Dubai is home to the world’s tallest building, an impressive collection of skyscrapers, and one of the busiest airports in the globe, but the city is also surprisingly green. The UAE once had the largest ecological footprint per capita due to its huge carbon footprint, but they have made dramatic changes in the past decade. Dubai has implemented a number of policies and city planning initiatives that aim to turn the sprawling, car-centric city into a much more sustainable destination. The vibrant, bustling UAE capital is full of parks, walking paths, and stunning beaches, as well as desert adventures waiting just outside downtown Dubai. Here is a guide to getting outside in Dubai:
Dubai’s proximity to the desert is something that makes the city unique. Taking a desert safari is one of the most iconic experiences to have in the UAE; and for adventure enthusiasts, dune-bashing and quad biking are fun, adrenaline-boosting activities. Here are a couple notable spots for desert adventures around Dubai:
Al Qudra Lakes
Al Qudra Lakes is a popular desert oasis located just half an hour from the city. The waterfront views here are perfect for seeing wildlife, including 170 bird species. The series of lakes offer excellent spots for picnics and barbecues.
There are opportunities for exploring on 4-wheelers, along with a smooth track wrapping around the lakes — spanning 86km — which is perfect for running and cycling. Al Qudra is also a great camping spot for those planning an overnight trip.
For high-adrenaline activities, visit Big Red, Dubai’s most famous sand dune. Locally known as Al Hamar, Big Red is a natural 100-metre-high dune easily spotted along the Dubai-Hatta highway. The dune is only a 30-minute drive from Dubai, making it a popular spot for locals and tourists to go 4-wheeling, or “dune bashing,” and sand boarding. There are shops for renting sand boards, quadbikes and 40-wheelers on the way to the dune. First-time visitors may appreciate having a local guide show them the ropes. The area gets busy on weekends and holidays, so watch out for hundreds of bikes flying across the sand.
Well-known travel creative Matias de Rada notes that Dubai’s deserts are special because they are so close to the city. For a photographer, the sand dunes are not the only draw — it’s the people enjoying the desert itself. “Being that it’s only a 20-minute drive from the city, you get to photograph all sorts of things,” de Rada says. You might spot people playing cricket or having bonfires. “Having all this at your disposal against a desert backdrop makes it really fun to photograph sunsets there,” de Rada says.
Dubai’s outdoor spaces are also particularly accessible: traveller and accessibility advocate Chelsie Hill says Dubai is one of the most accessible cities she’s ever visited.
“Traveling internationally as someone with a disability is always nerve-racking. When I arrived in Dubai we were greeted by the kindest people. The outdoor dining and views were breathtaking but most of all it was one of the most accessible cities I have ever visited.”
Dubai is home to incredible white sand beaches with warm, clear waters. Many are private beaches, which are affiliated with hotels and only accessible to guests (or visitors paying a fee), but there are some excellent public beaches accessible to all.
Umm Suqeim beach, also known as Sunset Beach, is a beautiful spot for a morning stroll or watching the sunset across the Arabian Gulf. It also has views of Burj Al Arab, Dubai’s iconic luxury hotel.
Nearby, Kite Beach is great for beachgoers who hate sitting still. There are activities galore at Kite Beach: it is a favorite for kitesurfing (hence the name), stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking and beach volleyball.
Al Mamzar Beach Park is another pristine beach, perfect for sunbathing or swimming. There are also pools nearby, if you don’t feel like getting sandy.
JBR Open Beach is a beautiful spot with full facilities every few hundred yards and plenty of cafes to buy food and snacks. Jumeirah Beach Park is also close to downtown Dubai, and both beach and nearby park are accessible for visitors with disabilities.
Al Sufouh is located along the coastline, not far from landmarks like the Burj Khalifa skyscraper. Here a “secret beach” offers a serene escape from the city centre. Also known as Black Palace Beach, Al Sufouh beach is somewhat hidden behind a row of palm trees and boasts crystal-clear waters and white sands.
Za’abeel Park is a unique space with a wide range of interactive activities. There’s a skate park, BMX track, mini golf and a colorful, light-up garden called Dubai Garden Glow that features all recycled material. The park spans 117 acres and is divided into three separate areas connected by pedestrian bridges. There is a huge adventure playground for children, as well as a 147-foot Panoramic Tower that offers impressive 360-degree views of the city.
Al Barsha Pond Park
Al Barsha Pond Park is a 50-acre greenspace surrounding a man-made pond. This is a family-friendly park popular with runners and fitness enthusiasts. There is a running track circling the waterfront, along with playgrounds for kids. Visitors can even hire go-karts to race around the perimeter of the park.
Dubai Creek Park
This green space is known for its beautiful views of the Old Dubai skyline. One of the biggest parks in the city, Dubai Creek Park has its own cable car running 2.3km down the park, along with a mini golf course, go-kart track and even the Dubai Dolphinarium, a favorite for kids.
Dubai Water Canal
The Dubai Water Canal runs 3.2 kilometres from the Creek in Old Dubai through Business Bay, before making its way back to the Arabian Gulf. Opening in 2016, the man-made canal runs through the center of the city. There are five pedestrian bridges along the canal, offering great views of the Dubai skyline. The most famous is the Tolerance Bridge, with its purple-hued archway. Visitors can run, walk, or cycle along the waterfront and take ferry rides across the canal’s waters.
Nearby, Safa Park is a long-time favorite spot for Dubai locals and residents of the neighboring Jumeirah neighborhood. There are running and walking paths, as well as beautiful views of the Dubai Water Canal.
Located in the famous downtown centre, Burj Park has incredible views. It overlooks the famous Dubai Fountains and has a clear view of the impressive Burj Khalifa skyscraper. Though the park is quite small, it makes for a relaxing green space in the midst of Dubai’s bustling downtown. Plus, Burj Park is one of the few parks in Dubai that is pet friendly.
Dubai Miracle Garden
For a unique outdoor destination, check out Dubai Miracle Garden: a 72,000 sqm flower garden that comes to life every year from mid-November to mid-May. The garden features more than 50 million flowers arranged in vibrant colors and patterns. It’s the largest natural flower garden in the world, located in the Dubailand area just outside central Dubai. The unique exhibits change from season to season, so there’s always something new to see.
What’s your favorite way to experience Dubai’s natural beauty? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!