Middle East,  Stopovers,  Travel Guides

21-hour-long stopover in Dubai

Travelling to Vietnam for the first time, travelling alone for the first time, I had a stopover in Dubai between flights. A 21-hour-long stopover in Dubai that I wanted to fill with something other than sitting at the airport and waiting for time to pass. Here’s how I spend my time in Dubai and tips for your stopover in Dubai.

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Flying with Emirates

When I came to the Hamburg Airport “Helmut Schmidt” at 8 PM on a Thursday the terminal hall was empty. Only about 30 travellers were waiting in the baggage lines. Coincidentally 25 of those were waiting in the same line as me. Since the airport staff had to check the final destination for every bag and if it fulfilled the requirements of all the involved airlines the waiting time was still quite long. People started talking to each other. A simple “Where are you going?” brought up a plethora of answers “Home.”, “To Dubai, I wasn’t planning on jumping out of the plane mid-flight.”, “Oman”, “Vietnam“.

Finally, one suitcase lighter, I made my way through security, walking straight through the open waiting area instead of the usual maze of barrier tape. The airport seemed deserted, even at the gate there wasn’t anyone else, not even the people I had met checking in their bags for this very flight.

What was waiting for me at the gate was this Airbus A380, the biggest passenger plane in the world. With its two seating decks and massive size, you would barely believe it will fly. This plane made a fitting start to my stopover in Dubai. The city of superlatives.

I had booked the window seat, hoping to be left alone and catch some sleep on the flight. And as the plane began to fill up, magically my row remained empty. For the first two hours of the flight, I watched a movie. The onboard entertainment system of Emirates is better than any I had ever seen before. Every passenger got earbuds and the screens were very high resolution. The movie selection was incredibly up to date, with movies that were still being shown in the cinema, amongst older ones and classics.

At about 10 pm local time, the light was dimmed and tiny LED lights on the ceiling turned on, simulating a starry sky.

The food on the plane was better than some I had had in restaurants. We were given a choice of chicken or beef. I chose the chicken option, which came with potato mash, green beans and carrots, mushroom-cream sauce, a bulgur side salad and for dessert a chocolate mousse cake with vanilla cream on top.

At the airport during your stopover in Dubai

The airport in Dubai is very easy to describe but not very easy to imagine. Try to think of a gymnastic hall, then ten times the size of it, with a marble floor and huge marble pillars lining the inside to carry the incredibly high ceiling. It is huge, modern, clean and eerily shiny. It almost looked like there was a thin film of water everywhere on the ground. It also feels very sterile:

Despite its magnitude, it’s super easy to navigate because almost everything is just straight lines.

Once outside there is a taxi area. Dubai has taxis for women only, driven by women. They are marked pink and easy to spot. However, they were not that easy to get to. The second you step outside everyone waiting there will try to get you into their taxi and beware: the nicer it looks the more expensive it will be. Keep your bag or suitcase to yourself and firmly tell them “No.” and you will be just fine.

If you don’t want to bother with the hassle of it, you can take the metro which departs directly from the airport and will take you into the main city and a day pass costs under 10€. However it doesn’t operate 24/7, so sometimes a taxi is your only choice.

At Terminal 3 between gates B13 and B19, you can have a free shower directly at the airport! Just make sure to bring an extra pair of socks to wear in the shower (smaller than slippers), as I do not recommend going in barefoot.

Must-see attractions during a stopover in Dubai

Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall

Being the tallest building in the world (to date) it has to be on top of your list when you visit Dubai or are just on a stopover.

You can buy a ticket in advance to skip the lines to get to the top of the Burj Khalifa and experience the incredible view of the city.

The longest elevator in the world will take you to the top in seconds and the small museum detailing the building process and its special architecture will teach you a few facts people at home will find astounding.

You can buy the ticket in advance to skip the line (I linked one option on the right*).

The earlier in the morning you go, the fewer people will be there and the cooler it will be on the platform outside (cool like 34 degrees Celsius at 8 am).

The Dubai Mall connected to this giant tower is the biggest in the world. No matter how long you stay you won’t be able to see all of it, I’d say not even people who live in Dubai have seen all of it. There are over a thousand shops, restaurants, food stalls and attractions inside. The world’s highest indoor waterfall, for example, and the Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, which is also one of the largest aquariums in the world. And while the aquarium itself charges admission they have a several-storey high wall into one of their tanks you can see from the outside and beanbags to relax in while you watch it. There also is an Olympic-size Dubai and a Cinema with 22 screens inside the Mall.

The gigantic fountain in the middle of its inner courtyard displays a water and music show every 30 minutes from 6 pm, daily and is worth making time for as well.

Burj al-Arab

While it looks like it’s close to the Burj Khalifa when you are looking down onto the city, it is about 16 km (or 10 miles) away and unless you want to spend money on a suite or meal to get inside I wouldn’t recommend it for a visit during a stopover in Dubai.

Mall of Emirates

I got lost. Twice. Inside a mall. But when the mall is 230.000 square meters big, is that really that much of a surprise? The mall is a beautiful building with a mix of modern and fancy, but honestly, I couldn’t get into it. It looked like… a mall. There were stores and cafes and restaurants and entertainment but in the end, it is just a mall. Next time I’m in Dubai on a stopover I’d rather visit a market or take an excursion into the desert.


If you leave the airport and you know you will beforehand, bring a bathing suit and a towel. I cannot tell you how relaxing and refreshing it is to jump into the ocean between flights. There are plenty of changing rooms on and near the beach where you can change in for free, as well as showers (for a fee of about 3€ for six minutes) where you can clean up after a swim. 

Every time I travel, I read up on the culture and local customs of the country I’m going to, to make sure I pack accordingly. For Dubai, I read everywhere that you should wear long pants and a long shirt, don’t show your knees or shoulders and don’t wear anything sheer even if you have something under. Then at the beach, in the metro and coffee shops, some people were in swimming trunks and bikinis, short dresses, cargo shorts, etc. So you can dress according to the weather, just ask yourself “Would I wear this in public at home” and most people will be fine.

Metro and Woman Cart

While the Dubai Metro isn’t an attraction, it is worth mentioning. It is super modern and always on time.

Maybe it’s also a thing in other parts of the world, but here in Europe, I have never seen a Woman only cart / Women only space on a tube or metro.

Not only is that part of the tube clearly marked (pink, because what else) but apparently, there is also a fine for men who even stand in it. This is very generalizing for the male population, but… well I have never felt this safe on a tube. Usually, when it’s packed, there is always a hand or a leg or a butt pressed somewhere against you, and sometimes it’s definitely intentional.

Did you visit Dubai yet or had a stopover here?

If so: What were your Impressions? Is there something I should have on my list for next time?

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