63 things you've just GOT TO DO if you've been neglecting Old Dubai
There are old town spots that everyone knows. Ravi’s, The Irish Village and XVA Gallery to name just a few. There are plenty more places, however, that probably aren’t on your radar, but definitely should be. We love all of the tried-and-tested, age-old frontiers, but there are golden oldies that have faded off the map in light of a slew of new openings, but that remain as worth-visiting as they ever were. Shop, visit museums, explore colourful hidden alleyways, and round it all off with a huge meal – or three – and a visit to one of the gems of the nightlife scene on this side of town. It’s worth the taxi fare.
Eating out Al Mallah Shawarmas are a dime a dozen across the city, but this old streetside Satwa haunt serves some of the juiciest. The mixed grills are just as impressive, too. Combine with fattoush, hummus and a fresh juice, and you’ve got yourself a winning meal. Open daily 6am-2.30am. 2nd December Street, Satwa (04 398 4723).
Formerly Special Ostadi, this quirky, long-standing kebab joint is furnished with photos of bodybuilding champions. Though the menu doesn’t stretch far beyond meat, it’s all succulent, expertly marinated and generously portioned. A must try. Sat-Thu noon-4pm, 6.30pm-1am; Fri 6.30pm-1am. Al Mankhool Road, Bur Dubai (04 397 1933).
Aseelah It stands to reason that the winner of best Middle Eastern & North African at the recent Time Out Dubai Restaurant Awards would be, first of all, Emirati, and second of all, located in the area that Dubai grew from. Aseelah puts local cuisine at the heart of its menu, with a selection of dishes that is on one hand traditional and on the other modern and contemporary, such as beetroot carpaccio with tahini laban and almond and parsnip soup. Open daily 12.30pm-4pm, 6.30pm-11pm. Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Deira Creek (04 205 7033).
You’ll be hard pressed to find better Keralan cuisine in the city. Seafood is its speciality, with fragrant curries taking centre stage. Order appams (pancakes made from fermented rice and coconut milk) to soak up the sauce, roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. Open daily 7am-12.30am. Mattar Al Tayer Building, Karama (04 335 8700).
Creekside Café Sit right on the edge of the water at this cute little café – the views are beautiful. Breakfast is particularly good, and the menu covers modern Emirati dishes as well as the usual European and American café fare. Open daily 9am-9pm. Al Suq Al Khabeer, next to Ruler’s Court, Bur Dubai (04 359 9220).
Dampa Seafood Grill There tend to be big queues, which doesn’t surprise us in the least. Tables are spread with plastic sheets for your seafood of choice to be dumped on top of. Choose your catch and your sauce (try the spicy, garlicky Cajun), and dig in with your hands. They’ll even give you plastic gloves to help minimise the mess, and the bill for two will come in at under Dhs100. Open daily noon-11pm. Tower B, Centurion Tower, Al Ittihad Street, opposite Deira City Centre (04 299 0884).
Elia Still one of few restaurants in the city offering Greek cuisine, Elia serves up peaceful respite from the city, and the Greek classics – cheese saganaki, tzatziki, pita bread, moussaka – are all made very well. Perfect for long, lazy afternoons. Open daily 7pm-11.30pm. Majestic Hotel Tower, Bur Dubai (04 359 8888).
JW’s Steakhouse Cosy, warm and inviting, JW’s is decorated in heavy woods and dark greens with high-backed chairs and silver bull horns on the place mats. The quality of meat is virtually unmatched, while there’s plenty of seafood on the menu, too. A special place to dine. Open daily 5pm-midnight. JW Marriott Hotel Dubai, Deira (04 607 7977).
Kiku From huge bowls of steaming ramen (an absolute must-try) to crispy tempura and, of course, fresh sushi and sashimi, the food here is excellent. The venue is bustling and cosy, but authentically Japanese in style with its minimalist furniture and neutral décor. Open daily 12.30pm-2.30pm, 6.30pm-11pm. Le Méridien Dubai Hotel & Conference Centre, Garhoud (04 217 0000).
