Did you really think Dubai was all shopping malls and flashy hotels? Well, think again! Contrary to what you might have heard, Dubai is an unmissable destination for nature lovers, avid golfers, outdoor sport enthusiasts, and thrill seekers, as well as everyone in between.

The United Arab Emirates’ largest, richest, and most populous city, Dubai is one of the world’s most exhilarating destinations, hosting electrifying events and sporting championships. Yeah, prepare to be overwhelmed with superlatives while in this futuristic metropolis of glistening skyscrapers, golden beaches, and man-made islands.

Entertainment here ranges from indoor snow skiing to skydiving, sandboarding, and camel riding in the desert. Whatever your passion and age – the Middle Eastern hotspot will never disappoint. The glittering, mega-rich business capital of the Arab world is chock-full of fanciful experiences to uncover. Here are some great things to do to make the most from your trip.

Take in the views from the world’s tallest building

Let’s cut straight to it: first and foremost on anyone’s itinerary has to be a visit to the magnificent Burj Khalifa, twice the height of the Empire State Building in New York City. With its 2,716 feet vertigo-inducing height, it far exceeds the scale of anything that has been built on planet Earth. Just seeing it up close in person will leave you in awe. Take the high-speed elevator up 160 stories to see hypnotic views of the emirate.

Play golf

If you are looking to play golf in a warm climate, you should definitely head to Dubai, which is rapidly becoming one of the world’s most famous golfing destinations. If you are not sure where to start your Dubai golf break, the Jumeirah Golf Estates comes highly recommended. Set across over 1,000 hectares of luscious green landscape, it is one of the world’s most prestigious golf destinations, offering premier leisure facilities amidst generous fairway landing areas and two highly acclaimed championship golf courses.

The first all-grass golf course in the Middle East, Emirates Golf Club (photograph above) is a 36-hole golf course built in 1988. With its state-of-the-art facilities, lush landscaping, and soaring skyscrapers, it is an all-encompassing leisure hub, ranked inside the world’s top 100.

Then there’s Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, the emirate’s second oldest course having opened in the early nineties. Conveniently situated just five minutes from the airport, it oozes charm, from its distinctive clubhouse to its 18-hole, par-71 course rolling over 6,000 undulating yards along meticulously groomed fairways lined with coconut palms.

Go skiing indoors at Ski Dubai

Is there anything cooler (pun intended) than going skiing in the Arabian desert? You can go skiing and snowboarding at below zero temperatures at Ski Dubai, an indoor ski resort located within the Dubai Mall of the Emirates. You can even walk with penguins and have breakfast with them!

Skydive over Dubai’s desert

While skydiving is a classic, once-in-a-lifetime bucket list experience, doing so above the memorable vistas of Dubai takes it to a whole new level. With its long sunny days and plenty of open space, Dubai has emerged as one of the world’s newest skydiving destinations.

Release your inner daredevil, then, and experience a thrilling, heart-pumping tandem skydive over Dubai’s desert. You’ll be in safe hands when jumping off a moving plane from a height of 13,000 feet. No words will be able to describe the pure, unadulterated adrenaline rush felt in a freefall in the open air of almost 80 seconds. Then you can admire the enchanting views as you parachute down.

Head out into the desert

With its weathered mountains, wide-open spaces, and tall, red dunes with roaming gazelles, the Arab desert exudes a mysterious atmosphere that can be enjoyed on a day trip from urbanised Dubai. Do you want to explore the rich Bedouin heritage, and experience a glimpse of the bygone era of desert life up close? Myriad activities await, from camel treks to sandboarding, quad biking, dune bashing in a 4X4 SUV, and overnight safaris.

Swim with sharks

A must-visit for anyone who enjoys scuba diving and snorkelling is Shark Island, located a short boat ride away from Khawr Fakkān on Sharjah’s eastern coast. This tiny islet is an underwater wonder for divers, who can come nose to nose with the ocean’s predators.

Shark diving experiences are also available at Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, where you can swim with leopard sharks, reef sharks, and spotted ragged-tooth sharks.

Words by Jessica Maggi