Where to bring your visiting friends in Dubai in an average budget

I always encourage my friends who plan to visit Dubai to do it between November and February for a maximized experience - simply because the rest of the year is either hot or too hot to go outdoors.

In the past 2 years, we've hosted and toured 4 batches of guests from Philippines and Singapore.  They know what they want to see and experience but ideally they'd ask us to help figure out the best plan.

So the following is the most ideal plan I've come up with, considering that I can only be with them on weekends and nights after office.

For one week vacation or 8-9 day stay including 2 weekends, they should arrive Dubai on a Thursday night.

Plan a simple dinner on their arrival or just prepare something at home.  Remember they are tired or jet-lagged so don't overdo this. 

Day 1: Friday Iconic Tour
  • At The Top sunrise viewing - Book 5:30 in the morning to see both night and daytime view. Don't forget to check the weather - we don't want the sunrise to get spoiled. This schedule of viewing is only available on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
    needed: 2 hours | Cost: AED125 per person if booked in advanced
  • Burj Khalifa - after At The Top, proceed to the Burj Park or the Dubai Fountain grounds as this is the best time of day to have a PERFECT photo without the crowd.
    Time needed: < 1 hour | Cost: 0
  • Burj Al Arab, Dubai Marina Skydive grounds, Atlantis, JBR - Just a quick drive and drop and few clicks will do. Then have breakfast at The Walk or The Beach.
    Time needed: 3 hours | Cost: Food
  • The Box Park - On your way back to Downtown take the Al Wasl road so you can pass by this posh area made from artistically designed shipping containers.
    Time needed: 0.5 hour | Cost: 0
  • Downtown - Head back to Downtown for a fun Dubai Trolley ride
    Time needed: 0.5 hour | Cost: AED20 per person
  • Dubai Mall and the Aquarium
     Time needed: 3 hours to stroll | Cost: 0
  • If they have additional budget, they may consider the Underwater Zoo
    Time needed: 2 hours | Cost: AED150 per person for basic underwater observatory. | AED820  per person for a full experience which includes King Croc, Otter and Ray encounters in addition to the observatory, submersible simulator and glass bottom boat.
  • Dubai Fountain - Wait for the 6:00 or 6:30 fountain show and then have dinner afterwards.
    Time needed: 10 minutes | Cost: 0
Day 1 looks overwhelming right? But it's actually not. Many on the list are just quick stops for sight-seeing and photos - and that's a 'sulit' tour already.

Burj Khalifa without the crowd at 6:20am - December 26
Day 2: Saturday Abu Dhabi Tour
  • Ferrari World - The park opens at 11 in the morning, so leave Dubai around 10.  You'll definitely stay for most part of the day here considering the queue time and lunch at Yas Mall. Don't ever allow your guests to miss the Formula Rossa - the world's fastest roller coaster ride.
    Time needed: 6 hours | Cost: AED350 per person - Tip: If you have Entertainer book, you'll have 2 buy-1-get-1 vouchers you can use here. If you don't have, ask your friends ;-)
  • Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque - Leave Yas Island around 4:30pm so you could still catch the grand mosque in both day and night views - it's stunning in daytime and majestic at night. Give more time as the ladies need to walk tens of meters to get abayas to use inside the mosque. Men, shorts are not allowed. Remind your guests about the most important policy - 'no touching, no holding hands' - even married couples must not.
    Time needed: 1.5 hours | Cost: 0
  • Aldar building or the "Coin building"- You will pass through this on your way to the grand mosque
Give it to Abu Dhabi for Day 2. If your guests want to see the Emirates Palace, then let them stay in the city for an extra day. Our guests didn't spend another day in the capital. They're more excited to see Dubai.

The following days have lesser itineraries - we allow the guests to tour the city on their own, then we meet after work for dinner.

