Glittering sky scrapers, ultra-modern architecture and uber-cool amenities are likely the first things that come to mind when you think about Dubai. From a destination standpoint, the fastest growing city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) definitely delivers the hip factor for national and international meetings, conventions and events. But there’s more to the city than meets the eye, and an offsite excursion into old Dubai, leads you to authentic Arabian culture, affordable eats, a more laid back vibe and an eclectic arts scene where live music events often happen on a moment’s notice.
The historical heart of the city lies in old Dubai and along Dubai Creek, where ancient trading connections were first established in the 1500s. Visitors can discover heritage sites where Monarchs resided, gold and spices were bartered, prisoners were kept and camels were trained. While much of the historic architecture remains, many of the buildings in old Dubai have been repurposed for artistic and cultural endeavors. In fact, a few of the oldest have become specialized living museums where one can literally go back in time watching potters, weavers and other period craftsmen. And if shopping is on your agenda, you’re in luck. Busy souks selling gold, silver, gemstones, textiles and spices are still huge attractions today.
Here are a few of our favorite must-do experiences in Old Dubai:
Sail On An Abra
Sailing on an Abra, or traditional wooden boat, to cross Dubai Creek really hasn’t changed for centuries. Abras travel between the water station at Shindagha/Al Ghubaiba on the Bur Dubai side, and the water station at Al Sabkha on the Deira side. Buy a one way ticket for about 27 cents, or for 27 bucks, you can hire your own abra for an hour. It’s a great way to see older parts of the city. The Creek was the original center of the city’s commerce, and it’s still a beehive of activity today, with boats zipping up and down plying their trade and cargo.
Shop At Authentic Souks
Feel the essence of Arabia by exploring Dubai’s famous souks. Since the city’s early days, merchants from neighboring countries would sail in to peddle their wares here. Gold, textiles, perfumes and fish are all offered at these markets today. The Spice Souk is alive with vibrant colors and aromas of some of the world’s most prized spices, while the Textile Souk offers an endless selection of raw silk, cotton, and embroidered fabrics. The Gold Souk is the best place in the world to shop for precious metals and gems. Gold prices are set twice daily, and competition between vendors is fierce. That means you’ll find great deals.
Stroll Though The Al-Fahidi Historical Neighborhood
A visit to Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood is a great opportunity to get acquainted with Dubai’s old way of life. Traditional buildings made of natural materials are aligned side by side, separated by alleys, pathways and public squares. Perhaps most noticeable, when walking through this historic neighborhood, is the great cultural respect for privacy, reflected in homes with few front facing windows. Many buildings in this area are now used for cultural and artistic activities, ranging from art exhibits and specialized museums. Stop in at the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Center for Cultural Understanding, where you can sign up for a traditional Emirati breakfast, lunch, or dinner and a guided walking tour of the historic Al Fahidi District.
Connect the Past To the Future At The Dubai Museum And Al Fahidi Fort
The Al Fahidi Fort, built more than 200 years ago, was not only a fort for defense, but home to the home to the monarch. It was used as an arsenal and later, a prison for outlaws. The Dubai at the fort weaves the story of Dubai’s rich history, a fascinating tapestry that connects the old to the new Dubai through rare artifacts, authentic monuments, and breathtaking audio and video presentations.
Find A Bit Of Bedouin Culture At The Camel Museum
Camels are a visible reminder that, at its roots, Dubai and its people are very much aligned with the desert and Bedouin culture of a bygone era. The Camel Museum, built in the 1940s, was originally a camel stable. Now it’s a space that blends technology, heritage and history, where you can even participate in a virtual camel race.
Uncover Dubai’s Seafaring Past At The Heritage Village and Diving Village
Located near Dubai Creek, the Heritage Village showcases traditional Emirate lifestyle, while the Diving Village offers fascinating insights into Dubai’s pearl diving past and wider history. The Heritage Village features potters, weavers and other craftspeople who help to bring history to life. The Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House is a lesson in traditional Middle East architecture. You can also take a camel ride, or, if you’re too faint of heart, watch the fascinating falcon displays.
Connecting the past to today’s Dubai is both a fascinating journey and enriching experience worth discovering once your programs are over. Find out more about meeting in and experiencing Dubai, at VisitDubai.com.