skyline of skyscrapers to reach some of the UAE’s desertscapes of rippling dunes.

Both the dune fields and desert of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve and the orange-hued dunes of Maleha (actually in the Emirate of Sharjah) are within day-tripping distance of the city.

Desert adventure tours can combine a range of activities, from sandboarding, camel rides, and 4WD safaris to traditional Arabian falconry displays and desert dinners under the stars. There are also options for overnight camping under the stars.


Spot Flamingos at Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary

You don’t have to go too far away from the skyscrapers to soak up a more natural vista. The Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary incorporates the mangrove forests and wetlands of Dubai creek.

An important stop-off on the migration routes, it’s a prime place to spot flamingos in winter when massive flocks of these majestic pink birds wade through the lagoons, backdropped by soaring high-rises.

Various hides in prime spots have been set up within the park to allow bird-watchers good views of the birdlife.


Experience Global Village’s Culture & Entertainment

From October through April, this entertainment park provides family-friendly entertainment themed around taking visitors on a journey around the world.

Global Village’s 26 country pavilions, ranging from Iraq to Japan and Russia to South Korea, each offer an individual experience of that country’s culture, entertainment, and heritage. It’s a unique option in the city for evening entertainment for families with little ones in tow.

As well as the pavilions, there are plentiful dining and shopping options on-site. Younger members of the family will enjoy the fun-fair-style Carnaval with plenty of rides, such as bumper cars, carousels, Swiss swings, and a big wheel, along with faster rides and a roller coaster.

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