Throughout the course of the next seven years, Dubai aims to hit the 20 million visitor mark and heritage tourism is at the heart of the city’s mission to drive growth in the number of people travelling to the city. Some of the projects in the pipeline to open within the next 12 months include the Maritime Museum, Al Fahidi Market and the Al Ayas Shopping Complex, as well as a birds and animals market (which is rumoured to be bringing with it a hotel for pets). But what of the city’s current stock of historical collections and archives? We set out to learn more about what the city currently offers visitors and residents and just how much of an insight they provide.
Al Ahmadiya School The city’s first school opened in 1912 and took on only boys. By 1962, it had grown to house 823 students, divided among 21 classrooms and overcrowding finally forced the school to move to a new location in 1963. Visit now and it is spread across two floors and visitors can poke a head through the narrow wooden doors to learn more about the school’s establishment, restoration and the curriculums of different periods. Several of the rooms feature classroom set-ups – including an almost eerie classroom with rows of tables and the backs of four students’ heads as they face a diorama teacher. Stand-out feature: A very welcome dose of air conditioning inside each display room. Free. Sat-Thu 8am-7.30pm, Fri 2.30pm-7.30pm. Deira, north of the Spice Souk (04 226 0286).
Antiques Museum Not a museum in the traditional sense, what you will find here is a shop, but one that is nevertheless highly intriguing and equally recommended as a visitor experience to the city. Push back heavy wooden-framed doors and find an impressive rabbit warren of rooms, housing handicrafts and artisanal goods; shift through the tourist-ready pashminas and you’ll find Nepalese prayer wheels, Chinese teapots and more. There is also a socially responsible ethos to the product sourcing. Gifts shop
Stand-out exhibit: We were fascinated by the specialist farming equipment on display. Free. Daily 9am-8.30pm. Al Quoz, www.fakicollections.com (04 347 9935).
Camel Museum Previously a camel stable for sheikhs, if you have any unanswered questions on the ‘desert ships’, this should be your first port of call. With information ranging from the significance of the animals to Arabic culture, their uses, biological entomology along with an explanation of the markings that signify which tribe a camel belongs to, Rakab House offers a comprehensive overview of the humped creatures. With life-like models and an array of paraphernalia, it’s educational, if a little dated in places. Group Bookings, Descriptions of exhibits in English, Good for kids
Stand-out feature: An undoubtedly impressive camel skeleton. Free. Sun-Thu 8am-2pm, Al Shindagha Historical Area, Deira, Dubai (04 392 0368).
Coin Museum With seven rooms displaying currency from the region, including Levant, Turkey, Egypt and money from civilisations including the Ottomans and the Egyptian Mamluks, there’s no denying these ancient artefacts impress having withstood the rigours of time. Although the museum is undeniably simple, some coins are enlarged, allowing you to see their intricate details. We also appreciated the inclusion of paper money, which adds an unexpected dimension to the whole thing. Group Bookings, Description of exhibits in English
Stand-out feature: Coins from the time of Abd Al Malik (600AD). Free. Sun-Thu 8am-2pm. Al Seef Street. Al Fahidi Historical District, Deira, www.dm.gov.ae (04 703 3517).
Dubai Heritage and Diving Villages It seems there isn’s as much going on throughout the year here as during Eid and the Dubai Shopping Festival, when visitors can watch traditional craftwork and try Emirati cuisine. In quieter periods, the Heritage Village’s main attraction is the intriguing collection of gift shops, while the Diving Village offers a fascinating slew of old wooden water tanks, boats and a map of pearl-diving sites. Gift shop, Interactive experiences
Stand-out feature: Impressive wooden boats outside the museum, and shop selling trinkets made using local mother of pearl. Free. Sun-Thu 8.30am-10.30pm, Fri-Sat 4.30pm-10.30pm. Shindagha, Bur Dubai (04 393 7151).
Dubai Museum Dubai Museum is housed within the Al Fahidi Fort, built in 1799 and thought to be the oldest building in the emirate, making it a fitting spot to teach the history and birth of Dubai. Within the Fort, visitors will find an open courtyard, with fishing boats and reconstructed barasti houses, as well as indoor galleries, housing artefacts of Bedouin culture. The vast maze of galleries underneath the fort feature some intriguing dioramas of Dubai in days of long ago, from the merchants in the souks to the pearl fishers, as well as fascinating maps, illustrating how the area has grown over time. Description of exhibits in English, Good for kids
Stand-out feature: Diorama of the old souks. Dhs3. Sat-Thu 8.30am-8.30pm, Fri 2pm-8.30pm. Al Fahidi Fort, opposite Arabian Courtyard Hotel and Spa, Bur Dubai (04 353 1862).
