Visiting Old Dubai

Visiting Old DubaiEvery world class city has apparent juxtapositions between old and new: a heritage quarter here, some legacy architecture there. For Dubai, however, this has not necessarily been the case. The finance and expat hub of the United Arab Emirates has been on an adapt-or-perish mission over the last decade, made most conspicuous by the arrival of construction cranes, supertall skyscrapers and mega infrastructure developments. The result is that, on some level, the city’s more mature enclaves got lost in the expansion shuffle.

But while the quest for shiny and new lives and the shadow cast by the Burj Khalifa long, Old Dubai has made a bit of a comeback of late and, yes, even become fashionable in some circles.

With that, here are some superb points of interest to consider:

Bastakiya District

A superlative section of Old Dubai, flush with traditional architecture, Bastakiya is well worth a visit. The district is a bona fide comer on the arts scene; many gallerists have set up shop and, with them, baristas and chefs too. As a result, the district has, in short order, become a nexus for artists and creative types. Be sure to pencil in time for the Majlis Gallery and Sikka Art Fair, held every July.

Dubai Museum

Al Ibn Abi Talib Road

Al Fahidi Fort is generally where tours of the Dubai Museum start. The citadel stands in stark contrast to new stars like The World islands and Dubai Mall – which is precisely the point. Interior exhibits chronicle aspects of the city’s pre-oil development in impressive detail, from souks to the pearl industry.

Jumeirah Mosque

Jumeirah Road, Jumeirah 1 (opposite Palm Strip Mall)

Dubai’s flagship mosque is one of the few open to non-Muslims. The architecture of the photogenic temple pays homage to the Fatimid Caliphate of the Early Middle Ages.

Shindagha District

This neighbourhood is in the traditional heart of Old Dubai. Attractions of note include the open-air museums of Heritage Village.

Old Deira

For authentic charm, Old Deira is the place to be after dusk. Close enough to most decent business hotels in Dubai, the area is the merchant nerve centre of the city and teems with activity after 5 p.m. The atmosphere is incomparable.

Stop in at the spice souk, redolent with cinnamon, cloves, frankincense and sumac. Close by, Al Ahmadiya Street serves up the Heritage House. Built in 1890 for a wealthy pearl merchant, the house now serves as a museum of sorts. Next door is the emirate’s first school, circa 1912, with some exhibits of bygone classroom bric-a-brac on display.

On Old Baladiya Street, men trade in traditional Emirati sandals and textiles. A bit further on, the gold souk unfurls more than 300 jewelry shops (incredibly, nationals from India account for a quarter of the district’s business).

Sikkat al Khail Street is home to the perfume souk. Some of the wares are standard duty free airport stuff but dig a little and you will find some rare and more exotic luxury goods.

Old Deira’s side streets are a scene unto themselves. Tiny tailor shops, barber shops, hole-in-the-wall lunch counters, cafés and kitschy souvenir stores proliferate and, in toto, offer a completely different side of Dubai to enjoy.

Editorial Team
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