Dubai’s Great Indoors – or, What tourists do during a sandstorm!

Dubai’s indoor tourist attractions are not normally something I pay much attention to, despite the long hot summers, preferring to head to naturally cooler climes or up into the mountains during the heat of summer rather than seeking solace inside the air-conditioned comfort of shopping malls and restaurants.
However with the recent weather conditions we have experienced, and at a time when I have had two different sets of first-time visitors, it has been something I have had to give some serious thought to. What are the must-visit indoor tourist attractions in Dubai? I previously wrote a post on things to do during the summer in Dubai for expats, but this past week I have had to turn my attention to the wants and needs of tourists, only visiting for a short period, and keen to see the best of Dubai.
The sandstorm this week was the worst I have seen in ten years of living in Dubai – the Twittersphere was buzzing with pictures – orange tinted blurs of the city, reminiscent of any number of apocalyptic movies, and which probably meant very little to those not familiar with the area. Unfortunately I have had my sun-worshipping cousin staying with me – the first day of her very short first trip to Dubai – and as I saw the mild panic rise in her eyes as she surveyed the view from my balcony, I knew I had to find some indoor weather-proof activities to keep her placated until the had storm passed.
As a woman in her mind-twenties, in love with the glitz and glamour of Dubai, her interests were not necessarily as mine would have been, and therefore my own list of activities for the summer (diving, indoor climbing, trampolining, hiking in the mountains, watersports, etc) were not really of much use to me and I had to think about the typical tourist attractions and activities that could be found indoors. I came up with the list below which I shared with her in order for her to choose. Take a look and see what you think, it’s not familiar territory for me so I’d love to know if I’ve missed anything!
1. Dubai Mall – Keen shoppers can get lost in here for days (for me the enormous Kinokuniya book store is my personal time warp – I really could lose weeks in there!) Even for those not especially interested in shopping, a leisurely afternoon can be spent checking out the region’s largest aquarium, watching the sweet-making in Candylicious (a veritable Aladdin’s cave for the sweet-toothed!) watching the dancing fountains (from inside one of the cafes or restaurants on the ground floor if necessary) and taking to the ‘ice’ of the indoor icerink.
2. Ski Dubai – A particularly good tonic for the summer heat and dust storms, the region’s largest ski slope at Mall of the Emirates is a great place to cool off and forget the weather outside – although maybe not first choice for tourists of the sun-worshippping variety! There are plenty of other activities for those who don’t ski or board – from zorbing down the slopes to building snowmen! Probably not what your visitors had in mind when they booked their flights!
3. Afternoon tea – Admittedly my preferences for this would be the iconic experience of Skyview Bar at the top of Burj Al Arab – which may not be best in the middle of a sandstorm when the views would be limited! Most of Dubai’s many five-star hotels offer a delicious afternoon tea however, with all manner of sweet and savoury treats, and often bubbles – a very relaxing and indulgent way to spend a stormy afternoon.
4. Shopping, shopping and more shopping! There are an incredible number of malls scattered without the city, with each getting bigger and shiner as the city has grown. Keen shoppers could have quite the day hopping from mall to mall – my favourites include Ibn Battuta (with a lot of photo opportunities for tourists, and an indoor bowling alley) and Mercato (another mall with unique design features). In addition to the malls are any number of boutique shops and sellers of bags and shoes that can be called upon when driving around the city.
5. Going gold – Not exactly a must-do Dubai attraction, but if bad weather continues and you run out of things to do, a visit to the cinema may not seem like such a bad idea. However, in keeping with the Dubai glitz and glamour, visitors can be introduced to the gold or platinum class experience which gives viewers their own fully reclining armchair, waiter service and a full menu option – watching a movie will never be the same again!
I would just repeat that these would not be top of my personal preferred list of things to do, but after consulting several other expats and previous visitors to Dubai, it would appear that they are the most popular options for holiday-makers like my cousin, and I certainly didn’t get any complaints in the end… Any guesses on which option she chose?!