24 hours in Dubai; two fabulous options for a layover

by Danni B

Looking for what to do on quick layover in Dubai? If you’re limited on time, these are two perfect itineraries for you!

Is it possible to do Dubai in a day? Yes! As someone who has lived in Dubai for over 10 years and had many guests visit over the years. It’s totally possible to see a lot of Dubai in only 24 hours.

You’ll get to explore as much of Dubai as possible in a short time, plus get those awesome photos you see all over social media.

Here are two completely different options, depending on whether you’d prefer to visit Dubai classics such as Burj Khalifa or would love to experience the more cultural side of Dubai. For an unforgettable Dubai experience!

In a rush and want the easiest option?
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24 hours in Dubai – Option 1: Classic tourist sights in Downtown Dubai

dubai fountain show times

Downtown Dubai is the epitome of fun and entertainment. Dubai Mall is a multi-use complex built in the city’s centre and where the Burj Khalifa is located. Here you’ll find some of the most famous buildings in Dubai, amazing restaurants, tourist attractions and shops all in one area.

If you’re looking to see all the main tourist attractions in Dubai, this is the option for you!

Because there is so much to do in a small area, I highly recommend to stay in a hotel close to Downtown Dubai or a hotel close to Dubai airport, so you can drop off your stuff quickly and start seeing tourist attractions in Dubai right away!

Morning: Visit Dubai Mall

Dubai Mall is one of the largest shopping centres in the world and houses more than 1300 retail outlets and 200 food places. What’s better than starting your morning with a shopping spree?

A few unique shops:

  • Candylicious (World’s largest sweet / candy shop)
  • Bloomingdales (Luxury department store)
  • Apple Store (with an outdoor terrace a view of Dubai Fountain)
  • Nike Megastore

The mall starts to get busy from 3pm, so that’s why I recommend to go in the morning and avoid the crowds.

You can also see inside the mall:

  • Dubai Falling Man Fountain
  • Dubai Aquarium (Largest suspended aquarium in the world)
  • Dubai Ice Skating Rink (One of the largest indoor skating rinks in the world)
  • (VR Park)
  • Kidzania

So it’s your choice whether you just take time to explore the mall and photograph some of the famous attractions in Dubai or visit an attraction for a few hours instead.

Lunch – Social House Dubai

Located on the lower ground floor of Dubai Mall and overlooking the famous Dubai Fountain, this healthy lunch spot is perfect for a relaxed lunch post-shopping.

You’ll also get to see the lunch time performance of the Dubai Fountain. It isn’t as good as the nighttime when it’s all lit up, but it’s still a great experience.

Outside tables are on a first come first serve basis, so you may need to wait for a table if it’s busy. However, usually in the day, it’s not as long as a wait.

Key information & prices:

Meals starting from 57 AED ($15 USD)
*Minimum spend 75 AED ($20 USD) per person for the outside area

Tel: +971 4 339 8640

Afternoon: Head over to Burj Al-Khalifa

Next to the Dubai Mall, you will find the tallest structure in Dubai and the world; the Burj Al Khalifa. This stellar 830-metres tall building remains one of the most thrilling Dubai attractions to date. If you’re heading to ‘At The Top,’ the entrance is inside Dubai Mall, close to the lower ground food court.

The building offers a breathtaking view across the city that one should surely not miss. You can capture mesmerising pictures and it’s certainly surreal being this high up in a building.

‘At The Top’ is the name of the viewing deck inside Burj Khalifa and is one of the most popular activities inside of Burj Khalifa. I highly recommend to visit at sunset where you’ll get to experience the stunning golden hour over Dubai. I recommend to give yourself 1 and half to 2 hours before sunset in order to make sure you queue and get to the top in time.

I also recommend to book the tickets in advance as popular times such as sunset can sell out. Especially for the VIP floors where numbers are more limited. Since it is one of the top Dubai tourist attractions!

🤩 Book the best Burj Khalifa At The Top Tickets 🤩

As an alternative to At The Top, you can also head to Atmosphere which is a restaurant inside the Burj Khalifa and allows you to enjoy the view along with a meal.

The restaurant has several options, including breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner. Our full Burj Khalifa restaurants guide has more details.

Dinner recommendation: Burj Club

This unique experience is truly one of a kind and allows you to dine beneath the Burj Khalifa and look over the stunning Dubai Fountains. Perfect for a special occasion or romantic dinner. This wonderful experience is sure to leave you with lasting memories from your trip

Set on the 3rd floor of the Burj Khalifa, this 3 course menu offers great value for money with its combined Burj Khalifa access ticket

Key information & prices:

Includes Burj Khalifa ‘At The Top’ ticket to 124th & 125th floor
284 AED ($77 USD) per adult

Evening: Enjoy a show at Dubai Opera

There’s a good reason why downtown is the best place to visit in Dubai. It simply has something for everyone!

Next door to the Burj Khalifa, you have the amazing Dubai Opera only a short walk away. The artistic architecture is enough to take away any onlookers breath. Plus the building boasts intriguing performances by world-renowned artists and acts all year round.

Insider tip – If you’re coming out from At The Top, then you can take the nearest exit outside to the Burj Khalifa lake and fountains. From here you can walk alongside the lake to Dubai Opera. If you’ve taken the Atmosphere option, then I recommend to get a taxi as despite being a short distance, the Burj Khalifa has a very long drive that isn’t ideal for pedestrians.

You can spend an unforgettable time there, watching a musical, enjoying a meal or listening to a classical music concert. The rooftop restaurant offers pre and post-show refreshments including a pre-theatre dinner option.

To check out their current shows and events:
Dubai Opera Website

Night: Watch the Dancing Fountain and Burj Khalifa laser show

A typical show at Dubai Opera will last around 2 hours including the intermission, giving you enough time to watch the final fountain shows of the evening in Downtown Dubai. The Dancing fountain is every 30 minutes on the hour while the laser show is every 30 minutes at quarter past and quarter to.

