All Articles 7 most over-the-top experiences in Dubai

7 most over-the-top experiences in Dubai

Skiing? Eating gold? You won’t believe what you can do in Dubai.

Natasha Amar
By Natasha Amar26 Feb 2024 7 minutes read
People on tour riding camels in desert
Platinum Heritage
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

Growing up in Dubai in the 90s, I was taught that my hometown (and the city I still call home) was the City of Gold. As a 5-year-old, I strolled around the labyrinth lanes of Deira’s Gold Souk with my father, my eyes transfixed on the multilayered gold necklaces and dazzling diamond tiaras in shop windows. As a travel journalist, I’ve seen everything from gold leaf-topped ice creams and gold-plated bathroom taps at the Burj Al Arab to a gold Rolls Royce Ghost parked outside Dubai Mall, and shrugged it off as, “Just another day in Dubai.”

Dubai’s love of record-breaking attractions might seem ostentatious, but as an insider with perspective on Dubai’s many layers, I see this as the city’s desire to craft its own narrative. Dependent on fishing, trading, and pearl diving in the early 1900s, today Dubai derives its identity not from museums full of dusty relics, but from its vision for a future where anything is possible—something that is easy to visualize when you’re talking to a robot at Expo 2020 at Expo City Dubai, time-traveling to the OSS Hope space station in 2071 at the Museum of the Future, or admiring the contours of Palm Jumeirah from a rooftop infinity pool.

Whether you’re after an extreme adventure, a high-end meal, or cultural immersion, here are the best of Dubai’s larger-than-life experiences.

Discover a sunken city in the world’s deepest dive pool

Person scuba diving and playing with piano underwater
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

On a dive at Deep Dive Dubai, the world’s deepest dive pool (of course), you can plunge into depths of up to 196 feet (depending on your diver proficiency level). The oyster shell-shaped building that houses the pool is remarkable, and a nod to the city’s pearl diving heritage. The underwater attraction looks like a massive abandoned city set among 3.6 million gallons of freshwater. You’ll find yourself scuba diving or freediving past storefronts, through apartment rooms, and playing chess and foosball underwater in what feels like a scene straight out of a dystopian movie. Even those with zero diving experience are welcome. After a briefing and shallow water training, beginners can dive up to 39 feet to explore the underwater city with an instructor.

Tip: The indoor pool’s temperature is maintained at a comfortable 86 degrees, so you can visit around the year. Unless you get very cold, there’s no need for a thick wetsuit. You can get away with a swimsuit and rash guard or a 3mm wetsuit

Travelers say: “This was worth it! The drive is a bit far from the tourist central areas and it is not a cheap activity. I was nervous about it if I'm honest but I needn't have been. It is more than just a novelty. The scuba guides were wonderful, the video we paid for is super cute and all of us had a great time!”—@natalidelconte

Sip on gold-topped beverages at the Burj Al Arab

Opulent red and gold room with patterned carpet and drapes
Image: Linda B/Tripadvisor

Before the Burj Khalifa, there was the Burj Al Arab, Dubai’s very own all-suite “seven-star” (as it has branded itself) hotel. Set on a manmade island, this 1,000-foot high sail-shaped property became the talk of town (and the world) in 2005 when it hosted a friendly tennis match between Andre Agassi and Roger Federer on its helipad. While a stay here might blow your trip budget out of the water, the Inside Burj Al Arab Tour offers a peek into Dubai’s most exclusive (and extravagant) hotel on a 90-minute guided tour that’s relatively affordable.

Besides the impressive atrium and an exhibition about the hotel’s history and architecture, the highlight here is a visit to the Royal Suite—where the likes of Nelson Mandela, Angelina Jolie, and Justin Bieber have spent the night. If you’ve ever wondered how the other half travels in Dubai, then this stroll among gold-decked columns, luxe jewel-toned carpets, Swarovski crystal chandeliers, palatial dining rooms, and sweeping gold and marble staircases pretty much answers that question.

Personally, I think the splurge on the Gold Experience Tour is worth it just so that you can linger after the tour and sip on a 24-carat edible gold-topped cappuccino or espresso martini at the posh 25th-floor observation deck.

Tip: You’ll have plenty of photo opportunities, so dress nicely (no beachwear or flip-flops). There’s also a fair bit of walking involved—wear comfortable shoes.

Travelers say: “We really enjoyed this excursion and if you want to see some great views including across to the Palm without having to queue, then we would recommend this as you get great views from the Presidential Suite. We booked it before we left the UK and it was all very easy and well organised.”—@Linda B

Skydive over Palm Jumeirah

Person tandem skydiving over Dubai's Palm Jumeirah
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

If you’ve always dreamed of going skydiving, then what better place to jump out of an airplane than over Palm Jumeirah, the city’s manmade palm-shaped archipelago? On a tandem skydive at Skydive Dubai, you’re in for the adrenaline rush of a lifetime freefalling at 120 mph while you’re safely harnessed to an experienced instructor. The final moments leading to the jump are nerve-wracking, to say the least, but my friend described the 60-second freefall from 13,000 feet as, “absolutely liberating—freedom like you’ve never felt before.” Once the parachute is deployed, you’ll soar in the skies appreciating a birds’ eye view of Palm Jumeirah, Bluewaters Island, and the city’s breathtaking coastline.

Tip: Don’t worry about bringing an action camera—the package includes photos and an edited video taken by a cameraflyer dedicatedly flying in front of you, so you can relax and enjoy the experience.