One of Dubai’s oldest sushi restaurants – 27 years old to be exact – Miyako recently underwent a much-needed revamp. It’s now a contemporary, vibrant Japanese kitchen serving all the classics from teppanyaki set menus to bento boxes and hot pots. Paper parasols, rustic stones, a cosy bar area and beautiful wood furniture have made this spot one of Dubai’s Japanese dining destinations. Open Sat-Wed 12.30pm-11.30pm; Thu-Fri 12.30pm-midnight. Hyatt Regency Dubai, Deira (04 209 6914).
MannaLand One of the first Korean restaurants in the city, this remains one of the best. Tender, moreish bulgogi and the fiery (free) kimchi are just two highlights of the menu, though the spicy stews are also worth trying. The setting isn’t anything special, but the food makes up for that. Open daily 11am-11pm. Mina Road, Satwa (04 345 1300).
Noodle Bowl Unassuming and affordable, but with an excellent reputation, take a seat on a pavement table to people-watch with a selection of their fantastic dumplings, a few fried prawns with wasabi mayo and a huge plate of noodles. Open daily 9am-midnight. Dunes Centre, 2nd December Street, Satwa (04 345 3382).
Rangoli Grab a seat upstairs for an excellent vegetarian thali experience, or sit downstairs and tuck into the second-to-none Indian snacks. Our favourites are the sev puri and dahi puri, but they also whip up a supremely fluffy dhokla (a Gujarati savoury cake made from fermented rice and split chickpea batter). Open daily 8.30am-11.30am. Meena Bazaar, Bur Dubai (04 351 5873).
Ravi’s Needing little, if any, introduction, Ravi’s has always been a stalwart of the city’s dining scene. It’s worth visiting at least once, to tick this enduring Pakistani institution off your Dubai food bucket list. Open daily 5am-2am. Al Satwa Road, near Satwa Roundabout (04 331 5353).
Qwaider Al Nabulsi This Palestinian restaurant has been around for years, and its mezze is nothing short of sublime. Try the hummus piled with green pepper, garlic and lemon sauce, and the chicken pies packed with sumac and olive oil. You can also pick up filling plates of Jordanian mansaf and moreish salty-sweet kunafa. Open daily 9am-2am. Al Muraqqabat Street, next to Kings Park Hotel, Deira (04 227 7760).
Tawasol This is a casual spot to try authentic Emirati fare, and you’re bound to find something on the menu here that you haven’t tried before. The machboos – one of the more familiar dishes – is cooked in a fragrant blend of spices and served with rice and preserved limes, while the tahtah malleh (salted fish) is also worth a try. Open daily 11am-1am. Near Clocktower, Deira (04 295 9797).
The Thai Kitchen
An al fresco spot with Creek views, surrounded by the lush gardens of Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, this is a relaxing, sophisticated and picturesque spot. It’s all about sharing-style dining with sharing dishes packed with authentic Thai flavours. Open daily 7pm-4pm. Park Hyatt Dubai, Deira (04 602 1814).
St Tropez Bistro
After 14 years of having the same kitsch ’70s-style décor, St Tropez Bistro’s original Garhoud branch finally underwent a renovation in 2014. Thankfully, the place kept its character (the walls are still full to bursting with black and white images of film stars) and its charm (dine outside at night and you’ll be surrounded by pretty fairy lights and the slightly retro neon signs of Century Village). The food here is also very good. It’s refined and well presented, and prices are very reasonable. Open Wed, Thu and Fri 11am-2am; Sat 11am-1am. Century Village, Garhoud (04 282 5377).
More of a snack spot, everything on the little menu of Nepalese dumplings here is brilliant. Fillings include cottage cheese, mutton, shrimp, spinach and vegetables (and various combinations of all of the above), all coming in at less than Dhs20 for six. Simple and delicious. 4b Street, behind Park Regis Kris Kin, Karama (04 385 2233).
Nightspots Biggles Pub Traditionally British, but also unique in the city thanks to its World War Two aviation décor (model planes, pilot uniforms, and other themed kick-knacks). It has a weekly rotation of live bands, karaoke (Fridays) and quiz nights (Tuesdays). For the best night out, these are the best times to visit. Open daily noon-2am. Millennium Airport Hotel, Garhoud (04 702 8888).
