Dig out your sturdiest shoes: it’s time to tour the city on foot
The city may be famed for its pedestrian-unfriendliness, but here at Time Out we like a challenge. Some worried that finding Dubai’s best walks would be our biggest yet: after all, is it really possible to discover a pleasant stroll in a place characterised by concrete, bumper-to-bumper traffic and an aversion to pedestrian crossings?
The answer is a resounding yes, and here we share 12 of our favourites. From 20-minute meanders to two-hour strides, from stretches of green and bustling souks to placid lakes and sauntering camels, we highly recommend you park the car, pocket this list and discover your city on foot.
Best for street life
Duration: 20 mins+ How to get there: Take a taxi to Lulu hypermarket
For a flavour of Dubai’s working-class side, head to Karama in the daytime. With Lulu hypermarket directly behind you, turn to your right and wander up 16B Street; detour around the side of Lulu to see some of the oldest housing anywhere in the city – the smaller Sheikh Rashid Buildings – then rejoin the street and continue onward. Cross the road when you see Yahala Restaurant and turn right at Tourist Trading, then head up 18B Street, which runs parallel to 16B. Here you’ll find dozens of stores with cheap goods, including hip-hop-themed stores plastered with pics of Tupac and Biggie. (New York City Trading and Las Vegas Fashion are right next to each other – do they ever engage in an East Coast/West Coast turf war, we wonder?) Karama Market, a handy place for buying fish, is at the top. Then turn right down 45B Street and take the next left to rejoin 16B Street. When you reach the dual carriageway, take the bridge to your right over the road and end your walk in the large and gloriously leafy Za’abeel Park. James Wilkinson
Best for blissful solitude
Duration: 35 mins+
How to get there: Take a taxi to Meadows Village mini-mall
When the pandemonium of the city gets too much, residents of the Springs and the Meadows seek sanctuary in the network of interlinked lakes that wind through the heart of the compound. Start at the Meadows Village mini-mall (between Emirates International School and Springs 2), then head down the alley in the far right-hand corner of the car park until you reach the lake. Check out the views of the Marina skyline: it’s one of those picture-postcard vistas that brings a slightly smug smile to our lips. There’s little to be heard here other than splashing fountains, chirruping crickets and the occasional barking dog, with even Dubai’s construction noise a distant memory. The short walk around the lakes adjoining Meadows Village takes about 35 minutes, or you can spend up to two hours circumnavigating the whole complex. And the best bit? Solitude is pretty much guaranteed – during our 40-minute walk, we didn’t encounter a single soul. Bliss. Rebecca Milford
Best for a taste of old Dubai
Duration: 30 mins+
How to get there: Take a taxi to the creekside, on the road between the Saudi Arabian embassy and Bastakiya
Begin your walk in the early afternoon on the creek end of Za’abeel Road, at the point where it curves around and joins the bottom of Mankhool Road. The view over the creek sees huge office buildings contrast sharply with dinky tourist boats and dhow restaurants. Keep going and you’ll hit Bastakiya, the small, wind tower-strewn chunk of old-school Dubai that houses art galleries, as well as the lovely Basta Art Café. Stop off for some juice and continue onwards, with the gallery on your right; you’ll soon come to Dubai Museum. Turn right and follow the road down, towards the massive Grand Mosque; before the mosque, take the tiny passage to the right of the building and you’ll notice a shoe rack and sign for the Shiva temple. Head left around the back of the mosque and you’ll soon find yourself on Hindi Lane, the narrow, bustling road full of tiny trading stores. Follow the road through and you’ll emerge into a series of souks, as well as the abra docks to Deira. James Wilkinson
Best for peace and quiet Duration: 40 mins+
How to get there: The F30 bus runs regular services between Arabian Ranches and Mall of the Emirates metro station (we spotted four in 30 minutes) and there are taxis aplenty
