Ditch the motor and discover the beauty of the city
Remember how shocked you were when you arrived in Dubai and discovered it was considered normal to hop in a cab simply to cross a road? It may be Sheikh Zayed and a six-lane motorway, but still… And do you remember how quickly you got used to driving everywhere, not even considering whether it was possible to walk from A to B? Well, now that November’s balmy 25°C temperatures have arrived, we’re here to help you unlearn those petrol-fuelled bad habits, with 10 fantastic city walks to strut through and explore.
Yet physical and mental health and curiosity are not the only reasons you should get your walking shoes on – do it for the good of your city, too. Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) recently revealed that time wasted in traffic jams costs the emirate roughly Dhs5.9 million a year, while the traffic growth rate here hits 13 per cent a year, compared with 2 to 3 per cent in European cities. To counter these scary stats, the RTA is planning more cycling and walking-only zones and initiatives ‘to further improve environmental standards’, as well as climate-controlled pedestrian walkways (‘pedways’ if you will – although we’re not sure how environmentally friendly they are).
Nasser Abu Shehab, the RTA’s director of strategic planning, hopes these actions will allow the city to hit its latest target: to increase the number of walking trips taken by Dubai’s population by at least 20 per cent by 2013. Want to help make it happen? Pound the pavements tonight!
Time: A leisurely one to two hours. Good for: Walking, with the option of a water-taxi ride at the end. Best for: Visitors and culture vultures.
Start at Khalid Bin Al Waleed metro station and walk towards the creek (away from BurJuman); turn left when you reach the water and head along the promenade, where you’ll see dhows offering tours and night cruises. About 15 minutes along the creek, the buildings ahead will morph into a sandy colour with traditional wind towers. When you reach the Government of Dubai building, walk towards it (beside the Bedouin camp). Ahead you’ll find the Bastakiya Quarter, originally built at the end of the 1800s; it was reconstructed in 1944 from sea stones and gypsum. Follow the narrow paths and you’ll come across a coin museum and the Heritage House. Follow the path out of the complex and turn right towards Dubai Museum (you can go inside for Dhs3). Walk to the right alongside the Grand Mosque; take the path on the right after the mosque and you’ll reach the souk. Head left and you’ll come to the water taxi station – enjoy a cruise across the river for Dhs1.
Mushrif Park lido
Approximate time: 40 minutes on foot Good for: Walking or jogging. It’s also popular with rollerbladers too. Best for: Nature and a change from the treadmill.
Mushrif Park is a natural ghaf forest behind Mirdif that was set aside as a desert recreation zone back in the 1980s. At its core is a complex of rolling lawns and playgrounds, including a small-gauge railway, an aviary, swimming pools and an equestrian centre. But most of the park is given over to sandy trails that wind through the old trees. Pay at the park gates (Dhs3 on foot, Dhs10 in a car) and turn right onto the cycle path, which you’ll cross about 100 yards into the park. Head anticlockwise as the path meanders through the trees, climbing gradually to a point where the skyline of both Dubai and Sharjah appears. This 4.5km circuit makes an excellent hilly workout on foot, bike or blades. On your left, trails weave between picnic pagodas and playgrounds; on your right, sandy tracks lead off into the forest. This is Dubai’s biggest park and it’s often blissfully quiet, chattering birds aside (the park attracts plenty of avian life, as well as rare species such as the Arabian hare). Round off your walk with a swim in the quiet, shady lido.
Approximate time: As long as you like, but no less than half an hour Good for: Walking, but slowly – you don’t want to rush this. There are far too many things to see, buy, taste and haggle over. Best for: Those who want to get to know the city better and pick up a couple of bargains along the way.