Boracay Live acts at this sprawling nightclub include the not-to-be-missed singer Rubi and her energetic backing dancers. The massive stage is set up with a huge light show, and the whole thing is quite something to see. Sit back and simply enjoy the music. Open daily 7pm-3am. Asiana Hotel, Deira (04 608 2056).
This is one of the oldest pubs in the city. It opened back in 1978, and it’s hardly changed an inch since. Pull up a stool and settle in to chat to the friendly bartenders. Admittedly it is a little bit characterless since its revamp a couple of years ago, but is nonetheless part of Dubai’s nightlife history. Open daily noon-2am. Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel & Towers, Baniyas Road, Deira (04 207 1721).
Cheesy fun is the order of the day at this retro, neon-tinged venue. The enthusiastic crowd – who aren’t afraid of throwing some pretty epic moves on the dancefloor – goes a long way towards making this an excellent spot for a lively night out. Open daily 7.30pm-3am. Park Regis Kris Kin, Bur Dubai (04 377 1210).
George & Dragon As the city’s oldest pub, the G&D needs little introduction. It’s a decent bar sporting screens for football matches, a pool table and a dart board. There’s a jukebox, too, and proper pub grub. What more do you need? Open daily noon-3am. Ambassador Hotel, Al Fahidi Street, Bur Dubai (04 393 9444).
Hibiki Karaoke Lounge One of Dubai’s oldest karaoke lounges, Hibiki has remained ever-popular, especially at weekends. Join the pack cheering on the awesome resident singer Pocholo or hire a private booth to belt out power ballads. Open Mon-Sat 7.30pm-3am. First Floor (The Galleria Mall), Hyatt Regency Dubai, Deira (04 209 6914).
Las Vegas Night club The location of Deep Crates Cartel and also ultra-alternative new night Satwa 3000, this is a futuristic, funky club with mirrors, glowing hexagonal lights, super-shiny seats and a spaceship vibe. This might not be the kind of place you’d catch Kim Kardashian, but it will win you over with its hip-hop, R&B and dancehall soundtrack, and the offer of 25 percent off at Ravi’s on a Friday night. Open daily 6pm-3am. Chelsea Plaza Hotel, Satwa (04 398 3687).
Maharlika Café The cover bands who play here are second to none, as are the venue’s authentic, crispy Pinoy snacks (there are some pretty adventurous items on this menu). Expect Filipino pop-rock, classic American rock tunes and plenty of tracks to sing along to. Open daily 6.30pm-3am. President Hotel, Trade Centre Road, Karama (04 334 6565).
QD’s This bar is a must-visit, especially if you have guests in town. Peaceful and with stunning Creek views, the venue needs little else. Relax on the terrace as the sun is setting. Whether you’re down the old end of town or not, this is worth going out of the way for. Open Sun-Wed 5pm-2am; Thu-Sat 5pm-3am. Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, Deira (04 295 6000).
Rock bottom Café A night out at the original Rock Bottom needs to be had at least once. Both this and its newer Barsha Heights venue have earned themselves reputations for raucous nights out with live bands, blue-green mixed beverages and eclectic crowds. Need we say more? Open daily 7pm-3am. Regent Palace Hotel, Karama (04 396 3888).
Sherlock Holmes Detective and ’50s-themed props contribute to this bar’s obvious theme, but heading here is less about novelty and more about the friendly atmosphere. That hasn’t changed in years, and we hope it doesn’t any time soon. Open daily noon-3am. Arabian Courtyard Hotel & Spa, Al Fahidi Street, Bur Dubai (04 351 9111).
The Dubliner’s The Dubliner’s is tiny and dimly lit inside, with a massive outdoor area. Packed and lively when there’s a match on, it can be fairly quiet otherwise, but it feels every inch like a local bar. Open daily noon-midnight. Le Méridien Dubai Hotel & Conference Centre, Garhoud (04 702 2455).
