Dubai, the Vegas of the Middle East, is a popular cruise layover destination for Red Sea itineraries. But with all the glitz and glamor that the city provides, it can be overwhelming to decide what to do there with a period of time as short as a cruise layover. Here are some ideas to help you make the most of the city in a few hours.

Dubai Mall


In a city as renowned for shopping as Dubai, this one should come as a no-brainer. The mall houses more than 80 luxury brands (among them Hermes, Chanel and Jimmy Choo) in its Fashion Avenue wing. For those in the group who are less interested in shopping, the mall also boasts an impressive international food court (nothing like the food court at your local mall), an 80-foot-tall brontosaurus skeleton, and an aquarium.

Hit the Souk


If you’re looking to bring home a more local souvenir from your travels, you will likely have better luck at one of the souks over the mall. These open air markets (souk being the Arabic term for the word) offer everything from dried fruits and spices to gold jewelry, to furniture to luggage to scarves — and more. At some stores in the souk you can even buy a falcon, as falconry is a popular sport in the UAE and an important aspect of the cultural heritage. At the souks, you’ll be able to haggle with the vendors, something that probably wouldn’t go over all that well at the Dubai Mall!

Check Out a Mosque


Although not as devoutly religious as some other countries in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates is still a predominantly Muslim country. In the same way that you might check out the cathedrals of France, it would stand to reason that you should poke around a mosque in the Middle East! The two best options in Dubai are the Grand Mosque and the Jumeirah Mosque. With the exception of the minaret, the Grand Mosque, originally built in 1900, is closed to non-Muslims, so if you really want to get inside, the Jumeirah Mosque is your best bet. The mosque was built beginning in 1976, and was constructed in the Fatimid style. Tours are available for non-Muslims.

See Dubai From the Top


The Burj Khalifa is one of Dubai’s most iconic landmarks and it would be a shame to miss it. It has been the tallest building in the world since 2008 and beats out the next tallest building by almost 700 feet. An observatory on the 148th story of the building provides an eagle-eye view of the city, and if you’re really in a crunch for time, you can splurge on a fast track ticket which will allow you to skip the line — though it will set you back almost $100. The building is right next to the Dubai Mall, so perhaps it’s best to visit first before you’re weighed down with dozens of shopping bags.

Desert Dune Bashing


If you’re more of the outdoorsy type, you also have the option of getting outside the city and into the desert. Book a tour to go dune bashing, which is only slightly less violent than it sounds. This entails getting in a 4x4 with a local driver and riding and bumping (bring Dramamine!) along the dramatically steep dunes in the deserts outside of Dubai. While inside one of Dubai’s many shopping malls you could feel like you are anywhere in the world, getting out for a dune bashing trip in the desert will remind you that you’re in the Middle East.