Heritage House Located next to the Al Ahmadiya School in Deira, this traditional two-storey courtyard house was built in 1890 and passed through a number of hands until it was restored in 1994. The venue opened as a museum in 2000 and its rooms and life-like exhibits display traditional settings and components that made an Emirati house, including the women’s majlis, traditional cooking utensils, a bridal room and cattle pen. In the gift shop, we were particularly taken by the incongruous mermaid ornament and the UAE-emblazoned cooking mittens. Gift shop, Group bookings, Description of exhibits in English
Stand-out feature: The women’s majlis, complete with glazed statues and music. Free. Sun-Thu 8am-7.30pm, Fri-Sat, 2.30pm-7.30pm. Al Ahmadiyah Street, north of Spice Souk, Deira (04 226 0286).
Horse Museum Built in the ‘40s, this courtyard-style museum was once the home of Sheikha Moza bint Saeed Al Maktoum. Nowadays, its 13 rooms (which are thankfully ice-cool) surrounding the courtyard display information on the history of horses and the significance of the animals in Arab culture. You’ll learn about Arabian horse bloodlines, the names of the horses of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), horse-riding cavalry and facts on riding the beasts in the UAE and HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Goldolphin Stables. Description of exhibits in English
Stand-out feature: A statue of a Bedouin riding a rearing horse and a video about the history of horse-riding in the UAE. Free. Sun-Thu 8am-2pm, Fri-Sat call ahead for timings. Al Shindagha, Bur Dubai, www.dm.gov.ae (04 392 0368).
Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House First built in 1896, the Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House was the home of the grandfather of our current ruler. The space is an atmospheric example of a traditional wind-tunnel house, with open courtyard. Since much of the museum exploration involves rooms off the courtyard, you’ll bake if you visit in the summer. However, visitors will be rewarded by the photographic display of Old Dubai in the ‘50s. There is also an interesting display of old Indian rupees – once the currency here. Description of exhibits in English
Stand-out feature: Coins and stamps from the time of Sheikh Saeed. Dhs3. Sat-Thu 7.30am-9pm, Fri 3pm-10pm. Al Ahmadiya School and Heritage House, Heritage and Diving Villages, Shindagha (04 393 7139).
Traditional Architecture Museum Formerly the residence of Sheikh Juma Bin Maktoum, this traditional house was built in 1928 and today reflects the history of traditional architecture in the UAE. The house is located on the banks of Dubai Creek and explains elements of traditional architecture, including wind tunnels, as well as displaying traditional decorations and construction tools. Its artistic attributes make it an accurate example of the history of design methods in the UAE. Descriptions of exhibits in English
Stand-out feature: Life-size statues and intriguing exhibits of a local man paving some stones and demonstrating building methods. Free. Sun-Thu 8am-2pm, Fri-Sat call ahead for timings. Al Shindagha, Bur Dubai, www.dubaihistoric.ae (04 392 0093).
Women’s Museum One of the newest on the scene, the Women’s Museum (also known as Bait Al Banat) opened at the end of 2012. The brainchild of Emirati Professor Rafia Ghubash, it sits snugly down a narrow side street near Deira gold souk, with exhibits set across three floors. Infinitely more modern that its surroundings, the space pays tribute to Emirati women who were pioneers in their fields, with an exhibit dedicated to renowned poet Ousha Bint Khalifa (known as The Girl of the Arabs), and a gallery with renowned local artists. Gift shop, Group bookings, Description of exhibits in English, Good for kids, Interactive experiences
Stand-out feature: Ousha Bint Khalifa’s hand-written love poems, displayed by her rifle and the chance to try on a burqa’a. Dhs20. Sat-Thu 10am-7pm, Fri closed. Gold Souk, Deira, www.womensmuseumuae.com (04 234 2342).
Other sites of historical interest Jumeirah Archaeological Site Though most of the artefacts unearthed at the site are on display in the city’s museums, the site is one of the most important in the UAE, unfortunately, there isn’t much to see though, unless you’ve Indiana Jones-esque archaeological fascination, but you might be interested to know the settlement is thought to date back as far as the sixth-century AD. Jumeirah (04 349 6874).
Hatta Heritage Village Near the Hajar Mountains, the 16th century village features 30 or so buildings, including a mosque and houses made with mud, palm-tree trunks, reeds and stones and is one of the oldest settlements still standing in the UAE today. Off Fort Roundabout, Hatta (04 852 1284).
Dubai – The good old days! This Facebook group is a great place to learn more about the city through the years, with posts from members featuring stories and photographs from days gone by. Though it’s a closed group, anyone can approve new members, just don’t use it as an outlet for posting advertising – you’ll be banned. Search for the group by name online, www.facebook.com