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When you fly Emirates, it could be that you will have to spend a day in Dubai. Maybe you are even booking a one-day layover, and you are wondering what to do. In that case, we’ve got you covered; in this post, you can find the main things to do on a one-day layover in Dubai.

While we have personally tried most of the activities in this post, we haven’t been able to do an organized tour in Dubai. This post also includes links to our affiliate partner GetYourGuide. We use GetYourGuide ourselves and highly recommend the safari tour. If you book through the links in this post, we will earn a commission, and you will be supporting the initiative.

While we have been in Dubai before, we will be experiencing our a 16-hour layover when we fly through Dubai this coming February. We plan to revisit Expo2020 and see all the gems we couldn’t see on our previous stay.


The Expo2020 world exhibition is impressive. We spent a morning and early afternoon at the Expo but would have stayed longer if we had known more about it. This experience does not just play with all of your five senses but also helps you better understand different countries and cultures. Expo2020 is a perfect way to spend a long layover in Dubai. Especially because Emirates and FlyDubai will pay for your entrance ticket.

At the Expo, most countries of the world welcome you to their beautiful pavilions. Each pavilion offers a unique and exciting experience. For example, at the USA pavilion, you step onto a conveyor belt that takes you to an exhibition before you can touch the moon and see a replica of a SpaceX unit. One of our favorites was the Saudi Arabian pavilion. 

The Expo2020 area is situated on the outskirts of Dubai but is easily accessible by metro. We would, however, skip the warmest parts of the day as it involves lots of walking outside where there is no live-saving air conditioning.

Duration: 4-8 hours (whatever you prefer)
Distance from airport: Medium far, at least one hour to get there. Accessible by metro, fastest by taxi.

Aquaventure at Atlanis

In the heat of the desert, waterparks offer a cooling yet thrilling experience. And Dubai is home to one of the best waterparks globally, situated at the tip of the Palm Jumeirah. As part of the Atlantis Hotel, Aquaventure offers endless rides. Some of those are relaxing, while others will make sure your body starts pumping exciting doses of adrenaline through your veins.

The waterpark is included in your hotel room costs if you are staying at the Atlantis Dubai hotel. If you are not a guest of the hotel, you can still access the waterpark. You can buy a ticket online and trade it for a wristband at the park’s access.

When you go to Atlantis for just one day, we recommend the AquaXpress Fast Track pass. You can read more about AquaXpress in our special blog.

Duration: 4-8 hours (whatever you prefer)
Distance from airport: Medium far, at least 45 minutes to get there. Best to go by taxi.

The Souks

We loved the Souks. There are different souks in Dubai, all situated in the Deira city district. At the Souks, you can buy gold, spices and lots of other memorabilia. It reminded us of the much larger souks you have in Marrakech or Istanbul, and it feels like Dubai’s entrance into the old Arab world. We would recommend staying at least a long morning at the Souks and possibly taking a boat trip over the Dubai Creek from there. Or cross the water into Bar Dubai, which feels even more like a genuinely Arabian experience.

Duration: 2-3 hours 
Distance from airport: Nearby, within 30 minutes. Accessible by metro, fastest by taxi.

Dubai Gold Souk
Dubai Souks

Downtown Dubai, Burj Khalifa & Dubai Mall

If you cannot decide what to do but want to have a true Dubai layover, you can visit downtown Dubai. Here you can find the Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa in the same complex. While it can get busy in the evening, it is an excellent excursion from the airport. You can shop until you drop or have a nice meal while you wait for your upcoming flight.

Duration: 4-8 hours (whatever you prefer)
Distance from airport: Medium distance, within 45 minutes. Accessible by metro.

Dubai Desert Safari

For an excursion in the desert, you need to do some planning and be aware of time. There are either morning desert excursions or evening excursions. For the latter, you won’t be back at the airport before 9 PM. There are multiple tour organizers, and most desert safaris include the same activities. On our trip into the desert, we were picked up in our hotel and started our activities, including quad driving, off-road experience in the dunes, sandboarding, and a desert camp with shows, camels, and a barbecue.

Depending on your budget, most safaris will include one or more of these activities. The safari usually takes place in the afternoon, but there are morning options available as well. We would recommend taking a safari that skips the camp.

You can read all about our desert safari and why we would recommend skipping the camp in a blog that is coming soon.

Duration: 4-6 hours 
Distance from airport: Pick up from the airport can be arranged. Alternatively, you can get picked up from one of the airport hotels (e.g., Le Meridien).

Dubai city tour

Alternatively, you can opt to leave the organization of your layover in Dubai to the professionals. You can book a city group tour that brings you to the main highlights. Most tours will include Dubai Creek, the Burj Arab, the Blue Mosque, Palm Jumeirah, including Atlantis. Some tours will also add in a trip with a traditional taxi boat called Abra.  

Duration: 4-6 hours 
Distance from airport: Pick up from the airport can be arranged. Alternatively, you can get picked up from one of the airport hotels (e.g., Le Meridien).

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