How to spend a day-long layover in Dubai

So you booked the cheapest flight you could find online and it just happened to come with an exorbitantly long layover in Dubai, right? Looks like we're on the same boat. In a bid for the lowest possible price, I chose an itinerary that would sandwich an 11-hour transfer into my route from Istanbul to New Delhi.

So if you're wondering what to do with 1 day in Dubai, here are some of my ideas for what you can do with that day.

If you prefer to sleep at the airport:

I get it, flights suck and you just want to sleep off the creak in your neck you got while sleeping in that deathtrap economy class seat. Luckily, there are a couple options for you right inside the airport -- as long as you fly into Terminals 1 or 3. Terminal 2-goers are less lucky, as I'll explain below.

 - Terminal 1 of the airport has a posh hotel called Dubai International Hotel. The cheapest rooms start at 650 AED (177 USD) per day.
 - Also in Terminal 1, you can find portable snooze cubes, which offer single rooms at 75 AED (21 USD) per 2 hours.

Terminal 3 is connected to Terminal 1 so passengers arriving at this terminal will get all of Terminal 1's benefits.

If you fly into Terminal 2 and are looking for a way to get to Terminal 1, you will have to show the staff there that you've booked a hotel or snooze cube room in advance. This is the only way they will transport you to the other terminal without going through customs. By the time I arrived into Terminal 2, the snooze cube website would only allow me to book in advance by a minimum of 2 days. The hotel was too expensive for me to even consider. So I was stuck.

Here in the land of exiles, your only real option will be to hang out at the Marhaba lounge. It's 150 AED (41 USD) per 2 hours with no shower facilities so it's not a very affordable rest. There are no comfy loungey chairs of the variety you'd expect to find in a lounge so you will likely not get any sleep. They do serve decent brunchy food, though, if that's what you're going for.

If you prefer to sightsee:

Airport staff will let you leave to sightsee as long as your layover is several hours long and your passport is from a qualifying country (mine is from the US). The cheapest option for getting around town will be to take the metro. There is also an open-top sightseeing bus for the price of 66 USD per day, which stops at all the major attractions.

Ofcourse, the metro will only stop at Terminals 1 and 3. If you find yourself unlucky in Terminal 2, you'll have to take a cab to Terminal 1. And they start off with a 25 AED base charge just for taking the taxi from the airport. 

As for itineraries, I suggest downloading the TripAdvisor city app for Dubai onto your phone and taking their suggested walking tours. Find it on Google Play or iTunes.

Below are my notes on the routes offered in the app.

Start with Downtown Dubai (3-5 hours)

Highlights from downtown Dubai:
 - Burj Khalifa - currently the world's tallest building
 - Burj al-Arab - the world's tallest hotel
 - the Dubai mall - so large, I'd describe it more like a small town than a mall. It contains an ice-skating rink and an aquarium. You'll regularly see tour groups walking through.

Inside the Dubai Mall - Fashion Avenue
Star ceiling in the mall
World's tallest building, Burj Khalifa

If you want to go to the top of Burj Khalifa, try to book tickets in advance to guarantee your reservation. They can sell out the day-of.

Afterwards, see a completely different side of the city by walking through Historic Dubai (3-6 hours)

Highlights from historic Dubai:
 - Gold and Spice Souks
 - Dubai Creek
 - Dubai Museum
 - Women's Museum

Historic Dubai is a must-see! Start at the Gold and Spice Souks, where Dubai suddenly turns into Little India. The streets turn into alleyways and everywhere you'll find sites and smells that bring you back to an idyllic vision of the marketplace. Vendors and buyers buzz through the streets, inspecting the quality of spices on display in woven baskets or perusing the dizzying array of designs of silk scarves or haggling for the lowest price on a set of gold earrings.

And after all that hustle, come up for a breath of fresh air and take a wooden boat across Dubai Creek for 1 AED. Very much worth the price!

Make sure to stop by the Dubai Museum on the other side of the creek. The historic building covers the fascinating history of Dubai and the surrounding area.

There's one place I highly recommend adding to your tour through historic Dubai, the Women's Museum near the Gold Souk bus station. I only found out about this place when I started seeing spray painted signs on dilapidated concrete walls pointing to its location. And who can resist following spray painted arrows? Not me.

What exactly is a Women's Museum in Dubai like, you ask? The main attraction is the ground floor, which covers women's history in the UAE, highlighting progress in the areas of education, business, and politics. The second floor displays art pieces made by local female artists and the third floor is dedicated to a famous poet, Ousha.

Third floor of the Women's Museum - quotes from Ousha's poetry.
The two itineraries cumulatively took me 10 hours to complete and by this point, I had to head back to the airport. Others with a layover that lasts into the night may want to consider taking a half-day excursion into the desert. Jeep tours and camel rides are all offered by major tour companies but don't start until the heat dies down toward the afternoon.

The last escalator ride down to the airport

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