Note: This Itinerary puts a large focus on shopping and cultural activities. Other itineraries that might better fit your interests can be found here:
Dubai is a world hub! With Dubai Airport being home to Emirates and FlyDubai, there are very few countries and regions in the world you cannot reach from this luxurious emirate. But what to do if you have a layover? Is it possible to see the city in 8 hours? Sure! As a local, I have put together a fully planned itinerary and guide on what to do and see in Dubai during your 8-hour layover!
It is important to note that this guide was written for a layover during the day. Suppose you have a layover during the evening or the night. In that case, you might be able to nip out for a few cocktails or a stroll through Dubai Mall, but most other things will understandably be closed.
The start of your 8-hour layover in Dubai - getting from the Airport to the city.
Before exploring Dubai, it is obviously important to get away from the Airport and into the city. As the line for the taxis can be quite long (it is not uncommon to have to wait at least 20 minutes), it is a good idea to arrange a transfer beforehand. These transfers are a tad more expensive than the colourful airport taxis. Still, time is money when you only have 8 hours to explore the city!
You can easily book a transfer from the Airport to anywhere in the city via Viator. The cheapest I found was about 31 dollars. So the difference between a transfer and a cab will be about $8, with the airport charges included if you are heading to Dubai Mall. You can also look at the other transfers in the widget below.
Note: Although t is true that you can indeed take a metro to Dubai Mall you will need to change in a busy station onto another line. The metro also does not service all and every terminal. Taking a transfer into the city is honestly a lot easier. If you want to know more about the metro in Dubai you can read my article about Dubai Metro here.
Stop Nr 1: Dubai Mall
You haven’t been to Dubai if you haven’t been to Dubai Mall! Dubai Mall is the largest shopping mall globally and is connected to the famous Burj Khalifa. Dubai Mall is the first stop on this 8 hour Dubai Layover Itinerary. I would recommend spending about an hour here – you can walk around, have a coffee, go for a dessert in Fashion Avenue etc.
There are lots to do and see in Dubai Mall. One of my favourite attractions is the Dubai Mall Underwater Zoo. This is a super cool aquarium that houses sharks and jellyfish and crocodiles, penguins, and capibaras. It is a small zoo in the middle of Dubai Mall!
If you are a bit tired and not looking forward to lots of travel and sightseeing, I would recommend doubling down on activities in Dubai Mall such as the Underwater Zoo and maybe even the VR Park. It is paramount to book tickets beforehand, so you do not have to faff around in queues and waste time that way.
Stop Nr 2: Burj Khalifa visit.
Stop number 2 on our short trip into the city of Dubai brings us to the magnificent Burj Khalifa. I would also count about 1 hour for the Burj Khalifa trip. There are often very large queues and since everyone needs to go into an elevator – these queues can belong.
Booking your Burj Khalifa ticket beforehand is a must. Tickets to the Burj Khalifa are not only very likely to sell out, but they are also more expensive when bought at the counter. In addition, if you do want to head to the Underwater Zoo, you can buy combi tickets that are a bit cheaper and well worth it.
When buying tickets to the Burj Khalifa, you can choose between tickets to the 124th and 125th floor or tickets that allow you to explore the 124th, 125th and 148th floor. The nice thing about floor 148 is that it is genuinely calmer, and fewer people are around. Coming off a long plane journey, you might want a bit of peace and quiet…
Stop Nr 3: Take a tour through the Souks and old Dubai.
Next up is a tour of the old Souks and old Dubai. Although to many, Dubai is all about the glitz and glamour – the emirate had humble beginnings in trade and pearl fishing. The old part of Dubai is a beautifully restored maze of typical Emirati houses, courtyards and shops that needs to be explored and experienced to believe.
You can easily take a 2-hour tour through old Dubai. That same tour will also take you to the most famous and most important souks and markets in the city. You will be walking through the gold souk, the spice souk, and of course, the textile souks of the city. The guide will also take you on a ride on one of the traditional boats to cross the busy river.
Although this tour is indeed quite long, it does bring you through and past some of the best bits of town without wasting too much time or money.
Stop Nr 4: The Dubai Museum
From the Souks, you can either walk or take a bus/taxi to the Dubai Musem. However, if you are pressed for time, I highly recommend taking a cab.
