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An Epic Long Layover in Dubai and the Best Things to Do

You can’t go wrong taking a long layover in Dubai. The best things to do can all be done in a few days and you’ll have a blast.


Flying Emirates Air for the first time to Egypt, we had the opportunity to take a free long layover in the UAE for a couple of days. As we have evolved in the way we travel, one thing we like to do is take advantage of long layovers for a few reasons. You get to go someplace new, which is always good, and if you are traveling far, you get a break in between your tiring flights. We’ve had good luck on layovers. We’ve also done one in Doha, Qatar.

We found many ways to use our time in Dubai. We loved the dune-bashing desert tour, the beautiful Hajjar mountains, the shops and souks, and more than anything else, we loved the camels!

In this article, you’ll learn the following:

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A baby camel bats her eyelids at us in the desert near Dubai.
One of the best things about visiting UAE was seeing camels, camels, and more camels. We really enjoyed the babies like this cutie.

What is a Long Layover?

Many airlines offer free stopovers or long layovers in their own country of origin. A free stopover or long layover can last from a few hours up to a few days. A long layover allows you to book a flight, usually directly with the airline, where you can stay in the country for a few extra days and see the sights.

A beautiful mosque in Oman that we passed on our driving tour through the UAE.
A village in Oman as we drove to our dune-bashing location.

How to Plan for a Long Layover in Dubai

First of all, when searching for flights, pay attention to the stops. For us, we were flying to Egypt from Korea. Emirates had the best prices, but of course we had to stop and deplane in Dubai. So, I looked on their site to see if we could take a layover and found out we could.

We booked directly with them and our flight cost did not go up. So for the price of one ticket, we visited our original destination of Egypt as well as spending a bonus two full days in Dubai. What a deal!

Dubai is the perfect long layover. It provides a glimpse into the Arab world, a taste of the Middle East. With all of its oil money, the city is modern, clean, and beautiful. We ate well, did some shopping, and took an educational tour of Jumeirah Mosque; but the best thing about Dubai is its proximity to the desert where we were planning on a spectacular desert tour.

Trying homecooked flatbreads from this woman and her son at the Desert Night Tour.
Flatbreads to try at the Bedouin Village Night.

Emirates Dubai Stopover

If you have flown Emirates, more than likely you have stopped over and spent time in their amazing airport. However, better than that, depending on how much time you have, you can also leave the airport.

If you go to the Emirates Stopover page, it describes how to book it, where you can stay, and what you can do while you are there, including booking tours with them.

All we did was book the tickets, then we took care of our own hotels and tours after that. It is super easy, and once you’ve done it, you’ll want to find more ways to do it again.

On a long layover in Dubai, Erika gets to hold a falcon.
Holding a falcon.
Riding camels is one of the best things to do in Dubai on a Desert Tour.
Riding camels.

Here are a few other airlines that we know have stopover and long layover deals:

  • Air China
  • Korea Air
  • Icelandair
  • Turkish Airlines
  • Qatar Airways
  • Ethiopian Airlines

There are many more, and the rules and offerings are changing all the time. The best thing to do is just check before you buy your tickets.

Burj al Arab peaks over the Souk Madinat in Dubai.
The Burj al Arab from the Madinat Souk.
Visiting a mosque is one of the best things to do in Dubai.
Jumeirah Mosque.

The Best Things to do in Dubai on a Long Layover

After booking your flights, the next thing is to decide what you will do. Dubai for kids of all ages will find exciting activities to keep them busy. It is an amazing city full of great adventure, shopping, dining, and even romance. You can’t go wrong. Here are some things you can do on your layover:

  • Visit the Burj al Arab or the Burj Khalifa
  • Go Shopping for great souvenirs
  • Walk along Dubai Creek or Take an Abra ride
  • Go Swimming, Skiing, Etc.
  • Visit a Mosque or Museum
  • Take a Desert Tour

Visit the Burj al Arab or the Burj Khalifa

Dubai is well-known for its architecture, and making beautiful water islands. Take the elevator to the top of the Burj Khalifa or have a cocktail in the Burj al Arab, and experience the luxury of UAE.

Henna is a popular thing to do in Dubai.
A great place to get a henna tattoo.

Go Shopping

There are so many ways to spend money and get some retail therapy in Dubai. From haute couture to local foods, spices, and souvenirs, there’s plenty to buy.

Dubai is known for its malls and some of the bigger ones also have activities for the family to enjoy in them as well. It’s a good way to get out of the heat and have fun. Some of the malls you can visit are: Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates, the Ibn Battuta Mall, Dubai Outlet Mall, and the Nakheel Mall.

Another way to shop, though, is to visit some of the souks and markets around the city. From gold to spices, you can really delve into Arab culture as you peruse the local goods. Some souks and markets to consider are: the Gold Souk, the Spice Souk, the Textile Souk, the Farmer’s Market, the Dubai Flea Market, Al Seef, and the Ripe Market.

An oasis in the Hajjar mountains.
An oasis in the Hajjar Mountains.

