Old Dubai | A visit to hidden niches
Thanks to the emirate’s monumental growth over the past few decades, Dubai is seen as the hub of modernity, with towering skyscrapers, exotic cars, and all the luxuries that one can afford. Those coming to visit the emirate are floored by the glamour of the glittering city and its thriving nightlife, but few are aware of Dubai’s past and its unique history – and the monuments that are kept to maintain ties to this history. From older restaurants to souk areas to cultural museums, Dubai’s continued to maintain a hold on its past, providing both sides of the city to the avid traveller or the exploring tourist. Dubai’s Old Town is home to a number of traditional markets, authentic Emirati restaurants, and cultural experiences, providing visitors with a window into the day-to-day life of the emirate’s locals. There are a variety of cultural trips that can be arranged, where visitors can visit some older, iconic spots in the city and learn more about one of the biggest hubs in the Middle East. Located on either side of the Creek, Old Dubai includes Bur Dubai and Deira, the epicentres from which the rest of the city sprung from.
Place to Visit in Old Dubai
The Dubai Creek is the water body that separates the older and newer sites in Dubai, and is the perfect spot for taking in the entire city, from older cultural points to the towering skyscrapers in the more modernised sections. There are a variety of boats and cruises that are docked at the harbour on the Creek, and many ships offer a lovely dinner while cruising around the Creek, allowing visitors to enjoy a lovely meal while drifting past Dubai’s stunning skyline. There are traditional wooden boats as well, which is a fun way of crossing the Creek in a more traditional manner, fully immersing yourself in the past. These boats have been operating since Dubai’s early days, when the Creek was the prime spot for fishing and pearl diving, and is a fun way of crossing the Creek to see Dubai’s many cultural hotspots.
For 1 dirham, you can hop aboard the abra crossing boat and cross the Creek; these water taxis (or abras) run every few minutes throughout the entire day, across four stations along the Creek – making it a cheap and easy way to access public transport as well. There are 150 working abras along the two routes between Deira and Bur Dubai, and the journey takes only 15 minutes. The abra is the best way to take in the sights of Old and new Dubai, and photographers can get some lovely shots of more traditional houses and towers that you will pass by on your journey. The interesting part is how it has remained a vital form of transport in Dubai for decades.
Since the early days, Dubai has been the hub for neighbouring countries to sell their wares, from gold to perfumes to textiles; these markets were the hub of the older world, a place for merchants and customers to get together and trade in local goods. These traditional markets are still in place today, with many residents and tourists visiting these markets for essential items, gifts for loved ones, or souvenirs to take back home. On either side of the Creek (you can take the abra taxi to cross the water body), you will find Dubai’s older, classic markets, the city’s original economic hubs.
The Gold Souk in Dubai is a large maze of covered walkways, with over 300 jewellery shops located in this traditional Arabian marketplace. The Gold Souk is the best place to shop for jewellery, thanks to their cheaper rates, and the ability to bargain with various traders. The Gold Souk is also a fun place to visit even if you’re not looking to buy anything, and is a fun peek into an older, more traditional way of life.
The Dubai Spice Souk, too, is another cultural artefact that continues to be the best place to pick up any number of spices and flavours needed to make a delicious meal. The Spice Souk is a colourful, aromatic place that is filled with mounds of fragrant herbs and spices, from intoxicating scents to lighter, sweeter tastes. The souk also has a great selection of nuts, oils, and saffron; the spices are either sold by weight or in sealed packets. Visitors can wander amongst the stalls, and the vendors are incredibly friendly and willing to share their insights with interested customers. From sharing recipes to lovely tips and tricks that one can do with spices, the Spice Souk truly does have it all.
Historic Districts and Museums
The best place to truly observe the origin points of Dubai is at Al Bastakia Quarters. This historic district is an older segment of traditionally made Arabic houses, with unique ventilation systems to keep the houses cool during the hotter summer months. The quarters are filled with narrow valleys and sand-toned structures, built in Dubai’s earlier days of being a small pearling and fishing village. Al Bastakia Quarters provides visitors preserves life in the Bedouin era, and gives visitors a fun peek into the lifestyle of locals during the past; the quarters also maintain some stunning heritage sites.
Shindagah, located at the mouth of the Creek, was the home of the ruling sheikhs till the early 1950s; though a few of these homes have been reconstructed as museums and cultural hotspots, there isn’t much traffic here, so the air is calm and quiet. The neighbourhood is famous for its coral-clad houses, traditional towers, and museums and heritage houses. One popular spot is the Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House, built in 1896, and contains a stunning collection of stamps, coins, and photographs of Dubai from the 20th century.
The House of Poetry (Bait El Shaier) is also located in the Shandagah area, and is one of Dubai’s most important cultural monuments. The house celebrates poetry, hosts events, meetings, and exhibitions for poetry and other literary arts in Dubai. Managed by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation in collaboration with Dubai Culture, the goal is to allow poetry to play a more active role in the community, by supporting Arabic poetry, discovering the talents of Emirati poets, and providing opportunities for budding poets to present their work.
The Crossroads of Civilisation Museum is a private museum located in the Shindagah Historic District, and provides a glimpse into Dubai’s essential role as a trading link between the East and the West. Housing a number of artefacts from the Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, and other civilisations that have passed through the region, this museum is a must-visit to see the impact the emirate has had on trading routes over the decades.
Places to Eat in Old Dubai
Looking to further embrace Emirati culture? The best way to appreciate a new culture is by trying their food, and Dubai boasts a number of local restaurants that serve authentic Emirati cuisine. One popular restaurant is Al Bait Alqadeem, a restaurant that offers a variety of local Arabian dishes, along with famous Persian cuisines; the variety-filled menu represents the different communities that shared the same space for decades, thanks to rich commercial and cultural relationships with neighbouring countries. The restaurant itself is housed in a building first constructed in 1909, and is located in Al Ras in Dubai.
For a more contemporary twist, drop by at Aseelah, located at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Deira. The restaurant is famed for serving up interesting takes on local cuisine. The German-born chef has spent years visiting Emirati families, and serves a number of traditional dishes with fun twists, perfectly blending two vastly different cultures into an impeccable meal.
A popular spot with the local population is Al Tawasol in Deira, serving traditional, home-made food since 1999. The seating is traditional, with cushions on the floor, and the food is rich and indulgent. The restaurant is the perfect spot if you’re in a large group as well, as the chefs serve delicious mandi, a Yemeni-style dish that’s been adopted across the region, which involves meat slow-cooked in a tandoor and served over a bed of rice.
From restaurants to souks to museums, Old Dubai truly is worth a visit for those coming to explore the region, or even those looking to learn more about Arab culture. Apart from being a hub for the modern world, Dubai also contains a plethora of cultural heritage points. Old Dubai truly is worth a visit to see the bedrock from which the emirate grew, if also to appreciate the rapid changes the city has gone through while still retaining a solid connection to its past.
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This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual. We take no liability for the accuracy of the information and cannot be held liable for any third-party claims or losses of any damages.Disclaimer
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