Dubai is a city that is synonymous with luxury, extravagance and modernity. It’s famous for its towering skyscrapers, luxurious shopping malls, and world-class entertainment venues – it has everything. However, beyond these prominent attractions, there are tonnes of hidden gems in Dubai that are waiting to be discovered.
From secret beaches and hidden foodie spots to serene parks and cultural enclaves, there’s so much to explore in this city that visitors often overlook.
In this guide, we’ll cover some of the basics like how to get to Dubai and the best time to visit, before we go on a journey to discover some of Dubai’s best-kept secrets – the hidden gems that make this city so special. At the end of the guide, you’ll also find some recommended places to stay.
Where is Dubai
Dubai is located in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in the southeastern part of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by Oman to the east and Saudi Arabia to the south and shares maritime borders with Qatar to the west and Iran to the north. It’s situated on the southeast coast of the Persian Gulf and is one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE.
Below is an interactive map so that you can see the exact location.
How to get to Dubai
Dubai International Airport (DXB) is one of the busiest airports in the world and serves as the primary gateway to the city. It is well-connected to major cities around the world, with several airlines offering direct flights to Dubai.
There are several options for getting from Dubai International Airport to the city centre:
- Taxi: Taxis are readily available outside the airport terminals and are a convenient way to get to your destination. At the time of writing, the fare to the city centre is fixed at AED 50 (approximately £12/$14) and the journey takes around 20-30 minutes, depending on traffic.
- Metro: Dubai Metro is an affordable and efficient way to get to the city centre from the airport. The Red Line of the metro runs directly from Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 to several stations in the city centre. The fare ranges from AED 2 to AED 8 (approximately £0.30/$0.50 to £1.70/$2.20), depending on the distance.
- Bus: Dubai’s public bus network, operated by the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), offers several routes to the city centre from the airport. The buses are air-conditioned and comfortable, and the fare ranges from AED 3 to AED 7 (approximately £0.50/$0.80 to £1.50/$1.90), depending on the route.
- Private transfer: If you prefer a more comfortable and private option, you can book a private transfer from the airport to your destination in Dubai. There are several companies that offer this service, and the cost depends on the type of vehicle and distance.
Check prices: Airport transfer
Overall, taxis and the metro are the most popular and convenient options for getting from Dubai International Airport to the city centre.
Check flights: Skyscanner
Dubai is a popular destination for cruise ships, and several cruise lines offer trips to Dubai as part of their Middle Eastern itineraries. Cruises usually depart from other ports in the region, such as Abu Dhabi or Muscat, and take several days to reach Dubai.
Alternatively, several ferry services operate between Dubai and other ports in the Gulf region, such as Iran and Kuwait. These ferries can be a convenient way to travel to Dubai if you are already in the region.
If you have your own car, you can drive to Dubai from other cities in the UAE. Dubai is connected to Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and other major cities by well-maintained highways. The roads in the UAE are generally safe and well-marked, and driving can be a convenient way to explore the region. Border crossings from neighbouring countries are also usually relatively hassle-free.
Check prices: Rentalcar.com
Best time to visit Dubai
The best time to visit Dubai is during the winter months, from November to March. This is when the weather is the most pleasant, with mild temperatures and lower humidity levels. Average daytime temperatures during this time range from 20°C to 25°C (68°F to 77°F), making it perfect for outdoor activities and sightseeing.
Summer in Dubai, from April to October, can be extremely hot and humid, with temperatures often reaching up to 45°C (113°F) during the day, so it’s best to avoid visiting during this time.
Dubai also experiences two shoulder seasons, in May and September to October, when the weather is transitioning between hot and mild temperatures. These periods can also be a good time to visit, as the crowds are smaller and prices may be lower than during the peak season.
Hidden gems in Dubai
Free hidden gems in Dubai
Twin Heart Lake
The Twin Heart Lake is a man-made lake located in the Al Qudra area. The lake is heart-shaped and covers an area of approximately 55,000 square meters. It was opened in November 2018 and quickly became a popular attraction for locals and tourists alike.
One of the unique features of Love Lake is the giant letters spelling out the word “Love” at one end of the lake. The letters are made of white stones and are visible from the air, making for a great photo opportunity.