Opposite the beginnings of Dubai Golf City on Emirates Road, the main entrance into Arabian Ranches stretches into a long street flanked by brick footpaths. Plants and trees line these paths, making for a picturesque stroll in what could pass for a Mediterranean suburb. Most refreshing is the stillness, the peaceful silence broken only now and then by birdsong and the light splash of sprinklers. However, despite numerous joggers and power walkers, that great invention, the bench, has not yet reached these parts, so prepare to be on your feet for the duration. The path winds around the entire development, so you can stretch your legs for anything from 40 minutes to a couple of hours. Note that the public can’t access the streets where the villas are, so there’s no parking and no shops to take advantage of – make sure you take a bottle of water. Laura Chubb
Jumeirah Open Beach
Best for beach life Duration: 30-45 mins How to get there: Take a taxi to Dubai Marine Beach Resort or jump on the metro to Jafiliya and walk along Diyafah Street, then go left along Jumeirah Beach Road (this adds at least another half an hour to your stroll)
There aren’t many better ways to start or end the day than a casual meander along the beach. Walk across the sand to the bouncy 1.5km-long track that snakes alongside the sea. To your left are a range of intriguing old and new beachfront villas and tuck shops (open 24 hours, apparently), while to your right is the sea, sunbathers, swimmers and picnickers. You’ll pass two jetties. The first is good for people-watching: rollerbladers, fishermen, even breakdancers; the second is good for Sheikh Zayed Road skyline views. Once you reach the end of the track, you could carry on (we once walked to the Burj Al Arab in three hours), or turn left onto Beach Road and hail a cab, with sand between your toes and a grin on your face. Becky Lucas
Nad Al Sheba
Best for unexpected greenery
Duration: 1 hour+
How to get there: Parking available. Taxis get scarce as dusk falls
A walk along Nad Al Sheba Road is a Dubai must-do, simply because it has to be seen to be believed. Just off the roundabout where Oud Metha Road becomes Dubai-Al Ain Road, a long stretch of lush green springs forth from nowhere. Replacing the usual diggers and scaffolding are surprising numbers of joggers and cyclists pounding the purpose-built path that runs parallel to the tarmac of Nad Al Sheba Road on one side, and grass and shrubbery on the other. Bright pink flowers and miles of hedgerows give this walk a beautifully unexpected backdrop. You can either stroll from one end to the other and back again, which will take a good hour, or bear right at the roundabout at the very top of the road. Take the next left (opposite the villas of Nad Al Sheba 1) and you’ll find yourself at the back of Nad Al Sheba Palace, where you can spot deer roaming the lawns. Laura Chubb
Jumeirah Lake Towers toJumeirah Beach Walk
Best for a holiday feel
Duration: 60 mins How to get there: Take the metro to Nakheel Harbour, then walk or jump in a taxi back to Jumeirah Lake Towers metro station
It may not be open yet, but the Jumeirah Lake Towers metro stop is sure to be a popular one thanks to its proximity to the beach. Head across the bridge over Dubai Marina and pause to look at the bobbing boats and sparkling water, then walk through the gap in the JBR towers and head towards the beach. It’s a nice stretch of sand with a good atmosphere: 4x4s pump out music, adventurous types paraglide overhead and a man wanders up and down the sand offering camel rides. Soak it up, then head to the pedestrianised streets of The Walk and window shop at the pricey boutiques. After stopping for a scoop of delicious gelato at Cone Street (above Paul café), head back in the direction you came – unfortunately, roadworks make the circular route too dangerous. This walk isn’t one for those looking for history or hidden, quirky gems, but for a laid-back atmosphere and plenty of mainstream eating options, it’s a darn good bet. Caroline Garnar
Umm Suqeim 3
Best for contrasting scenery
Duration: 20-30 mins
How to get there: The N2, 8A and 8 buses stop at Maharba mosque, so you can hop off here and head in the direction of Jumeirah Beach Hotel. Taxis are omnipresent and there’s parking on 2a Street in front of the beach
For a stark contrast between seven-star polish and the charmingly aged, take a stroll around the old villas of Umm Suqeim 3. Facing Jumeirah Beach Hotel from the main road, walk down the first street on the hotel’s right. It immediately feels exotic: Al Nawaes Grocery is a tiny shack that struggles to contain more than three people, framed by overgrown plants. Get yourself a can of Thums [sic] Up for Dhs1.50 (essentially Coca Cola, but with a superior name), then take a right down 6b Street. From here, explore the streets where villas are characterised by peeling paint and chickens in the front driveway – a welcome change to the uniform sparkle of most Dubai neighbourhoods. Rusty boats and old furniture litter the sandy alleys, and you’ll see locals chatting in the road. Finish your 20-minute meander at the beach that runs parallel to 2a Street, where you can enjoy a postcard-worthy view of the Burj Al Arab. Laura Chubb
