Dubai – one of the most glamorous, spectacular and futuristic countries in the world. In Dubai you can have exotic desert adventures, check incredible architecture, explore the Bedouin culture, gawk at soaring buildings, immerse yourself in fashion and style, check out bustling souks, or even get lost in nature. It is the business, cultural and entertainment hub of the Middle East and is a city that is capable of appealing to all types of travelers.

Photo credit: KhanSaqib

If you’re stuck on a 12 hour layover in Dubai, and even though the airport is incredible, you should definitely head over to the city and check out some of its greatest attractions. We all dread connecting flights, long waits at the airports, security checks, but in Dubai you can turn your layover to just another vacation and explore the city of gold and glamor.

Photo credit: Gilbert Sopakuwa

Firstly, make sure you leave at least an hour on each end, so 12 hours would end up being 10 hours in Dubai, and even though that is not enough time to take in all of the city, you will be able to get a glimpse of its most famous attractions and experiences.

Here’s how to spend a 12 hour layover in Dubai

Dubai Mall

Photo credit: Vanshika Datta

The best way to get to the city center is using the metro, which will take you from 15 to 20 minutes, The Dubai Mall is the largest shopping mall in the world, and is a shopper’s paradise – offering more than just a normal retail experience, but countless entertainment options. The entertainment ranges from kids zones, cinemas, shopping districts, countless food options, an aquarium, ice rinks…and much more! You’ll be able to pass some time exploring the shops, and partaking in all of the activities the mall has to offer – making it perfect for just a 12 hour layover in Dubai.

Here are some of the things you can do at Dubai Mall:

Dubai Aquarium

Photo credit: Petteri Järvinen

One of the largest indoor aquariums in the world, the Dubai Aquarium consists of a 10-million-liter-tank and has a diverse range of marine species. Visitors to the mall can still around and under the glass tank with fish, rays, sharks, and sometimes even divers. You’ll be able to see 33,000 marine animals on display and even have a more adrenaline-inducing experience by cage diving with sharks, snorkeling or even riding a boat across the tank.

Dubai Ice Rink

You can skate along this Olympic-sized Dubai Ice Rink which offers disco sessions, public skating lessons, and tutorial packages.

In order to save your time, we recommend that you buy your tickets for the Dubai Ice Rink in advance here.


The Gold Souq in Dubai Mall is a must see, and you will find golden décor and walls that embody most of the square. You will immediately be met with an Arbian feel, dozens of vendors, and check out all types of gold artifacts that you can purchase.

Galeries Lafayette

A 3-floor department store reminiscent of the French one in Paris stands artfully amongst the other shops in the mall with a 3-floor design that offers all types of foods, fashion, housewares, and appliances.

Sega Republic

An indoor theme park with over 150 games, mainly video games. Skip the lines by booking your tickets online here.

The Dubai Fountains

The Dubai fountains are a must watch! Light, music, and dancing fountain will create a fairy-tale like experience with the backdrop of Burj Khalifa instead of a Disney castle.

Burj Khalifa

Photo credit: Alex DROP

Dubai’s crowning attraction, standing at 828 metres in Downtown Dubai, is considered one of the most prominent attractions in both, the Middle East and the world. It has the most number of stories, the highest outdoor deck and the tallest service elevator in the world; this Burj of Superlatives is nothing short of impressive. Begin at the ground level of Dubai Mall where you learn about the history of it all through a multi-media video, and then get ready to be awe-inspired for the rest of your life.

After climbing up to the 124th floor, you will reach the most breathtaking view of Dubai from the top of Burj Khalifa, and the city’s skyline reflecting the grandeur and splendor of Dubai.

Tip: Burj Khalifa gets very busy and on occasions you will not be able to purchase the standard ticket, this is why we recommend that you pre-book your ticket. Save time and money here.

Old Dubai

Photo credit: Pritpal Saundh

When you close your eyes and picture Dubai, images of glamor, skyscrapers, gold, and yachts probably pop into your head, but for a more authentic experience of Dubai, head over to Old Dubai. This is the original heart of the city, this is where culture and tradition still thrive, where you will find all the bits and piece of old Dubai that managed to survive the modernization of the city.

Things to do:

Photo credit: Pritpal Saundh

Gold Souk is a traditional Arabian market with over 300 jewelry shops where you can buy jewelry at the lowest rates.

Deira Grand Souk is a market solely dedicated to herbs, spices, fragrances and textile.

Photo credit: lightlyscented

Dubai Creek Immerse yourself in the culture completely by taking a boat ride one of the old Abra (wooden boats) on Deira Old Souk and enjoy the trip to the Bur Dubai.

Dubai Heritage Village A traditional Arab village with a detailed showcase of the city’s cultures and traditions.

Kite Beach Dubai Travel

If you want to check an attraction or two and then have a mini-beach vacation, you can definitely do that by heading to Kite Beach Dubai. It is one of the most relaxed, beautiful beaches of Dubai, and includes an array of activities from kite surfing, soap football, beach tennis, volleyball, kayaking, paddle boarding and much more.

Photo credit: Marcel Weichert

It will be a nice relaxing morning after your stressful fight where you can laze by the beach with a drink in your hand and a burger in the other and enjoy the serenity and the view of the flying kite surfers.

Desert Safari

What if you do have a 12 hour layover in Dubai but don’t want to visit its attractions and want to do something more…fun? You can go on a half day desert safari (they run in the morning and in the evenings) where you can experience the life of the Arabian Bedouins, have a falcon in your hand, sand-board, race in buggies, ride 4×4 cars in the dunes, and take excellent pictures.

 Make the most of your 12 hour layover in Dubai and pre-book your Desert Safari in advance here.

Complete and Utter Relaxation at the Heavenly Spa in the Westin Hotel

If all you really want to do is…well…nothing…we’ve got the perfect thing for you! You can go to Heavenly Spa at the Westin Dubai, Al Habtoor City and enjoy beautiful massages and choose from over 6 types of massages.

So these are all the ways you could spend a 12 hour layover in Dubai, thus making your next layover a breeze. No more dreading having to stay at the airport aimlessly staring at your phone for what seems like eternity.

* Cover photo by Alex DROP


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