It is not just a romantic spot, but also a marvel of engineering and design. The lake was created by Dubai Municipality as part of its efforts to enhance the city’s green spaces and promote sustainable tourism. The heart-shaped design of the lake is not only aesthetically pleasing but also serves a practical purpose – it helps to prevent soil erosion and allows for efficient water flow.
In addition to the jogging track and pedal boats, Love Lake also features several picnic areas, playgrounds, and seating areas, there are also heaps of art installations and sculptures around the lake, adding to its charm and uniqueness.
The lake is open to visitors all year round, and admission is free.
Ras Al Khor
Ras Al Khor is a natural wetland reserve. This unique site is situated at the mouth of Dubai Creek and covers an area of over 6 square kilometres. The name “Ras Al Khor” means “Cape of the Creek” in Arabic, and the area has a rich history dating back to the early days of Dubai’s development.
The Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is home to over 20,000 water birds of 200 different species, including the famous pink flamingos that flock here during the winter months. T
The sanctuary is also an important breeding ground for various species of fish, molluscs, and crustaceans. The wetlands are surrounded by mangroves, salt flats, and intertidal mudflats, creating a unique and diverse ecosystem that is rare in the region. Nothing like the usual desert that most people expect to see here.
The Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary provides visitors with the opportunity to observe birds and other wildlife in the area from strategically placed bird hides/huts, which offer remarkable views.
The best time to visit is during the winter months when the flamingos are present in large numbers. The sanctuary is open from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm in the winter (October – March) and 6:00 am to 6:00 pm in the summer (April – Sept).
Admission is free, and visitors are encouraged to bring binoculars and cameras.
To get to Ras Al Khor, visitors can take a taxi or drive their own car, it will be extremely difficult to get there without a vehicle.
When visiting, be sure to wear comfortable shoes and clothing, and take plenty of water and sunscreen.
Al Sufouh beach
Al Sufouh Beach is a beautiful public beach located in the Al Sufouh area. It is a relatively secluded and quiet beach, making it a popular destination for those looking to escape the crowds and enjoy a peaceful day by the sea.
The beach is approximately 1.8 kilometres long and is situated along the Arabian Gulf. It features white sand, crystal-clear water, and stunning views of the iconic Burj Al Arab hotel in the distance. The beach is also surrounded by lush greenery, including palm trees and shrubs, adding to its natural beauty.
At the beach, you’ll find several facilities for visitors, including showers, changing rooms, and toilets. There are also plenty of food and beverage options in the area, ranging from casual cafes to high-end restaurants. You’ll also be able to rent a sun lounger and an umbrella for a small fee, making it easy to relax and soak up the sun.
One of the best things about this beach is that you will have the opportunity to spot dolphins swimming in the sea since it’s well-known for sightings.
Overall, Al Sufouh Beach is a hidden gem in Dubai that offers a relaxing and serene beach experience away from the crowds. Whether you’re looking to enjoy a swim in the sea, soak up the sun, or spot some dolphins, Al Sufouh Beach is definitely worth a visit.
Hidden gems for restaurants in Dubai
Hudson Tavern is a restaurant located in the heart of Dubai, specifically in the La Mer Beachfront Development – a hidden gem in itself that we will cover later in this guide. It serves American cuisine with a contemporary twist, and it offers a laid-back, casual atmosphere that’s perfect for a night out with friends or a family dinner.
You’ll find delicious food and an extensive drinks menu, which includes a variety of craft beers, cocktails, and spirits. The menu features a range of classic American dishes, such as burgers, hot dogs, mac and cheese, and chicken wings, as well as more sophisticated options like seafood and steak.
The interior of Hudson Tavern is inspired by the iconic bars and taverns of New York City. The decor features exposed brick walls, wood panelling, and vintage lighting fixtures, creating a cosy and welcoming atmosphere. You’ll also find outdoor seating, perfect for enjoying the stunning beachfront views while savouring your meal.
VAGA Restaurant & Bar Lounge
VAGA Restaurant & Bar Lounge is a trendy and upscale restaurant and bar. The restaurant is situated in the luxurious hotel, the Address Sky View, and offers stunning views of the city’s skyline.