The Irish Village Friendly and unpretentious, The Irish Village is pretty much the definition of a real Irish pub, and, in our opinion, its garden is one of the best in the city. The perfect place to round off a day in Old Dubai. Open Sat-Wed 11am-1am; Thu-Fri 11am-2am. Garhoud (04 282 4750).
The Music Room
With a constant line-up of talented and diverse live bands, The Music Room offers without a doubt one of Dubai’s best nights out. Whatever genre you’re into, there’s bound to be a live act for you coming up soon (head to its Facebook page for the latest announcements). There’s a dancefloor, but plenty of seats, too, if you prefer to sit back and enjoy the music. Lively, just a bit edgy and genuinely cool. Open daily 6pm-3am. Majestic Hotel Tower, Bur Dubai (050 248 4045).
The Viceroy When it comes to setting and décor, this is one of the best pubs Old Dubai has to offer. It doesn’t have a garden, but inside it’s cosy, wood-panelled and leather-chaired, with old gramophones and grape racks on the walls. Happy hour is also an entire seven hours long (noon to 7pm), which doesn’t hurt. Open daily noon-2am. Four Points by Sheraton, Bur Dubai (04 397 7444).
Ready, steady, shop Al Ghurair Centre Al Ghurair Centre was built back in 1981, but it has remained up to date with big-brand stores including Levi’s, French Connection, Marks & Spencer and iconic, in among a mishmash of boutiques selling rugs, books, jewellery and lots more. Open Sun-Wed 10am-10pm; Thu-Sat 10am-midnight. Al Rigga Street, Deira (04 250 0004).
Burjuman This higher-end mall (though there are shops such as Daiso and Forever 21, too), seems to have an unending cycle of promotions including cash and voucher prizes, free photo booths and Magic Planet cards with free rides for kids. There’s a good number of cafés as well. Open Sat-Wed 10am-11pm; Thu-Fri 10am-midnight. Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Street, Bur Dubai (04 352 0222). Edo Department Store Most comparable to well-known Japanese import Daiso, you can find most basic, everyday essentials here, and everything is between Dhs1 and Dhs10. There’s a good range of useful bits and pieces from flip-flops and kitchen utensils to kids’ toys. Open daily 9am-midnight. Al Mussalla Road, Bur Dubai (04 325 7080).
Lamcy Plaza One of Dubai’s quirkier malls, Lamcy Plaza is filled with plenty of budget shops and multi-brand department stores for bargain-hunters. It’s small, but impulse-buying will generally be easy on the wallet, and there are plenty of cafés and fast food chains. Open Sat-Wed 10am-midnight; Thu-Fri 10am-12.30am. Sheikh Rashid Road, Oud Metha (04 335 9999).
Naif Souk Back in the old days, this souk was a bustling camel market. Especially at night, the myriad stores hawk everything from textiles and clothing to leather goods, electronics, souvenirs and more. Bring your haggling skills. Open daily 8.30am-11.30pm. Off Deira Street, Naif (no number).
Red Mountain Supermarket A one-stop shop for your favourite snacks from dried fruits to flavoured nuts, crunchy corn kernels and dates. Not to mention masses of sweets, such as nougat with pistachio. The more you buy, the cheaper it gets. Open daily 10.30am-9pm. Al Khor Street, near Gold Souk, Deira (04 226 9206). Shindagha Market Navigating your way through this massive market of fresh fish, fruit and veg can be daunting for first-timers. Especially if haggling isn’t your strong suit. But it’s worth your time, not least for the excellent-value produce. It’s an atmospheric experience that you won’t find down the aisles of a supermarket. Open daily 7.30am-11am. Between Shindagha Tunnel and Gold Souk, Deira (no number).
Wafi There are good deals to be found here. Imported department stores such as Marks & Spencer and Matalan sit alongside others including Salam Stores, which is packed full of designer wear. There’s also an odd assortment of high-end shops and one-off boutiques. You can pick up clothes you might not be able to in the high street stores of other malls, but you might have to sift through a lot of over-priced European imports to do so. Open Sat-Wed 10am-10pm; Thu-Fri 10am-midnight. Sheikh Rashid Road, Oud Metha (04 324 4555).
