Visiting Dubai without setting foot in a mall: a quick guide

When I say Dubai, you say malls! Dubai! Malls! Dubai! … Let stop right here. You see, beyond the malls and the endless opportunities to shop, Dubai has a lot to offer. I kid you not.

So here is my list of unmissable activities to do and places to see when visiting Dubai. And I promise I won’t mention a single mall.


Shopping has to feature on this list. But if you have to shop, at least make it a cultural experience. Now, the thing with souks is that they freak me out: too many people, too much noise, too many things crying out for my attention. I still remember vividly a very scary freak out in a Tunisian souk many years ago. Nevertheless, in Dubai, checking out at least one souk is mandatory. Take your pick from the Gold souk, the Spice souk, the Old/Textile souk…

Dubai Museum 

Now we’re talking. It was my first stop in Dubai (after much needed sustenance) and I did not regret it. Housed in the Al Fahidi Fort, it’s not big, but it is extremely interesting, especially if, like me, your knowledge of Emirati culture and history is extremely limited. Definitely worth a stop.

Al Fahidi Fort 

This is the oldest building in Dubai (built in 1787). One more reason to check out the museum mentioned above.

Bastakiya Quarter 

The Old Quarter is a small, lovely maze of lanes housing galleries, restaurants and boutique hotels in old buildings. It will delight you in taking you back to a time when buildings didn’t have more than a couple of floors, the water was a border (and not just another space to build on) and the desert more than a giant playground for tourists to race quads in.

Art Galleries 

Check out the list on Time Out Dubai, and seriously reconsider anything you have ever heard about Dubai. Whether you’re into international contemporary art, want to know what’s new in Middle eastern Art (The Third Line ) or feel like having a look at antiques or photography prints, Dubai is sure to cater to your tastes. 

Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding 

Open Doors. Open Minds. This is what the Centre is about, and I can only applaud its efforts. Striving to “raise awareness and demystify the local culture, customs and religion of the United Arab Emirates”, the Centre holds an eclectic programme of tours, visits, classes, cultural meals and even art competitions. You can book on the website.

Jumeirah Public beach  and Kite beach 

Most of the beaches in Dubai are for hotel guests only. But check out these two (Jumeirah Beach is unfortunately closed at the moment, but will hopefully reopen soon) public beaches for a day of blissful nothing on the sand. Alternatively, partake on all the activities offered by Kite beach. 

Dubai Fountain 

If you can, check out the Dubai Fountain show. Before I go any further, let me tell you I am not a waterworks extravaganza superfan. But this was truly amazing. I hadn’t planned on seeing it, and I basically happened to be there when it was starting. So lucky! Let’s just say you haven’t seen water dance until you’ve seen this.

Burj Khalifa 

This is a must see. Whether you actually want to go up or not, get yourself dizzy by looking up, and up, and up. This is the world’s tallest tower, and you kind of have to see it to realise what 828 metres (or 2,716.5 feet) and 160 stories actually look like.

Dubai Creek 

Catch a dhow (wooden boat) and get a glimpse of Dubai from the water. Many, many photo opportunities will be had.

Dubai Metro 

I always love checking out whatever place I’m in’s public transport system. Dubai Metro is fun and freakishly clean. Plus it’s a very easy way to get from A to B. Bonus: it doesn’t have a driver! Hooray to being driven around by, for all intent and purposes, a robot (or a computer, but it’s not as cool to think about it that way).

And here you have it. You’ve managed to see Dubai without ever setting foot in a mall. I think congratulations are in order.

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