Travelers say: “It was purely amazing! Totally worth it! It wasn't my first skydive but it certainly was the best. I enjoyed every minute of it starting from entering the building for the first time.”—@Maria D

Swim alongside unparalleled rooftop views

Rooftop outdoor pool overlooking Dubai skyline at sunset
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

If you’re like me, then an afternoon at Aura Skypool, the world’s highest 360-degree infinity pool, is a far more relaxing and luxurious way to admire Palm Jumeirah. Located on the 50th floor of the Palm Tower, at a height of 688 feet, this glamorous rooftop pool deck offers unhindered panoramic views of the archipelago and the Arabian Sea. Dubai’s love of modern engineering and architectural marvels shines bright when you’re peeking over the edge of the infinity pool and sipping champagne, while gazing at Palm Jumeirah’s central trunk branching into 17 fronds, surrounded by a nearly seven-mile crescent-shaped breakwater.

Tip: Four-hour slots are available from sunrise to late evening, but the afternoon experience (from 3 to 7 p.m.) is my favorite for spectacular sunset views.

Travelers say: “Great view. Everything was fine! Attentive and cheerful staff. When it's windy it is not very pleasant but, overall, it is a nice experience.”—@Voyager44709364580

Beat the heat with indoor skiing

Inside of Ski Dubai
Image: zuv/Tripadvisor

To beat the summer blues in Dubai (totally a thing when temperatures soar to 118 degrees) we Dubai residents like to forget all about the heat and escape to the indoor ski park and slopes at Ski Dubai (where the temperature is always 28 degrees). With five ski runs of varying difficulty (the longest at 1,312 feet), the slopes attract experienced skiers and snowboarders, while beginners can take a 60-minute discovery lesson in what feels like a proper ski resort, just indoors. If—like me—you don’t ski, the snow park offers a bunch of fun activities like zorbing.

Tip: In addition to a freestyle zone for skiers and snowboarders, there’s a zipline, chairlift, snow park rides, and encounters with penguins, so if you’re visiting with kids, expect to spend three to four hours here.

Travelers say: “I wasn't sure how much "real skiing" we'd get but it is a fairly good practice hill! We had so much fun! It is a novelty, sure, but worth it. It was really fun!”—@natalidelconte

Explore the desert on a high-end safari

People on land rovers in the desert
Dubai Heritage Land Rover Desert Safari
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

There’s no lack of desert safaris in Dubai, but if you don’t mind the splurge, I’ll only ever recommend ecotourism operator Platinum Heritage. This company’s carefully curated experiences aren’t just high-end, they’re also culturally relevant and offer a true sense of place. That means there’s no dune bashing—which is bad for the fragile desert environment.

Instead, on a Platinum Desert Safari, you’ll be driven by a knowledgeable conservation guide among the majestic dunes of the Dubai Desert Conservation Guide in a luxurious Land Rover Defender. A surprising visit to a ghaf tree forest, gazelle sightings (if you’re lucky), and a lake that’s home to various bird species all help dispel the myth that the desert is barren and free of life. As evening falls, the experience feels even more surreal, with a falconry demonstration, spellbinding fire and acrobatic shows, and a fancy six-course dinner with a menu designed by Michelin-starred chef Claudio Filippone in a private cabana.

Tip: Wear clothing and shoes that are sensible and comfortable for this seven-hour excursion that also involves a camel ride in the desert.

Travelers say: “As someone who went to a several safari tours with different safari companies, Platinum Heritage is hands down best in UAE. I have heard about them before , but yesterday i had privilege to experience it. From the ride , food , entertainment to stargazing everything was absolutely amazing.”—@Dragan J

Dine on top of the world

Elegant dining room with windows overlooking Dubai
At.mosphere Loung
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

Like every first-time traveler to Dubai, you could go up to the crowded observation decks on levels 124 and 125 of the Burj Khalifa for killer views. But for a fancier experience, I recommend dining at At.mosphere, one of the world’s highest restaurants, just two floors below. At this plush, award-winning fine-dining restaurant—located at a dizzying height of 1,450 feet—you’ll enjoy awe-inspiring panoramic views of the city that rival those from the observation decks. And the food is amazing, too: You’ll feast on caviar and oysters and sumptuous French fare like prime beef tartare, bouillabaisse, and duck a l'orange.

Tip: The restaurant and lounge are popular around sunset, so reservations are a must (make them well in advance of your trip). If you’re visiting for dinner, ask for a table with views over the Dubai Fountain.

Travelers say: “It's certainly one of best experiences in life. When did you have dinner at level 122? Excellent views,perfect dinner and service. Music was not our taste. One recommendation: dont visit before Dubai Mall, it's difficult then to know how to walk to the entrance of the restaurant.”—@enjoy561

Natasha Amar
Natasha Amar is a travel blogger, writer, journalist, guidebook author, and photographer based in Dubai. She covers travel, hotels, food, culture, lifestyle, personalities, and mental health for Forbes Travel Guide, Lonely Planet, Afar, Insider, Eater, Whetstone Magazine, National Geographic UK, Rough Guides, and other publications. A third culture kid who has spent over 30 years in the UAE, she is a local expert who loves telling nuanced stories about places, people, and cultures in the Middle East. Her work has a strong focus on responsible travel, and she is a proud media member of the Adventure Travel Trade Association. You can find more of her work on natashaamar.com, her travel blog and on Instagram @thebohochica.