Best for coveting luxury
Duration: 60 mins How to get there: Take a taxi to Dubai Marina. Parking is available (but avoid the valet at a whopping Dhs20 per hour)
Perfect for families, kids on bikes, joggers and those just meandering, it’s impossible to get lost on this walk. The route promises to be a classic, once the construction work is finished (hmm, where have we heard that before?). Start at the fountain end of Marina Walk and head towards Jumeirah Beach Residence. Take a moment to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over the fancy yachts and motor boats, as well as the striking apartments and hotels sprouting out of the sandy rubble. The further you go, the more rubble you’ll see, but if you do this route regularly, you can keep an eye on the builders’ progress (or lack of). We got as far as Marina Mall before the path came to an abrupt halt, but we retraced our steps, cooling our toes in the fountain before replacing lost sugar levels at one of the nearby cafés. A pleasant way to spend a morning. Karen Iley
Best for haggling Duration: 30 mins
How to get there: Take a taxi to Bur Dubai abra station, or head to Dubai Museum and walk through the streets behind the Grand Mosque
Emerge from the hawking raucousness of the souks (see Bur Dubai walk on page 18) and you’ll arrive at Bur Dubai abra station. Hop onto one of these cross-creek water taxis (only Dhs1), marvel at the bright lights of the city’s central artery and get off at the first stop. Bear left past the dhow and cross the road via the subway. From there, turn onto Old Baladiya Street – notice the narrow streets of the older souks that sell fruit and vegetables during daylight hours. Continue up Old Baladiya (you’ll spot the wonderful architecture of the old mosque on the right) and into the overpowering glint of the Gold Souk through the wooden arch. Soak up the invigorating madness, then head straight on until the arches of the souk open into a courtyard – take a left turn here, keeping Popley Jewellery on your right. Continue straight to Al Khor Street (Ghubaiba Bus Station is across the road on the left). Cross here and head over the bridge, with the bus station on your left. Just before the roundabout you’ll see a route to the fish market on your right. And if you can’t see it, you’ll smell it. Now bag yourself a bargainous catch. Chris Lord
Best for atmosphere
Duration: 60 mins How to get there: Take the metro to Jafiliya station or 91A or 93 bus to Satwa
It’s a short jaunt from the Jafiliya station to the top of Diyafah Street – the mother of Dubai’s pedestrian spots. Walk for 20-30 minutes until you reach Satwa roundabout. Cross straight over. Wander down the right side of Diyafah proper and check out the multi-coloured shisha shop, then cross and taste Noodle Bowl, one of the city’s best indie eateries. Once back at the top of the street, turn right and walk all along Satwa Road, before turning left onto Al Hudaiba Street. You’ll pass a flow of life: cheap cafeterias, outdoor chai shops, vibrant material stores and cheap electronics shops. Along Hudaiba (or Plant Street), you’ll find the wonderful second-hand Book World (04 349 1914), a big clay pot shop and, yes, several horticultural stores. Bored of the busy strip? Head behind the main streets to find lots of ramshackle housing and tiny stores. Becky Lucas
Best for countryside cravings
Duration: 45 mins+
How to get there: The park is just east of Mirdif on Airport Road, and is accessible by car, taxi or number 11A bus (from Rashidiya metro stop)
A walk in Mushrif Park is about as close as you’ll get in Dubai to a walk in the countryside. The remnants of a natural ghaf forest, this may be the city’s quirkiest park, with a faded, retro feel and all sorts of hidden surprises (camel rides, an aviary, equestrian centre and outdoor swimming baths, to name a few). A circular 4.5km cycle path hugs the perimeter of the park, which is essentially a range of sandy hills peppered with desert trees, picnic pergolas and winding paths. The circular route climbs to a low plateau where rare views of the Dubai skyline emerge, while occasional sandy tracks peel off into the peaceful ghaf forest.