Yousif AbdulAziz Thyme & Herbs Pungent scents of Omani Frankincense drift out of this tiny little store where you can browse cardamom, saffron, dried thyme, rose water, dried figs and more, and walk away with them for very reasonable prices, too. Open daily 8am-11pm. Opposite Al Satwa Bus Station, Satwa (04 331 3964).
Culture trails Dubai Museum This small museum still ends up rammed on weekends. It documents the rise of Dubai from pearl diving village to sprawling metropolis. Wander through underwater scenes and replicas of old houses. It won’t take you very long to see the whole thing, and some of the exhibits look a little dated, but that’s all part of the charm. Dhs3. Open Sat-Thu 8.30am-8.30pm; Fri 2.30pm-8.30pm. Al Fahidi Fort, Bur Dubai (04 353 1862).
Hindi Lane Sitting snugly between Meena Bazaar and the Creek, Hindi Lane is a vibrant maze of shops hung with beautiful wreaths of fresh flowers, posters, knick-knacks and tiny hole-in-the-wall cafés serving Indian snacks. Visit around Diwali when the store fronts are strewn with all manner of flashing, multicoloured fairy lights and are lit with candles. It’s a photographer’s dream. Behind Dubai Grand Mosque, opposite Dubai Museum, Bur Dubai (no number).
Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding Known for its breakfast and lunch Q&A sessions with its Emirati hosts, the centre has recently expanded its programmes to include dinners, too, as well as Fuala – the Emirati custom of welcoming guests with tea and pastries. Try traditional Emirati cuisine, coffee and snacks and ask your hosts anything and everything you ever wanted to know about the UAE and its culture. Combine lunch with a heritage tour around the area to learn about Dubai’s history from someone whose family lived through it. Dhs65 (heritage tour). Dhs80 (breakfast), Dhs85 (Fuala), Dhs90 (lunch), Dhs100 (dinner or brunch). Mon and Wed 10am (breakfast); Sat 10.30am (brunch); Sun-Thu 1pm (lunch); Sun, Tue and Thu 7pm (Fuala and dinner). House 26, Al Mussallah Road, Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, Bur Dubai (04 353 6666).
Women’s museum Hidden down a narrow Deira side street, the Women’s Museum (also called Bait Al Banat, which translates to “Girl’s House”) is a fascinating tribute to the Emirati women who shaped the country’s history. Exhibits are dedicated to celebrating Emirati female artists, along with renowned poet Ousha Bint Khalifa. It also highlights the prominent role that the wives and daughters of the UAE’s rulers have played, the responsibilities they assumed in times of crisis, and those who give valued input and advice into the country’s internal and foreign affairs. Dhs20. Open Sat-Thu 10am-10pm. Sikka 28, Gold Souk, Deira, near the Fish Market (04 234 2342).
XVA Gallery One of the most enchanting things about this gallery is its location. The traditional buildings, the pretty courtyard café (which serves an excellent mint lemonade) and open-air exhibits are a joy to wander through – often juxtaposed with the contemporary art on show within it. Free. Open daily 10am-6pm. Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, Bur Dubai (04 353 5383).
Three top tailors Coventry Tailoring Trustworthy and cheap are the words that best describe Coventry. Its reputation has been built over the past 28 years, and it remains as reliable and accurate as it ever has. Turnover is high, and not all the tailors speak fluent English, so you should take a photo of what you want made with you, to help explain. 16b Street, Satwa (050 575 4719).
Lobo Tailors Satwa has long been known for its tailoring expertise, and Lobo is one of the oldest in the city, having opened back in 1978. The go-to tailor for Emirates airline staff uniforms, it has exceptionally high standards at incredibly affordable prices. The team will finish everything in around one week – a quicker turnaround time than most – so it’s ideal for visiting relatives looking for a sharp suit, as well as last-minute alterations. 41st Street, Meena Bazaar (04 352 3760).
