Long journeys can be tiring, especially journeys with a long layover on some faraway airport. While some people will try to avoid layovers by all means, others get bitten by the wander-bug and meticulously plan where to spend their layover and how much time they have. For them, it’s just another destination to add to their list – like a micro trip. For many travellers between Europe, Asia and Australia, Dubai is a classic layover destination – and if Dubai is en-route your journey, be assured of a great experience.

Although Dubai is a huge city, there are many great spots rather close by the airport which you can and should see during your layover here. Here are my seven favourite places that captures the essence of the city and are still near to the Dubai International Airport.

7 Things to do in Dubai on a Layover - burj khalifa


1. Burj Khalifa

When in Dubai, you simply have to visit the tallest building in the world: the Burj Khalifa. The skyscraper is the pride of the city and stands at 829.8 m/2,722 ft. Get a ticket and go to the observation deck on the 144th floor to see the world in a completely different way – the experience is beyond words! The building holds many records, including the tallest free standing structure, world’s highest observation deck, having the world’s highest night club and having the world’s highest restaurant.

Distance from airport: 14 kms

7 Things to do in Dubai on a Layover - Grand Mosque

2. The Grand Mosque

One of the most famous sights of Dubai is the Grand Mosque. It is located quite close to the airport and can be easily reached via taxi or Metro. The mosque was originally built in the 1900s, but was demolished to be re-built in the year 1960 and further in the year 1998. The present building is a magnificent piece of artwork and can hold up to 1200 worshippers at a time. Although non- Muslims are not allowed inside the mosque, they can visit the outer section of the mosque to admire the incredible structure.

Distance from airport: 12.5 kms


3. The Dubai Museum

Probably the best way to understand the rich historical transformation of Dubai from being a small Bedouin village to the entertainment hub it is today is to visit the Dubai Museum. Located at the Al-Fahidi fort that dates back to the 17th century, the museum is a beautifully maintained gallery exhibiting a wide range of old weaponry, military artifacts and other local antiques of the Arabic culture. The best time to visit the museum is from August to April, because it is partly outside and the summer months get incredibly hot.

Distance from airport: 12.3 kms

7 Things to do in Dubai on a Layover - heritage village dubai

4. Heritage Village

Heritage Village is a fun and vibrant way of understanding the traditional Arabic ethnicity of Dubai. Weaving culture into the 21st century skyline of Dubai, it is a favourite among visitors as it displays traditional handicrafts and artifacts along with traditional cuisine, song and dance. It depicts the coastal, mountain and traditional life of the ancient Arabic lifestyle along with a practice of various traditional professions during the early age. It gives you a peek into the traditional Arabic lifestyle in an exciting and fun way.

Distance from airport: 12 kms

Open Hours: 8.30am-10.30pm, daily

7 Things to do in Dubai on a Layover - Dubai Souk

5. The Souks

Shopping – could you think of a better way to spend your layover time? Shopping in Dubai souks (= markets) is so popular that some people even book special flight packages including a layover and shopping tour. The traditional markets are probably the biggest attraction of Dubai. You can visit textile and spice souks, soak up the energy of the bustling stalls and the compelling atmosphere at the markets. Don’t forget to use your bargaining skills to the best at these souks, it’s great fun!

Distance from airport: 11.5 kms

7 Things to do in Dubai on a Layover - dubai creek photo by yeowatzup via flickr

6. Dubai Creek

Want to see the majestic Dubai skyline in a completely different way? Take a cab from the airport and visit Dubai Creek. Cutting through the heart of Dubai and dividing it into 2 parts, the creek is always bustling with locals and tourists. Seamed with many great eateries, souks and vibrant people all the time, the creek is your place to feel the soul of Dubai. If time allows, you can take a Dhow cruise that passes under several bridges and past sky rocketing towers overlooking the water besides beautiful gardens.

Distance from airport: 8.8 kms

7 Things to do in Dubai on a Layover - Bastakiya Quarters

7. Bastakiya Quarters

Many people around the world are intrigued by the way Arabs used to live in the hot desert in the early ages when there was no electricity and no air-conditioning. The Bastakiya district is your chance to step back in time and peek into traditional houses with courtyards decked with wind towers that kept them cool even in the extreme desert summers. The place has been opened for visitors and now houses a cultural center, art gallery and a restaurant. It is the perfect place to witness the local talent in Dubai’s most engaging neighborhoods, the Bastakiya Quarters.

Distance from airport: 11 kms

7 Things to do in Dubai on a Layover
photo by the_dead_pixel via flickr

Facts you need to know about your layover at Dubai airport:

  • The airport is located in the center of Dubai and has excellent transport connectivity with the entire city. The metro ride to the city center takes about 20 minutes, but you can also easily rent a car at the airport.
  • If you don’t want to stay at a hotel, you can store your luggage at the Dubai airport luggage storage facility available at terminal 1 & 3 for up to 12 hours.
  • On an average it takes an hour and half to clear your way through the immigration and customs at the airport.

Note: It is advisable to have a layover time of at least 8 hours to comfortably travel around the nearest attractions and reach the airport back on time, keeping in mind the custom clearing and city traffic.

Travellers with wanderlust make the best of every opportunity to explore, and that is exactly why many of them plan their layovers in a way that they get to enjoy a new city during their journey. Dubai makes for such a perfect opportunity, so when you fly the next time, make sure to give yourself enough time to explore the city on your way to the world!

This is a guest post by Neha Singh.

neha-singh Neha is a postgraduate in Mass Communications, who loves everything about life. Traveling is extremely close to her heart and writing came to her naturally. An avid trekker & explorer, who often takes off some time from her busy life for mountaineering, she loves meeting new people & gets attached to their culture very easily. Her ambition is to explore as many places as she can in her life. She strongly believes in Gandhian principle – “simple living high thinking”. Follow her Dubai-focused travel blog Dubai Wikia.