Walk along Dubai Creek or Take an Abra Ride

Dubai Creek, or Khor Dubai, is a place to really soak in the culture of the city. Both locals and tourists enjoy walking, shopping, eating, playing with the kids, taking in a museum, or taking an abra ride. There’s so much to do, it’s a great way to wind down from a day of adventuring.

An Abra is a traditional boat that crosses the waters of Dubai Creek to take you to the other side. You will want to try this at least once, or twice to get back to your starting point. It’s local, cheap (at only 1 dirham per ride) and unique. One of the best rides is a sunset dinner cruise on a yacht!

Our hotel pointed the way to Mecca.
In our hotel, this indicated the direction of Mecca.

Go Swimming, Skiing, Etc.

There are so many beaches, water parks, theme parks, butterfly parks, you name it, that you just can’t go wrong. One of the more popular things to do is going skiing year-round in the Mall of the Emirates.

The Sharjah Heritage Museum is a must-see in the UAE.
The Sharjah Heritage Museum

Visit a Mosque or a Museum

Balancing out all the fun with a bit of learning, there are plenty of places to go. We loved learning about Islam and mosques when we visited the Jumeirah Mosque. There’s also a plethora of museums to check out, depending on your likes. Some museums that you might enjoy include: the Sharjah Heritage Museum, the Ethihad, the Camel Museum, the Coin Museum, and the Coffee Museum, but there are so many more.

Sandboarding is one of the many adventure acitivities to try in Dubai.
Sand-boarding

Take a Desert Tour

We had always heard of the dune-bashing tours with the touristy tent party at the end, and here was our chance to try it. Yes, it was touristy.  The “Bedouin” camp was definitely set up just for tourists. That’s okay, it was fun!

No matter what you do in the city, we highly recommend the famous desert tour. It was number one on our list of things to do while there, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. There are so many desert tours to choose from, but we took the full day tour where we did it all from henna to camel riding.

Our dune-bashing tour took us to a couple of wadis, through a portion of Oman, eating a feast of a lunch full of mezes and kebabs somewhere on the road, and of course sand-boarding and four-wheeling through the desert. By the time we reached the tourist camp, we were ready to relax and enjoy the show. At the camp, you can try local foods and sweets, do henna, shisha, and even hold a falcon.

Trying shisha is must do in Dubai.

We were on a full day tour, and for some reason arrived at the Bedouin Camp before anyone else. No one else showed up for almost an hour. The owner of the tour company used the four of us to try everything out, get our photo taken, eat all the foods, hold the falcon, even a quick camel ride, basically do it all before anyone else came. Serendipitous and a blast, my daughters had just had the best tour of their lives.  They loved it!

A beautiful desert flower.
Beautiful desert flowers.

Conclusion

If you are booking flights, look into taking a stopover or long layover and add an extra city to your itinerary. We really enjoyed doing this and spending time in a city with so many things to do. For more ideas, check out this Dubai Travel Guide, and you’ll have as much fun as we did exploring the mountains, learning about Islam, dune-bashing, and enjoying the Bedouin Camp that we can’t wait to go back.

sandy

Friday 25th of April 2014

This sounds like something I could do without fear. Tour guide...yep that's my cup of tea. Clean, also helps me get on board. Hold a Falcon...nope. I'm even skiddish around Parakeets.

Corinne Vail

Friday 25th of April 2014

Sandy, It was all fun! The falcon just sat there. I guess he was very used to it.

rhonda albom

Friday 25th of April 2014

We love Emirates. It is our first choice of airlines if we are headed to Asia, Australia, or Europe. We spent a week on our stopover in Dubai (and another week in Oman). It wasn't long enough in Oman, but more than enough in Dubai. Sounds like you had a blast in Dubai. We should have gone with you, we didn't like it so much.

Corinne Vail

Friday 25th of April 2014

Rhonda, Was that because one week was just too long? I love your Oman photos.

noelmorata

Thursday 24th of April 2014

I always love to do stopovers/layovers for a short time frame to enjoy a place I would have never visited...this sounds like the perfect opportunity to do so.

Corinne Vail

Thursday 24th of April 2014

Noel, It is Noel, everyone should take advantage of it!

Ann

Thursday 24th of April 2014

Sounds like a lot of fun. I've never been to the UAE, but I have several family members that live there and hope to visit one day. I've never really researched the area so it's good to get a head start in thinking of what they have to do for fun.

Corinne Vail

Thursday 24th of April 2014

Ann, If you plan a trip, think about the surrounding Emirates as well. Oman is beautiful and all of them have something special to offer.

Chris Boothman

Thursday 24th of April 2014

Great to see you also did your post on UAE! Plus we opted for a few different attractions aside from the Jumeirah Mosque which we also think looks really cool and given that it is the only mosque that allows public visitors, I think it would be a really awesome experience.

We are on the final stretch of the challenge now Corinne, keep up the great work!

Corinne Vail

Thursday 24th of April 2014

Chris, Thanks! It's been...fun!