Whistle and Flute Gentleman’s Bespoke Tailor Nestled near the Iranian Hospital, this is a favourite spot for many in the city, not least for its huge array of fabrics. The expert tailors are eager to help you choose, well-versed in all aspects of men’s tailoring and will create a sharp suit from scratch in about ten days, or one week for a shirt. They’ll even whip up a pair of bespoke boxers for you. Behind Iranian Hospital, off Al Hudaiba Road, near Red Rooster (04 342 9229).
Four spots for a day out Pharaohs’ Club You’ll find a fantastic spa, gym and health club here, but the best thing about Pharaohs’ Club is the lazy river-style pool. Take a dip under the shade of palm trees, or relax on a sun lounger snacking on mezze, sipping a beverage and watching the world float by. Dhs160 (day pass). Sat-Thu 9am-10pm; Fri 9am-9pm. Pyramids at Wafi, Oud Metha (04 324 0000).
Al Nasr Leisureland It might be a bit rough around the edges these days, but when the bowling alley is licensed it’s hard to care. If you’re down this end of town, be it for brunch or otherwise, this complex is an emporium of entertainment, from go-karting to ice skating, arcade games and Filipino live music venue Odd Spot. From Dhs20 (bowling, per person, per game), Dhs30 (ice skating, two hours), Dhs25 (go-karting, five minutes). Oud Metha, behind American Hospital (04 337 1234).
Dubai Creek Park Often overlooked by New Dubai folk in favour of Zabeel and Barsha Parks, this lush Creekside oasis has plenty to offer. Cable Cars offer picturesque views, there’s a go-karting track and Children’s City will endlessly entertain kids (and, probably, their parents) with its interactive science experiments. Otherwise, stroll through the botanical gardens or relax on the rolling lawns with a picnic. Dhs5. Open Sun-Wed 8am-10pm; Thu-Sat 8am-11pm. Umm Hurair 2, parking and entrance near Garhoud Bridge, behind Dubai Healthcare City (04 336 7633).
Al Boom Tourist Village Al Boom Tourist Village had a huge facelift two years ago, turning from tired old tourist attraction to curated arts space and hub of Emirati culture. The land belongs to the Bin Harib family (you might know Mohammed Seed Harib as the creator of popular cartoon show Freej) and it’s spread across 15 peaceful acres along the shores of the Creek. It includes an Arabian art café on the deck of a traditional wooden dhow, an art gallery filled with Emirati works, a restaurant serving Emirati cuisine and cosy little waterside seating nooks modelled on the traditional fishing cages. Perfect for visitors, or for just whiling away a few hours immersed in culture, away from the hustle and bustle of surrounding areas. Free. Open daily 9am-11.30pm. Near Garhoud Bridge, Sheikh Rashid Road, Umm Hurair 2 (04 324 3000).
Five places for phenomenal street snacks Al Abra Cafeteria Make a pit stop here for a cooling, fresh coconut, which you can enjoy for under Dhs10. Deep-fried chillies are also on the menu if you fancy a snack (and can handle the heat). Opposite Al Sabkha Water Taxi Station, Deira (no number).
Al Samadi Sweets Try the spiced date bars and traditional baklava, or sample some pistachio cookies, and wash it all down with a cup of cardamom-infused coffee. We recommend buying a few bags to take away with you, too. Al Muraqqabat Street, Deira (04 269 7717).
Flavours ice cream Don’t be put off by the green chilli flavour, which is sharp and has a pleasant, tingly kick, but is also refreshing and surprisingly sweet with a creamy pistachio edge. It’s the winner for us, as is the rose ice cream filled with chewy pieces of petal and cashew nuts. 4a Street, Karama (04 397 8784).
Pan de Manila Purchase fluffy bread buns such as pandesal, empanadas filled with juicy meat and veg, or, for cheese-lovers, ensaymada – bread covered with soft cheese, butter and sugar. Off Al Satwa Road, Satwa (no number).
Saleh Mohd Bakery A real hole-in-the-wall sort of place, this streetside gem churns out sublime discs of khuboos (fluffy Iranian roti) for just a few dirhams. Opposite Satwa Mosque, off Al Satwa Road (no number).