The park is known for its population of Bruce’s Scops owls, which can sometimes be spotted hunting beneath the street lamps. Look out, too, for hedgehogs and Arabian hare (we stumbled across one on a previous visit). Only the approach of low-flying aircraft breaks the tranquillity. James Alexander
In case you were wondering, we found more than 12 walks in Dubai, we just couldn’t cram them all in. Yes, really! Keep your eye on our Around Town section for regular sauntering suggestions. And if you’ve got a few of your own, why not share them? Email email@example.com and let us in on your secret city...
Building a walkable community
Most people agree that Dubai’s not the best place for walking from A to B. That’s why the Downtown Jebel Ali project, currently in the midst of construction, is being billed as a deliberately ‘walkable community’.
Downtown Jebel Ali will encompass housing, offices, restaurants and shops so that residents can find everything they need within walking distance. This contrasts with the usual Dubai model of pooling specific amenities in one space – for example, Dubai Healthcare City, Dubai Knowledge Village – which makes extensive travel necessary in order to use various services.
Perhaps Downtown Jebel Ali will be a model for a future Dubai? Salah Ameen, deputy executive director of Limitless, which is developing the project, hopes so. Showing Time Out around the area, he tells us that Downtown Jebel Ali is aiming for a more pedestrianised, European feel. Most notable is the attention to creating public spaces: we see a large area shaded by trees and populated by benches, and an amphitheatre where a big screen is being erected so people can gather to watch sporting events and the like. It’s hoped that the first section of Downtown Jebel Ali will be finished by early 2010. More at www.limitless.com.
RTA: Walk this way?
We heard a rumour that the RTA has plans for ‘pedestrianised population hubs’ in Dubai. But what does that mean? We quizzed the RTA’s Abdulmoshin Ibrahin Younes, CEO of strategy and corporate governance, to find out more.
Does the RTA have plans to create more walking opportunities in Dubai? To encourage pedestrian mobility, the RTA is investigating the potential for building elevated and/or below-ground climate-controlled pedestrian links (pedways) to link metro stations with main activity centres. The pedway system would form part of a wider pedestrian network.
Climate-controlled, eh? Providing climate protection to the main pedestrian routes between the new Dubai metro stations and the major local destinations would significantly improve the utility of the metro system to its passengers. The resulting increase in pedestrian volumes will also enhance retail opportunities along the proposed route.
Commercial expansion aside, do you think there’s a need for more walking opportunities in Dubai? Yes, there is a need, as the RTA wants to make Dubai a multi-modal city. We do have plans to increase the walking and cycling infrastructure and will be implementing projects that are in the pipeline.
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Sandip Devani Nov 18, 2009 07:27 am
Your reveiw on Arabian iRanches s incorrect in the assertion that there are no shops that the public can avail of. We have community shopping area which is open and can accessed by public as well as the golf club!!
The path around can lead to this area.
Mita Srinivasan Nov 17, 2009 10:00 am
Love the 'Best of Old Dubai'. Haven't been there in ages.