The best things to do in Dubai, according to a local

·5 min read
Sunset view at Sunset beach in Dubai.
Enjoy a beach day with a picnic. Natasha Amar for Insider
  • There's a host of parks, districts, monuments, and shopping sites you must visit in Dubai.

  • Enjoy art in immersive exhibits at the Theater of Digital Art or a sunny day at Kite Beach.

  • Bike in Mushrif Park, walk through Al Fahidi, visit the Coffee Museum, or take abra rides to Deira.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Dubai was once a fishing, trading, and pearl-diving hub along the Arabian Gulf, but now it's a modern metropolis home to architectural marvels and historic landmarks.

I was born and raised in Dubai, and I'm sharing the best things to do.

Check out the art scene at Alserkal Avenue

Alserkal Avenue in the industrial area of Al Quoz is the original home of Dubai's art, culture, and indie scene.

The neighborhood's art galleries, studios, co-working spaces, cafés, boutiques, and theaters are housed in former warehouses.

Most exhibitions featuring the works of local and regional artists are free. Talks, arts-and-crafts sessions, workshops, fashion pop-ups, and music and photography events are always on the calendar.

Tip: Stop for a refreshing Karak tea and snack at Project Chaiwala.

See the flamingos at the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary

Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary.
Bird watchers will thrive at the Ras Al Khor. Natasha Amar for Insider

The protected wetland at Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is an unexpected but pleasant respite from Dubai's city activities.

With grey herons, mallard, cormorants, ospreys, and Eurasian spoonbills among its 180 bird species, it's a must-visit for bird-watchers and wildlife photographers.

The Flamingo Hide tends to be one of the sanctuary's most popular sections.

Tip: Entry is free, but it's closed on Fridays and Saturdays. Visit around 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. for the best photo lighting and fewer crowds.

Take an abra ride to visit the souks in Deira

While exploring the area around Dubai Creek, be sure to hop on an abra, a traditional wooden boat, to the souks (markets) in Deira. It's the city's cheapest public transportation, and it's a fun way to see old Dubai.

There's plenty to see, taste, smell, and buy in the souks, from spices, nuts, and dates to frankincense, traditional clothing, and oud (perfume).

Stop by the Gold Souk to ogle at extravagant window displays of jewelry fit for royalty.

Tip: Bargaining is the norm in the souks.

Photograph the colorful murals at La Mer

La Mer in Dubai.
Capture the magic of La Mer in Dubai. Natasha Amar for Insider

Head to this lively beachfront retail district and walk around the blocks covered in eclectic, colorful murals.

Many pieces of street art are a nod to Dubai's cosmopolitan culture, language, lifestyle, and maritime heritage.

Tip: Stop at one of the food stalls or get a bite to eat at Sikka Café for Emirati-Indian cuisine or Zou Zou for good Middle Eastern food.

Rent a bike at Mushrif Park

When the weather is nice, Mushrif Park is the best place to ride bikes while soaking in the beauty of flowers, birdsong, and blue skies.

There's a shorter loop inside the park and a 6-mile cycling track that loops around the perimeter.

If you don't want to cycle, there are also walking trails featuring thousands of trees (a rarity in Dubai), picnic spots, kids' play areas, swimming pools, and an adventure park.

Tip: You can rent a bike at the park or at the nearby Al Motamaiez Bicycles Rental.

Experience immersive exhibits at the Theater of Digital Art

Theater of Digital Art in Dubai Theater of Digital Art.
Book your tickets ahead of time. Natasha Amar for Insider

The Theater of Digital Art in Souk Madinat Jumeirah offers immersive installations featuring the works of legendary artists such as Van Gogh, Claude Monet, and Paul Cézanne.

Shows typically last an hour, and some feature actors or live music. In addition to multimedia exhibitions, you'll also find a must-see virtual-reality experience.

Tip: To avoid disappointment on crowded weekends, book your tickets online in advance.

Stroll through the fish market at Jumeirah Fishing Harbor

The Jumeirah Fishing Harbor offers beautiful views of boats and yachts on the Arabian Sea.

There are plenty of restaurants serving fresh seafood in a variety of cuisines from Middle Eastern to Asian-inspired.

There's also a small fish market with persistent but friendly vendors.

Tip: Many of the restaurants offer alfresco dining to enjoy the view.

Get a taste of Dubai's history walking through the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood

Al Fahidi Historical district
Stroll through this historical neighborhood. Natasha Amar for Insider

A wander through the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood near Dubai Creek is like walking through chapters in the city's history book.

The sand-colored houses with central courtyards, latticed windows, and regal wind towers are some of the oldest buildings in Dubai, and they once belonged to prosperous pearl merchants. Today, they house museums, galleries, artist studios, cafés, and boutique hotels.

Make sure to book in advance for the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding, which offers cultural meal experiences in a traditional setting. The Coffee Museum and Coins Museum are also a few doors away.

Tip: The neighboring Al Seef retail district is a modern development built in the traditional architectural style, and it feels like a natural extension of the neighborhood. It's a good place to shop for souvenirs or grab a bite to eat.

Enjoy Dubai's sunny weather with a day at Kite Beach

Plenty of locals flock to Kite Beach, especially from October to April when the afternoons are sunny but temperatures are still pleasant enough to be outdoors.

There's always something happening on the weekends, whether it's kite surfers showing off their skills or live music at neighboring establishments.

Bring a picnic or grab a bite to eat from one of the food trucks or cafés on the beach.

Tip: At the end of the day, walk the short distance along the water to Sunset Beach near the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel. It's the best place in Dubai to watch the sunset.

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