Best of Old Dubai

As we celebrate the new, here’s stepping back in time with the must-visit places in Dubai’s heritage quarter



By Michelle D'Souza

Published: Mon 2 Aug 2021, 12:00 PM

Dubai is a city of many juxtapositions. For all its glitzy glamour and imposing skyscrapers, there is also an old-world vibe, preserved beautifully in its historical district, Al Fahidi.

Rich in heritage, with remnants of an ancient traditional culture, one can walk along the banks of the Dubai Creek to get a peek into a bygone era. Formerly a thriving entry point for foreign traders and a successful pearl diving spot, the creek precinct is still a hive of activity with fishermen and merchants navigating the placid waters in their traditional dhows (boats).

Just moseying along the small alleys and roads of the historical neighbourhood will transport you back in time

Here are some of the must-do things when in the Old Dubai district.

Take an abra ride

No visit to old Dubai is complete without taking a ride in a traditional wooden boat — abra. Criss-crossing the canal between Al Fahidi, Bur Dubai and Deira, the dhows run every few minutes throughout the day across four stations along Dubai Creek. The water taxis will cost you a paltry Dh1, but leave you with a serene feeling that money can’t buy.

Stroll around Al Fahidi

Al Fahidi, formerly known as Al Bastikiya, dates back to the 19th century and brims with heritage sites. A former trading hub for textile and pearl merchants, people can walk along the labyrinth-like streets flanking gypsum and coral buildings that have been painstakingly restored. It’s easy to get lost here for a few hours, given the myriad sights and sounds that abound.

Go to a souq

A staple on every Dubai tourist’s itinerary, you can choose to visit any of the old neighbourhood’s famed souqs (markets) — gold, spice and textile. If you have the luxury of time, it’s easy to comb all three in a day. You will find a whole smorgasbord of artisanal products here, ranging from jewellery, fresh herbs, spices, fabrics, garments and more. The spice souq in particular is a great sensory experience, given the aromas permeating the air.

Visit the Dubai museum

If you are looking for a culturally immersive experience, the Dubai Museum merits a visit. The museum was built inside the historic Al Fahidi Fort, which dates back to 1787. Showcasing Dubai’s history and its original heritage, you can get a glimpse of everyday life before the discovery of oil in the UAE. Some of the displayed exhibits include Arab houses, mosques, souks, date farms, desert and marine life. There are several other museums and cultural attractions tucked away in this district, too.

Dine at Arabian Tea House

The Al Fahidi district teems with quaint little cafes and restaurants. For an authentic taste of Emirati cuisine, head to Arabian Tea House, a charming café tucked away in the heart of the Old Quarter. You could also stop by the Coffee Museum to learn all about the drink’s rich history while sampling special local blends.


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