Start off directly opposite the fish market by Shindagha tunnel. There’s a red corner shop selling all manner of Indian snacks, including some super-cheap samosas, but it’s the pomegranate juice you want (ignore the fact they squeeze it into a bucket and slurp up the sweet – and supposedly very healthy – liquid, before pouring it into a plastic cup). From there, stroll past the shops filled with spices, nuts, nougat and bizarre sweets, turning left into the Gold Souk – if you do this at night, it’s much more impressive and far more lively, and there will always be someone cheerfully trying to sell you a ‘Hugo Boos’ watch. After you’ve made your way through the souk, we recommend following your nose/ears and seeing where you end up (there are cabs everywhere if you lose your nerve).What better way to get to know your city than to get lost in it?
The secret DIFC walk
Approximate time: One hour. Good for: Walking, jogging or cycling. Best for: City workers who want to end their day with leafy green tranquility.
Even though this walk is smack bang in the middle of the city, you’ll probably only pass two or three people en route. Start at DIFC and walk from the main financial roundabout onto Road 312 (the road on which the exhibition centre is located). Cross the road so that Emirates Towers is across the street from you, and head down the palm-tree-lined footpath towards Trade Centre. After 10 minutes you’ll get to a small road turning right (there’s a car park in front; the exhibition centre to your left); follow the road through the streets of Za’abeel. You may even see horses racing around the little-known track on the right. After another 10 minutes or so you’ll come across a junction. Go right – there’s a spongy 800m jogging track. Why not jog it? Retrace your steps to return; you can carry on through Za’abeel, but it’s not a grid system neighbourhood so it might take longer than expected. The walk is quite isolated, so take a friend at night.
The Umm Suqeim Stroll
Approximate time: 40 minutes. Good for: Walking, but jogging is possible. Best for: Laid-back beach lovers.
Start outside Jumeirah Beach Hotel, preferably about 20 minutes before sunset, and head north down Beach Road (towards Satwa). Turn left after the mosque and you’ll pass Umm Suqeim Park – stop there if you like, although it’s ladies and children only during the week. Keep going to the end of this road and you’re at the closest thing Dubai has to a beachfront promenade. Too quickly you’ll find yourself at the end of the beach. Turn right down 43a Street, and then left down 4e Street, admiring the mammoth villas before turning left, and you’re back by the ocean on 21b Street. Look behind you at this point and drink in the view of the Burj Al Arab at dusk. After a few minutes, look to your right and you’ll see boat builders working away on beautiful wooden boats. If it’s after 7pm, stop for fish and prawns at eatery/shack Bu Qtair; if it’s too early, keep walking to Kitesurfing Beach. At the end, turn around and retrace your steps, or turn onto 35a Street (just before Bu Qtair) and you’ll end up on Beach Road. Head down the main drag to get back to Jumeirah Beach Hotel, admiring the alarming golden Pegasus statues in Lora Bergiy Design, then stop at roadside diner Chalet for the delectable flattened chicken.
The West Side Marina Walk
Approximate time: 50 minutes. Good for: Walking. Best for: Everyone!
Start at the Sheraton Jumeirah. Cross the harbour bridge, keep to the right, and head down the stairs to the start of Marina Walk. There are often fishermen here, hunting for barracuda. From now on, the water should always be on your left. The marina is very quiet at this end, although there are new arrivals every day – look out for the dinner cruise dhows that are only a few months old. There are also lots of abandoned buildings, giving the whole area the air of an old backlot Hollywood movie set. The Yacht Club marks the start of civilisation proper, and this is where you’ll find the play toys of the very wealthy – remember to take your camera. The next stage takes you past Marina Mall (pop in for Yo! Sushi and Waitrose), alongside the Address hotel, and eventually to the ‘old’ marina, a favourite hangout with the locals. Look out for the amazing twisty skyscraper on the left (camera time!), pause at the fountain, grab a burger at Johnny Rockets, then catch a cab home outside Spinney’s. Perfect.
The Satwa classic
Approximate time: An hour. Good for: walking. The pavements and roads are too busy for joggers or cyclists. Best for: Anyone who needs to see streets with a little history and fewer tourists.
