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Your guide to top things to do in Old Dubai

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The old architecture in Dubai ©DubaiTourism

Go beyond Dubai’s glittering attractions for amazing insights on culture, tradition and hospitality.

Discover Dubai’s historic heart

Travel back in time to one of the oldest residential quarters in the city and navigate maze-like alleys in Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. Once the residences of merchants who traded at Dubai Creek, the traditional sand-coloured houses have now been transformed to local boutiques, cafés and art galleries. Our favourites include XVA Gallery, which showcases the work of regional artists, the Arabic Calligraphy House that specialises in everything related to the ancient art form, and the Museum of the Poet Al Oqaili that takes visitors on a journey through the eyes of its former owner, who’s regarded as one of the most important Arabic classical poets in history.

In March, this neighbourhood dazzles under the creative light of SIKKA Art Festival. A flagship initiative of Dubai Culture, this event sees vibrant art installations, live performances and interactive experiences take over the humble homes and low rooftops.

Shop at the souks

Souk culture is perhaps one of the city’s most traditional experiences. One of the highlights is the Spice Souk where visitors can buy rich spices flown in from Iran, Pakistan, India and other parts of the world. While the Spice Souk has its own distinct fragrances, it can hardly beat the evocative aroma of the Perfume Souk. This destination is a go-to for anyone looking for authentic Arabian scents. Here you’ll find stall after stall selling oud, a pure oil-based ingredient that is integral to local customs.

For more great buys, look out for colourful kaftans and pashmina shawls at the Textile Souk and then pop over to the Gold Souk to browse through a variety of ornaments. Regardless of where you shop, make sure you haggle for the best price.

Join a cultural tour

Khadija Behzad, founder and CEO of Emirati tour company Meet the Locals, recommends all visitors spend a day at Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Cultural Understanding. Consider a range of heritage-themed tours, such as a guided Creekside walking tour that includes a journey across Dubai Creek aboard a traditional wooden boat, known as an abra.

If you prefer to explore at your own pace, there are plenty of routes you can take to follow in the footsteps of Dubai’s early settlers. Whichever way the wind blows you, stop by Bur Dubai and Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House, the grand courtyard abode that served as the family residence of Sheikh Saeed, the grandfather of Dubai’s ruler HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. For more inspiration, take a look at our cultural walking tour itinerary, or plan the perfect day at Dubai Creek with this checklist.

Eat like a local

There are plenty of authentic Middle Eastern food experiences on both sides of the Creek to satisfy all palates. Visit the Coffee Museum and make sure you try gahwa (Arabic coffee) before sitting down for an authentic Emirati lunch at the Arabian Tea House. Bayt Al Wakeel, the Emirati restaurant Local House that specialises in exotic camel meat, and Al Khayma Heritage Restaurant are other great food spots in the historic neighbourhoods of Bur Dubai and Deira.

In neighbouring Satwa, famous casual dining spot Ravi Restaurant offers a range of delicious curries, fluffy naan bread and freshly-grilled meats. Watch the hustle and bustle of everyday life as you dine on traditional Pakistani dishes from the well-lit street-side seating area.

Serious foodies should also consider booking onto a tour with Frying Pan Adventures, for a tantalising combination of exploring and eating at some of the Dubai’s hidden culinary gems.

Stay a little longer

Why not linger in this part of town at one of the many hotels that exude a sense of local heritage and culture? The boutique XVA Art Hotel in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood offers 14 rooms that are designed with a nod to the architectural and cultural roots of the region. Otherwise, you can book a stay at the Al Seef Heritage Hotel Dubai, Curio Collection by Hilton at the ever-popular Al Seef development. With traditional architecture and natural colours, the rooms feature woven fabrics, wooden beams and plastered walls, taking you back in time while spoiling you with modern luxuries.  

Overlooking the Dubai Creek, four-star boutique hotel INK adds a splash of fun to Al Jaddaf Waterfront. The chic property has a strong sustainability focus with a range of organic soaps, rooftop solar panels and staff uniforms made of recycled plastic among its eco-friendly highlights.

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