During our recent trip to Nepal, we had a 15 hour layover in Dubai. As you can imagine we weren’t keen to spend that time at the airport but saw it as an opportunity to reconnect with a city that we haven’t visited in 11 years. We were keen to explore the latest additions to Dubai’s scenery. So if you find yourself in the same position, rest assured it is possible to have a fabulous time during a 15 hour layover in Dubai.
Entry to UAE
Visitors from the Uk do not need a visa or landing paperwork. Simply head to the immigration desks, get your stamp and leave the airport. The whole process took us less than 5 minutes.
Getting into Dubai
The metro connects passengers from terminals 1 and 3 to the city centre. The red route is direct and takes around 30 minutes to the Burj Khalifa. You will need a two-zone ticket and it will cost you 8 AED each (under £2). Once you get to the Burj Khalifa stop, jump off and follow signs to the Dubai Mall.
15 hour layover itinerary
Burj khalifa and Dubai mall
This area is the hub for your layover and will allow you to visit some impressive sights in a short time. We landed at 12.45 in the afternoon and by 2pm were strolling through the huge Dubai Mall. At just under 6 million square feet, the Mall is the world’s largest mall and welcomes over 80 million visitors annually. It is currently undergoing renovation and has ambitious goals to reach 100 million visitors a year thereafter.
Shoppers will be in heaven as the Mall houses more than 1,300 shops which remain open until midnight on weekends. But that’s not all – the Mall is home to an ice rink, cinema, over 200 restaurants, and an aquarium. Frankly, it is my worst nightmare but if you are a shopaholic, you are in for a treat!
If, like me, you can’t bare malls follow signs for Grand Parking in red. You will pick up signs for tourist buses and can check options with the Big Bus Company and City Sightseeing. Both offer similar tours in open-topped double-decker buses for a similar cost. However, their timings are different and with limited time you will need to work out which company offers you the best deal.
Hop on hop off bus
We opted for the Big Bus Company hop on hop off bus. Our tickets cost 175 AED each (around £35) and included three routes. The red route takes you alongside the creek and into old Dubai. The green route covers the beach area and the blue route the Palm and Marina.
We jumped on the Big Bus company red route around 3.30 and it lasted around 1.5 hours due to congestion on the roads. I barely recognised the Dubai of yesteryear, with the old traditional areas replaced by gleaming waterfront entertainment areas including restaurants and shopping complexes. They have been tastefully designed in traditional Middle Eastern architecture and look amazing but lack the atmosphere of other Middle Eastern cities.
Once we returned from the red route, we had just enough time to head to the Burj Khalifa before the night tour. The world’s largest building is 828 metres high and took just 6 years to build. Elevators take less than one minute to whisk passengers to the 124th floor viewing platform. You will then switch to another lift to reach the 148th floor which is home to the world’s largest outdoor observatory. From here, you will have a bird’s eye view of the souks below and the fountain area.
We opted for a VIP experience which allowed access to the Sky Lounge on the 148th floor where complimentary drinks are served. It cost 356AED each (around £70) and is the epitome of luxury with gorgeous sleek bathrooms and a plush seating area overlooking panoramic windows. Sit back and enjoy the views while you feast on canapes and hot and cold drinks.
Your ticket also includes access to the 125th and 124th floor viewing areas as well as fast track access to the descending elevators. Whilst it isn’t cheap, if you are short on time you may have to dig deep to fit this into your itinerary.
We arrived at sunset and only waited 15 minutes to ascend but you will need to allow at least 90 minutes to comfortably visit everything. Ideally, I would suggest arriving around 4.30 so that you can go up at sunset and see both the sun setting and the views at night.
After we returned to ground level, we headed back to the bus stop for the 2 hour Night tour of the beach and Palm area. This tour shows how the march of time has impacted in the last 11 years with old dusty middle eastern style shops now replaced by modern restaurants and bars along with the main thoroughfare.
It deposits you back at the Mall at around 9.45pm which gives you plenty of time to visit the Dubai Fountains.
The Dubai Fountains
At night the Burk Khalifa twinkles as a kaleidoscope of colours light up the tower in a vibrant light display. But the lake area at the base of the tower hosts another exciting attraction that you should not miss.
Every half hour between 6pm and 11pm, the fountains in the lake come to life and dance to a variety of musical themes. Inspired by the fountains of the Bellagio in Las Vegas, these fountains are truly magical and a breathtaking site to behold.
We opted for dinner in a lakeside restaurant where we could enjoy the fountain display and were blown away, both by the fountains and the size of our meal. If you eat at the Hurricane’s Grill, under no circumstances order a starter. The mains would feed me for a week!
Return to the airport
Sadly, before we knew it, it was almost midnight and time to return to the airport for our flight. The metro finishes around 11pm so you will need to get a cab after that. Our cab cost 40 AED (around £8) and we were back at the airport in no time. Once again, we passed smoothly through immigration and headed to Hard Rock Cafe for a cold beer.
What do you think?
Having a long layover in Dubai really should be seen as an opportunity. Maybe you have had a similar experience in which case I would love to hear from you. What did you pack into your layover?