Start off at Lime Tree Café on Beach Road at 5pm (it closes at 6pm) to grab a coffee – sit on the balcony to watch sunset. Then make your way south towards Jumeirah Mosque, which will light up as the daylight fades. Head down the quiet road to the right of the mosque (it can get a bit dark round here once the sun has set, but it is relatively safe). You’ll come out onto Al Wasl Road. Take the pedestrian bridge situated to your right (you’ll have to climb some stairs) and you’ll come out in the grounds of the beautifully mosaic-ed Iranian Hospital. Walk out onto Plant Street (officially Al Hudaiba Street) and turn right past plant shops (hence the name), shawarma outlets and more. Turn left at the T-junction and walk down Satwa Road, past cheap electronic stores, mechanics and tailors. Cross over the car park with the mosque on your right to get to the street running parallel, then continue in the same direction (left) and you’ll reach Ravi’s. Sit at a table outside, order butter chicken and watch the hustle and bustle flow by.
Little India in Karama
Time: One hour or more. Good for: Walking, thanks to the many pedestrians. Best for: Foodies, bargain hunters and those who want a flavour of India or Pakistan.
Start at the Karama Centre and roam the little shops inside. As you leave the mall, walk down Kuwait Street towards the T-junction (where the post office is). Turn right at Families Supermarket. You’ll find yourself behind Lulu Supermarket, with Karama Park on your left. In the evenings you’ll see people playing badminton and cricket, chatting and having picnics. Continue right and wander up 16B Street; cross the road when you see Yahala Restaurant and turn right at Tourist Trading, then head up 18B Street, which runs parallel to 16B. You’ll hit the famed part of Karama, where the cheap ‘designer’ bags, shoes and leather goods can be found (we recommend Wakra in Block B). Continue walking and you’ll smell Karama fish market before you see it. Go straight and you’ll reach Sind Purgab restaurant – sit out on the street or in the posher family room upstairs and order a fine Indian meal for two for around Dhs80.
Approximate time: One to two hours. Good for: Walking, jogging or cycling. Best for: Claustrophobic mall walkers.
Exit directly from Mall of the Emirates metro station. The fountain that signals the start of the walk could hardly be described as beautiful or impressive, but as a starting point to an inner-city walk it is considered a landmark. Take a full lap around the lake before heading off underneath the metro track on the well-signposted cycle path. Before long (500m), you’ll pass the Holiday Inn on your left. Take the left turn past the hotel. Barsha has a few decent restaurants and you could do a lot worse than picking up a menu from 800 Pizza or Harput. Continue straight ahead, and don’t deviate from this path (even if it means going off-road to cross a few dusty car parks). You’ll soon arrive at another hidden gem: Barsha Pond park. This US$6 million development is barely known by even Barsha dwellers, never mind the rest of the city. But with a giant fountain, numerous play areas and sporting facilities as well as a large pond, it is a worthy addition to the city’s park quota. Best of all, the jogging track is measured, so you can be sure exactly how far you’re going – each lap is one mile. When you’ve had enough, retrace your steps and refuel at the indie restaurant you spotted earlier.
The Springs cycle route
Approximate time: 40 minutes one way. Good for: Cycling – there’s quite a lot of ground to cover and not many stops. Best for: Those who want some exercise, but have no interest in seeing the inside of a gym or being killed cycling on the road.
If you’re not starting in The Springs, you’ll need to drive there – you’re not allowed to take bikes on the metro or the bus. Ditch the car in the car park of the Montgomerie Golf Club and head back down the drive. Take a left towards The Springs and Meadows, and keep going. Apart from the odd smelly shower from a sprinkler, it’s unlikely there’ll be much to get in your way, and it’s nice to be surrounded by so much greenery. We guestimate it’s just over 3km straight down to Springs Town Centre, where you can grab a fresh juice or a piping hot manakish – hey, you’ve earned it.