It’s no secret Dubai is not my favourite city. Apart from a small area around the Creek and the Bastakiya Quarter there is little history and not a lot of culture. Whilst many people marvel at the huge towers and attractions they are almost completely man-made and with appalling human rights conditions at that. Still if you are travelling on Emirates to another destination chances are you may have a layover in Dubai. It’s a huge monolith of an airport without the comfort of many of its rivals. However after numerous stops over the past 5 years travelling in economy, I’ve discovered a number of excellent options. Find out here what we do to survive a layover in Dubai.
Essentially you have 8 options. Some will be time dependent so may not apply to you at the time but at least you have choices!
1. Stay a day or more.
If you’ve never been to Dubai it is probably worth a look. Lots of people love it especially if you like glitzy hotels, huge restaurants and shopping. If you’ve never been to the Middle East there are some cultural considerations but it is a city of contradictions and many Islamic practices are watered down or apply differently to different people, tourists especially.
If you do decide to stay I highly recommend the Basktakiya Quarter where old mansions have been converted into boutiques, cafes and art galleries. For a contrast head to Jumeriah, home to many of the big name high-end resorts and close to the famous Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa buildings.
I would not recommend visiting in Summer ( june-august) when temperatures well exceed 40 degrees and air quality and visibility is terrible.
If you are flying with Emirate you can book one of their Stopover Packages or alternatively head to the ‘Hotels & Visas for Dubai’ desk located in the arrivals halls.
2. Stay a few days and head to Oman !
Oman is only a couple of hours from Dubai. The roads are excellent and everyone drives about 200kmph so you’ll be there in no time !
Seriously though Muscat is a magical Arabian city that has a small number of high-end resorts but no high-rise. The natural landscapes are quite stunning and there are excellent beaches and diving and a great Souk. We spent a few nights at The Chedi a few years ago and it remains one of our favourite travel memories.
3. Only got a few hours ? Do a city tour
At Terminal 1 and 3, you can organise to have your bags looked after while you explore. The cost is either AED20 or AED25 for every 12 hours, depending on the size of your bag. If you are Australian ( and many other nationalities) you will be given a free visa on arrival for up to 30 days.
You can get on one of the Hop-on Hop-off Big Red Buses found in many global cities or there are various half day tour operators. Alternately catch a taxi to Old Dubai and walk around yourself – its only a 10 minute drive from the airport. Remember however to allow time to pass back through security and immigration at the airport. I would not recommend leaving the airport if you have less than 5 hours.
4. Stay in the airport hotel, gateside.
If you’ve got more than 8 – 12 hours but have seen it all before you can book a room at Dubai International Hotel. The rooms are large and well-appointed and the best thing is they will call you went your flight is boarding so you can go straight to the gate. Deluxe rooms also come with a high-tech massage chair so it’s worth a few extra bucks.
5. Snooze in the new Sleep n Fly snooze pods and cabins.
Located GATESIDE in terminal 3 next to Gate A1 DBX now has a new alternative with a Sleep and Fly. There are 7 private cabins with double beds and 12 pods – similar to business class flatbeds but with pull down covers, both of which can be rented by the hour with packages starting at US$47 for 4 hours ( their website says 2 but they never seem to be avaiable).
We spent 6 hours in a cabin after our recent 14 flight transiting to Europe and I spent 5 of them sleeping like a dead person ! The only negative is that the wifi might be free but it quite slow and almost non-existent inside the cabin itself. This option represents good value for up to 6 hours but after that you would be better off booking the Hotel with your own bathroom, a lot more space and good wifi.
To find out more and make online bookings CLICK HERE
There is also a ‘Snooze Cube’ offering at DEPARTURES. This is suited for people who are changing airlines but have a long transit time and can’t yet check in to their onward flight. More details HERE
6. Pay for lounge access
There are Marhaba Lounges in most major airports around the world ( including Melbourne now!) but I have generally found them to be quite expensive especially in the Middle East where food and beverage offerings are quite poor.
There are 5 in DBX – Terminals 1, 2 and 3 and they do offer a meet and greet service which can be quite handy for first timers especially.
Another popular option is to subscribe to a club like Priority Pass or Lounge Buddy that offer affordable access to a huge network of lounges. These often include the aforementioned Mahabra lounges as well as other Business and snooze facilities.
I’ve heard good things about these clubs but have not yet joined as they are yet to include airports we frequent such as Brisbane and Athens. In Dubai we did notice that one of the ‘lounges’ was in fact just a section of a nice restaurant where we were dining so really it wasn’t exclusive at all. Still if you are a regular economy traveler its worth some consideration.
7. Hang out at a decent restaurant
As mentioned above if you’re hungry it may be worth just hanging out at a decent restaurant for a few hours. Unlike a lot of big airports like Singapore or Hong Kong or even Heathrow where great dining options are easy to find for some reason in Dubai they are tucked away. I guess again it is a cultural sensitivity especially with the sale of alcohol.
The best advice is to look up! The better restaurants are located above and at the ends of the main concourses.
We found a decent tapas bar in Terminal 1 ( and discovered it was also a pay-per use lounge anyway – the above photo was taken there). It has good bathrooms and decent wifi.
8. Make use of the general airport facilities.
This is probably what most people do as information on the above options is patchy and the whole airport experience can be very ordinary. They usually do not open gates until an hour or less before boarding so you just wander around trying to find a seat.
There are lots of recliner type chairs – albeit hard metal ones, but there are times when every single one in every terminal is taken. There are cafes scattered here and there but they are expensive, serve ordinary food and don’t expect alcohol. Otherwise DBX is one giant duty-free shop after another.
I hope this makes your next stopover in Dubai as enjoyable as possible. Dont forget to also read my tips on SURVIVING LONG HAUL TRAVEL
ENJOY YOUR NEXT TRIP!