Insider tip – The easiest way to get to the fountains from Dubai Opera is to exit on the lower ground of Dubai Opera to Burj Park. From here you can have a lovely walk around the Burj Khalifa’s lake and back towards Dubai Mall.

Here you will find yourself stunned by the magical dancing Dubai Fountain that shoots jets of water in the sky, as the lights illuminate and melodies fill the air. It is the world’s second-largest choreographed fountain, as Dubai has now built an even bigger version at The Pointe on Palm Jumeirah.

Plus, it’s one of the best free activities in Dubai. Yes, you heard that right! Free!

There are no charges to enjoy the dancing fountain show. Every day, it comes to life after 6 pm and continues till 11:30pm on the evening. If you’re wanting to get even closer to the fountains, you can enjoy Dubai Fountain Boardwalk for only 15 AED ($4 USD) per person from Groupon.

If you’re still not ready to go home, you can end your 24-hours in Dubai by having a coffee or Moroccan tea at one of the waterfront restaurants while gazing at the final fountain and laser shows of the evening! There’s different songs and shows, challenge yourself to watch them all!

24 Hours in Dubai – Option 2: Explore Bedouin culture with a desert safari

While the itinerary above is fantastic for first-timers, this one focuses on people who are already familiar with the main tourist sites of Dubai or want a taste of the other side of Dubai. This particular 24-hour guide option unravels the raw and adventurous side to the city! 

Morning: Fly High in the Hot Air Balloon

A hot air balloon ride is an amazing way to explore the desert city. These rides begin early in the morning and allow you to experience a beautiful sunrise from the sky! 

You can capture stunning views across the vast landscape of the dunes below. Although the location of travel depends on the package, most hot air balloon rides stay in the desert. So you can explore the massive sandy lands quickly. Make sure to take a jacket as it can sometimes get cold as you reach higher up!

I highly recommend this balloon ride by by Get Your Guide which offers incredible views across the desert and a once in a lifetime experience! Make sure to book early to avoid disappointment!

Lunch recommendation: Al Diwaan at Maha Luxury Resort

Continuing with our Arabian adventure, this restaurant will make you feel like you’ve gone back in time to a traditional Arabic palace. The surroundings and food is fit for a Sheikh or Sheikha.

You’ve also got stunning views out onto Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve and an Arabian Oryx may even join you for lunch if you choose to sit outside.

Key information & prices:

A meal for two is approx 300 AED ($82 USD)
Outside dining is available

Dress code: Smart casual

Reservations: +971 4 832 9900

Afternoon: Try Sandboarding, Dune Bashing or a Camel Ride

There are plenty of fun things to do in the Dubai desert, but nothing compares to the thrill of sandboarding or dune bashing. Sandboarding involves sliding down the huge dunes on a board similar to a snowboard. While dune bashing involves riding over huge sand mounds in a 4×4.

If you prefer something a little less adventurous, then hop onto one of the many desert camels and enjoy a unique ride. These camels will take you to the lengths of the desert and provide a true bedouin experience. You can also visit a camel farm in the desert to explore the traditional Emirati ways. 

To make life easier; Get Your Guide has this package which includes a hot air balloon ride, camel ride, photo with a falcon and a traditional Emirati breakfast at a bedouin camp

Evening: See wildlife, watch the sunset and enjoy a tasty BBQ

As the evening comes it’s time to enjoy some of the more calmer activities in the desert. You’ll find tour options such as enjoying a wildlife safari and desert stargazing. Watching the sunset over the natural beauty of the desert is a truly magical experience.

In addition, nothing’s better than ending an adventure-filled day in Dubai with warm, scrumptious meal of local cuisine. Options include Arabic belly dancers to entertain you while you dine and activities in a traditional bedouin camp.

The tours of the bedouin camps are difficult to access without a 4×4 so you’ll need a tour like this desert trip with camel ride and BBQ from Get Your Guide. I recommend Get Your Guide as they’re the most affordable compared with other websites offering tours.

Dinner recommendation: Al Hadheerah at Bab Al Shams Resort

If you don’t fancy the bedouin camp and BBQ in the desert, then my other dinner recommendation would by to visit Al Hadheerah restaurant which is part of the beautiful Bab Al Shams resort.

This traditional Arabic buffet restaurant is only open on evenings and includes entertainment. This one of a kind dining is set in open air setting where you can gaze at stars while you dine.

Key information & prices:

Weekday Buffet: 395 AED ($108 USD) per adult
Weekend Buffet: 450 AED ($123 USD) per adult
*Children get a 50% discount (4 to 11 years old)

Reservations: +971 4 809 6194
Whatsapp: +971 56 549 4440

Accommodation: Al Maha Luxury Resort 

If you’re looking to stay in the desert and have a luxury bedouin experience, then look no further than Al Maha Resort & Spa! Each room has it’s own private pool and you’ll find wildlife wandering around the resort. A truly exceptional experience and Dubai bucket list item!

Rooms start from 3355 AED per night during summer and will typically cost around 5500 AED per night in winter


Dubai is a truly incredible city with many different sides to explore, we hope this Dubai in 24 hours guide and itinerary helps you see a small part of what Dubai has to offer. Hopefully you’ll come back for a little bit longer next time!

Make sure to check out some of my other helpful articles about Dubai here:

The Dubai dress code: how to dress when visiting Dubai
17 of the best hotels close to Burj Khalifa and Dubai Fountain
Visiting the Burj Khalifa, an insider’s guide & At The Top alternatives
Can you drink alcohol in Dubai? All you need to know about Dubai’s alcohol laws

Return to Dubai Guides

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