Day 3: Sunday - Optional Rides and Strolls
  • Hop on Hop off bus tour around Old Dubai / Bastakiya, OR
    Time needed: 3-4 hours | Cost: AED100 per person
  • Amphibious bus tour
    Time needed: 2 hours | Cost: AED100 per person
  • Mall of the Emirates
  • Ski Dubai
    Time needed: 1 hour | Cost: AED125 per person (Ski Park only)
  • Chill Out Cafe
    Time needed: 1 hour | Cost: AED80 per person for hot beverages and canapes
Day 4: Manic Monday
  • Dubai Miracle Garden / Butterfly Garden - there is a new bus route that takes visitors from Mall of the Emirates bus station direct to Miracle Garden.
    Time needed: 3 hours | Cost: Miracle Garden AED15 per person, Butterfly Garden AED 50 per person.
  • Souk Madinat Jumeirah - an old-meets-new concept of shopping. Many of the best Dubai souvenirs are sold here (a bit pricey though). There's also a great dining experience by the lagoon. This ends up as one of the favorite places of our guests.
    Time needed: 2 hours | Cost: Food & Souvenirs
Souk Madinat Jumeirah
 Day 5: Choosy Tuesday
  • Desert Safari Camp (3pm onwards) - Sand dunes, camel rides, arabic attire photo ops, henna tattoo, belly dancing show and Arabic dinner buffet are the usual activities in the package.
    Time needed: 6 hours | Cost: AED200 per person
Day 6: Wednesday Walkathon
  • Ibn Battuta Mall - every interior piece at the mall is click-worthy
  • Dubai Glow Garden
    Time needed: 2 hours | Cost: AED60 per person
  • Global Village
    Time needed: 4 hours | Cost: AED15 per person
Day 7: Thursday Shopping Day
  • Gold Souk
    Time needed: 2 hours
  • Outlet Mall
    Time needed: 2 hours
  • Dubai Mall / Mall of the Emirates - the two most loved mall by our tourists friends where it's not so hard to take your wallet out and find many items relevant to you
Day 8: Relaxed Friday

This is usually another shopping day but it won't break the schedule if you could drop by any of these two places:
  • Ras Al Khor Bird Sanctuary / Al Qudra Lake (20 minute drive from Dubai Studio City)
    Time needed: 1 hour | Cost: 0
  • Al Qasba / Al Majaz Waterfront and Blue Souk in Sharjah - do this on a Friday morning so traffic is not an issue.
    Time needed: 1 hour | Cost: 0
Day 9: Send-off Saturday 

Before sending them off, if you still have time, show them around what's popular Pinoy (or Asian) in Dubai.
  • Have lunch in Dampa or your favorite Pinoy restaurant
At The Top right after sunrise
    Always show them different routes. The sights of the streetlights and tunnels are already a delight for them.  I don't pass the same roads as much as possible to show more of the city - one day we pass Sheikh Zayed Road, the next day we'll take Financial Centre or Jumeirah Beach road.

    Encourage them to take the Dubai metro on their own.

    Where to eat
    QDs / Boardwalk by the creek is a good one for the view. If they're food explorers bring them to Special Ostadi in the Old Dubai for authentic kebabs, or to Zaroob for really nice Arabic street food flavors. Forget not the shawarmas in your corner cafeteria.

    Where to stay
    We booked some of our guests in 3-star hotels along Al Rigga, Deira because it's just so close to Union and Al Rigga Metro stations and they almost cost similar to AirBnB's apartments. A humble hotel is enough. After all, they won't stay much in the room. They just need a comfy place to sleep.

    We also offer our home, so they save the hotel budget and/or delegate it for other experiences.

    That's it! This has kinda become a template for me. But I'm pretty sure as years go by - this will change - this must change - and a week might not be enough for visitors to see the best of Dubai anymore.

    So what is an average budget?
    Ummm, around AED2,500 for a couple, excluding hotel and shopping expenses.

    * First and last photo by my friend Cheoby

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