Stopover in Dubai – Skyscrapers and Deserts

As I try to shield my hands from the cold winter winds back in Austria, I can feel some sand inside my pants’ pockets. The sand of Dubai’s dunes. 18 hours stopover in Dubai and what we made of it. 

18 hours. That’s a long time, indeed. Definitely not a time to waste when travelling. Our flight from Sri Lanka arrives around 8 in the morning, and the connecting flight back home leaves Dubai at 3:20 am. Enough time to get out of the airport and explore the city that everybody is talking about.

Prep is saving time

About a week prior to our stopover in Dubai, we checked some online offers and evaluated the time available including the time we need for airport stuff, finding our way, public transport and going back in time to catch our connecting flight. Still, much time is left and we decide to book tickets for the Burj Khalifa – the biggest tower in the world and for a Dubai Dunes Safari including BBQ dinner in the middle of the desert.

Skip the lines and enjoy the view

On the lower ground floor of the Dubai Mall – which by the way is amazingly huge and we were a little afraid not to make it in time, as it takes you about 15 minutes quick walking from the metro station to the ticket booth – we find the entrance to Burj Khalifa with a height of 828 meters. We quickly collect our ticket with an online voucher and skip the lines, just to wait again in the line for the elevator. The elevator takes you up to the 124th and 125th floor within just one minute, which makes my ears pop. The ticket for these floors costs 38 US Dollars, but you can also go higher to the 167th floor for a price of about 140 US Dollars.

Up there, the dust lingering in the city prevents us from seeing very far. Still, what we see is amazing – construction and building everywhere, high-rise buildings, magnificent fountains, incredibly great shopping malls (all in all there are more than 40 malls in Dubai) and the world’s biggest man-made canal. The 360-degree-view gives us an idea of the size of the city. During the last couple of years, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum, has been realizing only a small part of his vision for his emirate. Bigger, better, higher seems to be the motto and the cranes let us only guess what the future might bring for Dubai.

Cool shopping with oceanic flair 

My craving for a coffee after a night flight could not be fulfilled at the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa, therefore, we decide to get a snack in the air conditioned Dubai Mall. It is located in the same building complex as Burj Khalifa and offers not only 1,200 shops, 170 cafés and restaurants, a souk and a cinema, you can also find a gigantic aquarium with sharks, an underwater zoo and an ice skating area inside the mall. Theoretically, you can spend days in there, practically, I am convinced that some people already did 😉

Rocking the dunes – sandboarding and co. 

After our lunch and adventure in the Dubai Mall, we are picked up by a driver right outside the mall, who takes us to the desert, the dunes and a Beduine camp for traditional dance and food. After 45 minutes driving, we turn right into a base camp, where people have the possibility to ride quads for about 30 minutes. I volunteer for taking pictures 😉 After that our driver releases some air from the jeep’s tires and we drive into the vast sand dunes of Dubai. We almost fly over the wavy sand, jump over little hills and slip down the slopes of red sand. We cannot take enough pictures as soon as we get out, and then the next adventure awaits us: sandboarding. I have always wanted to do this, even though I am a terrible snowboarder. The theory is the same – just bend your knees, weight on the front leg and push yourself down the slope. Sand is not quite as slippery as snow and it stops you from time to time, but otherwise it is a very nice experience with a little adrenaline rush.

The sunset in the desert is beautiful. The red rays of sunlight mingle with the red sand and the atmosphere becomes Aladdin-like. Which makes it perfect for a Beduine camp in the desert. Camels are already waiting for the short ride we are about to make. It is literally just one round in front of the camp, just to get a little taste of how it’s like on the back of a camel. Now we are introduced to the camp and how it works: a tourist show par excellence. We didn’t expect so many people there. About 100 people gathered around a square stage that is covered in carpets. We sit down on big cushions and several stations are arranged in a circle around us: you can smoke a Shisha, get a henna tattoo, hold a falcon, drink tea, buy souvenirs and even dress up in traditional Arabic costumes to take a picture.

Between the dinner courses, the traditional Tanura Dance was performed by a young man, who suddenly glittered in colorful lights while turning around himself constantly. As a highlight, Raffaela did her unique belly dance in a shiny red dress.

Full day adventure in Dubai 

After these three stops – the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Mall and the Desert Safari – we go back to the airport, which is bustling even during the hours of the night. Shops are open all around the clock. You definitely won’t get bored, I promise! Our conclusion: Don’t panic when your flight plan tells you to stay at Dubai for a couple of hours. Immigration is free of charge and done very quickly. You can also leave the airport for a stopover of about six hours – just visit Burj Khalifa and/or the mall. It’s definitely worth a try 🙂

Here are a few personal recommendations for the Dubai Airport DXB for a great stopover: 

  • Luggage deposit: You can leave your luggage at the “Left Luggage” area located in the public arrivals hall near the metro station. They charge 30 Dirham per 12 hours, provided there are electronic devices in your luggage. However, if you leave your stuff there for 12 hours and 1 minute, you will be charged 60 Dirham.
  • Take the metro: The red line of the Dubai metro takes you directly to downtown Dubai and the most important sights. We get out at the stop “Dubai Mall” where we need to collect our tickets for Burj Khalifa. Plus: The metro ride provides you with a great view over the ever growing city: construction sites, cranes, bricks and steel are all around us!
  • Check tours and tickets online: You will not only save money, but also time and energy and you can make the most out of your stopover in Dubai. Tours require a meeting point, ideally a hotel. Just tell them you are in the city for a couple of hours and suggest the pick-up and/or drop-off at the big bus parking of Dubai Mall.
  • Bring a towel and clothes to change: At the airport, there are showers you can use free of charge, however, you need to bring your own towels and shampoo (and Flip-Flops 🙂 ).
  • Bring a small blanket and a pillow: The many planes arriving and leaving DXB cause masses of people to spend hours next to each other. Most of the seats are taken long before you arrive at your gate. If you want to rest, take a blanket or a towel and make yourself a little nest. Don’t forget to set your alarm clock in order not to miss your flight.

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