The menu is inspired by Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, with a focus on using fresh and locally sourced ingredients. The dishes are prepared using traditional cooking techniques, and the menu includes a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian options.
Inside, there is a chic and elegant bar lounge area, where visitors can enjoy signature cocktails, wines, and spirits. The bar offers a wide range of drinks, including classic cocktails, creative concoctions, and mocktails.
Hidden gems for cafes and coffee shops in Dubai
MAKE Art cafe
Make Art Cafe is a unique art cafe located in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood, which is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city and is known for its historical architecture.
The cafe offers a relaxing and inspiring atmosphere where visitors can enjoy a cup of coffee or tea while surrounded by art. The cafe’s walls are adorned with artwork from local and international artists, and they also feature a rotating collection of exhibitions and installations.
In addition to serving beverages and light snacks, Make Art Cafe also hosts art workshops, classes, and events. They offer a variety of art-related activities, including painting, calligraphy, and even yoga classes.
You’ll also find a small gift shop where visitors can purchase unique items such as art prints, stationery, and handmade crafts.
The Sum of Us
The Sum of Us is a popular cafe, bakery, and roastery located in the Trade Centre area. This hidden gem in Dubai is known for its artisanal coffee, delicious pastries, and creative dishes made with fresh and locally sourced ingredients.
The cafe’s menu features a variety of breakfast and lunch options, including sandwiches, salads, and baked goods. Popular dishes include avocado toast with poached eggs, the pulled lamb sandwich, and the ricotta and honeycomb pancakes. The cafe also offers gluten-free and vegan options, ensuring that there is something for everyone.
This place arguable serves some of the best coffee in the city, sourcing its coffee beans from around the world and roasts them in-house, ensuring that every cup is fresh and flavorful. The cafe also offers coffee tastings and brewing classes, making it a great spot for coffee aficionados.
The Sum of Us has a cozy and stylish interior, with a mix of rustic and modern decor. The space features an open kitchen, allowing customers to see their food being prepared, and a large communal table, making it a great spot for meeting friends or working remotely.
Breakfast at the cultural centre
Dubai has several cultural centres that offer breakfast options. One that’s recommended is the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU), located in the historic Al Fahidi district.
The SMCCU offers a unique cultural experience that includes an Emirati breakfast, where visitors can learn about Emirati culture and traditions while enjoying a traditional Emirati meal. The breakfast is served in a beautiful courtyard setting, surrounded by traditional architecture.
The breakfast menu typically includes dishes like Balaleet, which is a sweet vermicelli and egg dish, or Machboos, a spiced rice and meat dish. Other popular dishes include Khameer, which is a traditional Emirati bread, and Chai Karak, a popular Emirati tea with spices and milk.
During the breakfast, visitors can interact with Emirati hosts and ask questions about Emirati culture, customs, and traditions. The hosts also share stories about the history of Dubai and the UAE, making the experience educational as well as enjoyable.
The Coffee Museum
The Coffee Museum is one of the best hidden gems of Dubai that without a doubt should be on your Dubai Itinerary.
It’s a museum dedicated to the history and culture of coffee and you’ll find it in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood in Bur. It features exhibits on the origins of coffee, its journey through history, and its significance in various cultures around the world.
Upon arrival, you’ll be offered Emirati coffee with dates before exploring the museum. In addition, you will also have the chance to taste a wide variety of Arabic, Ethiopian, and Japanese coffee.
The museum also houses a coffee shop where visitors can taste and learn about the art of coffee brewing. If you really love coffee, then they also offer workshops and events related to coffee, such as cupping sessions and latte art classes.
The Coffee Museum is open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm and admission is 10 AED (approximately £2.50/$3).
Hidden Istagrammable places in Dubai
La Mer is one of the best hidden places to visit in Dubai on the beachfront. It’s mostly known by locals, however, this place won’t stay a secret for long.
You’ll find La Mer in the Jumeirah 1 neighbourhood. It’s trendy and unpretentious and there are so many little corners to discover. It is a unique leisure and entertainment destination with a lovely atmosphere, featuring several restaurants, cafes, shops and even a waterpark.