The Dubai Museum is located in Dubai’s old Fort detailing the history of Dubai and its people. In the museum, you will learn more about the life of the Arab nomadic tribes and the pearl fishing industry and the beautiful clothes people in Dubai wore before it became part of the United Arab Emirates.
The Dubai Museum is a great place to head if you are travelling with kids, interested in history, or if you are a bit warm and wouldn’t mind hanging around in an airconditioned museum.
If the Dubai Museum does not sound like your cup of tea, I would actually recommend heading to the Museum of Illusions located in Old Dubai. In this part of the city, you can also learn about coffee in the coffee museum or just sit down and drink a cup of Karak tea or local coffee. Do keep an eye on the time!
Stop Nr 5: The Dubai Frame
Last but not least, you can head to the famous Dubai Frame. This amazing Dubai monument was built to beautifully frame the city at sundown like a postcard. The Dubai Frame is a museum which you can visit. Not only will you learn more about how Dubai became the city it is today, but you will also have an amazing view of the city and the ocean.
The Dubai Frame is a great way to finish your Dubai Layover. The Dubai Frame is located conveniently close to the Airport. From the Dubai Frame, the Airport is only a 10-minute drive in good conditions. However, do leave earlier – especially during rush hour as queues are very likely.
Where to eat or drink on your 8 hour Dubai layover?
Although you will probably want to get the most out of your 8 hour Dubai layover, you should not forget to eat or drink on your blitz trip to Dubai! Here are some of the best restaurants and chains to consider.
Dubai Mall has lots and lots of choices when it comes to food. The mall has 2 large food courts – one on the first floor near the ice rink and one on the ground floor near the Burj Khalifa tour entrance. Here you will find anything from big chains such as Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Jollibee to German Doner Kebab and Panda Express. You can order at Chowking (amazing food!) in the lower food court and Pret a Manger.
Suppose you decide to take a bit more time in Dubai Mall. In that case, you can also head to Jones the Grocer (great if you are craving a Full English Breakfast). You can also have some seafood at Joe’s Crab Shack which is located next to the aquarium. You will have amazing views on a nice part of the big tank without many tourists blocking the view. Lastly you can walk out of the mall and past Souk al Bahar to Shakespeare and Co for a nice cold drink, a shisha (hookah) and a nice pasta. From this restaurant, you will also have one of the best views of the Burj Khalifa without having to sell a kidney.
Souks and Old Dubai:
The Souks and Old Dubai are honestly quite a large area. In Old Dubai, you will find a few nice restaurants, but it is quite important to keep in mind that most cater exclusively to tourists. You can, however, still find a nice place to sit at a Starbucks or a local cafe.
There is some Indian street food around – I would recommend some samosa chat or Panipuri. Still, other than that, it might be better to head to the Frame instead as there is a lot more and better choice.
There are a few really good restaurants near the Frame, including Ravi’s, a well-beloved and highly praised Indian restaurant. In fact, I would take all my friends and family to Ravis whenever they visited Dubai because the food is that good.
If you are craving sushi, you can head to Moshi. This sushi chain offers classic and not-so-classic rolls and amazing mint lemonade. If you are a fan of dumplings, you might also want to order their Nepali MoMo! They also have vegan options!
Other amazing restaurants in the area are TumTum Asia and Sangam vegetarian restaurant. Opposite Moshi, you will find Kulfiholic, which sells amazing Mumbai ice cream and great chai.
How to get back to Dubai Airport?
Getting back to Dubai Airport is not hard. Just flag down a taxi, and you will be on your way in no time. Ending at the Frame and in the Oud Metha part of town means you will almost always have easy access to cabs. Many cab drivers live in the area, and if you cannot find a taxi to flag down – just walk into one of the local restaurants. They will be happy to call a cabby friend of theirs to bring you to the Airport!
Other interesting things to do in Dubai
Of course, this little itinerary won’t cover everything in the area. That is why I have made a list of other amazing things to do in the areas you will be heading to.
- Kidzania- Dubai Mall – Admission ticket
- Ekart Zabeel Dubai At Dubai Mall
- Professional Photoshoot in Dubai Mall
- Tickets for Dubai Ice Rink
- Authentic Emirati Cultural Meal and Talk in Old Dubai
- Ancient Old Dubai Walking Tour (30 to 45 minutes only)