Dubai has grown to become one of the most visited cities in the world. Even if you’re not planning on visiting, you might end up here on the way to somewhere else thanks to the extensive Emirates network.
Dubai is a geographically enormous city, so choosing what area to stay in is just as important as what hotel to stay in.
To give you an idea of how big Dubai is, here is Manhattan in New York overlaid on Dubai.
[Size of Manhattan compared to Dubai (via size-explorer.com.]
This Where To Stay guide is to help find the best areas to stay in Dubai for first-time visitors. This is based on my personal experience and exploration of the city. I want to show you what Dubai really looks like, beyond the Instagram-friendly infinity pools.
[A Hilton Garden Inn in an area I don’t recommend staying in.]
These areas are near public transport and amenities to make the most of your time. You don’t want to be stranded in a suburban area surrounded by freeways. I’ve also added hotels that are famous landmarks or that are a destination in their own right.
Where to stay in Dubai guide
Map of Dubai hotels
Best areas to stay in Dubai
Deira (old city area with the most budget options)
Downtown Dubai (Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall)
Jumeirah (see or stay at the Burj Al Arab)
Palm Jumeirah (the palm tree-shaped island in the sea)
Trade Centre (the most central financial district)
Dubai Marina (popular beach and canal neighbourhood)
Frequently asked questions
Map of Dubai hotels
Hotels mentioned in this article are pinned on this map, along with metro stations in each area.
[View map of Dubai.]
Best areas to stay in Dubai
The short version is that if you are on a budget and don’t know where to stay, then stay in Deira.
If you stay outside Deira, then refer to the metro map and make sure you are staying near a station on the Red Line of the Dubai Metro. This will make a big improvement on your trip as you will be able to visit other places that are along the line.
Start your search for hotels in Dubai.
[Muteena Park in Deira.]
Deira is the best place to stay if you are on a budget, and it’s my preferred area to stay in Dubai. It’s the most interesting place because the streets are more walkable here than in any other part of the city. There are also more affordable eating options, with cafes and restaurants catering to the army of overseas workers that live in the area (especially from South Asia and the Philippines).
Deira is one of the oldest areas of Deira, though don’t expect to see an “old town” with cobbled streets and ancient buildings. It’s old in that it’s more lived-in than anywhere else, and it has more street activity compared to the newer areas.
Deira has the advantage of being close to the airport and having a metro station where the two lines interchange (Union Station). You can base yourself here and use the metro to see the main sights further up the line. If you are doing a stopover in Dubai then it is easy to get to the airport from here.
While Dubai is famous for lavish hotels that are featured in luxury hotel guides, the budget end of the scale is poor value.
The cheapest private rooms I found were on Airbnb, but many of them are no more than a bed in a partitioned room. There are a number of listings like this on Airbnb, and you will find many rooms run by the same agent.
Partitioned rooms and dorms are how many overseas workers live in Dubai, and you will see advertisements all over the city advertising bed space. My tip for looking for a room is to make sure it has a window, that way your broom-closet-sized room won’t be so depressing.
When looking for a place to stay in Deira, look for hotels near Union Station and along the Red Line at towards Al Rigga and City Centre Deira. And on the Green Line, look towards Salah Al Din Metro Station.
Hotels in Deira
The central point of Deira is Al Ghurair Centre mall, near Union Station. The mall is home to Swissôtel Al Ghurair Dubai.
Search for hotels in Deira.
Downtown Dubai is a mixed-use complex created by the Emaar Real Estate Development Company, and not a downtown in an American sense (Deira would be more downtown than anywhere). It is centrally located with lots of skyscrapers that are relatively easy to get to, so I can give them a pass on the name.
If you are doing touristy things then you will end up here at some point to see the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest skyscraper). Next to the Burj Khalifa is the Burj Park by Emaar, where you can watch The Dubai Fountain.
Downtown Dubai is home to the Dubai Mall, which is one of the largest malls in the world. The mall is directly connected to the Burj Khalifa/ Dubai Mall Metro Station by an enclosed air-conditioned walkway.
Hotels in Downtown Dubai
Armani Hotel Dubai is a hotel by fashion icon Giorgio Armani. The hotel occupies 11 floors of the Burj Khalifa, and it has direct access to Dubai Mall.
Search for more hotels in Downtown Dubai.
Jumeirah is a residential area on the stretch of the coast between Deira and Palm Jumeirah. There is a surprisingly good public beach here, and the main landmark is the Jumeirah Mosque.
Jumeirah is not on the metro line, so it’s not a convenient area for using a base to explore. The most compelling reason to stay here is for accommodation at two ends of the scale.
Hotels in Jumeirah
York Backpackers is at Jumeirah Beach, so if you want a hostel experience by the beach then this would override my “stay near the metro” rule.
If you want to blow out your budget, then head to the Burj Al Arab. This hotel looks like a spinnaker sail of a yacht, and it is perhaps the most recognizable hotel in the world. It became known as a seven-star hotel, even though there is no such thing.
Search for more hotels in Jumeirah.
The Palm Jumeirah is a group of artificial islands off the coast of Dubai that forms the shape of a palm tree. This land-reclamation projection is not to be confused with the other projects that remain unfinished.
The trunk of the palm tree has a 5.4-kilometre-long monorail that connects the mainland to the top of the tree. The monorail is not part of the metro system, and the ticket price is priced more like a theme park, which this entire island group feels like.
The palm fronds are filled with mansions and villas, and the outer breakwater that surrounds the tree has some famous hotels that are a destination unto themselves.
Hotels in Palm Jumeirah
Atlantis, The Palm is the most well-known resort in Dubai, and you have probably seen the photos of its underwater hotel rooms.
Nearby is Atlantis The Royal, which has become a visible landmark of the city (even so far out at sea). This ultra-luxury resort made global headlines when Beyoncé earned $24 million for a one-hour grand opening concert. She stayed in a a $100,000-a-night suite.
In the middle of the tree trunk at Nakheel Mall is the Palm Tower. This tower includes The St. Regis Dubai, The Palm. Its location in the middle of the tree gives it a better view, and the infinity pool is often featured by Instagram influencers.
Search for more hotels in Palm Jumeirah.
Trade Centre is a major financial district characterised by a canyon of skyscrapers along Sheikh Zayed Rd. The metro follows the route of Sheikh Zayed Rd with three stops in this area. The most notable landmark in this area is the Museum of the Future.
[Museum of the Future.]
Stay here if you have a conference or business to attend in the area.
Hotels in Trade Centre
Search for more hotels in Trade Centre area.
Dubai Marina is a beachfront district that was purpose-built with canals. The combination of beaches and canals has made Dubai Marina the most sought-after location in Dubai. There is a large expat community that lives here among the many apartment towers, and the big names in luxury hotels are on the seafront.
Hotels in Dubai Marina
[Address Beach Resort.]
Search for more hotels in Dubai Marina.
Frequently asked questions
I will post questions here as they come in.