In addition, you’ll also be able to spot some vibrant wall murals on the sides of the restaurants, meaning you can get some very Instagrammable Dubai photos. These murals were created by local and international artists and they add a unique and artistic touch to the area that you can’t find anywhere else in Dubai. To find the best wall murals look for Texas Roadhouse and Bado Chinese.
Getting to La Mer Dubai is easy as it’s just a short drive from the Burj Al Arab and Dubai Mall. You can take a taxi, or bus or drive to La Mer for an affordable price.
Six Senses Zighy Bay
Ok, so this one is not technically in Dubai, but it’s just a chauffeured drive away from it, so we will still count include it on this list of hidden spots in Dubai.
You’ll find Six Senses Zighy Bay, hidden away in a secluded cove on the Musandam Peninsula in Oman. Getting there is an adventure, arrive by 4×4 or unleash your inner James Bond and choose to either arrive by speedboat or paraglide into the resort.
Stay in the rustic luxury of the Omani villas, made from stone with a sand garden, private pool and the beach just steps away and the rugged beauty of the Al Hajar Mountains as your backdrop. You might even bump into a camel or goat outside.
The dining options are incredible. Try delicious regional Arabian dishes at Spice Market and creative cocktails in Zighy Bar. For a truly unique dining experience, Senses on the Edge, is set high in the mountains overlooking the bay. You can also try a traditional Bedouin private dining experience under the stars.
The resort’s commitment to sustainability is evident in everything from its organic garden to its use of filtered seawater. In the spa, treatments include the use of local ingredients like goat’s milk, dates, and rosewater.
Check prices: Six Sense Zighy Bay
Dubai Garden Glow
Invisible during the day, the Dubai Garden Glow comes alive after sunset. Located in Zabeel Park, Dubai Garden Glow is the largest in the world that hosts LED illuminated sculptures.
A true hidden gem in Dubai, that only locals know about, this glow-in-dark wonderland is filled with gigantic in size glowing flowers, animals and birds, underwater creatures, massive mushrooms, castles, and walkways through heart-shaped arches. The artwork is made of recycled fabric and illuminated with over a million colourful energy-saving bulbs.
Moreover, the space is also home to hyper-realistic dinosaurs that look like they came straight out of Jurassic park. Those beasts are not only larger than life but also make ferocious sounds and move their heads, making the experience sort of creepy.
Dubai Glow Garden is a fun and unusual place to add to your Dubai itinerary. A perfect spot for family and friends, Glow Garden is open during the cooler season (autumn-winter-spring) when the temperatures are suitable for being outdoors. The opening hours are from 5 PM to 11 PM which is a great alternative option for a night excursion in Dubai.
You can get Dubai Garden Glow by metro from Al Jafiliya Metro station, however, the walk to the entrance is long around 2.4 km. The best way is to take a taxi or drive.
Where to stay in Dubai
Dubai is a large and diverse city with many different areas to stay, and whether you’re in Dubai for a week or months, the best area for you depends on your personal preferences and interests.
Here are some of the popular areas to consider.
- Downtown Dubai
This is a vibrant and lively area with many popular attractions, including the Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall, and Dubai Fountain. It’s an excellent choice for those interested in shopping, dining, and nightlife.
- Dubai Marina
This is a waterfront area that offers beautiful views of the Persian Gulf. It’s a popular area for walking and jogging, and it has many restaurants, cafes, and shopping options.
- Jumeirah Beach
This is a beautiful area with white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters. It’s an excellent choice for those looking for a beach vacation, and it has many luxury resorts and hotels.
This is an older and more traditional area of Dubai, located near Dubai Creek. It’s an excellent choice for those interested in history and culture, and it offers many traditional markets and souks.
- Sheikh Zayed Road
This is a central area of Dubai, with many skyscrapers and modern buildings. It’s an excellent choice for those interested in business and finance, and it has many luxury hotels and shopping options.
Our hotel pick: Rixos The Palm Dubai Hotel & Suites
Discover more hidden places
If you loved this list of hidden gems in Dubai and you’re looking to discover more secret spots in other countries, then you may enjoy this guide to hidden gems in Paris.
Stay Wild Travels.
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